Hawaii, Part I: 5-Day Maui Camping Itinerary

Maui was our first and favorite island on a two-week, three-island trip to Hawaii. We flew our camping gear across the Pacific and toured the island in five days, pitching a tent along the way. These campgrounds in Maui beat the location of any luxury hotel at just a fraction of the cost.

Day 1 – Haleakalā National Park

Upon landing in Kahului airport, we started our island arrival travel routine: shuttle to the rental car facility, pick up the car, go grocery shopping and drive to ACE for propane gas. Maui welcomed us with heavy winds, a splash of tropical rain and a rainbow.

The curvy Haleakalā Highway transported us 7,000 feet high, into the cloud belt of Maui’s majestic volcano. Hosmer Grove Campground was cold and gloomy by the time we arrived. We put on our cold-weather clothes for the first and last time in Hawaii, and turned in for an early night. The next morning, our jet lag and cold toes helped us waking up before dawn. At 10,000 feet, the Haleakalā Summit offers a stunning sunrise in return for a freezing morning.

After sunrise on the crater rim, we descended into the crater along the Sliding Sands trail. The entire trail is 11 miles out and back, implying a downhill walk out and a strenuous climb back. We cut the trail in half and hiked close to 5 miles round trip, enough to take in the spectacular volcanic landscapes.

The silverswords made up our point of return. Pictures really can’t show how beautiful and unique this hike above the clouds is.

By noon, we had left the Summit District of Haleakalā National Park and were heading to sea level.

Campground: Hosmer Grove

Hosmer Grove campground is located in the Summit District of Haleakalā National Park. There are six spots for tent campers only, with vault toilets but no showers. When the gloominess makes way for sunny skies, the campground becomes a birder’s paradise.

At just a 30-minute drive from the Haleakalā summit, Hosmer Grove saves precious sleeping time ahead of a sunrise reservation. The latter comes included with a stay at the campground.

Day 2 – Road to Hana

The road to Hana is a very scenic 64-mile drive from Kahului to Hana. With over 50 one-way bridges and many reasons to pull over – but little parking to do so – the drive can easily go from scenic to stressful.

Traveling in the aftermath of COVID, traffic was not in full swing yet. Still, many points of interest were crowded and impossible to park at. After just a couple of miles, we decided to ignore the yellow stars on my Google Maps and let the road guide us instead. If we saw movement and room to pull over, we did. Without focussing on must-see stops, the road to Hana promises an enchanting drive through lush rainforest.

We entered the Hana Highway at the zero marker of Route 360 around 12 p.m. The Ke’anae Peninsula marks the half-way to Hana, with spectacular ocean views all around.

The Road to Hana is scattered with beautiful waterfalls, so we bypassed the ones that require a fee to enter or park. Many can even be seen from the road, one of the reasons that make this drive such a scenic one.

Shortly before reaching Hana, the drive holds one more surprise. Waiʻānapanapa State Park is a stunning park along Maui’s eastern coast. The contrast between the black sand beaches and lush green vegetation is a sight to behold.

There is an easy trail along the coast that starts at the black sand beach. It offers stunning views of the coastline and the green mountains beyond.

Our arrival to Hana was celebrated with the first poke bowl of the trip. Poke Bob’s is one of several food trucks next to the church in Hana. From this day onwards, we sticked to a strict diet of camping meals and poke bowls in Hawaii.

Campground: Waiʻānapanapa State Park

Since the pandemic, a reservation system is in place to visit Waiʻānapanapa State Park. The time slots run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Camping at Waiʻānapanapa gave us the privilege of sticking around in the park after sunset, when it is closed to visitors. Moreover, we got to witness a beautiful sunrise the next morning.

The campground is an open grassfield without marked spots. With the ocean just steps away, picnic tables offer prime views. We used the outdoor rinse showers for a quick and refreshing wash. Even though the entrance to the black sand beach area is closed at night, there are plenty of spots to take in beautiful ocean views after dusk and before dawn.

Day 3 – Kīpahulu & Back Road to Hana

The scenic drive does not end when reaching the town of Hana. On the contrary, we found the section between Hana and Kīpahulu even more enchanting. At 9 a.m., we only came across a handful of cars.

The tropical Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park is a world apart from the Summit District in central Maui. The road offers a bird’s eye view of ‘Ohe‘o Gulch Pools before reaching the park’s entrance. Inside the park, there is short trail leading up to the pools.

We hiked the Pipiwai trail to Waimoko Falls. The trail passes through a giant bamboo forest before reaching the impressive 400-foot waterfall.

From Kīpahulu, the road continues along the coast to make a loop around the island. This section at the backside of the Haleakalā volcano is often referred to as the Back Road to Hana. The road is narrower, has unpaved sections and runs scarily close to the ocean at times. Nonetheless, we found it perfectly drivable in a regular sedan. The volcanic landscape created by Haleakalā is contrasted with vast ocean views for the duration of the drive.

When reaching Maui Wine, the adventurous Back Road to Hana is officially over. We intended to celebrate our safe passage with a pineapple tasting, but the three splashes of wine left something to be desired.

Before setting up camp on Maui’s West Coast, we stopped at ʻĪao Needle State Monument. A short trail leads up to a scenic viewing platform of this sacred rock formation.

Campground: Camp Olowalu

Camp Olowalu is perfectly positioned to discover West Maui. We spent three nights at this private campground while venturing out along the West Coast. In addition to tent camping, there are several lodging options to pick from. Shared amenities include hot showers, restrooms and a garden to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

The location of Camp Olowalu really can’t be beat. The campground is oceanfront, with Hawaii’s landmark green ridges as a backdrop. Our tent spot (21) was just steps away from the beach. We went to sleep and woke up with ocean views and the sound of gentle waves (and some roosters and kids running around, too).

Day 4 – West Maui

We reserved a sailing and snorkeling trip with Sail Maui to the Lana’i Coast. The five-hour trip departs from Lahaina Harbor and includes breakfast, lunch and an open bar.

Even though strong winds got in the way of any snorkeling, we enjoyed every minute of the trip. The crew made many attempts to anker down for snorkeling, but had to take us sailing on the catamaran instead. They made sure our mimosas and Mai Tai’s were never empty. On top of the spectacular ridge views from the water, we spotted several whales.

After docking at Lahaina Harbor, we drove further north to Kapalua Bay. The Kapalua Coastal Trail has stunning views of the coastline and the luxury resorts that line it. We took our very first dip in Hawaiian waters in beautiful Kapalua Bay.

Day 5 – South Maui

After four days in Maui, we had yet to explore what attracts most visitors to the island: world-class beaches. South Maui is home to some of the best beaches in Hawaii, and in turn houses several luxury resorts. To paint the picture, HBO-series White Lotus was filmed at the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea.

We started our day with a not so beach-proof breakfast at Kihei Caffe. Loco Moco is a traditional Hawaiian plate made of white rice, topped with a hamburger, a fried egg and brown gravy. Understandably, we had to take a beach nap to recover from this breakfast bomb.

Maluaka Beach is also known as Turtle Town, one of the best snorkeling spots in Maui. We didn’t see any turtles, but did get up close with Hawaii’s tropical fish for the first time. The water is crystal-clear and calm, as the beach is located in a bay.

We spent the afternoon on another beautiful beach in South Maui. Makena Beach is an undeveloped, 1.5-mile stretch of white sand and turquoise water. With waves crashing on the shore, this beach is more suited for surfing than snorkeling. Or for taking long beach walks.

A visit to Maui is not complete without enjoying a lūʻau, a traditional Hawaiian feast of delicious food, drinks and dance. We attended the Feast at Lele, a lūʻau right on the beach in Lahaina. It’s a unique experience in Hawaii and well worth the splurge.

The Feast at Lele offers a different take on a traditional lūʻau. The menu of food and dance is a royal tour through Polynesia. Each of the five courses originates from a different Polynesian island, and is paired with traditional dance from the same region.

The setting on the beach is stunning and comes with a beautiful sunset. Topped off with an open bar and delicious cocktails, our last night in Maui was one to never forget.

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