Maui on a Budget: Free Things to do in Maui, Hawaii

Maui on a Budget: 12 Cheap & Free Things to do in Maui!

Beautiful Maui – picturesque coastlines, verdant mountains, expansive valleys. The Valley Isle is a dream destination for many people. 

The 2nd largest island in the Hawaiian chain, Maui is a wonderful vacation spot if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. The island is highly accessible with plenty of conveniences for visitors, yet still maintains the natural beauty for which Hawaii is known. 

Four out of five of the planet’s climate groups exist on Maui, offering an unmatched spectrum of temperatures and environments in a relatively small area. In one day, you could travel from balmy beaches to temperate forests or traverse through steamy tropical jungles to a snow-capped mountain. 

The beauty of Maui puts it high on the wishlist of most travelers, but the hefty price tag on many activities can make travel there seem a bit out of reach for some. However, I’m here to dispel that myth.

There are loads of free things to do in Maui that will make your holiday memorable without breaking the bank. So while you should certainly splurge for that 5-star beachside luau or helicopter ride around paradise, you’ll also want to check out these 12 free or inexpensive Maui activities!

Maui on a Budget: Camping

Wondering where to stay in Maui? If you love nature and want to save money on your trip, then consider camping as a budget-friendly alternative to an expensive Maui resort. Camping is a favorite local activity in Maui, both beachside and upcountry.

Many of Maui’s beaches and camping areas have showers and bathrooms, making your stay a bit more comfortable. But for a real Hawaiian adventure, drive and find a secret beach to have the area all to yourself for the night! 

Airbnb now offers several camping options. With the car and all camping gear included, you can get a lot of bang for your buck! Check out Kuleana Campers with Jeep and pop-up tents or Suite Vans Maui which offers self-contained camper vans perfect for going off the grid. 

Some of Maui’s beaches require a permit for camping, but many are free to use. A good indication is to look for places with campers already set up. Some of the regular spots for open camping are Chang’s Beach in Makena, Papalaua State Wayside Park on the way to Lahaina, and Ma’alaea Beach.  

If you want more of a “glamping” experience, try Camp Olowalu on the west side. They have tentalows, cabins, and areas for car camping. With prices starting at $24 for car camping, wifi and charging stations, and the beach just steps away, Camp Olowalu camping is a worry-free experience. 

If you’d rather camp in the mountain forests, try Hosmer Grove Campground inside Haleakala National Park. The higher elevation makes for much cooler temperatures, as low as freezing in the winter months, and a completely different experience on Maui in the temperate forest trails. A sunrise or sunset at Haleakala is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip to Maui, and at this campground, you’ll be just a 25-minute drive away from the rim of the crater.

No reservations or fees are required at Hosmer Grove Campground, but it is first-come, first-served with a limit of 25 tents. 

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12 Free (or Almost Free) Things to do in Maui

Free Things to do in Central Maui

1. Waihee Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge

Cost: Free

This is my absolute favorite place on the whole island. And the best part is it’s completely free!

The Waihe’e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge (also known as the Waihe’e Land Trust) is tucked away down a dirt road behind a nondescript gate near the Waihe’e Golf Course. Once you cross the little stream and go down the dirt path through a small sugar cane field, you reach the oceanside entrance of the preserve. 

Take the sandy path to the left of the “parking area” and walk a bit into the preserve, passing a happy herd of cows, the occasional peacock, and the only two homes on the whole 277 acres of the park. As you walk, the area suddenly opens to unparalleled vistas of the cloud-shrouded green mountains and wild native fauna to the left and rolling waves crashing into the volcanic rock shoreline to the right. 

As you stroll on the mostly flat path, take notice of the placards that give a bit of history about the place. It was once home to two ancient Hawaiian villages and temples, and in more recent history, a dairy farm. The ruins can be seen in various places throughout the park but please be respectful of the area and conservation efforts by not defacing any of the ruins, trampling the plants, or bringing animals, especially dogs, into the area.  

When you reach the end of the path, you’ll meet the mouth of the Waihe’e Stream as it empties into the Pacific. The easy-flowing stream is a great place to cool off before heading back to the entrance of the park. The beauty and peacefulness of this place are simply breathtaking. 

2. Kepaniwai Park & Iao Valley State Park

Maui on a Budget: Cheap Things to do in Maui, Hawaii - Iao Valley State Park

Cost: Free to enter, but parking is $5 per vehicle at Iao Valley

A short drive into the West Maui Mountains of Wailuku lies Kepaniwai Park and Iao Valley State Park. The central location and well-maintained paths make this a mid-morning to an early-afternoon trip that is great for families. Iao Valley was heavily damaged due to flooding from a storm in 2016, but thanks to the efforts of the county, the park is now open again.

Kepaniwai Park is a cultural center that exhibits replicas of homes of the many cultures that create the melting pot of modern Hawaiian heritage. This is a nice place to take a little walk, learn about modern Hawaiian history, and even have a little picnic under the covered arbors. Plus there is no entrance fee for Kepaniwai Park.

A little further up the road is Iao Valley State Park. This was once the site of a great battle between King Kamehameha I and the warriors of Maui that ultimately united the islands. However, today, it is a lush garden walking path that leads down to the bubbling Iao Stream and up to Iao Needle

Some of the parks are wheelchair accessible and hiking around the lower part of the park is very gentle through the jungle down to the stream. The smell of flowers and guavas under the shade of the trees is a welcome reprieve from the day’s heat. The water looks inviting as well, but beware! The stream is fed from high elevations, so the water is quite frosty. 

If you’re up for it, climb the 133 steps to reach the observation deck at Iao Needle. Your sweat equity will be rewarded with postcard-worthy views of the valley all the way down to the ocean. 

While Iao Valley State Park is not free, the parking fee of just $5 makes it one of the cheapest things to do in Maui.

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3. Maui Tropical Plantation

Free Things to do in Maui, Hawaii: Maui Tropical Plantation

Cost: Free to enter; $24 for a guided tour

Never before has a place been so aptly named as Maui Tropical Plantation. Nestled below the West Maui Mountains on Honoapi’ilani Highway, just before the junction near Ma’alaea Harbor, this tourist attraction is an incredibly lush working farm. 

Browse the gift shop at the entrance that displays a wide range of Made-On-Maui products. Pick up a unique souvenir like hand-crafted jewelry, scrumptious local treats, or aromatic organic Maui coffee. 

As you exit the gift shop, the grounds open up to rambling tropical gardens filled with colorful flowers, fruit trees, and rows of organic vegetables, available for purchase from Kumu Farms. At the center of the area is a lake filled with ducks that the kiddos will love to stop and feed. 

Though it is free to visit the plantation, for $12 for children or $24 for adults, you can take a guided express tour through the gardens to learn more about the history of the area and all the tropical fruits and veggies grown there.

If you’ve got a few more bucks to spend, stop for a farm-to-table lunch at Mill House Restaurant on the lake as well. Whatever your Maui budget, this is a lovely stop on a day trip in the central part of the island. 

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4. Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Visitors Center

Cost: Free

The waters and beaches surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are a protected home for rare, indigenous, and endangered species of marine life. Thanks to the efforts of experts and volunteers at organizations like NOAA and the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary, these animals have a pristine place to thrive. 

As visitors to this unique ecosystem, we all have a responsibility to do our part by keeping the beaches clean, not interfering with the wildlife, and educating ourselves on our natural surroundings. If you want to learn more about marine life specifically, a visit to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Visitors Center is fun and informative for both kids and adults. 

There are several permanent and temporary exhibits about marine life and activities to help conservation efforts. There is also information about the history of the area where the visitor center resides, which used to be a thriving fish pond.

Zoology and conservation enthusiasts of all ages can spend a fun (and free!) afternoon here. 

5. La Perouse Bay

Maui Free Things to do: La Perouse Bay

Cost: Free

The beaches surrounding Maui come in all colors and materials – white and powdery, gold and sandy, red with coral, black and pebbly. But one of the most unique coastlines is La Perouse Bay. The ocean here meets jagged shiny black volcanic rocks and the surrounding landscape is arid and lunar. This hidden gem is also packed with free things to do!

With a pair of reef walker shoes and a careful step into the ocean, the area is great for snorkeling. Please be careful not to step on the reefs or harm the marine life, but enjoy a swim around looking at the colorful fish – maybe you’ll even spot a sea turtle. 

If you prefer to remain on land, wear sturdy shoes to protect yourself from the jagged rocks and check out the tide pools along the coastline. Starfish, sea cucumbers, fish, and sea snails live among the sea anemones between the rocks. It is ok to touch them with one finger but be sure to leave them in the water, as they can dry out and die quite quickly. 

If you’re feeling more adventurous, take a (careful) walk through the lava fields of La Perouse Bay. Believe it or not, the area used to be home to a Hawaiian village where people thrived on the sea coast, even among the lunar-like landscape. This is one of the most unique hikes in Maui.

As tempting as it may be to collect a free Maui souvenir, you must not take any of these rocks with you. Hawaiian legend dictates that anyone who removes a lava rock from its resting place will be plagued with bad luck until it is returned! 

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6. Little Beach

Free Things to do in Maui, Hawaii: Little Beach

Cost: Free

Another one of the best free things to do in Maui, Little Beach is a picture-perfect strip of golden sand south of Wailea. The journey is a bit difficult but completely worth it.

After parking at the Big Beach Parking Lot, you’ll traverse the sands of Big Beach until you reach the rocky cliffside jutting into the water on the northern end of the beach. Then you have to climb up the natural “steps” to the top of the cliff and then walk down the sandy path on the other side.  

As soon as you reach the top of the cliff, you are greeted by the epitome of tropical paradise! Little Beach is one of the most beautiful and pristine beach locations on Maui with crystal turquoise waters and golden sands. The waves in the bay are much calmer than the waves on the other side of the rocky alcove at Big Beach, making the area perfect for a lazy float. 

As a bonus, Little Beach is a haven for free spirits and naturists. It is the only beach on the island where you can swim in the waters unencumbered by pesky clothing.

And if you want a truly unique experience on your Maui vacation, every Sunday, near sunset, there is a drum circle where people gather for a jam sesh and primal dance to welcome the sunset and moonrise. Just make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp to light your way back to your car. 

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7. Self-Guided Walking Tour of Historic Lahaina Town

Maui Free Things to do: Historic Lahaina Walking Tour

Cost: Free to small donations

Lahaina used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. It was also a whaling port and a hub for missionaries and plantation exports. Today, many of the historical buildings and cultural sites still stand. 

With more than 25 buildings and sites to visit, the Historic Lahaina Town Walking Tour is a must for history buffs or anyone looking for a fun, educational, and (most importantly) free day out in Maui.

It’s best to start your self-guided walking tour early in the day, as it can get very hot in Lahaina in the afternoon. Begin at Front Street and Dickenson, walking a loop through Lahaina Town. As you walk among the historic buildings you’ll learn about Hawaiian Royalty, the infamous Baldwin family, and the colorful history of the area from ancient times through the plantation era.  

My favorite spot on the tour is taking a rest under the expansive shade of the Banyan Tree in front of the old courthouse. The nearly 150-year-old tree covers an entire acre and offers a welcome reprieve from the afternoon sun. Kids have a grand time climbing the branches and there are often craft fairs and live music in the shady space under the tree’s branches. 

The Old Lahaina Courthouse is also a nice stop with ancient artifacts, modern paintings, a gift shop, and public restrooms. If you get hungry on your free tour of Lahaina, 505 Front Street is full of small shops and restaurants – it’s also across from the Banyan Tree. 

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8. Whale Watching Cruise

Maui on a Budget - Cheap Things to do: Whale Watching Tour

Cost: $35+

While not free, a whale-watching tour is surprisingly affordable and one of the most memorable experiences in Maui so I just couldn’t leave it off of my list.

If you travel to Maui between November and April, you have a high probability of witnessing one of nature’s greatest marvels – the migration and playfulness of the majestic Humpback Whales. These mammoth creatures travel yearly to the warm Hawaiian waters to mate and give birth to their calves before making the long trek back to Arctic waters.   

During peak times, it is common to see humpback whales jumping and splashing in the waters surrounding the island, even from the shoreline. However, there is nothing like being in the water when a massive whale breaches! It is a sight that is humbling and unforgettable. Even if you’re visiting Maui on a budget, a whale-watching cruise is one activity that’s worth paying for.

Many companies in Maui offer whale watching tours; however, I recommend a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. All of their eco-friendly whale-watching tours are led by certified marine naturalists who will answer questions and provide expert information about the whales and other marine creatures. They also provide underwater hydrophones so you can hear the whales singing to each other! 

They also have a whale sighting guarantee – if you don’t see whales on your trip, you can go on another tour for free within one year. Best of all, you’ll be supporting the Pacific Whale Foundation so they can continue their important marine conservation work in Maui and around the world.

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9. Rice Park & Kula Farms

Free Things to do in Maui: Rice Park

Cost: Free

If you need a reprieve from the steamy temperatures, take a ride upcountry to a cooler climate and different landscapes. In upcountry Maui, you’ll see towering pine trees and huge cactus plants instead of palms as you drive down the country roads. Plus, you’ll find loads of free and inexpensive things to do in this part of Maui.

In Kula, about halfway to the peak of Haleakala, is Harold Rice Park (known locally as just Rice Park). There isn’t much to the park – just a big grassy field with a few park benches. But the view from Rice Park is arguably one of the best on the island, and the sunsets from this vantage are incomparable.

Taking a ride on an old cardboard box down the sloping grass at Rice Park is good for some cheeky fun with your kids and quite a workout on the way back up too.  

Just across the street from Rice Park is Kula Country Farms. This family-run farm has an abundance of fresh and organic fruits and veggies. It’s also the only place in Maui where you can pick your own strawberries.

In the fall, the whole place turns into a gigantic pumpkin patch. The kids have a blast running through the fields to find the perfect carving pumpkin and taking pictures in the Halloween-themed displays. No matter the time of year, though, it’s always great to support local Hawaiian businesses and enjoy organic foods straight from the farm. 

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10. Surfing Goat Dairy Farm

Cost: Free to visit and sample cheese; $10 to $39 for farm tours

While you’re in Kula you can visit the cutest little goats on the whole island!

Surfing Goat Dairy Farm is an award-winning agritourism venue with some of the most delicious gourmet cheeses on offer. There are casual tours to meet the little goat babies and feed them up to more in-depth tours that give you a glimpse at how mouth-watering cheeses are created.

The grounds are beautiful as well with a few spots to sit and sample some of their unique yummies like the goat cheese truffles or lilikoi (passion fruit) quark cheese spread. If you’re like me and deciding is just too hard, go for the flight of cheeses.

Be sure to ask about what seasonal cheeses they currently have on offer. The last time I was there, they had cranberry goat cheese for the holidays that I still dream about! 

11. Ocean Vodka Distillery

Free Things to do in Maui, Hawaii: Ocean Vodka Farm & Distillery
Image courtesy of Ocean Vodka

Cost: Free to visit; $10 for distillery tour and tasting

If you’ve got a bit more time in Kula, the Ocean Vodka Farm & Distillery just up the road is worth a visit as well. It’s free to visit the grounds and gift shop, which offer sweeping views of the valley below from the meticulously maintained 80-acre organic farm. 

If you want to learn more about how Ocean Vodka sustainably maintains over 30 varieties of sugar cane to create their award-winning spirits, you can take a guided tour complete with tasting for just $10.

However you choose to spend your time (and dollars), do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle of the smooth organic vodka that’s attractively bottled in their unique spherical vessel.  

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12. Twin Falls Hike

Free Things to do in Maui, Hawaii: Twin Falls

Cost: Free visit, but donations accepted

As you begin the Road to Hana journey, take a stop at the first major point of interest along the way – Twin Falls. Located around mile marker 2.1 on Hana Highway, you’ll know the spot by the parking lot full of cars and the colorful Twin Falls Farm Stand. Don’t be put off by the cars, though, because the area is huge and likely still mostly uncrowded. 

The path is an easy hike through the jungle, full of flowers and fruit trees. The tropical smells and fresh feeling of the area create a peaceful atmosphere as you meander down the well-trodden pathways.

After about a half-mile walk, if you take the left path, cross over the stream and either wade through the shallow water or walk across the irrigation ditch wall until you come to “Caveman Falls. There will likely be quite a few people here, wading through the water and trying to get the perfect waterfall selfie. 

Most people stop here, thinking this is the pinnacle of the jungle hike. However, if you continue hiking around the loop and take the right side path, climb a small rock wall and continue walking, you’ll find several more waterfalls and places to test your courage with a leap from the top to the water below. This area is usually much less crowded and perfect for a refreshing swim. 

On your way out, don’t forget to stop at the Twin Falls Farm Stand for some cool drinks and homemade snacks.

Remember that this area is actually private land and graciously open to the public, so take out whatever you bring in. And while it is free to visit Twin Falls, it’s best to leave a donation if you can.  

So that’s it – 12 free and inexpensive things to do in Maui! What’s your favorite free Maui activity? Let us know below.

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About the Author:

  • Nick Wheatley

    Nick took his first solo trip abroad to Ireland and Scotland when he was just 19. Since then he has visited 63 countries and counting

    He coupled his passion for travel photography with Val’s passion for writing and thus Wandering Wheatleys was born.

    Besides photography, Nick loves eating the weirdest food he can find in a country (sheep’s brain currently sits in first place) and making Val get up an hour before sunrise to make sure he gets “the good light”.

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