10 Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui: Add These to Your Hawaii Bucket List
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.
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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:
My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary
Tips for Driving the Road to Hana
Should You Drive the “Backside” of 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.
For more snorkeling info, read about the best snorkeling beaches on Maui plus where to find turtles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about Maui: my Maui favorites, the best Maui itinerary, how many days to spend on Maui, Maui vs Kauai, where to see turtles on Maui, my favorite road to Hana itinerary, guide for sunrise at Haleakala National Park, how to bike down Maui’s volcano, my review of the Maui Pineapple Tour, 20 of the best adventure activities on Maui, 5 Maui day trips, and the best things to do on a Maui honeymoon.
More posts about where to stay on Maui: Trying to figure out where to stay on Maui? I’ve written a ton of posts that will help. I’d start with my 15 favorite resorts and hotels on Maui. Also, you’re going to want to decide between staying on the south side or the west side so this post about Wailea vs Ka’anapali is golden. Read about my favorite luxury resorts, boutique hotels, honeymoon resorts, family friendly resorts, and condos (many under $100/night!). If you’ve narrowed down the area of the island you want to stay, but need help picking a specific hotel, read these posts about where to stay in Wailea, Kihei, Ka’anapali, Lahaina and Kapalua, and Hana. And if you just want more details (more! More! more!), read my reviews of staying at the Four Seasons and the Fairmont Kea Lani.
P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!
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