If you’ve yet to set your feet on a black sand beach, Honokalani Beach (also known as Pailoa Beach) at Waianapanapa State Park is more than a treat — it’s a dazzling experience.
Visitors flock to this remote park’s coal-hued cove to marvel at the distinctively colored sand and take in the nearby points of interest.
But the popular cove has its gatekeepers, quite literally. The only way to access the stretch of black sand as a Hawaii non resident is with an advance reservation to the park — which sells out quickly.
With everything to see, you don’t want to miss out on this inimitable place. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about snagging a time slot for this iconic Maui spot — and what awaits when you get there.
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Cost: Non-residents: $5 per person (free for ages 3 and under); $10 per non-commercial vehicle. Free entrance and parking for Hawaii residents with valid identification.
Distance from Paia Town: 43 miles, or a 2-hour drive
Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily
Reservation required: Yes
Are you driving the Road to Hana? Waianapanapa State Park made our list of top stops along the famous highway. Click here to read about our other favorites: 18 BEST ROAD TO HANA STOPS FOR AN UNFORGETTABLE VACATION | INSIDER TIPS, MAP & PHOTOS
About the black sand Honokalani Beach (a.k.a. Pailoa Beach)
Molten lava flowed from Maui’s Haleakala volcano and collided with the sea, creating what is now the most famous black sand beach on Maui: Honokalani at Waianapanapa State Park.
These shores at Waianapanapa State Park are steeped in ancient Hawaiian culture and history. From a long-told legend about the pink shrimp that fill a freshwater cove to a historical burial site, the black sand beach at Waianapanapa is only one of the significant sights to discover when exploring the park’s 100-plus acres.
How to book your reservation for Waianapanapa State Park
Beginning in 2021, out-of-state visitors to the state park require an advance reservation to access Waianapanapa, the site of Maui’s famous black sand beach along the Road to Hana.
As a Hawaii visitor, you need two voucher types to go along with your reservation — one for parking and an entry voucher for each person in your party. Here’s how to make a reservation.
Wake up early to secure your spot
Get an early jump on reservations. Slots open up daily, for dates 30 days in advance. The race for booking begins at midnight Hawaii time, or 12:00 a.m. HST.
You’ll need to type quickly. In-demand times slots (10:00 a.m. and after) sell out quickly.
Book and pay for your reservation voucher online
Head to the Waianapanapa State Park reservation website. Select the date and time slot you’d like to book. The site will also ask how many people will be joining you. Follow the onscreen directions and pay the appropriate fee.
Print your reservation or save the confirmation to your device for offline access
There’s little to no cell service at the park or in this section along the Road to Hana. That means you won’t have access to your vouchers at the park if you forget. The parking attendants at Waianapanapa don’t have access to look up your reservation, so you’ll be denied entry if you don’t have a copy of your paid reservation with you.
We saved a screenshot of our vouchers to our device’s photo album and showed it to the staff entrance upon arrival.
Plan your day around your reservation time slot
If you plan to make stops along the Road to Hana, keep an eye on the clock. You can stay at Waianapanapa State Park only until the end of your reservation time, regardless of when you arrive. If you book a reservation for 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and arrive at noon, you’ll still need to leave the park no later than 12:30 pm.
Spending the entire day at the park? You’ll have to secure multiple reservations for the day.
Just remember: All park fees are nonrefundable. If your plans change, you’ll forfeit the amount you pay.
Tips for visiting the black sand beach
In the black sand cove, a significant portion of the beach consists of smooth pebbles rather than fine grains of sand. The sandy consistency becomes more apparent as you sneak closer toward the water’s edge.
Just watch out when the skies are blue and clear — the lava-formed ground scorches when the sun’s rays heat the ground. We recommend wearing water socks or sandals when traipsing the beach on warm sunny days.
The cove itself isn’t terribly large, so the beach can quickly feel crowded as tourists trickle down toward the water. You can usually escape the crowds by making your way in the direction of the rocky cliffs that stand sentry on either side of the cove.
These rocky outcroppings protect the small beach from the more violent waves. They also lead to the area’s coastal trails — one leading north, the other an ancient trail heading southeast to Hana.
The farther you walk, the more wild and remote the setting becomes, as you find yourself farther and farther from the beach crowd.
Things to do around the black sand beach
Hike north along the coastal trail
From the beach, walk to the north side of the cove (the left side when facing the water). Navigate the uneven terrain and slippery rocks. Scramble up the cliff via a dirt and rock path. At the top, you’ll find a rocky vista point with views of the ocean and the black sand beach. Violent water swells pound against the rock, covering everything with mist.
The trail gets rocky, so we recommend wearing sturdy shoes. Continue on the path for about a mile before turning back to the beach.
Explore to the southeast on the Ke Ala Loa O Maui (Piilani) Trail
Follow this coastal trail from the overlook at the top of the beach stairs. On this side, you get an Instagram-worthy view of the coastal sea arches and the otherworldly shoreline.
Follow the trail to see a blowhole, where fierce ocean waters expel, spraying sea water into the air. Along this path, encounter ancient Hawaiian gravesites bordered by low stone walls. Venture through the hala (pandanus) forest, native trees that grow fruit resembling small pineapples.
Slightly inland, see the ruins of a heiau (temple). Don’t disturb the rocks, and pass all sacred spaces with respect for the land (aina) and its people.
Discover a sea cave at the black sand beach
If hiking isn’t your thing, or you’re short on time, don’t miss one of our favorite spots in Waianapanapa: the lava cave hidden in plain sight.
Standing on the black sand beach facing the water, look to the right side of the beach (to the left of the stairs). You’ll find the mouth of a lava cave. Crouch down as you enter. The path bends slightly left, revealing a cavern that opens up on the other end to ocean waters lapping into the edge of the cave. (You’re able to stand upright at this point.)
Getting to Waianapanapa State Park and the black sand beach
From the Hana Highway, turn onto Honokalani Road. When driving east from Paia, the left turn is just after mile marker 32.
Follow the road through the residential area for around half a mile. At the end of the road, arrive at the Waianapanapa State Park entrance.
After you present your reservation and entry voucher, the park attendant will direct you to the designated parking area.
To find the black sand beach, walk in the direction of the coastline. Look for stairs that lead down toward the water. The steps lead directly to the Pa’iloa black sand beach.
Tours to Maui’s Black Sand Beach
The Waianapanapa State Park sits hours away from Maui’s major resort districts. If you’d rather relax and let someone else do the driving on Hana Highway’s winding roads, consider taking a tour. This full-day tour along the Road to Hana takes you to more than the black sand beach. It hits all the major stops along Hana Highway.
For the adventurous and independent-minded, get the best of both worlds. Instead of a formal tour, download a GPS-enabled tour guide (you won’t have cell reception on most of Hana Highway) so you don’t miss any Road to Hana stops — including the black sand beach.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Is it worth it to visit Maui’s black sand beach?
Yes, visiting the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park is resoundingly worthwhile. The remoteness, beauty, and connection to Hawaiian culture make this black sand beach particularly extraordinary.
That said, the park is also a popular tourist stop. You’re bound to encounter a small crowd, unless you camp overnight or get there at the 7:00 a.m. opening time. But the park’s reservation system also keeps crowds from becoming overwhelming throughout the day.
When is the best time to visit Maui’s black sand beaches?
To avoid the crowds, the earlier the better. However, we visited the Honokalani black sand beach during the middle of the day and still had a great time.
Can you swim at the black sand beach?
We don’t recommend swimming at Honokalani, where the typical fierce currents make it difficult to navigate the water. There’s no lifeguard at the beach, so use caution if you decide to wade into the ocean.