This post was written before devastating wildfires swept through the historic town of Lahaina in early August 2023.
Here’s what you need to know: 1) Lahaina is almost completely gone and the area is 100% off limits to visitors. 2) The resort areas of West Maui north of Lahaina (Ka’anapali, Napili & Kapalua) are undamaged from the fires and are scheduled to fully reopen to tourism on October 8, 2023. 3) The rest (majority) of the island is unaffected and open to visitors. 4) Locals on the island (both those personally affected and not) are grieving this tragedy and likely will be for a long time to come. Even though the return of tourism for the economy is largely necessary, your compassion and kindness during your interactions go a long way.
I’ll keep this updated as the situation progresses. All of the information in this post remains unaffected.
I could give you a list of 100 things you absolutely don’t want to miss on Maui (and believe me I have on this blog), but I’m going to keep it short and sweet here. You can go to ANY Hawaiian island and find beautiful beaches and fun adventures like snorkeling, surfing, paddleboarding, horseback riding, tennis, golf, zipline, etc. You get the drill.
There are a lot of things that while 100% amazing, you’ll find some version of it on every island.
So this post is all about things that you can ONLY do on Maui. This is what makes the island unique and hopefully it’ll help you put together an itinerary whether you’re coming for three days or three weeks.
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means I’ll make a little money on anything you choose to purchase. But of course, I only recommend my absolute favorites to you. Thank you for supporting the brands that make the Lincoln Travel Co possible.
Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui
Drive the Road to Hana
Maui’s most epic adventure is driving the famed “Road to Hana.” Hana is a tiny town in the Eastern jungles of Maui, but it’s not about Hana itself, it’s about the journey to get there.
Tales of the harrowing drive along narrow and windy roads along cliffs, through jungles, and past waterfalls have only built up the folklore surrounding Hawaii’s most popular drive.
And taking part is practically a right of passage when visiting Maui. Set out early, stopping to grab breakfast in Paia town and see all the sights along the way.
Your journey past rainbow eucalyptus trees, bamboo forests, black and red sand beaches, 400 foot waterfalls, and Hana town itself will give you a taste of the real Hawaii. Old Hawaii.
Of all the things to do in Maui, you really shouldn’t miss this one.
I’ve written a few posts about the road to Hana:
Haleakala National Park
There aren’t many places in the world where you can stand on top of a 10,000 ft tall volcano in the middle of the ocean and watch the sun begin to awaken.
It’s become a pilgrimage of sorts, with bleary eyed tourists waking up in the middle of the night and donning coats and hats to make the long and windy drive up the mountain to Haleakala’s summit where they stake out spots and wait for a glimpse of those first sights of peachy orange hues peaking through the cloud canopy.
It’s been called magical and that’s all you can really say about it. You’re unlikely to experience this kind of phenomenon anywhere else in the world.
If you’re making the trek up to Haleakala for sunrise (entering the park between 3AM and 7AM), you’ll need a reservation through the National Park service. You can make reservations 60 days in advance and they cost $1 (plus the $30 park admission/vehicle upon arrival).
Read everything you need to know about sunrise and sunset at Haleakala here.
But there’s more to Haleakala National Park than just the sunrise. If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll want to put hiking down into the crater on your list.
And if the extreme weather (and wake up call) for sunrise is a little off putting, it’s still 100% worth going up to Haleakala during the day.
Snorkel Molokini Crater
Molokini Crater is Maui’s famed snorkeling spot and a short boat ride away from South Maui.
This crescent shaped crater creates a protected refuge and ideal spot for snorkeling with countless species of fish and some of the most impressive coral formations in Hawaii.
Boat trips out of South Maui to Molokini (either leaving from Ma’alaea, the Kihei boat ramp, or Maluaka Beach) will usually include also include a stop at Turtle Town…a spot that’s well known for, you guessed it…turtles!
There are a TON of companies that offer trips to Molokini, but my personal favorite is this one with Kai Kanani. Their sunrise snorkel tour leaves from Maluaka Beach in Makena which is the closest departure point to Molokini (the shorter boat ride you’ll find) plus since they leave so early you’ll be one of the only boats in the crater when you arrive.
Read all about my experience snorkeling at Molokini here.
***Want to save major $$$ on a fancy beach resort? My favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free nights at some of the island’s most high end resorts. My go to hotel brand is Marriott so I use this Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card to rack up points for a lot of my trips to Hawaii. If you pay for your monthly expenses on the card and are responsible about paying it off every month, the points add up really fast. Plus, if you sign up through my link, you’ll get THREE bonus free nights to use. On Maui, use your points at some of my favorite Marriott properties like the Wailea Beach Resort, Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Westin Maui, and Sheraton Maui.
While whales can be seen throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands in season (December through April), they’re most prevalent in the shallow waters in the channel between Maui and Lanai and Molokai.
All islands have some form of whale watching tours you can go on, but it seems like for every one whale you’ll see on another island, you’ll see 5-10 on Maui. So if you’re visiting multiple islands, definitely go whale watching on Maui.
And if you’re all about unique wildlife experiences, you may want to plan your trip so you’re on Maui in February. It’s PEAK whale season and they are EVERYWHERE.
Read all about my favorite whale watching tour on Maui here.
Bike the Volcano
While many people ascend to the summit of Haleakala each morning to watch the sunrise, the adventurous ones follow it up with a downhill bike ride from summit to sea.
In my opinion, seeing sunrise at the summit and then biking down the slopes of 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!).
You don’t even need to be in great shape to do the bike ride…it’s all downhill! When I’ve done it, I probably pedaled less than about 10 rotations the entire time.
There are a lot of different tour options with different companies (some that include sunrise at the summit and some that just include the bike portion), but I’ve personally done this tour with Maui Sunriders with my family and we had a blast!
It was actually a little different when I did it (you rode the whole way down by yourself), but now they pick you up and drive you in the van through a more congested/highway portion so it’s even safer.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Dinner at Mama’s Fish House
As funny as it sounds, this is pretty much the only thing I do EVERY TIME I’m on Maui ; )
By far the most popular restaurant in Hawaii, if you tell 10 people you’re going to Maui that have been there before I bet the first thing 9 of them will tell you to do is make reservations at Mama’s Fish House.
It’s not cheap, but it never disappoints. And it really is an EXPERIENCE. Read more about it here.
Spend Time Upcountry
The slopes of Haleakala are home to an area called the “upcountry.” It’s by far the largest area of Maui, it’s a predominantly local area, and if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean you’d probably think you were in the Texas Hill Country or Colorado high meadows instead of Hawaii.
The lava rock has created super fertile soil and that combined with the moderate climate make for spectacular agricultural conditions.
You’ll find every type of farm tour you can think of here.
On my “don’t miss” list is the Ali’i Lavender Farm, Maui Wine, and Maui Pineapple Tour.
The lavender farm has beautiful gardens, a quaint gift shop, and a nice café but the views of the island are what makes this a do not miss attraction. They have activities you can sign up for every week, like making wreaths out of succulents and there’s also a scavenger hunt through their gardens.
My other favorite is Maui Wine. The drive is reason enough to go, but the tasting room on the charming property and unique pineapple wine make Maui Wine a truly unique experience. Buy a few bottles to take back to friends or walk across the street to the ranch store for an elk burger and some souvenir shopping. There are a couple of free tours offered daily.
And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Maui Pineapple Tour is the most underrated experience on Maui. Everybody talks about the Dole Plantation on Oahu (it’s just a big tourist trap), but this tour takes you behind a working pineapple farm. You’ll see the whole process of growing Maui Gold pineapple from start to finish…from planting to harvesting to packaging! You’ll get to sample plenty of pineapple plus take one home with you! Read my full review of this tour here.
Also O’o Farms has a farm to table experience that’s super cool and if you have kids they’ll love the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm.
Read more about the upcountry here.
Maui’s Iao Valley is where you’re going to want to go to get those “Jurassic Park vibes.” Jagged, green mountains are the backdrop to a lush jungle that seems like it could be home to a spare dino or two. In terms of actual history, this is the site where King Kamehameha I defeated Maui’s army and united the Hawaiian Islands.
You’ll need to do a little light hiking to get the best views, but it’s a great easy hike on Maui. There’s a 0.6 mile paved walkway that leads to an overlook of the Iao Needle. There’s also a small botanical garden where you can learn about the plants brought to the valley by the Hawaiians who first settled there.
Iao Valley State Park closed in August 2022 (with an expected reopening date of April 2023) to do some major improvements so check its status before your trip.
Parking is $10 plus a $5/person entrance fee.
On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I always book with Vrbo. They’ve got the largest selection of rentals you’ll find anywhere and you can easily filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. Need a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Narrowed it down to a certain location? Want flexible cancellation terms? Need to stay under a fixed budget? Click here to search for Maui vacation rentals for your trip.
Day Trip to Lanai
I know a lot of people are interested in island hopping during their trip and I get asked a lot of questions about taking ferries instead of planes…well Maui and Lanai are the only two Hawaiian Islands that are currently connected via ferry.
You’ve got two options here:
- Take the public ferry from Lahaina (Maui) to Manele (Lanai). Roundtrip tickets are $60/adult, $40/child and there’s a handful of departure and return times to choose from. The ferry ride takes about an hour and you’ll dock in Lanai within walking distance to a pretty great beach. But if you want to see much of the island, you’ll either need to book a tour/excursion or at least a taxi/shuttle into town.
- Book a boat trip with a company like Trilogy that includes snorkeling and a beach BBQ on the island.
Lanai is a beautiful island, but nowadays it’s largely privately owned and a playground for the rich and famous (there are two Four Seasons resorts on the tiny island). There’s a cat sanctuary that interests some people but 4×4 rentals/tours are the main draw. But really…unless you’re going to stay at the resort, I feel like most people go to Lanai for the day just to check it off their Hawaii island list. It’s a great day trip, but unless you’re been to Maui before (or you’re spending more than a week on Maui), I would probably skip it and just spend the day on Maui.
Old Lahaina Luau
Ok yes, there are luaus on every Hawaiian Island, but I strongly believe that the Old Lahaina Luau is the best luau in all of Hawaii and if you’re doing a multi island trip and you’re trying to decide where to do your luau, pick this one.
Read my full review here.
Still Looking for a Place to Stay?
Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…
Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip
You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!
Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.
That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.
I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )
But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.
Haleakala National Park (Maui)
To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.
Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).
Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).
The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.
You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).
If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.
I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.
Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)
To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.
Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).
It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.
Reservations open up 30 days in advance.
Iao Valley State Park (Maui)
To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.
Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.
Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.
Reservations open up 30 days in advance.
Diamond Head (Oahu)
To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.
Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.
Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.
Reservations open up 30 days in advance.
Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.
Hanauma Bay (Oahu)
To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.
Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.
Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).
If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.
There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.
It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).
The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.
Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.
USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)
If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.
Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.
Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???
They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.
The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.
They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.
Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)
If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:
1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.
2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.
3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.
The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.
There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.
Other Things to Book in Advance
Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):
Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and they’ve been opening reservations (and selling out) 4-6 months in advance. You can call and get on the waitlist for one day or you can set notifications on OpenTable to alert you for cancellations every day of your trip. Most people have pretty good success on OpenTable.
Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.
Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.
Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.
Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.
Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: My Favorite Hotels on Maui | Wailea vs Ka’anapali | All of the Wailea Resorts Ranked | Maui Travel Tips | Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui | Where to Find Maui’s Best Condos and Vacation Rentals | My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary | Road to Hana Tips | Should You Drive the Backside of the Road to Hana? | 10 Day Maui Itinerary | Best Snorkeling Beaches on Maui | Snorkeling Molokini Crater | Old Lahaina Luau Review | Is Mama’s Fish House Worth It? | Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park | Things to Do in Wailea | Things to Do on the North Shore | Things to Do Upcountry | Where to See Turtles on Maui | Whale Watching on Maui | Maui Pineapple Tour | Where to Stay in Hana | Where to Stay in Kihei | Where to Stay in Lahaina & Ka’anapali | Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei | Fine Dining on Maui | Best Restaurants in Wailea | Best Restaurants in Lahaina | Grand Wailea Luau Review | Maui vs Kauai | Four Seasons Maui Review | Andaz Maui Review | Fairmont Kea Lani Review | Wailea Beach Resort Review | Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui | Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort | Best Breakfast in Wailea
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