Camping on Maui absolutely rocks. If you think you hate camping, you’re doing it wrong. Do I hate bugs? Most definitely. Do I hate waking up sweaty and covered in a thick layer of dirt? Duh. Do I enjoy squatting and peeing into bushes in the deep darkness of nighttime? Not particularly. Do I love to carry lots of oddly shaped items without knowing how to properly set up any of them? That’s a no. But (!!!), if you bring awesome people and camp out in awesome places and accept all of those things knowingly, spending a night outdoors can be the most relaxing, invigorating and refreshing experience you’ll have in months. I promise.
Camping on Maui
When my two lovely lady friends came to visit last month, one thing we definitely planned for was a much needed camping adventure. There are lots of campgrounds on Maui, and you really have to choose which one you want based on your preferred scenery, climate, and how far you’re willing to drive. We opted for a campground on the remote eastern end of the island because it gave us the chance to explore the sights along the Road to Hana before setting up camp in a picturesque spot by ocean cliffs.
Best Maui Campgrounds:
- Kipahulu Campground – Located on the back side of Haleakala Volcano within walking distance to the famous Seven Sacred Pools, this campground is perfect for people who want to explore nearby waterfalls, bamboo forests and beaches. We chose this campground based on lots of recommendations, and holy shit are we glad we did. Be prepared for warm weather, lots of bugs (aloha, mosquitoes) and rain. Drive-up, first come first serve, maximum of 100 people, picnic tables, BBQ grills, toilets. $15 entrance fee into Haleakala National Park per vehicle (or free with receipt from the summit of Haleakala Volcano if within 3 days, or free if no one is at the front when you arrive and you leave before they check – score!).
- Hosmer Grove Campground – Located just below the 7,000 foot elevation level on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano, this campground sits in a cloud belt and is often rainy and can reach near freezing temperatures at night. Drive-up, first come first serve, maximum of 50 people, picnic tables, BBQ grills, toilets, drinking water.
- Wai’anapanapa State Park Campground – Also along the Road to Hana, this campsite is located by a gorgeous black sand beach, lava tube, natural freshwater caves, sea arches, a blowhole, hiking trail and more. You must get a camping permit online or in person before you show up, and cabins ($60/night for residents, $90/night for non-residents) are also available. Drinking water, outdoor showers, trash cans.
- Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area – Located in the Kula Forest Reserve, this high elevation campground sits at 6,200 feet and offers gorgeous high elevation views of Maui and the neighbor islands of Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokai. Expect cold temperatures, 4-wheel recommended and wear bright colored clothing to avoid hunters in the area. One cabin available for up to 8 people ($60/night for residents, $90/night for non-residents). Toilets, trash cans, no showers, no drinking water.
- Holua Campsite – For hike-in camping, this is the shortest option at 3.7 miles down the Halemauʻu Trail (or 7.4 miles the Sliding Sand Trailhead) at 6,940 feet elevation. Expect cold temperatures, strong wind, elevation changes. Camping permits (free) can be obtained at the Headquarters Visitor Center between 8am and 3pm up to one day in advance. Maximum of 25 people, pit toilets and untreated water available.
- Paliku Campsite – A much more strenuous hike-in camping option, Paliku is located 9.3 miles along the Sliding Sands Trail (or 10.4 miles on the Halemau’u Trail) at 6,380 feet elevation. Expect cold temperatures, strong wind, elevation changes. Camping permits (free) can be obtained at the Headquarters Visitor Center between 8am and 3pm up to one day in advance. Maximum of 25 people, pit toilets and untreated water available.
- Olowalu Campground – Situated directly by a great snorkeling and kayaking destination in West Maui, the Olowalu campground is first come first serve drive-up camping with same day reservations (including after hours check-in), showers, drinking water, sink, restrooms, picnic tables, and costs $15 per person per night. Great views of the West Maui Mountains and short drive (or walk) to a few restaurants and a fruit stand. Cabins are also available for rent.
- Kanaha Beach Park – On the north shore of Maui lies the only Maui County designated Beach Park campground, Kanaha. Permits required, pets allowed, picnic areas, public restrooms, volleyball net. Great for relaxed beach camping in a convenient area of Maui with views of Iao Valley and the West Maui Mountains. *UPDATE: As of October 2016, Kanaha no longer allows overnight camping. Poop!
- Beach Camping – While it’s technically not legal to set up a tent any ole dang place you want, there are a few areas known for local camping where no one (see: anyone in a uniform) will mess with you. Check out the stretch of beach nearest the highway in West Maui or Chang’s in South Maui. It’s also true that as long as you have a fishing line going into the water, you can sleep on the beach anywhere you please, but, like most things, we suggest the “ask for forgiveness, not permission” approach.
When we first arrived at the Kipahulu campground after a long day of exploring, we drove in and came to a circular campground that was pretty basic. Meh. However, my homie Brianne, with her eyes of amazing sight, spotted a couple off the beaten path with an absolutely rad campsite in a personal nature nook of wonder. We wandered off in search of more campsites, which couldn’t be seen directly from the road, and WOW. So extremely glad we did. There were several to choose from, most with their own picnic table and under the shade of amazing hala trees, and we finally came upon the very last one on the lot. Ours. Free for the taking.
And oh how we took, my friends. Two camping hammocks (complete with rain tarp and zip-up mosquito netting), two-person tent, cooking stove, lantern, twinkly Christmas lights, coolers, speakers, water, sausages, cookies and booze. What else do you need?! Our campsite was, in several people’s opinion, the best in the park due to its ocean view, close walk down to steep ocean cliffs, and background views of rolling clouds sweeping over the volcano’s top layer. Ahh. If you can’t relax here, you just can’t relax, brah.
As soon as the sun went down, we cranked up the tunes, turned on the twinkly lights and poured ourselves a celebratory cup of congratulations. Erin’s birthday was the next day, and as if people knew we were there to get down and enjoy ourselves (I think it mostly had to do with the Christmas lights and laughing), we kept attracting more and more friendly and awesome strangers, bringing our party of 4 up to a solid 9. Since we were camping on the eastern side of the island, we witnessed the craziest moonrise I’ve ever seen in my life, and the stars and weather and generally everything was just pure perfection. We lit candles at midnight, sang a sweet and salty ‘happy birthday’ and called it a night shortly after.
I woke up in time to see a crazy rainstorm in the middle of the night (which luckily did not soak any of us), and a few hours later, woke up just in time to see the sunrise from my hammock. Mmm, nature. You’re so sexy.
After packing up camp the next morning, we took a refreshing dip in the nearby Seven Sacred Pools and hiked to my very favorite banyan tree on Pipiwai Trail. We stopped for fresh coconuts, something called egg fruit and yummy strawberry papaya at the adorable Laulima Farm Stand in Kipahulu and set out for more birthday fun.
My homies took a nap in the back seat while we drove around the scenic back side of Haleakala in our trusty Camry and woke up just in time to enjoy lunch at Ulupalakua Ranch Store in Upcountry Maui.
If this story has taught you anything, let it be that camping on Maui is freaking sweet, and so are we.
And finally, as a side note, if you plan on going all out with a multi-day trip in a campervan, read about our 3 day VW campervan trip around Maui with Aloha Campers. Aloha!