Black sand beaches have long fascinated travelers, thanks to their rare and mysterious beauty. And the Black Sand Beach on Maui is no exception- it’s an absolute must-see stop along the famed Road to Hana.
So if you’re planning a trip to Maui and want to experience some of Hawaii’s otherworldly beauty, look no further- here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Black Sand Beach.
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How to get to Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach (also called “Pa‘iola Beach” or “Honokalani Beach”) is located here, in Waiʻānapanapa State Park at Mile Marker 32 along the Road to Hana. If you’re unfamiliar with this iconic route, this famous road, which starts from the small surf town of Paia, winds 65 miles through a dense jungle to the itty bitty town of Hana on the east side of the island.
Along the way, you’ll snake past 600 curves, across 59 one-way bridges, and down more nail-bitingly narrow one-lane roads than most non-adrenaline junkies would prefer. Beyond just the slightly nerve-wracking drive, you’ll also see some absolutely incredible sites- from stunning waterfalls to towering bamboo forests.
And of course, you’ll find one of the most beautiful beaches on Maui, just three miles north of Hana- the Black Sand Beach. In fact, it’s the perfect stop to celebrate finishing the Road to Hana in one piece (I mostly kid- some 500,000 people drive the Road to Hana each year!).
If you’re wondering whether you need a rental car in Maui to enjoy the Road to Hana, I’d generally recommend getting one for almost all travelers. It will allow you to cruise along this scenic route at whatever pace you want and stop at the Black Sand Beach, the countless waterfalls, and allll the fruit stands whenever your heart desires.
However, if you’re nervous about driving the Road to Hana or don’t have room in your budget for a rental car, there’s some Road to Hana tours that you can also take that stop at the Black Sand Beach, like this small group trip or this one, with just 12 guests.
While most travelers reach the Black Sand Beach along the Road to Hana, you can alternatively reach it from the south, along Route 31 and the Hana Highway. Just be forewarned that this way is INCREDIBLY rough and not well-maintained, so I’d only recommend taking this on if you have a high clearance, four wheel-drive vehicle and hearty soul. Additionally be sure to read the fine print if you have a rental car- most companies don’t allow you to take it on unpaved roads!
Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, one thing to note about driving here- the road right outside the park (creatively named Waiʻānapanapa Road) had some pretty gnarly potholes when my husband, Justin, and I visited. We made it just fine in a regular ol’ passenger sedan, but I’d recommend taking it nice and slow and really try to avoid driving here in the dark.
What gives Black Sand Beach its color?
Black beaches are so rare because they’re only formed under very specific conditions. Essentially, when hot lava is rapidly cooled by the ocean, basalt rock is formed and shattered into tiny pieces and black sand.
Black Sand Beach is the result of lava from the volcano Haleakalā that erupted and flowed near Hana several hundred years ago (pssst… if you’re interesting in checking out this incredible national park (which you totally should!), we have a few posts all about Haleakalā).
Black sand beaches are a bit different than their more typical white or yellow sand beach brethren- because they’re formed by a one-time volcanic event, their sand isn’t continuously replenished by the gradually disintegrated rocks and shells that typically wash up on other beaches. As such, they usually have a fairly short life-span due to strong currents or storms washing their sand out to sea.
So please make sure that the Black Sand Beach is around for as long as possible and refrain from removing any rocks, sand, or other organic matter from its shores. Beyond this just being the not jerky thing to do, the Black Sand Beach is also sacred to the Native Hawaiian people, so it’s culturally insensitive to take anything organic from the beach.
And rounding out this list of “why you shouldn’t be terrible and remove sand from this little slice of heaven”- it’s literally against the law, with penalties reaching up to $100,000 for violations. So, really- just say no (alternatively, if you’re looking for a souvenir, I hear there are some nice gift shops in Hana!).
What to know before visiting Black Sand Beach
While there isn’t a ton you generally need to know about most beaches, there’s one pretty important thing to know about Black Sand Beach- you NEED a reservation to visit. To protect the natural resources in the park and prevent overcrowding, the Hawaii Division of State Park’s has required, as of April 19, 2021, that all visitors purchase both a parking reservation and entry ticket to visit the park (see here for up-to-date rates and how to make reservations).
In fact, when Justin and I visited, the person in the car in front of us entering the park was QUITE miffed and rude to the ranger checking reservations, as he was turned away for not having one. So don’t be that dude- making a reservation is quite simple!
Reservation slots can be made up to 14 days in advance and must be purchased at least one day before you plan to hit the beach. Tickets may be purchased from the following time slots: 7-10 AM; 10 AM-12:30 PM; 12:30-3 PM; or 3-6 PM.
You must arrive and depart during your given time slot or you’ll need to book an entry ticket for however long you want to stay in the park. Time slots do sell out, especially during weekends or the busy seasons (December through March or June through August), so I’d recommend booking your slot well in advance.
What to do at Black Sand Beach
So you’ve snagged that coveted reservation and have braved the Road to Hana. What’s there to do in Waiʻānapanapa State Park?
Relax on Black Sand Beach:
This is what we all came for, right? The beach is an excellent spot to soak up the sun and those spectacular Maui views. Just make sure to bring along a towel and shoes (my husband and I both swear by our Tevas- here’s men’s and here’s women’s)- the black sand retains heat from the sun much better than a white sand beach and can get scaldingly hot on your butt or feet!
While the Black Sand Beach sure is a looker, it isn’t great for everything- take, for example, swimming. This beach is actually kind of the perfect storm for dangerous swimming conditions– there’s no coral reef beyond the shoreline so the current here is really strong, the water drops almost immediately to a rather deep depth, and there’s unpredictable riptides.
So if you just simply can’t resist jumping in the water here, please be sure you have a buddy with you and you both should be confident swimmers.
Explore the lava tubes, cliffs, and arches:
The park kind of feels like a giant natural playground- there’s tunnels to be explored, rocky sea cliffs to climb across, the outdoor adventures are endless!
For example, on the right hand side of the beach, you’ll notice a little opening in the volcanic rock- pop in there for your own personal lava tube! The volcanic rock walls are SO cool and with its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean on one end of the tube, it’s definitely the most beautiful cave I’ve ever been in.
And across the bay from the beach, there’s dramatic cliffs to explore. From the cliffs, you’ll not only get amazing views of the sea arch in the park, but also of the bay’s islets, which are home to Maui’s largest breeding colony of the seabird, the Hawaiian Noddie.
Hit up the hiking trails:
Waiʻānapanapa State Park has some of the best hikes in Maui, providing stunning views of the rugged Pacific coastline. For example, the 3 mile Ke Ala Loa O Maui trail follows The King’s Highway, an ancient road built under Chief Piilani. Along this path, you’ll get views of the dramatic Hana coastline, the slopes of Haleakalā, and a heiau (a shrine created by Native Hawaiians).
Alternatively, the 2.1 mle Waiʻānapanapa Coast Trail North offers so much more than ocean vistas and gives just a peek into why this land is so culturally significant, passing a burial site and leading to Pukaulua Point, the site of yet another heiau and burial mounds.
Okay, let me be real with you for a second- how COOL would it be to camp here? You’ll, again, first need to make a reservation, but there’s cabin rentals or campervan or tent camping in the park’s official campground. I mean- really, how cool would it be to have Black Sand Beach as your backyard for a night or two?
Okay, I’ll stop fangirling, but you can make a camping reservation here.
Where to stay near Black Sand Beach
If you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Maui, I’d suggest considering a night or two near Hana, after driving the iconic Road to Hana.
It may sound a bit odd but you could literally spend multiple days driving and exploring this stunning route- so why not, at the very least, end your day at the Black Sand Beach and stay the night nearby!
Consider staying at:
- Hana Kai Resort: These vacation rentals allow you to feel at home in paradise, with private lanais, a beachfront grill, and a wonderful beach to enjoy a quiet sunrise.
- Hana-Maui Resort: If you’re looking for bougie, this is the place for you, with an onsite spa, infinity pool, and yoga studio.
Black Sand Beach is one of the most stunning beaches I’ve seen- so go forth and enjoy! Do you have any questions about it? Sound off in the comments below!