Maui's Pathways to Paradise
Maui’s scenic trails and walkways are nō ka ’oi—the best. So grab your shades, Fitbit, shoes, or “slippahs,” and refresh your soul on the island’s seaside and mountainside footpaths.
Trek up to the Haleakalā summit to see breathtaking views of the volcanic crater in Maui’s Haleakalā National Park.
Mauka and makai—or “toward the mountain-side and toward the oceanside”—are how the Hawaiians commonly orient themselves in their mellifluous native tongue. The mountains and sea are cherished here, considered sacred gifts of nature, and in ancient times formed the natural boundaries of royal land divisions.
On Maui, it’s the makai (oceanside) that captivates and entertains the senses of travelers, many of whom come here to walk or run along the island’s myriad coastal paths. Following the tradition of the “king’s paths” used for centuries by native Hawaiians, modern-day islanders and visitors enjoy these scenic routes, where they can access Maui’s land and sea for exercise and rejuvenation. The pathways also lead visitors to restaurants and hotels, inviting bar and resort hopping, leisurely beach walks, and strolls past the island’s finest seaside homes.
The views from Maui’s coastal paths can be described in one word: magical. From the wave-kissed sandy shores of South and West Maui to the windy, surf-slammed beaches of the northwest and North Shores, the “Valley Isle’s” coastline touts dreamy vistas of neighbor islands Lanai and Molokai floating on the horizon across wide channels of blue Pacific water. From January through March, migrating humpback whales frolic just offshore. Year-round, seabirds soar overhead, and sailboats, kayakers, and paddle boarders drift by on a sparkling sea.
For those seeking a bit more elevation and a bird’s-eye view of the scenery, take a hike on Maui’s more rugged side to explore hidden terrain and often-overlooked beauty in Upcountry and Hana. Fun, fitness, phenomenal food, and panoramic outlooks await on your own mauka and makai experiences.
SUBLIME SOUTH MAUI
From whale watching, to art adventures, to off-the-beaten-path beaches, this region has it all.
A splendid paved 1.5-mile-long coastal path between the chic Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort at Mokapu Beach and the all-suite Fairmont Kea Lani at Polo Beach leads to some of Maui’s most scenic sandy shores and luxury accommodations. It’s especially popular for morning runs and walks.
If possible, plan a winter trip to Maui. From January through March, the Wailea coastal path is one of the prime spots to watch for humpback whales. These huge mammals migrate to the warm, shallow waters of the Hawaiian Islands each winter to mate and give birth. It’s a spectacular nature show, as the whales spout clouds of mist with each breath, slap their tails and heads against the water with amazing force, and leap exuberantly above the ocean’s surface.
On the makai side of the path, interpretive signs detail some of the 30 species of native Hawaiian plants that have adapted to the harsh coastal climate of South Maui and the extremes of heat, salt, and wind. These hardy plants include beach Naupaka, silvery hinahina, and succulent akulikuli. Early Hawaiians used various plants, including the flowers of the ilima for making leis, the wood of the aalii for house building, and the dried leaves of the kookoolau for medicinal tea.
A short stroll off the path leads to spectacular art in the lobby and hallways of the Grand Wailea hotel. The largest private art collection in Hawaii features an amazing array of plump, oversize bronze figures by the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero as well as several Cubist sculptures by the Spanish artist Juan Gris. Nearby, Four Seasons Resort Maui offers a daily open-air artists’ gallery, showcasing a variety of media—from wood sculpture to woven baskets—by a rotation of Maui’s most notable talent. Artisans are on hand daily from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m. for a meet-the-artist experience. Preview The Art Collection at Four Seasons (featuring more than 280 unique and original artworks—including paintings, sculptures, photography, ceramics, textiles, artifacts, wood vessels, and feather leis) on the resort’s YouTube channel before you explore the grounds. The concierge desk at Four Seasons also offers free iPod audio art tours and a booklet for guests and the general public. , .
After a day spent exploring, don’t miss the chance to bar hop along the Wailea Beach path. Top choices include the Luana lounge (featuring libations by award-winning mixologist Aaron Alcala-Mosley) and Ko restaurant (for delicious pupus at dinnertime) at the Fairmont Kea Lani; the Botero Lounge at the Grand Wailea (happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. plus live music); Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons (hula and Hawaiian music); and Lehua Lounge at Andaz (artisanal cocktails). , , , .
La Perouse Bay
A gorgeous turquoise bay ringed by jagged lava fields from Haleakalā’s last volcanic eruption in 1790, La Perouse is the end of the road—literally—
in South Maui. This is a scenic, lightly visited place for hikers seeking a rugged natural landscape. The trails here lead down to the coast through sun-blasted lava fields (good shoes and lots of water are imperative) to several sandy beaches and little coves where spinner dolphins can often be spotted between 8 and 10 a.m.
Hike the shoreline trail, or take a short detour around ancient Hawaiian ruins, to the Hoapili Trail—also known as the King’s Highway—which is believed to be an old path the early Hawaiians walked on barefoot. At a signpost, the Hoapili Trail continues for another two miles to secluded Keawanaku Beach, a fantastic place for snorkeling. The shoreline trail will lead you to the western point of Cape Hanamanioa and the southernmost tip of La Perouse Bay for a remarkable three-mile, round-trip stroll.
La Perouse is also one of Maui’s top snorkeling spots, rich in colorful fish like wrasse, Moorish idols, tang, convict fish, and lionfish.
MAUI’S WONDROUS WEST
Ignore the crowds, and bask in the glorious views, resort entertainment, and serene waters along this scenic coastal stretch.
Maui’s most popular and resort-packed beachwalk, this 1.5-mile (each way) seaside path starts from Canoe Beach at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, and goes to the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa at Black Rock, before continuing another mile or so to The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas and the splendid Westin Nanea Ocean Villas.
Flat and scenic, this is a perfect route to walk or run in the early morning and evening hours, when fewer people are out and the views are particularly magical. (The views of Lanai and Molokai on the horizon are lovely.) Stroll the path at sunset to enjoy the hotels’ Hawaiian music and hula shows, as well as a nightly cliff-diving ceremony at Black Rock. During the day, the trail bustles with Disneyland-esque crowds and has a somewhat jarring, not-so-Hawaiian commercial edge. Luckily, it is easy to escape the masses with a dip in the welcoming waters off the long, beautiful sandy beach. The waters by the Sheraton resort end of Kaanapali Beach are best for swimming, and there’s excellent snorkeling near the jagged volcanic cliffs of Black Rock.
Kapalua’s nature-soaked 1.75-mile-long path is a combination of paved road, dirt trails, resort walkways, and boardwalk. It stretches along a stunning swath of coastline from Napili Bay to Kapalua Bay, then past Namalu Bay (known for cliff diving and the Montage Kapalua Bay resort); Hawea Point (home to a wedge-tailed shearwater colony and nesting site); Dragon’s Teeth at Makaluapuna Point (bizarre rock formations formed by the wind and water); and Honokahua Bay (featuring D.T. Fleming Beach Park, a perfect spot for body boarding). To walk along a mountain ridge high above the shore, connect to the Mahana Ridge Trail near The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
For some R & R after your Kapalua trail walk, head to the Montage resort for Sunday brunch, or dinner at the airy Cane and Canoe. Or sample the pupus, mai tais, and other tropical drinks while enjoying ocean views at the resort’s Hana Hou bar. .
EXPLORE EAST MAUI
Lush landscapes, culinary delights, and a dormant volcano are among the highlights in this majestic area.
Upcountry and the Summit of Haleakalā
Located on the east side of Maui, Upcountry is known for its rolling hills and ranch lands. Serene peaks overlook the landscape, and spectacular views of the other Hawaiian Islands stretch out in the distance. This is where to come for farm-fresh food, quiet relaxation, and outdoor expeditions.
Start by heading to the summit area of Haleakalā National Park, some 10,000 feet above sea level. From epic sunrises (worth the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call) to 30 miles of sandy trails into the crater of a dormant volcano, adventure awaits both experienced and novice wilderness trekkers. Take the Sliding Sands Trail from the visitor center, and hike as far as you’d like into the crater, getting up close and personal with cinder cones and evidence of past eruptions along the way. If long hikes aren’t on your agenda, walk the short Pa Kaoao Trail, which gets you close to the top of the mountain and boasts amazing views of the crater and its cinder cones, along with plants found only in the national park. Keep your eye open for a sighting of the elusive ’ua’u, a seabird that nests in the rocks on top of Haleakalā around sunset from May through September. .
If you’re looking for a place to fill your famished belly after exploring Haleakalā, stop at Kula Lodge and Restaurant on your drive back down the mountain. Ask for a table by the windows so you can enjoy stunning vistas of Wailea to the left, the edge of Molokai to the right, the flatlands in between, or the rugged West Maui Forest Reserve’s eastern face. Make sure to order a mai tai, too—it’s one of the best on the island. .
Afterward, drive 25 minutes to Maui Wine, the island’s only winery. You can try pineapple wine and taste six unexpectedly complex varietals made from grapes grown on 23 acres overlooking the ocean and the Molokini Crater. Go for the Old Jail Tasting, which includes a sampling of four wines with food pairings, as well as tastes of limited releases and yet-to-be-released wines in the property’s restored Old Jail. .
If you fall in love with the beauty of Upcountry, stay awhile by checking into Lumeria Maui, a lush retreat tucked into the foothills of Maui’s North Shore, merely an hour from the Haleakalā summit. Take a morning yoga class to rejuvenate your body and mind, or spend an afternoon nestled in a hammock among the trees in the Whispering Pine Forest. For breakfast and dinner, The Wooden Crate restaurant boasts farm-fresh food sourced from the property’s garden. Best of all, the location makes an ideal base for any Upcountry adventures you have in mind. .
Merely seven minutes away is Paia, a quintessential North Shore beach town that’s worth a visit—if not for its tropical beauty then for the world-renowned Mama’s Fish House. Decorated in true Polynesian style and showcasing breathtaking views of the beach and ocean, this restaurant couldn’t be more authentic. The menu—featuring whatever fish was caught that morning—credits each fisherman who reeled in the sea creature starring in each dish. Be sure to make reservations well in advance. .
Hana and the Kipahulu District
To truly experience Maui’s most rugged shoreline, drive the Road to Hana, and stop along the way to take in the impressive waterfalls and black sand beaches. First, stretch your legs at Twin Falls, where a half-mile walk brings you to dreamlike swimming pools perfect for a dip. Afterward, meander to the farm stand, and pick out your own coconut for a refreshing, sweet drink. Next, stop at Aunty Sandy’s banana bread stand—just be sure to arrive before 1 p.m. so you can get your hands on a mini loaf. You can also pick up a few Kalua pork sandwiches for the road.
Your last stop before arriving in Hana should be the black sand beaches of Wai’anapanapa State Park. Wander over the hardened lava fields covered by greenery, explore the lava tube caves and natural lava arch, and feel the black sand between your toes.
Nine miles beyond Hana is the remote Kipahulu District of Haleakalā, a section of preserved land that is a throwback to island life before tourism hit. Walk the Pipiwai Trail (four miles round-trip), which takes you through a bamboo forest and along a freshwater stream to the stunning 400-foot Waimoku Falls. As you hike, listen carefully to the bamboo creaking with the wind. (Note that swimming is not permitted due to a high risk of flash flooding year-round.)
Known throughout Maui for high-quality organic produce and free-range beef, the 3,000-acre Hana Ranch provides a sneak peek at the cattle-herding ways of Maui’s northeastern region. Luckily, Hana Ranch Restaurant offers fresh-off-the-farm products. (And it doesn’t get much fresher than this.) Order the half-pound Hana classic burger with bacon, guacamole, and onion rings—you won’t be disappointed, plus you deserve it after all that hiking.
For lodging, Travaasa Hana is a paradise within a paradise. Book one of the ocean-view bungalows to wake up to the sound of the waves crashing and to watch the horses roam the fields outside your lanai. Don’t rush out in the morning. Instead, take a yoga class in the open-air studio, or swim in the infinity pool, then enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the veranda at The Preserve Kitchen and Bar. When you return from your daytime adventures, spend the afternoon in the spa, where you can receive a top-notch massage or relax in the private hot tub after indulging in a steam. In the evening, have a nightcap at the bar while listening to traditional music and watching hula. You just might be invited up to dance.
More to Discover
The Hana-Waianapanapa Coastal Trail is a six-mile, round-trip walk from Kainalimu Bay just north of Hana Bay to Waianapanapa State Park. The route traverses coastal cliffs past rocky arches, black sand beaches, blowholes, and ancient temples—in part following the ancient Hawaiian King’s Highway.
Another island, another path to help you explore Hawaii on foot.
From Kauai’s cliffside tracks to the Big Island’s seaside trails through an ancient village, the Hawaiian Islands offer myriad coastal walkways filled with remarkable scenery, morning or evening.
On the east side of Kapaa, the paved coastal path Ke Ala Hele Makalae offers a wonderful way to explore Kauai’s east side on foot or by bicycle. (Several bike rental shops in Kapaa make two wheeling a cinch.)
In Poipu, on Kauai’s South Shore, the two-mile-long Mahaulepu Coastal Trail brings you to petrified sand dunes and a pristine stretch of coastline at Mahaulepu Beach. The trail starts at the southeast corner of Shipwrecks Beach at Keoneloa Bay, and heads along sandy cliffs and past groves of kiawe trees to limestone formations and rocky inlets—havens for sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
On Kauai’s North Shore, the moderately challenging but strikingly beautiful Kalalau Trail comprises the first portion of the rugged, scenic Na Pali Coast path popular with the backpacking set. Start in the morning from Ke’e Beach, and enjoy the two-mile route to pristine Hanakapiai Beach, where swimming is extremely risky due to strong and dangerous currents.
THE BIG ISLAND
On the Kohala Coast, a hike from Kiholo Bay to Mano Point brings you west to a protected series of calm, turquoise tide pools within a picturesque bay. Kiholo is one of the best places on the Big Island to view sea turtles. The trail takes you by three black sand beaches and two brackish ponds, following the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.
Kona offers a 1.1–mile, round-trip coastal walk in one of the finest parks on the Hawaiian Islands: Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and this “place of refuge” that allowed enemy combatants and Hawaiians who broke the kapu system of laws a reprieve from the death penalty if they could reach the site in time. The grounds also once housed several ancient temples, a royal palace, and fishponds.
The 2.5-mile-long Kaena Point Trail brings you to the westernmost spot in Oahu, following an old railroad bed and former dirt road. The route leads to Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve, a remote and scenic protected area that is home to native plants and seabirds, and harbors some of the last vestiges of sand dunes on the island. Whales frequent the shoreline here during the winter months.