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20 off-the-beaten-path places on Maui that every local loves, from secret beaches to under-the-radar hikes

INSIDER logo INSIDER 25/1/2022 ehochberg@insider.com (Kathleen Wong)
Going to the beach in Maui is a must. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Going to the beach in Maui is a must. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

I live on Oahu, but Maui is my favorite neighboring island to visit because it doesn't feel as crowded or dense as Honolulu. It retains old island charm and is home to some of the most picturesque beaches and valleys in the world. 

I try to make it to Maui a few times a year, but I know that crowds and tourist traps can take away from that sense of rural, remote paradise. As such, I've carved out a go-to list of off-the-beaten-path places that honor the Maui I grew up with: unspoiled, raw, and visually extraordinary. 

From secret beaches devoid of crowds to incredible snorkeling and surfing spots, as well as hidden hikes tucked inside verdant valleys, and volcano craters that peek out from above the clouds, these activities will allow you to enjoy Maui like a knowledgeable local. 

I only ask that you be careful and follow the Hawaiian expression of mālama ʻāina (it's our responsibility to respect the land) and leave places just as you found them so that future generations can enjoy them. Take your trash and never take things like lava rock or sand back home. 

Some beaches enjoy fewer crowds, like Oneuli Beach or Paako Cove. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Some beaches enjoy fewer crowds, like Oneuli Beach or Paako Cove. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

The best secret beaches to avoid crowds

The beach is probably the thing you're most excited about in Hawaii. When I have free time, I too can be found surfing or relaxing on the sand, so I know that a crowded, touristy beach is a totally different experience than unwinding on a quieter, lesser-known stretch of waterfront. 

Makena Beach, known as "Big Beach" to locals, is a popular Maui beach that runs for two-thirds of a mile. Along Big Beach, you can find more secluded spots that crowds don't know about, like Oneuli Beach or Paako Cove. 

The south shore of Maui is also known for its stunning, swimmable beaches like Wailea Beach, where the Four Seasons and other resorts are located.

A lesser-known area on the south shore is Chang's Beach, which is a small pocket of sand tucked into the residential area of Wailea.

You'll also want to grab your camera and check out Maui's gorgeous colored-sand beaches, like Kaihalulu Beach's red sand and Honokalani Beach's black sand made from tiny eroded lava pebbles. 

I also want to share a few warnings when it comes to Hawaiian beaches. If lifeguard signs indicate there's a strong current or riptide, please don't try to swim into the ocean. Also be careful about where you step or kick, as you might hit a sea urchin, called wana in Hawaiian, tucked into a rock and get their spines in your foot. I've gotten a few stuck during surf sessions and limped around in pain for days. 

On that note, about 9 to 12 days after a full moon, the south and west shores commonly have box jellyfish, which sting. If you see a jellyfish or purple Portuguese man-of-war on the beach, I wouldn't risk getting in the water.

Newbie surfers can enlist the help of instructors like those at Maui Surfer Girls. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Newbie surfers can enlist the help of instructors like those at Maui Surfer Girls. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

Where to find uncrowded waves for all levels

Surfing is iconic to Hawaii, and besides Oahu, Maui is the best island to ride waves. There are spots for every level, but some are dangerous and unforgiving, so always follow the Hawaii lifeguard saying: "When in doubt, don't go out." 

For those with little experience on a board, I suggest the beginner-friendly waves at Guardrails, which isn't as crowded as fellow beginner spots, Launiupoko or Breakwall. But newbie surfers should never go out alone, so consider enlisting the help of an instructor, like from the woman-run surfing school, Maui Surfer Girls

Those with a little more experience will have a lot of fun at Olowalu, which breaks in multiple places so you can avoid crowds.

Advanced surfers have their picks too, like the world-famous Honolua Bay, known for its glassy barrels, or Hookipa. Even if you're not on their level, you should still stop by to see these surfers do their thing — it's like watching magic. 

Molokini Crater is the state's only island marine sanctuary. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Molokini Crater is the state's only island marine sanctuary. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

Go under the sea at standout snorkeling spots

With calmer waters and fewer crowds than Oahu, Maui is the best main Hawaiian island for snorkeling, in my opinion. 

I recommend the south shore especially. A lesser-known spot is La Perouse Bay, which is located as far south as the road allows and requires a brief hike through lava rock, so wear closed-toe shoes. Look for Makena Alanui Road and when you park, make sure you don't park on lava rock — your tires will thank you. Go in the early morning and you might catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins.

Or, book a trip to snorkel or dive around the crescent-shaped Molokini Crater, the state's only island marine sanctuary. With crystal-clear waters, you can catch glimpses of vibrant fish, and if you go during winter, maybe even a breaching humpback whale. 

Check out these under-the-radar hikes

One reason why Hawaii is such a great place to visit (and live) is that you can easily go from lying on the beach to hiking deep in the forest on the same day. There are hikes on Maui suited to every level, but many popular choices are often too crowded to truly enjoy.

A hike on Maui immerses you in forests, waterfalls, and more. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider A hike on Maui immerses you in forests, waterfalls, and more. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

For an easy hike with the potential for adventure, check out the Waihou Spring Trail in Makawao, which will take you through a shady forest reserve. I also suggest taking the more difficult and quieter offshoot trail to visit Waihou Springs. 

Along the Road to Hana are countless waterfalls, like the Seven Sacred Pools. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Along the Road to Hana are countless waterfalls, like the Seven Sacred Pools. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

Maui's abundance of wet valleys makes it perfect for chasing waterfalls. Along the Road to Hana are countless waterfalls, like the Seven Sacred Pools.

A hidden waterfall hike is Kopiliula Falls, a moderate two-mile trail that will have you scrambling upstream and then down a rope to the pool below the waterfall. To find the trailhead, look for mile marker 21 along the Road to Hāna. 

Whenever you hike, wear appropriate shoes and keep your electronics protected (or hidden in the car). Bring sunscreen, lots of water, and snacks, and pay attention to the weather and your skill level. Many people get injured or killed and need rescuing when they overestimate themselves or venture into risky territory. 

Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is known for its adorable goats and creamy cheese for sale. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is known for its adorable goats and creamy cheese for sale. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

Visit a farm to connect with nature

One of my favorite qualities about Maui is its abundance of farms. A brief stop or tour at a farm will give you an inside look into how people in Hawaii take care of and live off of the land.

Surfing Goat Dairy Farm, located at the base of Haleakala in Kula, is known for its adorable goats and creamy goat cheese. Or visit Alii Kula Lavender, a lavender and botanical farm lined with fragrant lavender fields. 

Foodies will want to book the Maui Pineapple Tour, which takes you through the Maui Gold Pineapple Plantation to learn about Hawaii's plantation history and iconic export, and then to the award-winning Haliimaile Distilling Company for lunch and libations.  

A hike on Maui immerses you in forests, waterfalls, and more. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider A hike on Maui immerses you in forests, waterfalls, and more. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

If all of the above is too much, or you only have time to do three things on Maui, make it these:

Visit Iao Valley, which is known for its historic and spiritual value, or book a guided tour through the Hawaii Nature Center. 

The Road to Hana is famous for its breathtaking views that take you across 59 bridges on the east side of the island. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider The Road to Hana is famous for its breathtaking views that take you across 59 bridges on the east side of the island. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

Drive the winding 52-mile-long Hana Highway or the Road to Hana. It's a famous road with breathtaking views that take you across 59 bridges from north Maui to Hana, on the east side of the island. Leave early so you have lots of daylight to navigate the tricky turns. The drive could take as little as under three hours or, if you make stops, as long as six. Be considerate of locals as the road can get backed up with tourists slowing down to take in the views.

I recommend stopping at one of the roadside stands that sell fresh tropical fruit, like dragon fruit, or other snacks. Fill up on gas while you're in town because your options are very limited on the road. 

Haleakala National Park is a magical place perched above the clouds. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider © Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider Haleakala National Park is a magical place perched above the clouds. Mia A’i Shimabuku for Insider

If there's one thing everyone should do on Maui, it's a stop at the majestic Haleakala National Park. For a truly magical memory, I recommend a sunrise reservation, which you can make online here.

Watching the sky turn orange and pink through the mystical clouds and over the volcano is one of my favorite childhood memories. The Leleiwi Overlook, a hidden gem at mile marker 17.5 and accessible by a short trail, is worth a stop. 

Even though it's Hawaii, it gets very cold at the high altitude so dress accordingly. Besides the summit of the volcano, there is much to do in the park, from hiking desert-like trails or exploring the Kipahulu District, which is a protected area where indigenous species thrive.

View Insider's comprehensive guide to visiting Maui.

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