Makena State Park – Pu’u Olai

Pu'u Olai as seen from Charley Young Beach

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

Big Beach as seen from Pu’u Olai

View toward Wailea from Pu'u Olai

View toward Wailea from Pu’u Olai

Makena State Park – Little Beach (no pictures please)

Little Beach is located just north of Big Beach

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

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

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!


Makena State Park – Big Beach

Pu'u Olai as seen from Charley Young Beach

Pu’u Olai as seen from Charley Young Beach

Makena State Park is a 20 minute drive south of Kihei. It’s most prominent feature, the volcanic cinder cone Pu’u Olai, is visible for miles from almost everywhere in west Maui and up country.

There are three beaches at Makena State Park: Big Beach, Little Beach, and Black Sands Beach. This post is about Big Beach.

Big Beach is well named. It is BIG.

Big Beach looking east

Big Beach is very popular with locals. Probably because of its location and lack of common amenities (showers, dressing rooms, drinking water, and real toilets) there are far fewer tourists at Big Beach than in more developed parts of the island. There are, however, lifeguards, two large parking lots, porta-potties, picnic tables, and (usually) a food truck selling great tacos.

The beach has great sand and sun but a deceptively strong shore break. The water gets deep fast and the surf can be powerful. It’s great for experienced body boarders but not for amateurs. Note and heed the signs: “If in doubt, don’t go out.”

To get there, drive south through Wailea and Makena. Look for signs to “Big Beach” as you pass the Pu’u Olai cinder cone. If the first parking lot is full, there’s a second lot a little farther down the road.