7 Epic Maui Adventures
Though it may call to honeymooners and beach bums, the Hawaiian island of Maui is much more than luaus, hula pie and fancy resort swimming pools. Intrepid spirits will find Maui adventures around every winding bend of the clifftop Hana Highway, from the peak to the floor of the Haleakala Crater, and deep under the waves alongside sea turtles and reef sharks.
If you’re searching for Maui activities to add a little excitement to your Maui itinerary, look no further than these bucket-list worthy adventures, from summiting a volcano to watch the Haleakala National Park sunrise to trekking through lush jungles in search of waterfall pools.
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7 Epic Maui Adventures and Activities
(Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson)
Fly over the island
No matter how many jungle trails you trek and coastal roads you drive, some parts of the island are simply best viewed from the sky. Enter helicopter tours that take you high above Maui’s rain forests, waterfalls and volcanic landscapes, all within one breathtaking journey.
You’ll have the chance to see some bucket-list worthy sights that are unreachable otherwise, like the over 1,000-foot-tall, double-tiered Honokohau Falls that drops from the western Puu Kukui mountain — thought to be the tallest waterfall on the island.
Helicopter rides are also a great way to check out famous sights like the Haleakala Crater and Hana Forest Reserve in a more compact session if you’re short on time, as these destinations typically require half- to full-day trips from Maui’s resort hubs.
Hike into a volcanic crater
Haleakala National Park and its namesake volcanic crater loom over the east Maui skyline. There are a few different landscapes here, from the Kipahulu district with its rocky coast and waterfalls, to the desert scenes around the summit.
If getting up close and personal with a dormant volcano makes your bucket list, you’ll want to spend some time discovering the trails near the summit. More than 30 miles of hiking paths weave around this area, a few even dropping to the bottom of the crater.
The Keonehe‘ehe‘e trail starts at the Haleakala Visitor Center and connects to the crater floor nearly 2,500 below — for a full-day adventure, you can trek 11 miles one-way to the floor and back up to Halemau‘u Trail, though you’ll need to arrange transit or hitchhike back to your origin.
If you’re doing a lengthy Haleakala hike in the wilderness (or just want an extra epic experience), the park maintains three remote and rustic cabins that require anywhere from a 3.7 to 9.3 mile walk. You have to get permits and book in advance.
(Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson)
After beaches, palm trees and luaus, waterfalls may be the next biggest thing people associate with Hawaii, and Maui in particular has some for the books. Tracking down these gushing goodies will take you to the remote eastern reaches of the island, where verdant green rain forests spout their streams toward the salty sea.
You’ll hit one every few miles along the famous Road to Hana (keep reading for more info on that excursion), with names like Waikani, Hanawi and Puaa Kaa just paces from the pavement. The quickest to reach, Twin Falls, is only about 30 minutes from the airport, but the others require committing to a longer road trip.
Another hub of cascades nestle in the Kipahulu district of Haleakala National Park, reached via the Hana Highway (keep driving past the town) or the Piilani Highway from the Upcountry area. Here, you’ll find some easy to reach falls at the scenic Seven Sacred Pools at Oheo and a 400-foot drop called Waimoku Falls a 2-mile trek through rain forest and bamboo patches. Wailua Falls, along the roadside, is just a couple miles from the park.
If you’re wild and carefree and don’t worry about things like potential leptospirosis-causing bacteria, you can even hop in for a swim at some of these waterfall pools. It’s all at your own risk, but you’ll see plenty of other tourists taking the plunge.
Humpback whales — they might only hang around the Hawaiian islands for a handful of months each year, but their presence always draws a crowd eager to see the majestic creatures breaching the surface of the cerulean sea.
If your visit falls in winter, you’ll have a good chance of catching a glimpse out on the waters near Maui. Thousands of whales linger in these parts from November to May (the middle of that time frame is peak season) and tons of tour operators are on hand to take you out for a chance to spot them. Make it a sailing tour for a relaxed trip with snacks on hand, or opt for something a little more interactive by hopping on a kayak to get closer, or dipping under the waves to snorkel with other sea life.
And if your trip falls outside of whale season, you can still join these adventures to look for wild dolphins, sea turtles and seals.
(Photo credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson)
Drive the Road to Hana
Hundreds of bends and hairpin turns. Dozens of narrow, one-way bridges. Dramatic drops down rocky cliffs to the thrashing Pacific Ocean below. This is the Road to Hana, Maui’s epic day trip that traces a highway on the northeastern coast up through rain forests and down to sandy coves en route to a remote little village at the tip of the island.
The Hana Highway stretches about 65 miles between Kahului and the eponymous town, but most trekkers spend a handful of hours on the journey, stopping for waterfall photos, jungle hikes and coastal views on beaches of black sand and jagged volcanic rocks.
Those after even more thrills than the well-trodden road trip provide can extend the route beyond Hana instead of turning around. The path soon becomes the Piilani Highway on the backside of the Haleakala Crater, and can make a loop from the starting point in Paia. It’s a rough ride for a few miles, as bumpy single-lane roads run along high cliffs with blind corners and few safety measures in place, but the gripping moments pay off when the path opens to sweeping views of volcanic canyons to one side wide open ocean to the other.
Driving the path in a rental vehicle (jeeps are the popular choice) means making Road to Hana stops wherever you wish, while booking a tour allows you to sit back and enjoy the views without worrying about crossing those narrow bridges and tight turns.
Watch the sunrise from Haleakala summit
At more than 10,000-feet high, the Haleakala Crater’s summit is the best spot on the island to watch the sun creep up over the horizon. As a pitch-black night sky dotted with thousands of bright stars slowly fades into a hazy dawn, cracks of gold appear on top of the clouds in a fiery crescendo that sometimes culminates in applause from onlookers.
The best views are from the summit building at 10,023 feet, where you can sit along a stone wall that rings a glass-paneled lookout (pop inside for minor reprieve from the wind and cold). This area tends to fill up, though, so if the parking lot is maxed out, you’ll have to stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center just below.
The most adventuresome part of this excursion is the drive up Haleakala, which occurs in total darkness (no street lights) along snaking roads on the edge of a mountain. Coming back down in daylight, you’ll see bike tours getting ready to peddle down the twisty path — a thrilling excursion if you’re up for an active morning.
Sunrise times range from about 5:30 a.m. around the summer solstice to just before 7 a.m. in winter, but plan to arrive up to a couple hours beforehand to secure a prime viewing spot and do some star gazing while the sky is dark. Since most resort hubs on the island are an hour or two from the summit, you’ll need to get an early start. Staying the night before in the Upcountry region will ease some of the drive time (look for lodging in Kula, Pukalani or Makawao). Permits are required to arrive in the park for sunrise and can be obtained here. And dress for freezing temps at the summit!
(Photo credit: Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) / Tyler Schmitt)
Snorkel with sea turtles
You don’t have to try very hard to hang out with sea turtles in Maui, they swim around close to shore in many popular beach areas up and down the west coast from Wailea-Makena to Kapalua. Just grab a snorkel and mask and dip down below (and keep a respectful distance, of course).
If you want to go where the sea life thrives or flex your scuba skills, the Molokini Crater proves a popular choice. The crescent-moon shaped volcanic feature peaks above the ocean surface off the coast of Maui and serves as a conservation area for hundreds of marine and bird species in rainbows of colors.