Maui is the most popular of the Hawaiian islands and for good reason. After our visit, we understood why so many people love it and visit there again and again. From the beautiful beaches to the exotic rainforests to the endless beautiful waterfalls to the world’s largest dormant volcano, the adventures on this island are countless. And although Hawaii, particularly Maui, may have a reputation for being an expensive place to visit, you really can visit Maui on a budget. Most of our favorite activities on Maui were free or cost very little.
Your most expensive costs will be your flight, accommodations and rental car. See our posts 5 Ways to Save on Flights, How to Book Accommodations on a Budget and How to Save on a Rental Car for more tips on how to save money on these.
Highlights of our time on Maui, while on a budget, included watching sunrise over the summit at Haleakala National Park, hiking through a bamboo forest, seeing countless awe-inspiring waterfalls, driving the insanely windy Road to Hana, visiting cute roadside fruit stands and relaxing on the perfectly picturesque white sand beaches.
This was also our first major trip away from the Midwest with our three month old. We loved exploring the island with her! For tips on traveling with a baby, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.
We recommend spending at least 5 days on Maui, if not longer, to see these highlights as well as to spend some time relaxing on the beach. Here is our quick guide on Maui, Hawaii.
FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in late October
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What to Do on Maui on a Budget
Drive the Road to Hana
This was our favorite and most memorable activity we did on Maui. With over 620 turns and 59 one-lane bridges, driving the windy Road to Hana is really an experience not just a drive. Along the way, you will see many picturesque waterfalls, lots of cute roadside fruit stands, gorgeous coastline views and lots of pretty unique rainforest flora.
Build Your Own Experience
The Road to Hana is really a ‘build your own experience’ activity as the stops you choose to take along the way will really create a different experience for each person who drives it. You can’t possibly stop at everything along the way if you are driving the road back and forth in one day. See 5 Stops on the Road to Hana post to see our recommendations on where to stop on your journey. Our favorite stops were the Twin Falls Hike in Haiku and the Pipiwai Trail Hike in Haleakala National Park.
The Road to Hana takes, at minimum, 2.5 hours to drive one-way (unless you drive like a local which you will understand if you travel the road). With all the stops you will make to take pictures and with time spent waiting at one way bridges, budget for at least 3 hours, if not more, each way. In addition, you will likely make some longer stops to hike, explore state parks or eat at the roadside stands. Budget at least a full day to drive this road both ways. You may want to consider staying overnight in Hana if you really want to take your time driving on the road and be able to stop at all the stops you’d please along the way.
Windy Road Cautions
Note, as mentioned above, this road is VERY windy. Anyone prone to motion sickness, like Natalie, beware. For tips on preventing this, see our post on How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying. In addition, with the windy nature of this road, drive very cautiously. Do not pass people and even though you will see some locals drive this road very aggressively, don’t contribute to the chaos. Your safety and life is more important than saving a couple minutes. Enjoy the journey!
Cost: Free but bring cash to buy items at fruit stands and for stops along the way (hikes, food trucks, botanical gardens, etc.).
Sunrise at the Summit at Haleakala National Park
Seeing the sunrise at the summit at Haleakala National Park is really a surreal experience. The sun rising over the dormant volcano among the clouds is really a sight everyone should see in-person in their lifetime. Pictures and videos truly do not do this justice. The colors that illuminate the sky are out of this world. You really feel like you are in the clouds with the summit at 10,000 feet.
For more information and for all the details on watching the sunrise at Haleakala, see our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide.
Explore more of the West Side of Haleakala National Park
Also, while on the West side of Haleakala National Park, be sure to check out the Sliding Sands Trail and some of the other lookout points after you watch the sunrise. See our Haleakala National Park Quick Guide for other tips on what to do there, including seeing the East side of the park.
Note: The East and West side of Haleakala National Park cannot be accessed from the same road. They have to be accessed completely separately and you will not be able to feasibly visit them both in one day. To be centrally located to visit both sides of the park, we recommend staying on the north side of the island, somewhere near Haiku or Paia.
Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout the entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year), $1 for sunrise tickets – bought ahead of time.
Hike through a Bamboo Forest in Haleakala National Park
Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park, 4.0 Miles Round Trip, 650 Feet of Elevation Gain
This hike on the Pipiwai Trail was our furthest away stop on the Road to Hana and well worth the drive. It is actually located after Hana so make sure to not stop there and continue onto this trail in the East part of Haleakala National Park.
Unique Rainforest and Bamboo Forest Flora
This hike is super neat because you first hike through the rainforest and then through a bamboo forest before coming to the impressively tall Waimoku waterfall. On the hike, you will also see a huge Banyan Tree. The contrasting views keep your interest throughout and well worth the 4 mile round-trip hike. We would rate this hike as relatively easy as the elevation gain is well spread out.
Hike Oheo Gulch
You can also hike the shorter Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools trail here that is 0.6 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change. We completed this hike after the Pipiwai trail and found it to be very easy and scenic. The trailhead is at the same spot as the Pipiwai Trail.
We recommend arriving at this trailhead early. When we arrived around 8am, we were one of three cars, but by the time we left after completing the hike, the parking lot was completely full and cars were parking in an overflow lot.
Cost: $35/car (valid 7 days throughout entire park) or free with America the Beautiful Pass (pays for itself if you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks in one year)
Hike Twin Falls
1.8 Mile Round Trip (without offshoots to each waterfall), 347 feet of Elevation Gain
Twin Falls is a fun, short hike as it takes you to three different waterfalls through the rainforest. The first two waterfalls you encounter on this hike look similar and are a very short hike, about 0.2 miles from the parking lot. The third waterfall is a bit further of a hike from those two but, in our opinion, the most scenic of the three so be sure not to stop hiking after the first two waterfalls. You can also go swimming at this third waterfall.
We took our time with this hike, hiking down to each waterfall and exploring around them, and it took us about 1.5 hours total. The hike was relaxing, as it was relatively easy, and you saw a lot in a short period. The trail, especially down by the waterfalls, was very slippery, as it had just rained so make sure to wear good hiking shoes.
This hike is another stop on the Road to Hana, at the very beginning at MM 2. We actually hiked this a different day than when we drove the Road to Hana as it was only about 10 minutes from our Airbnb. We are glad we did this as we did not feel rushed hiking it at all then as the Road to Hana is already a very full day experience.
Arrive Around 7 AM
Prior to completing this hike, we read a lot of reviews online which were quite mixed. A lot of people said they did not like the hike because it was too crowded. To our delight, we enjoyed this hike a lot more than we expected as we nearly had it to ourselves. When we hiked this trail at about 7 AM, right around when it opened, we saw only about 10 other people. We found it to be really peaceful and pretty so arrive early if you don’t want any crowds to dampen your experience. On and off rain the day we hiked also kept the less adventurous away.
Bonus: Fruit Stand in the parking lot
The fruit stand in the parking lot at Twin Falls has some delicious banana bread. Our loaf we got was still warm from coming out of the oven that morning.
Cost: This trail and these waterfalls are on private property so it costs $10/car to park but this is very reasonable as the trail is very well maintained. It may be closed if rainfall has been excessive recently.
Day Trip to West Maui
West Maui is the most popular area to stay on the island. This is where many of the classically white sand beaches and big resorts are located. We spent our day on the West side of Maui exploring Kaanapali Beach. Along this 3 mile stretch of beach, there is a paved path that stretches its length. Parent bonus, this path is stroller friendly (because sometimes taking a break from baby carrying/wearing is needed). There are many shops, restaurants and stands located along this path. This beach is great for people watching but with that, do not expect any seclusion here. Do not go here if you don’t want to see other people.
How to Access Beach
Although this beach has resorts all along it, all shoreline beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. To access this path and beach for free (while not staying at one of the resorts along Kaanapali Beach), look for the blue Shoreline Access signs. These signs point you to where you can find parking and where you can take a public paved path back to the beach. Try to arrive earlier in the day as these free public parking areas fill up fast.
Day Trip to the South Shore of Maui
The South Shore of Maui, around Wailea, has many nice white sandy beaches like the West side of Maui but with less hustle and bustle. The beaches in this area are great for snorkeling and seeing sea turtles. We recommend exploring the Makena Landing beach/reef as we saw sea turtles here. This area feels more high end and residential than West Maui. Fittingly, the high-end designer Shops of Wailea are located in this area.
Near Wailea Beach and Polo Beach on the South Shore, like on Kaanapali Beach on the West Shore, there is a 1.5 mile paved path along the South shoreline. However, this path mainly goes past condos and resorts and not as many shops or restaurants. It is more peaceful than the path in West Maui and makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll. Again, to access this path/beaches and parking, look for the blue Shoreline Access signs on the road.
Explore Iao Valley State Monument
Iao Valley State Monument is a great place to spend a morning exploring the rainforest. This state park is among the rainforest-covered mountains in the heart of Central Maui. The climb up to the summit where you can see the Iao Needle shaped monument (shoots 1,200 feet in the air from the valley floor) was not difficult and was much shorter than we expected. Through this area, there are approximately 0.6 miles worth of trails through the rainforest. There are also some other trails that go further into the rainforest, created by locals going to swim in the river, but these are not maintained by the state park.
Cost: $5/person and $10 to park
This beach was located near our Airbnb and we enjoyed relaxing at it. It has white sandy beach and clear blue water. Since the beach is located on the North side of the island, it has some pretty rough waves so it is not the best for swimming but good for relaxing on the beach and watching surfers.
Where to Eat on Maui
This restaurant is really a hidden gem. It is located in an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Kahului. Although very unassuming, this is a popular place for lunch as the owner was a Top Chef winner. We had the garlic shrimp and the pork belly and would highly recommend both. Order ahead to get takeout otherwise, expect to wait in a line for a good 30 minutes or so. This restaurant also does not have much seating inside so getting takeout is your best bet anyways.
The food truck scene on Maui is really on-point. To us, it seemed like there were different food trucks set-up everywhere we visited. Our favorite food truck spot was located in downtown Kahului, right across the street from Costco. There are many options of what to eat at this food truck spot but we recommend Earth Aloha Eats. We both enjoyed some really good plant based food here.
For more info on the Maui Food Truck scene, see this blog post (not ours).
This farmstand and restaurant is located along the road to Hana at approximately mile marker 31. The chocolate chip banana bread here is absolutely delicious. There is also a restaurant where you can sit down and eat a meal here. The restaurant was not open when we visited but the outdoor seating area was really pretty spot to enjoy some fresh banana bread.
This restaurant has two locations on Maui, one in Wailea on the South shore and one on Kaanapali beach on the West side of Maui. Everything in this restaurant is made from scratch. They are very well known for their Mai Tais (named best on Maui year after year). We really do not think you could go wrong with anything on the menu. We ate at the location in Wailea and had a peaceful lunch on the garden surrounded patio.
Maui Budget Tip: Go grocery shopping at Costco
In Hawaii, food is significantly more expensive than the continental US, particularly in the Midwest where we live. It makes sense given that almost everything needs to be shipped to islands. However, at Costco, some products are still the same price as they are in the midwest. We were surprised that we could get large bags of spinach, rotisserie chicken and some other produce for the same price we could at home. Other things are still more expensive than they would be at home but significantly less expensive than they are at other grocery stores in Hawaii.
Definitely buy pineapple when you are at Costco as you will not find it for less anywhere else! And with anyone familiar with Costco, the produce is always great quality. If you have a Costco membership and are going to be staying more than a couple days, it makes complete sense to go shopping here. We did most of our grocery shopping at Costco and then some things that we just really did not need large quantities of, we bought at the local Safeway.
Costco on Maui is located about five minutes from the airport. Most likely, it will make the most sense for you to stop at Costco after you land in Kahului.
Where to Stay on Maui on a Budget
We recommend staying on the North side of the Island, in/around Paia or Haiku, near the start of the Road to Hana. Most people stay in West Maui but if you are looking to explore more than just the beach, this central location is great. It allows you an early start for the Road to Hana, a good starting point for seeing sunrise at the Summit in Haleakala National Park and an easy drive to make a day trip to the West side or the South shore of the island.
The Haiku Airbnb we stayed at was in a really nice quiet location. It had all the amenities we needed and the host was very responsive and helpful. The landscape at the property was very pretty too. This place more budget friendly and better bang for your buck than other options we researched.
We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Maui on a Budget. Anything you’d add to our guide to visiting Maui, Hawaii on a Budget? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
For more Hawaii trip tips, please see:
- Oahu, Hawaii Quick Guide
- Kauai, Hawaii Quick Guide
- Haleakala National Park Quick Guide
- Big Island, Hawaii Quick Guide
- 5 Stops on the Road to Hana
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Quick Guide
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!
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