Maui Sunriders Upcountry Bike Tour

Cycling the East Maui Loop (Expert)

106 miles, 10,500’ elevation gain

The East Maui Loop is made up of one hundred and six miles, 10,000+ feet of climbing,  617 hairpin turns, and 59 one-lane bridges makes one full circumnavigation of the imposing Haleakala volcano!

The East Maui Loop – world-class in every sense – should only be attempted by highly experienced road cyclists. Climbs are steep and frequent, roads narrow and windy, and traffic volume can be high, particularly on the north side of the loop. That said, this is one of the most spectacularly beautiful rides we have ever experienced. Not just on this island, but anywhere. If you are a highly experienced road cyclist looking for the ride of a lifetime, this should top your list!

Our RideWithGPS route below follows the loop in a counterclockwise direction. The route description that follows is based on following the loop this way.

Scroll to the end of this blog post to find a clockwise RideWithGPS route!

What bike will I ride on Maui?

Planning a cycling trip to Maui? The idyllic island is an excellent cycling destination for cyclists, with a number of world-class road routes and a couple of mountain bike trail networks. Check out some details on how to bring your bike with you, or consider renting a bike from us. 

Here at Maui Sunriders, we offer a fleet of rental bikes on Maui. Maui Sunriders is your destination for high-end road bikes, full suspensions, hardtails, e-bikes, 3-speeds, or single-speeds. Our top-notch staff of cycling enthusiasts will be excited to help you find the right bike for your adventure (at either of our locations...Paia or Kihei!).

EAST MAUI LOOP: WARM UP YOUR CLIMBING LEGS

We like to start this route right by our shop in Paia. Immediately, you’re faced with a 3,000’ climb up toward Kula. At about 7 miles in, you’ll pass through the cowboy town of Makawao. Turn right at the T intersection. Enjoy a brief reprieve from the uphill gradient as you follow Makawao Ave and connect to the Kula Highway. There, turn left to continue your ascent. Either stick to the Kula highway, or, at mile 11.5, turn left onto Lower Kula road for a slightly steeper (but quieter and more scenic!) two miles that run parallel to the highway.

Taking the Lower Kula Rd side quest, you’ll pop back out onto the highway after two miles. If desired, you can jump right back onto Lower Kula Rd by turning left at mile 13.7. Like before, this road will reconnect with the Kula highway at Harold W Rice Memorial Park – an excellent snack stop & photo op. The Park is the peak of your longest climb of the day – enjoy the views of the island!

Enjoy a well-earned descent!

Continuing along the Kula Highway, start your long, rolling descent back to sea level. You’ll pass Grandma’s Coffeehouse and the Ulupalakua Ranch Store over the first 8 miles of the descent. These are the last opportunities for refueling before the town of Hana (mile ~62). Check store hours and plan ahead!

After passing Maui Wine and the Ulupalakua Ranch Store (mile ~25), the road begins to narrow. Traffic volume drops dramatically, and the centerline will disappear. The real adventure is about to begin! You are entering the vast, dry backside of Haleakala Volcano. The road is smooth (mostly!), the views are epic and endless, and the turns, are tight. You’ll hit sea level around mile 40 and navigate rollers for the next 20 miles or so until Hana.

EAST MAUI LOOP PAVEMENT QUALITY DEGRADES (MILE 45-50)

Pitches are steep, the road is bumpy, potholes are frequent, and turns are tight. This is the most remote section of your day in regards to distance to food, water, and medical attention. Stay alert! While it will be bumpy, confident riders on road bikes can handle the sketchy terrain.

When you reach good quality pavement again, you’re in the final stretch toward Hana.  You’ll pass a couple of fruit stands, as well as the turn to Charles Lindbergh’s grave (mile ~51). The road continues to roll up and down alongside the ocean, and you’ll begin to turn due north as you hit the easternmost end of Maui. Be sure to stop for some food in Hana – there’s a general store, a couple of restaurants, and food trucks!

Fuel up in Hana, and prep for part two!

Once refueled and ready for part two, saddle up and continue along the Hana highway. From here, it’s about 4,200’ of climbing over 44 miles back to Paia. Stay alert – this stretch of road can be busy with lines of cars backed up behind one another on the narrow road.

If you thought the twists, turns, and rolling road that characterized the backside of Haleakala were gnarly, prepare yourself for this second half! While the road is similar, the geography in which you now find yourself is entirely different. In sharp contrast to the south side of the volcano, the north side of Haleakala is green, lush, and dense with vegetation.

FINISHING THE EAST MAUI CYCLE

You’ll climb out of Hana (sea level) back up to 1,200’ or so over the first 11 or 12 miles of your return journey. Along the way, you’ll pass a number of roadside food and drink options – be sure to try some banana bread. Hana Farms is our favorite! Around mile 75, you’ll embark on a descent, steep at times, for 4 or 5 miles before the rollers return.

As you ride westward, keep your eyes to your left to catch glimpses of the dozens of waterfalls that cascade off the volcano toward the Pacific. A couple of waterfalls have swimming holes close enough to the road for a quick dip!

As you approach Twin Falls at mile 95, you’ll feel that you’re returning to civilization. The rollers continue for a few miles, but it’s a net descent from here back to Paia along the Hana highway. Congrats on wrapping up a bike ride for the ages!

Which direction should I ride?

 

We feel it’s better to ride this loop in the counterclockwise direction, for a couple of reasons:

REASON 1

Riding counterclockwise means you tackle the longest climb of the day right off the bat, instead of starting a 3,000’ climb 70 miles into your day!

REASON 2

You’ll start your return to Paia from Hana in the early to mid-afternoon. At that time of day, most traffic on the road is moving with you (back to Paia) instead of coming at you (toward Hana). Slightly reduces the hazard of all those hairpin turns.

REASON 3

The eastern tradewinds that Maui is famous for will likely only be a light headwind as you work your way toward Hana along the backside of Haleakala in the morning, and will then be working with you in the afternoon as you return to Paia.

Conor O'Brian

Conor O'Brian

Maui Sunriders contributing writer, photographer, and route builder

Conor is an avid bike rider, racer, adventurer, photographer, and graphic artist who spends his winters working for Maui Sunriders. All routes, photos, and written descriptions are his own.

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