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7 ways to experience Maui this summer without the crowds

July 25, 2022
6 min read
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With over 3 million annual visitors in pre-COVID times, there’s no denying that Maui has long been one of Hawaii’s most popular destinations — in part because it caters to all types of travelers.

Sun-seekers and surfers can kick back on over 30 miles of beaches, while nature lovers trek the Valley Isle’s mountainous interior and the jet setters live their best lives at the island’s exclusive, five-star resorts.

Now, with visitor numbers once again increasing, Maui is facing the challenge of overtourism and even considering a cap on visitor accommodations. On a standard vacation there these days, you might struggle with packed pools, intense traffic — and a nagging conscience.

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Still, it’s entirely possible to experience Maui’s rich culture and natural beauty on a relaxing, off-the-beaten-path trip that avoids the crowds and allows you to enjoy Hawaii in a deeper, more responsible way.

From whale watching on a traditional outrigger canoe to trekking West Maui's magnificent North Shore, here are some of the best ways to explore the island's lesser-known gems.

Hike into a volcano

Midmorning is the quietest time to experience Haleakalā’s lunar terrain. (Photo by Rosanna U/Getty Images)

Haleakalā National Park isn’t exactly a secret. In fact, passes to view the sunrise from the volcano’s 10,023-foot summit often sell out well in advance. And for good reason: A sacred site for Native Hawaiians, Haleakalā boasts one of the world’s largest volcanic craters (big enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan), five distinct climate zones and multiple plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world, such as the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) and Hawaiian silversword.

To avoid the crowds, skip the early wake-up call and arrive in time for a midmorning hike along Haleakalā’s moonlike terrain instead — you’ll feel like you have the whole park to yourself.

Don’t miss Halemau’u Trail, a rocky path that boasts views of lava tubes and cinder cones, and Sliding Sands Trail, which descends all the way to the crater floor. Hike Maui offers a challenging but efficient 4-mile tour or you can explore as much as you want on your own.

Related: Book this, not that: Getting the most from your hotel points in Maui

Watch whales the old-fashioned way

If you know where to look, it’s possible to immerse yourself in nature and Hawaiian culture without even leaving your resort. For example, at the Four Seasons Maui at Wailea, guests can try their hand at paddling a traditional wood-carved outrigger canoe just like the early Polynesian explorers who navigated to the Hawaiian Islands.

Local guides will show you the ropes and explain the common commands of this fascinating sport. Be sure to keep an eye out for manta rays, green sea turtles, colorful fish, and, from December through May, playful humpback whales.

Go horseback riding in the Upcountry

Skip the commercial horseback tours and delve into Maui’s ranching history. (Photo courtesy of Thompson Ranch Maui/Facebook)

When thinking about Maui, surfers are more likely to come to mind than cowboys. Even so, the island’s lesser known Upcountry has been the home of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) since the 19th century when King Kamehameha III invited vaqueros from California to teach islanders to wrangle cattle.

To step back into Maui’s ranching history, head to the family-owned Thompson Ranch. Far from your standard commercial horseback ride, professional guides lead guests along a country trail at 4,000 feet above sea level through rolling fogs, past grazing cattle, and up to a mountain cabin with panoramic views of Haleakalā itself.

Venture to west Maui's rugged North Shore

Many travelers skip the back side of West Maui, but the North Shore is well worth a visit. Start by strolling the mostly flat Kapalua Coastal Trail that snakes between Kapalua Bay Beach and D.T. Fleming Beach Park.

Along the way you’ll discover tide pools, dramatic cliffs and magical rock formations, such as Makaluapuna Point, an ancient Hawaiian burial site known as Dragon's Teeth where the jagged lava rock resembles the mouth of a mythical creature.

Craving more adventure? Drive past Kapalua to uncover the hidden treasures on this side of Maui. Sometimes likened to the more famous Road to Hana, the journey will take you to Honolua Bay (one of the top spots on the island for snorkeling), Nakalele Blowhole, Kahakuloa (sometimes called the most isolated village in Maui), and Waihe’e Ridge Trail, a spectacular hike with views of the coastline and lush Waihe’e Valley.

Related: The best way to get to Hawaii using points and miles.

Explore the Kapalua Coastal Trail that skirts Maui's less visited North Shore. (Photo by kujawski/Getty Images)

Dine on locally-sourced produce

To eat like a local in Maui, drive out to Hali'imaile General Store, a former plantation shop for Upcountry pineapple workers nestled in the lower slopes of Haleakalā. Chef Bev Gannon (credited with establishing the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement) opened the restaurant in 1988 to showcase products from Maui’s fishermen, ranchers and farmers. Today the food is just as spectacularly fresh, highlighting a blend of Hawaiian and Asian flavors. A perfect meal might include crab pizza on stone-fired flatbread, macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi, and Hali'imaile pineapple upside-down cake.

Swim with a sea turtle

Choose your dive school carefully to ensure a more eco-friendly marine life encounter. (Photo by M.M. Sweet/Getty Images)

Did you even go to Maui if you didn’t spot a sea turtle? Avoid popular snorkeling beaches such as Kaanapali where you’ll be jostling for space and instead book a responsible diving or snorkeling tour that will bring you up close and personal with the island’s chillest residents.

At Wailea Point, you’re likely to see multiple green sea turtles, as well as moray eels, octopus and manta rays, while the aptly named Turtle Town near Makena is arguably the best (and quietest) place to swim with these graceful, iconic animals without overwhelming them.

Related: Cleared for Takeoff: A family adventure in Oahu and Maui

Give back to the community

Inspired by the concept of malama 'aina (caring for the land) that lies at the heart of Hawaiian culture, the state's Malama Hawaii program invites travelers to connect more deeply with the islands by working with local organizations to protect Hawaii’s heritage and natural spaces.

One of the most hands-on and educational experiences can be found at the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, a non-profit organization that strives to restore and preserve the physical, historical, and cultural legacies of Maui. After a brief training session, you'll discover Maui’s storied past by measuring, describing and transcribing historic artifacts and documents from the Kingdom of Hawaii, missionary, whaling and sugar periods.

Featured image by Ed Freeman/Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases