4 Best Maui Hiking Trails from Clouds to Caves

The island of Maui is our favorite place to hike among the Hawaiian Islands. Breathtaking views and gorgeous scenery can be found everywhere. Our adventures did not turn up a single bad place while hiking in Maui.

See mountain slopes and waterfalls while hiking in Maui.
Mountains and waterfalls from the road to Hana

Why Maui is a Spectacular Place to Hike

Maui has two mountain ranges (or shield volcanoes), two lava caves and 80 beaches, some with black or red sand. Tourists can visit all of these amazing places and hike for hours. Finding places where you can go hiking in Maui is easy. Deciding where to start, and getting there, is more difficult.

The roads on Maui go around the mountains and through the middle of the island. Yes, you can drive around the entire island of Maui, but this will be a slow, all-day trip. Several roads wind around cliffs and become too narrow for two lanes. We will go into more of the travel details as we discuss the best hiking trails in Maui. Let’s begin with the highest and most challenging trail in the clouds.

The highest point in Maui has one of the best hiking trails.
Western Mountains and Hawaiian Islands from Haleakala

Haleakala National Park Has the Highest Trail in Maui

Haleakala is the largest volcano in Maui, and was active several hundred years ago. This volcano rises in the east and covers nearly 75% of the entire island. Its highest peak is 10,023 feet above sea level, which means your head is literally in the clouds at the top. Fortunately, you can drive a vehicle all the way to the top where the visitors center is located.

How amazing are the views? They are so good, many people pay to cruise downhill on a bicycle from the national park entrance gate at an elevation around 7,000 feet. To get through the entrance gate you will need to pay $30, or present a national parks pass. From the top of Maui, you may be able to see Hualalai Volcano in Hawaii on a clear day, and you will be able to hike the most popular trail in Haleakala.

Sliding Sands Trail is hiding craters in the clouds.
Sliding sands, craters and clouds

1). Sliding Sands Trail – 8+ challenging miles to crater floor and back

Address: Haleakala Hwy, Kula, HI 96790

Hours of operation: Open 24 hours, but reservations are required for sunrise hikes

This trail is like no other. It’s almost like hiking on mars! Sliding Sands Trail begins near the visitors center and descends a few miles to the crater floor. There are several craters and intersecting trails in this area. Many visitors claim the best views are noticeable prior to hiking four miles, but there are several reasons why most will not make it that far.

Most hikers begin the Sliding Sands Trail from the top. The high altitude can lead to worries about the ability to hike back uphill, and/or find a restroom in time. Furthermore, clouds often invade the views along this trail, and it is difficult to plan for the best weather at the top of a volcano. Each of those reasons caused us to limit our hike to only a few miles.

That being said, the Sliding Sands Trail is definitely worth a shot while you are hiking in Maui. If the island can keep the clouds at bay, you will have awesome views of mountains, forests, beaches AND the other Hawaiian Islands. Plus, you’ll see every inch of those colorful craters everyone comes to see.

Craters from an overlook at Haleakala National Park in Maui.
Crater floor at Haleakala National Park

If you are unable to complete a roundtrip hike on the Sliding Sands Trail, you can either do a partial hike, or continue downhill via the Halemau’u Trail which empties out onto the park road. The trail will add about eight miles to your hike, but you can hitch a ride back up from there. Alternatively, there is another trail on the other side of the volcano, Kaupo Gap, for those hikers who love a real challenge.

This trail climbs 7,000 feet from the south side of the island over several miles, before reaching the Sliding Sands Trail. However, the first few miles of the trail will find you hiking a dirt road. From there, you must try and find your way through overgrown brush on private land. Signs may, or may not, still be standing which warn of wild dogs. The Kaupo Gap Trail is truly no mans land. Only the incredibly insane would attempt such a trail, right?

Pro Tips – Clouds tend to cover the mountaintops late in the morning and parking spots fill up quickly. Arrive at Haleakala when the visitors center opens at 9am, or risk waiting behind a long line at the gate while the clouds get to the top first. You can get in before sunrise, but you will need to make a reservation. If you are visiting Hawaii as well, purchase a national parks pass because there are three more on the big island.

Hana Highway Leads to Lava Caves

Coincidentally, Maui has equal numbers of volcanoes and lava caves, which they call lava tubes. Although both tubes are publicly accessible, one of them is filled with water at Waianapanapa State Park in Hana. The other is known as Kaeleku cave, or the Hana Lava Tube. Let’s take the road to Hana, where you will pass forests, cliffs and waterfalls on the way to this incredible sight.

Another beautiful view of mountain slopes from the Red Ti Garden Maze in Hana.
Red Ti Garden Maze while hiking in Maui

2). Hana Lava Tube – easy half-mile hike with some stairs

Address: 205 Ulaino Rd, Hana, HI 96713

Hours of operation: 10:30am – 4pm

The Hana Lava Tube is one of the most popular sights along the Hana Highway. This cave was formed by lava flows nearly 1,000 years ago, and it’s no secret. However, you might be surprised to find this cave among the beautiful landscape. A short walk toward the Hana Lava Tube takes you beyond a Red Ti Garden Maze, with an impressive view of mountains and forests in the distance. Suddenly, you will come upon several steps leading down into the darkness.

The lava was extremely hot many years ago, but now the cave is cool (about 68 degrees) and water drips from the ceiling. Shine a light along the walls and the cave will glow with colors of silver and gold. Cave formations and plant-life are scarce as you navigate the nearly ancient lava. However, you can find a lava stalactite here or a sapling there. This popular hike is short and sweet, but unlike all others.

Educational markers guide the way until you arrive at a fork. Unfortunately, this is where the cave ends for the general public. The tunnel to the left is narrow and dangerous, while the path to the right is privately owned. Perhaps some parts of the lava tube still remain unexplored.

Looking up at the cave walls inside the Hana Lava Tube.
The colors inside Hana Lava Tube

The Hana Lava Tube is open daily from 10:30am – 4pm. General admission is $15 per person. There are several steps leading into the cave, and you must return the way you came. This is a self guided tour and you will be given a flashlight, or two, at the visitors center. The nearby parking area is only large enough for a handful of vehicles, but there is an overflow lot as well. Portable restrooms and a picnic area are also available near the visitors center.

Pro Tip – Plan this activity while taking the Hana Highway, and then visit the next hiking trail in Maui, which is nearby.

Waianapanapa State Park Has the Best Black Sand Beach and Cliffs

This may be the most amazing state park in Hawaii. Located on the west side of Hana, Waianapanapa State Park offers spectacular views from its volcanic coastline trail. This is a perfect place to camp, fish, or go hiking with your dog. That’s right, the park is dog friendly! Just ensure the black sand and lava rocks are not too hot on those paws.

The parking area at Waianapanapa State Park leads to an overlook of the black sand beach. A concrete pathway leads around to other cliffs, or down to the beach. The black sand beach is within a small bay, but the unstoppable waves make visitors reluctant to enter the water. However, you don’t need to swim at the park to have an amazing time. From the beach you can access a trail following the black cliffs for miles.

The best black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park.
Black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park

3). Piilani Trail – 2-mile volcanic cliff trail (towards the airport)

Address: 255 Waianapanapa Rd, Hana, HI 96713

Hours of operation: 7am – 6pm (reservation required)

The previous photo was taken from the black cliffs along the Piilani Trail. The trail marker is located opposite the cave on the black sand beach. This amazing trail follows the volcanic cliffs to a small airport nearby. However, you can also hike in the other direction toward Hana. Online trail maps for hiking in Maui, can be confusing and do not do this trail justice.

The views along this volcanic coastline trail are as good as any on the island. The mountain slopes appear on one side and ocean waves crash against black cliffs on the other, no matter which direction you hike. Look down through cracks in the rocks and you will see black crabs moving around like giant spiders. As we suspected, these crabs use the color of the volcanic rock as camouflage.

Rough blue waters crash into the volcanic cliffs of Maui.
Waves crash into volcanic cliffs at Waianapanapa

Many people seem to recommend wearing water shoes on this trail, but we would recommend hiking shoes or boots. Save your water shoes for the beach, people. This is a rocky cliff trail, and there are thousands of places to get caught or tripped up on the rocks while hiking in Maui.

Although the Piilani Trail is not overly challenging, you will find very little shade beyond the first quarter mile. The trail is nothing short of spectacular, but be prepared to traverse the black rocks in direct sunlight. There are several points of interest along this trail besides the black sand beach. Explore, but be respectful of grave sites, monuments and the black cliffs.

Pro Tip – Access to Waianapanapa State Park is by reservation only, and visitors must pay fees to enter and park. You MUST make a reservation online for a specific 3-hour time slot if you want to visit this park.

The West Maui Mountains are Underrated

While most visitors are taking the road to Hana, or the pathway to the clouds at Haleakala, there are beautiful mountains in the west waiting to be explored. These mountains are older and hide incredible views such as the Wall of Tears. Helicopter tours will take you to some sights within the west mountains, but there are trails to be found for those who prefer to have their boots on the ground. The only issue is the drive.

Some tourists claim the Hana Highway is dangerous and scary. It is a slow, winding road with many narrow sections, but the most potential danger is probably a sideswipe from oncoming traffic. Most visitors fail to obey the yield signs as the road narrows. If you approach a yield sign and there is another vehicle waiting across from you, it is NOT your turn. Exercise some patience and enjoy the scenery rather than tailgating through the narrow crossings.

The best trails in Maui provide far reaching views from the mountains.
Ascending the Waihee Ridge Trail in Maui

In our opinion, the road along the northwest part of Maui seems far more dangerous than the Hana Highway. The winding road high above the cliffs appears very foreboding, and the narrow sections are much longer. It is incredibly difficult to determine if there is oncoming traffic in some areas, and the residents do not take it slow. In fact, we were passed along this one-lane road where the speed limit is only 20 mph, and there is no visibility around corners. Now that is dangerous!

Whether you choose to fly or drive, the gorgeous views from the west Maui mountains are better than you can imagine. Although the final trail does not ascend the highest peaks, the scenery is no less breathtaking. This trail is not inside a state or national park, but you will still need to get here early to avoid the crowds.

The Waihee Ridge Trail has some of the best views in Maui.
Rising sun over Haleakala

4). Waihee Ridge Trail – breathtaking 2.5 mile climb

Address: Kahekili Hwy, Wailuku, HI 96793

Hours of operation: 7am – 7pm

On the Waihee Ridge Trail, you may see visitors or you may see locals. Surprisingly, some of the locals run up and down this moderately challenging trail. It begins about 1,000 feet above the cliffs on the north side of Maui, and climbs to an elevation of 2,563 feet within the west Maui mountains. It begins beneath the shade of some tall trees, but opens up as you see waterfalls and gorges during the ascent.

The Waihee Ridge Trail is no casual stroll. The elevation gain is equivalent to a little more than 100 floors, and the trail will most likely be muddy. Even with hiking boots, we found the descent to be more challenging than the climb. However, the far reaching island views from the ridge are awesome. Clouds were not an issue during our hike because they remained above the gorge and around the higher peaks. The roundtrip hike took two hours, and the hike down was no easier because of the slippery trail.

Unlike some of the other popular trails in Maui, this one is free and dog friendly. We noticed several dogs hiking Waihee Ridge Trail, which made the experience even better. The dogs did not find the trail to be difficult.

Pro Tips – Prepare to hike muddy slopes, and arrive as early as possible. The parking area at the trailhead is small. If you get to Waihee Ridge Trail closer to midday, you might as well park in the overflow lot, which is a mile further down the road.

The Hiking Trails in Maui are Best Early in the Day

There truly is no bad place to hike in Maui, as long as you can beat the clouds and the crowds. In fact, the title of this article could have been, “4 Best Maui Hiking Trails from Clouds to Crowds”, because everyday the clouds rolled in late in the morning, and the crowds began to roll into the parks at the same time. Arrive early and you will have the best chance of getting a parking space and clear views along the trails. However, some of these trails may be good places to see the sunset in Maui, or the dark skies. Let us know which trail is your favorite after your visit to this phenomenal island.

I’m a certified personal trainer in San Antonio. After adopting Abbey, I created Places for Pups to help you get outside, exercise with your dog and have fun doing it. We have mastered hiking in Texas Hill Country. Though we emerge from the woods unharmed, we are not responsible for you or your pets. You are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed on this site. Grab the best hiking gear and go dog friendly.  I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.

David Earley

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