Many, wrongly, see Hana as the destination for the Hana Highway, the real destination is the journey itself, however, so when they arrive in this quaint little backwater and find relatively nothing to do and only a murky brown beach, a few shops and some low-end eating establishments, they feel pretty disappointed. They clearly have missed the whole point of the highway, but while on the face of it Hana is pretty dull, there are a few diamonds to be found in the town, not least the Stunning Red Sand Beach.
The problem here is people don’t really want you to know about it. If you ask for directions you will be lucky if you get a derisory grunt, instead of an ear-bashing! The only signs you will see will be telling you NOT to ask for directions to the beach. We explain the reasons for this below, but for all those that want to check out the beach we lift the lid on getting there, we show you the safest route and best time to go and what to watch out for on the way, and what to expect when you get there. So for all those that need a little help finding Hana’s Red Sand Beach, Maui, Hawaii. Read on and we will get you there.
Hana’s Red Sand Beach, Maui, Hawaii
- About – Remote and Scenic Red Sand Beach
- Location – Hana, Maui, Hawaii
- Facilities – None
- Hana Highway Rating – Priority
- Highlights – Poor swimming, hard to reach, but utterly stunning
Kauiki Head which makes up the south side of Hana Bay is a long-extinct Cinder cone from Maui’s violent volcanic past. Here Lava Bubbled up from the earth forming new land. When the rock cooled it was not the typical black Rock but formed of bright red Lava rock caused by the different composition of the Lava as the eruption was in its late stages. Lava Rock is a pretty fascinating but complex topic, and all you need to know is the eruption here produced large amounts of red rock.
Over the years as the sea pummeled the cliffs, this rock was worn away and broken down into sand particles. and formed on the beach in a rare and striking way. The beach is located on the backside of the head away from the town, backed by tall red cliffs and close proximity to deep open ocean water, giving the beach a really wild and remote feeling.
The Majority of Sand on Maui is Coral Sand. Formed by the remnants of dead coral mushed up but the ocean, this is the usual way Tropical island beach sand is formed. However, Maui has a number of Beaches formed from Lava Rocks. Most of these, such as Hana Beach, is a dull grey-brown color and not very appealing. But there are a few that are a little more magical such as the Red Sand of Kaihalulu Beach and the amazing Black Sand of Wai’ānapanapa State Park. However, the Sand is very different from the fine sand most people expect.
From a distance it is identical but up close it is much coarser, almost like gravel and is deep. footsteps sink deeply into the sand bed and walking is difficult and it will fill your shoes (so take them off!). Sitting on the beach is not as present and the coarse grains just get everywhere.
Why is the Beach so Hidden?
The main reason is Access. There is a little local resentment at “tourists” rocking up and spoiling the beach but when so much of the economy and income in these areas are based on tourism this is only a small part. The real reason is simply that access is dangerous, and no one wants the liability. It also passes through private property so cannot really be improved by the authorities so as such the beach is just left as a secret and people seeking the beach out take the liability upon themselves.
This is key, the beach access is very poor and varies from really sketchy to downright dangerous. As we explain the route below try to understand the risk, and the difficulty, and if the trail is right for you, don’t be fooled by the shortness of the trial, it is the terrain and exposure that carry the risk.
Is Red Sand Beach Worth it?
The Eternal Question, and a tough one to answer and a question that doesn’t have one answer as conditions and tides have an effect. The simple answer is IF the conditions on the day allow you to take the bottom route and the terrain is not a big deal for you, and this varies from person to person, then yes, it is absolutely worth it. The beach is really like nowhere else on earth and getting to experience this quiet, beautiful and lost beach is a really magical experience.
If Scrambling over boulders, traversing tough terrain, and walking steep, loose, and unprotected trails with large drops is the stuff of nightmares we think you are best skipping the beach. Also if the Surf is high and the low route is inaccessible, then we struggle to recommend the high route, the trail is really perilous and not for the faint-hearted. A miss-step, or a loose foothold, and your vacation, or worse could end then and there!
Me and Kate are the perfect example of this. For me personally, the lower path is no issue. I can hop, skip, and jump over the rough terrain as easily as a mountain goat. However, I have lots of practice in rough offroad trail running and a great sense of balance. For Kate, this path is a nightmare. The terrain is far beyond what is manageable. For her, the Red Beach is just not worth the effort of a very rough and hard-going trail. So I visit alone, normally as a morning run.
Even for me, the upper trail is too sketchy. If the Surf renders the lower trial impassable I just skip the beach. It really is a very exposed route, with zero room for error. People falling to serious injury and death are not rare occurrences here. The beach is stunning, but it’s not worth dying for!
The Beach is also really only for looking at, there is not much to do there as we will see later on. If you are looking for a beach day, or a play in the ocean, Red Sand Beach is pretty poor. In fact, outside of a “been there” tick box and other-worldly good looks the beach is pretty poor.
Koki Beach (Red Beach) and Hamoi Beach
A better alternative for rough surf days and for those who can’t manage the trail is Koki Beach. Another red sand beach that has parking, facilities, and even a World Famous HuliHuli Chicken Stand!
Ok, it’s not red sand like Kaihalulu Beach Red sand, and the area is far less “lost world” like, but it’s a nice beach. Ocean entry can be dicey unless very calm we tend to sit and watch the waves rather than play. Strong currents make swimming a dangerous activity unless you know the area.
Even on Kaihalulu Beach the ocean is not really a place to swim, so if you are looking for a beach to swim or surf then head to Hamoi Beach. A steep sandy beach with large waves that are perfect for boogie boarding or just playing in the water. The Sand is not red and it lake the wow factor but it is the best beach in the Hana area for actually getting in the ocean.
Really Hana’s Red Sand Beach is only worth it for the drop-dead gorgeous Visuals of the area.
Finding Hana’s Red Sand Beach
If you do want to check this one off and think you can handle the trail then read on and we show you exactly where to find the beach and how to get there.
Parking in Hana is pretty poor. We tend to visit the beach when staying over and as such leave the car and head over to the beach on foot. If you are visiting on a day trip or your accommodation is too far out you need to park. We tend to find the best place is the Hāna Bay Beach Park lot. It’s free and there is quite a bit of parking. Outside of here, you are going to be limited with street parking and risk the ire of the locals.
However, if the Bay lot is full or the 1\4 mile walk is too much, Park on Uakea Rd and remember to face the direction of traffic.
The Path to the Beach.
We start our Journey on Uakea Rd. Simply head all the way down until you reach the Hana Community Centre on your right. At the far side of the center just before the road ends, you will see a lawn with a worn path across it heading into the jungle. Cross the lawn and head through the gap.
The trail now becomes pretty well-defined and worn. It begins as a steep scramble down a heavily eroded bank with exposed tree roots and many trip hazards mixed with loose soil or greasy mud, depending on rainfall. The good news is this is one of the most technical parts of the path, if you can defend this section, you will have no issue with the rest of the trial.
You need to make sure you follow the trail down the hill otherwise you go left and end up on the death trail, Heading downward means you get on the lower trail. The more well-worn path is the lower trail and heads DOWN.
The lower trail is not too bad, the descent is the worst part and once on the main trail, it is just loose dirt, rock, and roots with some small exposed drops. At the Split above you can stay on the trail or drop down to follow the beach. The Main trial is easier but the drops mean it can be nerve-racking for people with an aversion to heights. If you drop down onto the beach, for the most part, you avoid this, however, if the tide is in and the surf rough the beach can be impassable.
You also face a little scramble to get back onto the main trail. But all in all, it misses some of the more exposed parts of the path.
Once back on the lower trail things get back to the standard loose dirt, rocks, and roots. it is a rough track clinging onto the side of the cliff but the drops are low and the safety margins pretty high, hug the cliff, stay away from the edge and you will be fine.
Eventually, the trail leads to a head, nice views are available down the coast and finally, you get the first view of the beach. It really is pretty stunning. The final section of the trial is next and this is one of the hardest sections, but low risk. If it feels too much then at least you have made it this far and got the views of the hallowed sand!
The Final section drops you down from this headland onto the sands, it is narrow, very rough, and has a lot of trip hazards. With care and good balance, there is nothing to worry about. At the end of this path is a short drop down onto the beach. It is only a couple of feet but if you are not happy jumping, then you can scoot on your bum!
The trail is short, only around 400m with minimal elevation, but some steep inclines. It is not as bad as is made out, and even we are probably overselling the difficulty, as long as you are comfortable scaling steep very rough trails you will be fine. The problem is people read about the beach in guidebooks and expect a smooth and simple path to the beach and get in trouble as this is anything but. The small drops may concern some people making the trail more difficult than it needs to be due to vertigo, but overall it is low exposure with a good margin for error.
The Top route is a whole other ball game and the drops are long, loose, and highly exposed! We do not recommend this route, if you go wrong early on, and find yourself high up, maybe in a graveyard, you have GONE WRONG. Backtrack and find the lower trail, the upper trail is not worth it…especially when there is a safer, easier, fast trail along the lower cliffs.
What to do at the Beach?
The First thing most people do is stand in awe. It is hard to do anything else! However, once the sheer beauty of the landscape is sunk in, what else is going on?
DO NOT TAKE SAND!
First up, Souvenir hunters. DO NOT be tempted to take sand. While some talk of a curse, and stories of people having to return the sand to break a run of bad luck, we tend to lean on the side of hearsay. But removing the sand is deeply offensive to the Hawaiian culture and if everyone did how much would be left for future generations?
We rarely take anything from anywhere but for some reason, people have taken to taking a sample of the sand home and it needs to STOP!
The Bay is split into two parts the inner Baby pond and the outer Ocean. The two are separated by an iron-looking Lava wall that is seriously imposing. The outer water is a great option for those bored with living, so we stick to the inner bay. This small, baby pond is little more than a place you float and relax. It is perfect for cooling off but little more. There is a small wave pool on the right side of the pond that can at times be fun, and others a bit dangerous as the surf surges in and out.
Overall it is a poor bathing beach and only worth a dip to cool off and tick another box.
Snorkeling varies from poor to pathetic. It really isn’t worth it and we leave the gear in the car. On the odd ultra-calm day, it can be good outside the safety of the inner bay, but these days are rare and even then you need to watch for currents.
Again, it’s not a great place for lounging in the sun. While the Step cliffs do keep the winds down they also provide shade and shelter and large parts of the beach are in shade most of the day. Along with the beach not being the most uncomfortable it just isn’t a great lounging beach.
The Beach used to be very secluded and people with a clothes aversion swarmed to the beach to take in nature in a state of nature. The beach is far more popular now and people with no interest in nakedness head there daily. As such Nudity has dropped hugely. It was never really tolerated by locals but we hardly ever see anyone undressed here anymore.
It does happen though and people really rock up to a busy beach, even with kids present, and strip off. You just can’t understand some people.
Is it Suitable for Kids?
Really with the demise of nudity, there is little to keep you from bringing kids. Of course, this hugely depends on their ability to cover the terrain of the trail. Many kids will find the trail far easier than adults, after all, they are the ones out playing in parks and playgrounds while you sit at home watching Netflix!
But again, Some kids are not outdoorsy and will find the trial a challenge, the best judge of that will be the parents. So use your best judgment, but remember kids are fearless so keep them from the edge or doing anything dangerous.
We would only recommend supervised swimming and inside the inner bay in calm conditions. Again Kis are fearless and the ocean can bite here so stay inside and stay vigilant.
When to Visit the Beach?
Part of the charm of Red Sand Beach is its utter remoteness of it. One of the problems with the Hana Highway is everyone drives it at the same time. This means the beach gets really busy around 11-3 pm. The whole place loses its charm as too many people arrive and the relatively small area means 10+ people and it is ruined.
Naturally, if you are driving to Hana for a day trip arriving at any time other than 11-3 pm is impossible. So you just have to suck it up or try somewhere else.
The beach is best enjoyed with a layover in Hana that way you get to visit in the early morning or late evening when most of the day-trippers have left. We prefer the morning as later on people tend to hang around and numbers do not always tail off as fast, and the chance of nudity rises steeply.
Even in the morning, you have to be up really early to get it to yourself. In the photos n this page I got up when it was still dark, ran to the trailhead at daybreak, and still passed a few people on the trail. I had the beach to myself for about 5 minutes!
In the evening, remember to leave before it gets dark. Night falls very fast and you do not want to be on the trail in the dark.
What else to See in Hana?
Hana is a very quiet and sleepy backwater and besides being the Destination of the Road to Hana there is very little for tourists to do in the town. We really only use it as a stopover and base to explore the surrounding areas.
Apart from the few beaches, everything is worth seeing in the area we consider slightly outside of Hana Town and is classed as Hana Highway Stops. But the good news here is there is a huge amount to see along the highway and much of it is in the vicinity of Hana.
Checkout out Full Hana Highway Stops Guide here.
Have Your Say
Have you visited the Red Sand Beach at Hana? Let us know what your thoughts are. Was the trail easy to find? Did you find it safe or dangerous? What did you think of the beach and was the hike worth it? Let us know in the comments below. We are particularly interested in if you received any hostility from locals.
The Red Sand Beach Divides opinions so we would love to hear your thoughts on whatever side of the fence you sit. Just fire away in the comments. And as ever if you have any questions at all just fire away.