Pu’u Olai as seen from Charley Young Beach
Pu’u Olai is a 360 foot tall cinder cone in the middle of Makena State Park. A dominant feature on the southwest coast of Maui, Pu’u Olai is visible from almost everywhere in west Maui and as far north as Olowalu on the road to Lahaina. If you want to get to Makena, just drive toward Pu’u Olai.
Big Beach is on the south side of Pu’u Olai; Little Beach on the west side, and Black Sand Beach is to the north.
Numerous trails lead to the summit of Pu’u Olai. It’s a short, but sometimes steep, hike. We took a trail that starts from the road to Black Sand Beach, maybe 50 yards from the parking lot at the end of the road. Most of the trail is entirely exposed, so go in the morning before it gets hot. Take water and enjoy the view. Hiking shoes, tennis shoes, or (at minimum) strap on sandals are recommended. Parts of the trail are composed of loose gravel – not a problem going up, but potentially hazardous coming down.
On a clear day you can see Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island, the uninhabited island of Koho’olawe, Molokini (where the snorkel boats go), Lanai, Molokai, and, of course, Mt Haleakala, the West Maui Mountains, and most of Maui.
Big Beach as seen from Pu’u Olai
View toward Wailea from Pu’u Olai
Little Beach is located just north of Big Beach
In case you don’t know, Little Beach is south Maui’s clothing optional beach. While public nudity is illegal in Hawaii, it’s tolerated (at least most of the time) at Little Beach and a few other places on the island. While quiet during the week, according to other posts, Little Beach can get pretty raucous on the weekends – especially Sunday afternoon and evening when there may be hundreds of people on the beach with drum circles, dancing, and various substances consumed.
Little Beach is a small sandy cove located on the west side of the cinder cone that dominates Makena State Park. It’s separated from Big Beach on the south, and Black Sand Beach on the north, by portions of the cinder cone that extend into the ocean. This is not a place that you (or your children) are going to stumble upon by accident.
Trail from parking lot to Big Beach
Drive south through Wailea to Big Beach and park in the northernmost parking lot. Take the trail from the parking lot and keep heading north (to your right) when you come to the beach.
The north end of the beach appears blocked off by an ancient lava flow extending out from the cinder cove. On closer inspection, you’ll see a rough trail leading up and over the rock to Little Beach. Shoes or strap on sandals are advised.
Climb over the rock to get to Little Beach
Little Beach is a primitive beach with no water, restrooms, or lifeguards. There is also little shade on the beach. Take what you need, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Black Sand Beach
Makena State Park’s biggest and most popular attraction is Big Beach. Less well known, and certainly much less used, is Black Sand Beach, located on the north side of the cinder cone that defines one end of Big Beach.
A tiny parking lot at the end of a very bumpy, but mercifully short, dirt road can hold maybe ten cars. Despite this, as the nearly deserted beach in the picture above suggests, there’s usually plenty of parking space.
In addition to its quiet serenity and unusual color, Black Sand Beach has excellent snorkeling. Find a place where it’s easy to enter the water (there’s one almost directly below the parking lot) and swim out 20 or 30 yards to the coral. Swim as far as you want parallel to the shore and next to the cinder cone. You’ll see lots of fish and coral and maybe turtle or two.
Drive south through Wailea toward the big cinder cone that separates Big Beach and Black Sand Beach. With the cinder cone square on your right, look for a dirt road with a white crossbar gate (open during daylight hours). There is usually a Jawz Taco truck parked just beyond the gate on the opposite side of the road (great tacos!). If you get to the entrance to Big Beach, you’ve gone too far.
Entry to Black Sands Beach
NOTE: Black Sand Beach is a primitive beach. There are no restrooms, water, or lifeguards. If in doubt, don’t go out.