If you’ve poked around much on this blog, you may be aware that I spent a gap year on Maui after finishing school. While getting to experience “living like a local” was ah-mazing, I also made it my mission to play tourist in my new home. One of the most popular tourist attractions on Maui is Haleakala, a large dormant volcano whose slopes are the heartland of Maui. While tons of people ascend to the summit each morning to watch the sunrise, the lucky ones get to follow it up with a downhill bike ride from summit to sea.
In my opinion, biking down Maui volcano (Haleakala) is one of the best ways to experience the crater and Upcountry Maui while getting a little dose of excitement (van tours can be sooooo boring!). There are literally dozens of companies that run Haleakala downhill biking tours and while they all offer the same basic experience, picking a tour operator that suits your adventure style will really turn your Maui volcano tour and bike ride into one of the highlights of your vacation.
I planned my downhill bike ride to coincide with a visit from my parents so there were three of us on our Haleakala adventure. We chose to ride with Maui Sunriders and I cannot recommend them enough! Owners Paolo and Dani have been on Maui for decades and they truly embody the aloha spirit. They were so kind and made my mom (who was very nervous about the ride) feel very comfortable.
We chose to do their Express Ride, which starts just outside the boundary of the National Park (tour companies haven’t been allowed to ride inside the national park since 2010). We met at their shop in Paia around 9 and after a safety spiel by Paolo, we loaded into a van with our tour guide Natalie. During our 1- 1 ½ hour ride to the drop off point, Natalie gave us an amazing tour off all the sights we passed and she knew an incredible amount on info on the local culture, customs, history, and nature.
We got dropped off right outside the national park (elevation about 6,500 feet) and once we got comfortable on our bikes, we began coasting down the switchbacks on Crater Road. Maui Sunriders offers self-paced rides so once Natalie dropped us off, we were free to go at our own pace (much slower than the other family that was in the van with us) and stop and explore whenever we wanted.
The first stop we made was at the lavender farm on Crater Road where there was a cute little café. After some lavender iced tea, we were back on our bikes and off on a beautiful ride through ranch land, eucalyptus forests, rolling meadows, cacti fields, and jacaranda trees. We stopped for lunch in Makawao at Polly’s (Paolo recommended it and even offered to come and pick anyone up who had too many margaritas!) and did some shopping.
We rode the last leg of our trip from Makawao to Paia along a twisty, tree-lined road and arrived back at the Sunrider shop tired but excited from our adventure. After we dropped our bikes off we spent some time knocking around Paia Town checking out some of my favorite shops and stopping in at the local coffee shop. Biking down Haleakala was such a cool way to experience Maui’s Upcountry (more on that here) and it’s really a “don’t miss” Maui experience.
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Tips on Picking a Haleakala Tour Operator:
- Most tour operators will offer a tour option that includes going up for sunrise with your bike ride. If you’re planning to go for sunrise, this is a great way to do it. Your tour company will take care of everything; all you have to do is show up.
- Bike tours are either self-paced or everyone rides together. For me, I knew I didn’t want to ride down the mountain with a pack of people and be confined to where the guide chose to stop and their time constraints. For those looking for more freedom to explore, I highly recommend Maui Sunriders.
- Many people pick the group led tour because they think they’ll be on their own if something happens along the way on a self-paced ride. Don’t let that be a deciding factor. Sunrider has contact info they send with you and they offer roadside assistance. This covers everything from a flat tire to being too tired to finish to having one too many margaritas at lunch.
- You don’t need to be in great shape to do the bike ride…it’s all downhill! Mostly at least; I probably only pedaled about 10 rotations the entire time.
- Sunriders provided us with full-face helmets, rain suits, backpacks, locks, and maps. I would suggest bringing water, sunscreen, and a jacket (especially if you’re doing the sunrise tour, in which case you’ll want PLENTY of layers).
- Directions from the drop off point back to the shop are EASY. During our pre ride pep talk in the shop, Paolo drilled it into our heads that the way back down the mountain was right, right, left. That’s it, only three turns in the whole 20ish mile ride.
- Different tour operators have their shops in different towns and that determines your route down. We wanted to end our self-paced tour in Paia (which is where Sunriders is). One of the most popular tour operators ends their tour in Haiku where there’s not much to see and do.
- Maui isn’t a cheap place to visit so it’s nice to save money where you can. Maui Sunriders offers competitively priced tours (they’re usually the cheapest on the island) but it’s not because they skimp on service. They don’t rely on referrals from resort concierge services (who often take up to 40% in commission) so they’re able to offer lower prices while still providing some of the best tours of the island.
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