Waiʻānapanapa State Park: The Complete Guide

Black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park

Fabian Meseberg / EyeEm / Getty Images

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Waiʻānapanapa State Park

Address
Waianapanapa, Hana, HI 96713, USA
Phone +1 808-248-4843

From lava tubes and volcanic black sand beaches to freshwater caves and tide pools, there’s a reason why Waiʻānapanapa State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Hawaiʻi. Located off the famed Hana Highway in remote east Maui, this coastal conservation area is a favorite stop for road trippers exploring the island on the Road to Hana. Because of this, most of the park’s visitors opt for a quick pull-over to see the Pa‘iola black sand beach and then continue on their way, missing out on the wealth of opportunities available nearby.

The next time you’re on Maui, consider spending more time at Waiʻānapanapa State Park to take advantage of its other attractions by hiking along the historic King’s Highway hiking trail, checking out the state’s largest grove of native Hala trees, or exploring the park’s sparkling freshwater caves.

Things to Do

Of course, the fact that most visitors come to Waiʻānapanapa solely to experience its legendary black sand beach is not entirely surprising. The small-yet-stunning stretch of sand, tucked between a lush green backdrop and the turquoise water of Pa‘iola Bay, is considered one of the best black sand beaches on earth.

The beach has become so popular in recent years that Hawaii state park authorities were forced to implement a reservation system to lessen tourist impacts to local community members and the environment. Reservations are taken two weeks in advance and cost $5 for walk-ins and $10 for cars; visitors who make parking reservations as well are required to select a specific time slot to keep the park from getting too crowded throughout the day. Don’t leave the black sand beach without checking out the adjacent lava tube that opens out to the ocean.

The beach barely begins to scratch the surface at Waiʻānapanapa State Park. The wild coastline also boasts views of natural sea arches and cliffs, hikes along ancient trails, and remote camping. Waiʻānapanapa, which translates to “glistening waters'' in the Hawaiian language, was named for the freshwater caves found near the parking lot down a hidden stairway. Like the rock formation on the beach, these caves were likely formed by lava flows. The water here gains a reddish-pink hue at certain times of year due to the presence of tiny red shrimp, though legend has it that the red water is a reminder of a Popoʻalaea, a slain Hawaiian princess who hid in the caves after fleeing her cruel husband.

Best Hikes & Trails

The peaceful terrain across the Waiʻānapanapa coastline is steeped in history, and the best way to experience it is by tackling its nature-filled hiking trail. Be sure to do some research online before setting out since there aren’t many maps or designated places to get information once you’re there outside of general directions from the parking lot.

There’s just one main hiking trail inside the park, but it packs in a lot of sights. Known as Kipapa O Kihapiʻilani Trail (sometimes called the Piʻilani Trail or the Waiʻānapanapa Coast Trail), the trail makes up a section of the much-larger King’s Trail built by the island’s Chief Pi‘ilani in the sixteenth century. From the park, choose to head either north toward the Hana Airport or southeast toward the Hala tree grove. Going north (left) from the main part of the black sand beach, the trail spans nearly three miles through moderate terrain characterized by volcanic rocks. This portion of the trail features an ancient burial site and ends right on the edge of the Hana Airport.

Going southeast (right) from the beach ventures about three miles along the shoreline and past the Ohala heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple believed to honor a fishing god, and a large grove of native Hala trees. This portion of the trail also offers incredible views of the protected seabird colony islet off the shore and passes by a natural blowhole.

To learn more about hiking on the island, read our guide to the best hikes on Maui.

Where to Camp

The Wai’ānapanapa Campground is one of the best on the island thanks to the serene setting and beautiful ocean views. The campground offers 40 tent spots and a picnic area, though it’s become much more popular to rent out one of the park's 12 cabins. Tent or RV sites are $20 per night for Hawai’i residents and $30 for non-residents, while cabins are $70 per night for residents and $100 for non-residents. Cabins require reservations with a two night minimum.

Where to Stay Nearby

Wai’ānapanapa State Park is quite remote, so accommodation options are limited to a few local rentals and bed & breakfasts in the immediate area. That said, if you drive just over three miles south of the park, there are more hotels available in the town of Hana.

  • Hana Estate: A peaceful estate where guests can rent out the entire property for up to 10 people, Hana Estate is a private oasis on a seven acre property just two miles inland from the state park. The five bedroom, 3,300 square foot residence overlooks a landscape with over 100 varieties of fruit trees, while the estate itself comes with access to a large pool, hot tub, a billiards room, outdoor gazebo with full kitchen, and a disc golf course.
  • Heavenly Hana Paradise: The name says it all when it comes to the Heavenly Hana Paradise. The B&B is found about two miles from Wai’ānapanapa in a secluded area with several guest rooms, some of which feature terraces.
  • Hana-Maui Resort: Owned by Hyatt, this resort has amenities like an on-site restaurant, room service, a spa, gym, large pool, concierge, and other features you’re less likely to find in sleepy Hana town. The Hana-Maui’s 66-acre property has 74 rooms and suites, including those with full kitchens and oceanfront locations.
  • Bamboo Inn on Hana Bay: A beachfront, budget-friendly B&B in the center of Hana, the Bamboo Inn has a continental breakfast and three guest rooms that are popular with visitors traveling on the Road to Hana.

Explore more accommodations around the island with our guide to where to stay on Maui.

How to Get There

Getting to Wai’ānapanapa State Park is a journey in itself since it's found along the notoriously Hana Highway, known for its twists, turns, and remote setting. You’ll only have to travel about three miles to get to the park if you’re staying in Hana, but if you’re like the majority of Maui visitors who stay in Kihei, Lahaina, or Ka’anapali, it will take much longer.

From the west side of the island, a trip to Wai’ānapanapa will take a minimum of two to three hours, depending on how many stops you make along the way. From the resort areas of Kihei and Wailea, expect between two and two and a half hours at least. There are no buses or public transportation that go to Wai’ānapanapa State Park, however there are a few tour busses that will include the site as part of a day trip.

Find out what to expect when renting a car with our guide to driving on Maui.

Accessibility

Right next to the parking lot, there is a small wheelchair-accessible area that offers views of the black sand beach and the sea cliffs below, as well as a picnic area with paved areas. Outside of that, most of the park is not wheelchair accessible. The steps down to the beach and caves are not accessible or paved, nor are the hiking trails. There is one ADA cabin at the campground that can be reserved through calling Maui State Parks at (808) 984-8109. Service dogs are allowed as long as they are under control of the handler at all times.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Reservations to access the park must be made at least one day in advance. If you show up on the day-of without a reservation, you’ll likely be turned away.
  • The park is open daily from 7 am to 6 pm.
  • Although the cabins have a two night minimum for reservations, the park may make exceptions if only a single night is available.
  • Cabins don’t include linens, pillows, towels, or cooking and eating utensils.
  • The waves at the black sand beach can be unpredictable, so be sure to keep an eye on your belongings and exercise extreme caution if you get in the water. There’s also a steep drop off from shore that can be dangerous for inexperienced swimmers. Also, there are no lifeguards on duty.
  • Keep in mind that the beach isn’t the best spot to lounge as it is mostly rocky (and considerably hotter than other beaches thanks to the dark sand soaking up the sun).
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Waiʻānapanapa State Park: The Complete Guide