As one of the top travel destinations in the world, Hawaii never fails to disappoint. However, those magnificent beaches, romantic waterfalls, mystical mountains, iconic songs and dances, and culture may surround you with the spirit of Aloha…but they can also your bank account! Even a “budget” trip to Hawaii can add up to much more than you would spend on a vacation elsewhere. So is it possible to have a cheap Hawaii vacation? Absolutely! On our recent trip, our camping in Maui experience was not only a way to save some serious cash during our trip…but it turned out to be one of the most memorable, unique, and peaceful experiences that we had in Hawaii!
Our Camping in Maui Experience – Along the Famous Road to Hana
Without a doubt if you are visiting Maui, you have to take a drive on the famous Road to Hana. In fact, most visitors would say that if you haven’t done the “Road to Hana” then you haven’t really seen Maui.
This is truly an amazing drive, taking you along the winding coastline while you cross an endless number of bridges, and pass by picturesque waterfalls. Between the views and the lush vegetation, including colorful plants and aromatic flowers, all the worries of your daily stressful life will seem like a distant memory.
While the road to Hana is not long in miles, the winding narrow highway is slow, and often heavy with traffic…so it will take a few hours (depending on how often you stop and explore). If you are planning to ride the road to Hana down and back just for a day trip, then you better start your journey quite early in order to make it back in time for dinner. And honestly, the drive can be a bit dangerous at night anyway.
But there is another option that relatively few people consider…actually staying in Hana!
We believe that if you don’t stay in Hana that you are missing out on the true Hawaii experience! They say that when you enter Hana, it’s like you’ve entered the old Maui…long before the high-rise condos and resorts that line the beaches on the opposite side of the island. For the number of day-trippers to the area, it’s amazing that the town really feels untouched by mass tourism.
Hana is a small town. It only has a couple of small hotels and little grocery stores, some of which also double as a restaurant. In fact, there aren’t too many restaurants in this town. And things seem to close fairly early (as we learned).
Since we were all about saving some cash during our visit, we actually decided to go camping in Hana rather than staying at one of the hotels. In fact, there is a popular state park in Hana called Waianapanapa State Park, where you can camp for less than $15 a night.
Oh, and by the way…it’s on a black sand beach!
Maui Camping at Waianapanapa State Park
Accommodations on the island of Maui for $15 a night? Overlooking a beach? A black sand beach? Um…yeah!
Our experience camping in Waianapanapa State Park on Maui is one that we will not forget. The park is just off the main highway before you get to Hana, so it’s easily accessible. They have a large grassy area that goes up to the cliff edge overlooking the beach. You can choose wherever you want to set up your tent in this area. There are some trees, open areas, BBQ grills, tables / benches, bathrooms with showers and fresh water.
(Note: if you just aren’t into camping, then they do have cabins available for rent at this state park too, another budget option)
There are also hiking trails around the park, a blowhole and other sights to see along the rocky volcanic coastline. There is also a stunning black sand beach just below the camping site – with deep, soft black volcanic sand.
The area is dangerous for swimming due to the sharp rocks and turbulent turquoise sea, but it makes for wonderful sounds of crashing waves while you fall asleep.
Where to Find Gear for Maui Camping
Of course if you want to go camping in Maui, you need the gear! Unless you plan on camping your way around all the Hawaiian islands (which you can), it is silly to haul over all of your camping gear from the mainland.
We were fortunate to have a friend whose father lives on Maui, and she let us borrow her camping gear for our visit. However, there are actually plenty of outdoor shops all over the island where you can rent Maui camping equipment. Camping & enjoying the beautiful outdoors is actually quite a popular activity in Hawaii, especially for the locals.
And who wouldn’t want to camp, hike, swim, and explore the outdoors in Hawaii – seriously!
Warning: It’s Rainy in Hana…So Be Prepared!
While the west side of Maui along the Lahaina beach area is quite dry, Hana is on the extremely wet eastern side of the island. It rains here pretty much every day (which is why it’s so lush and has so many waterfalls). So we made sure to pack our rain gear.
The only negative thing about camping on this side of the island is the rain. Soggy camping can be a bit of a downer. So be prepared with towels and dry clothes – and hopefully your tent is good and rainproof!
** Note: There are many other places where you can camp on Maui, including some of the beach park areas on the west side (dry side) of the island.
A Dream Location in Hawaii: Sea Breezes, Starry Skies, and Crashing Waves Illuminated with the Moonlight
As we were setting up our tent right before nightfall, it was such a great feeling knowing that most of the tourists were heading back to the more populated parts of the island; and we were left here with just a handful of other campers (and some locals). Once everything was set up, we had time to relax and walk around the cliff-side volcanic formations watching the waves crash into the black rocks and sand.
The sun was just starting to set, and I’ll never forget the rich colors — which the camera just couldn’t capture. The deep blue color of the water, the black sand, the lush green of the forest and the reds and orange in the sky contrasted with each other so vividly. Words can’t express how truly beautiful it was.
After the sun set and the stars began to dot the sky, we all started our fire and began to cook dinner. Here we are in Hawaiian paradise, sitting under a tree next to the cliff edge, overlooking the moonlit ocean…cooking hotdogs over an open flame.
But with the biggest smiles on our faces!
Falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean is something that people dream about, especially when planning a trip to Hawaii. We awoke the next morning to the sun shining on us, telling us to come outside and play.
Have You Seen a Red Sand Beach? Stay in Hana & Explore!
The next morning we ate breakfast then headed out to play. There are actually a lot of things to do near Hana, but few tourists stay long enough to experience them.
For example, we discovered a hidden hiking trail that took us to a gorgeous red sand beach! Yeah…red sand! That’s a first for us. And get this, there were less than 10 people at this place. The cove was protected with some rocks, making it perfect for a relaxing swim, and the large mountains surrounding the beach protected it from the wind. We would have been happy to relax here all day!
Other activities in the area include visiting the lower part of Haleakala State Park, where you can hiking up through a bamboo forest to a massive waterfall. Then you can swim in the 7 sacred pools at Oheo gulch, connected by a series of waterfalls.
The Oheo Gulch rock pools are great for relaxing in the fresh water, and you have a great view of the ocean (note: climbing up to the higher level pools isn’t easy, but it’s much quieter with far less people).
The drive beyond Hana to this area is stunning too — and even MORE narrow and winding. This part of the road actually makes the road to Hana seem like a piece of cake! But sadly, few tourist venture to this area. We loved this drive the most!
After a Day of Exploring Paradise, Back to Our Maui Camping Site
After a full day of enjoying the sun, water, rocks and sand, we headed back to our campsite to start dinner before the sun went down. When we got back to the state park, we wanted to see the sunset from the beach. So we wandered down there and we noticed someone jumping off the lava rocks from about 30-40 feet in the air. A couple of the young locals were getting their thrills and entertaining us with their acrobatics by jumping into the waves.
That night after dinner, we sat outside our tent and just looked up at the bright stars in the sky, so many more than at home. With the biggest smiles on our faces, we talked about how camping on Maui was really the highlight of our trip…and something that we would never forget. Not only did we have one of the coolest experiences, but we felt like we really experienced the beauty and magic of this Maui. And we saved a lot of money at the same time.
That’s a win anytime we travel.