Headed to Maui? Ditch the Beaten Path and Get to the Heart of What Makes the Valley Isle Truly Great

With just a bit more square mileage to its name than Houston or Los Angeles, it can be hard to imagine little Maui being home all that much undiscovered territory. That is, of course, unless you've been there. Yes, this wildly popular island hosts what feels like the cities of Houston and Los Angeles combined on any given week, but more adventurous visitors will come away remarking at just how much of the Valley Isle remains open and, at times, all but empty. Looking for a little more solitude (and scenery) than the resort pool can provide? Try one of these mini-adventures on for size.



Take the other road to Hana

The famed Road to Hana gets famously jammed. Thankfully, there's more than one way to get there. For a truly memorable day, head through the Upcountry, down towards Keokea and out the Piilani Highway. Unpaved in spots but perfectly passable—yes, even in a rental car, though some experience with driving in rural areas will help—you'll get massive views, lots of peace and quiet and plenty of biodiversity as you circle around the back of Mt. Haleakala, Maui's iconic volcano, and into what can only be described as the jungle. Here, in the thick of the rainforest, make time for the little roadside pit stops such as Laulima Farm, where ordering a fruit smoothie might mean a stint on the bike that powers the blender, while asking for a salad might mean someone has to take a trip to the garden out back. Need to stretch your legs? There are two popular hikes accessible from the highway before you hit the village of Hana; the lesser-appreciated would be the two-mile Pipiwai Trail, which takes you 650 feet up from sea level to Waimoku Falls, cascading 400 feet down a moss-covered, lava rock wall. Along the way, you'll pass big old banyan trees, multiple bamboo forests and more waterfalls. Allow 2-3 hours to complete this moderately easy trek.

Explore the wilds of West Maui

Think it's all resorts and touristy tiki bars? Nope—as crowded as Lahaina and the like can be, West Maui's actually long on open space. Heading out of the county seat of Wailuku on Route 340 and out into the wilds, this narrow, often unpaved road with genius views and some really treacherous curves (and very narrow stretches) is one of the island's most memorable drives, far from the madding crowds just over the mountains. Along the way, stop in the colonial-era village of Kahakuloa, where the best example of Maui's famous banana bread can be found at Julia's, a roadside stand just across from the old St. Francis Xavier mission church. It doesn't get much more Hawaii than this.  

Disappear into the highlands

Maui's Upcountry is hardly unknown—some of the island's most popular tourist traps (sorry, attractions) can be found along its scenic main drags. Relatively few visitors, however, seem all that curious about what life is like up at the end of the steep, Eucalyptus-lined Olinda Road, a dead-ender leading out of the busy cowboy town of Makawao and up toward the sky. At nearly 4,000 feet, pull off in the cool pine forests and go for a hike in the Waihou Spring Forest Reserve. Even on the warmest days, the air up here remains wholly refreshing, with ample tree cover making this a great way to spend an afternoon. Depending on how you do it, your walk can stretch up to nearly 2.5 miles, round-trip.

Snorkel the preserve

The pristine planned community of Wailea is hardly where you'd expect to find a break from the crowds, and you're right. You won't. But continue driving further south, past the exclusive homes that hug the lava-strewn coastline out towards surfer hotspot Makena Beach and into the Ahihi Keanau preserve, known for its spectacular snorkeling opportunities, and you'll be surprised at how wild it all feels, the road eventually narrowing and becoming bumpier (mind how you go in that rental car!) on its way to remote La Perouse Bay and its adjacent lava fields. Stop at the Maui Dive shop in the Four Seasons-adjacent Shops at Wailea and rent some snorkel gear, available for just a couple of bucks a day. Advice on the island's best snorkel spots is free.  

Go hang with the locals

Dramatically located on a hillside at the mouth of the cool, green ‘Iao Valley, historic Wailuku is the seat of county government, a sleepy town of about 13,000 that sees relatively few tourists. Unfortunate, because this is where you'll find some of Maui’s tastiest food and some of its warmest smiles. The island may be famed for its sunny weather, but just minutes from the hot and dry climate of beachy Kihei, you can find yourself in the ‘Iao Valley, the second-wettest place in the state (the first is on Kauai). Wailuku’s quiet Main Street runs straight into the valley, the burial ground of many important Hawaiian chiefs. Take a walk at ‘Iao Valley State Park, then stop in at the heritage gardens in Kepaniwai Park, featuring pavilions and gardens from the many and diverse groups that contributed to what we know today as Hawaiian culture. Note: Flooding in 2016 caused extensive damage to both parks – be aware that repairs are ongoing and gates may be closed at the time of your visit. Of course, a great way to learn about a culture is to eat the food, and no place on Maui offers as tasty a crash course as Wailuku, overloaded with excellent local dives. If you eat only once, however, let it be at the Geste Shrimp Truck, Maui’s answer to the more famous trucks that line Oahu’s North Shore. Anyone who's been, knows: Geste’s scampi platter beats the likes of Giovanni's, hands-down, for quality and taste. Find the truck on the harbor side of Kahului Beach Road most days—that is, until they run out of shrimp.

Looking for more to do while in Maui? We have a few more ideas:

Spearfishing in West Maui

Surf Lessons in Maui

Whale Watching in Maui