Complete Guide to Visiting Haleakala

One of the most legendary things to do in Maui is watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Haleakala’s Summit. The sun just bursts over the clouds like a vibrant watercolor painting! It’s a view that one can’t entirely explain unless you see it yourself. Haleakala is the third largest volcano in all of Hawaii. The volcano’s presence dominates, significantly impacting the island’s environmental, cultural, and geological makeup.

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Visitors have endless opportunities to find adventure, sightseeing, and relaxation in and nearby Haleakala National Park. The Haleakala Summit offers something for everyone, from the majestic overlooks above the clouds to lush rainforests. So, what is the best way to experience Haleakala in Maui?

This article provides a Complete Guide to Visiting Haleakala, plus everything you need to know before visiting. Let’s start the adventure!

01

About Haleakala National Park Maui

Haleakala National Park is one of Maui’s most breathtaking attractions. In fact, the volcano makes up approximately three-quarters of Maui. Legend has it that demigod Maui captured the sun to lengthen its daily presence while standing atop the Haleakala Summit. In the ancient Hawaiian language, Haleakala translates to “House of the Sun.”

Haleakala boasts a dense wilderness with a total area of over 33,000 acres of diverse topography. The most famous visitor attraction is visiting the Haleakala Crater, which is 2.5 miles wide, 7.5 miles long, and 2,300 feet deep.

Haleakala has dramatic scenery, incredible island views, unique plant species, and fresher-than-fresh air. It’s full of opportunities for a one-of-a-kind Maui vacation experience. With five different climate zones, Haleakala’s unique terrain affords a myriad of experiences for visitors.

Haleakala National Park has two districts: the Volcano Summit District and East Maui’s Kipahulu district. Both locations are unique and offer arguably the best sunrise viewing spots on Maui.

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The Volcano Summit District

Most park visitors head to Haleakala’s Summit District. Here, guests can explore the crater and admire the high-altitude and barren landscape. Scenes from the crater are almost otherworldly.

The Summit District is a great place to see the sunset or the sunrise over the clouds and explore the crater trails and admire Maui’s dramatic views. With a height of 10,023 feet, “Puu Ulaula” is Haleakala’s (and Maui’s) tallest peak.

With its cool climate and elevation, Haleakala is a fantastic vantage point for stargazing. In fact, researchers from around the world come to observe the night sky through telescopes near Haleakala’s Observatory.

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Kīpahulu District

Often referred to as the backside of Haleakalā, the Kīpahulu District showcases another side of the dormant volcano. This is where a lava flow met with East Maui’s ocean, producing waterfalls and other natural wonders like the Seven Sacred Pools of ʻOheʻo. For those who enjoy exploring the road less traveled, make sure to explore the “backside” of Haleakala. It is a rewarding adventure with waterfalls and lush rainforests. Kīpahulu is one of the most scenic stops on the Road to Hana.

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History of Mt. Haleakala

About 1.3 million years ago, Maui formed when two shield volcanoes overlapped. Haleakala’s largest and youngest volcano (Haleakala) is 10,023 feet above sea levelapproximately five miles from top to bottom. Haleakala is a volcano whose last eruption occurred between 1480 and 1600 AD.

From South Maui’s La Perouse Bay, visitors can see the lava flow from Haleakala’s last eruption near the shoreline. Some sources placed the last eruption in 1790; however, according to the USGS, it likely occurred between 1480 and 1600 AD. Haleakala is classified as an active volcano and has erupted ten times in the last 1,000 years. Its threat level is currently green, or “normal.”

Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes Park (on the Big Island) was initially formed as one national park. The two parks were separated in 1960, and Haleakala became a National Park in 1961.

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What To Know Before You Go

Before visiting Haleakalā, you should know a few things:

Getting There

The Summit of Haleakalā is accessible by Haleakalā Highway. Once you reach the gates to the park, the next ten miles to the Summit are slow with twisting, turning, and lots of pull-offs. A door-to-door trip from most Maui resort areas can take 1.5 to 2.5 hours. If you do not have a vehicle or do not wish to drive, you can take a tour that provides transportation.

Local Tip: If you are driving yourself, ensure your car has a healthy brake system for the drive back down. Also, make sure you have a full tank of gas.

Park Entrance Fees

Visitors must purchase a recreational use pass before entering Haleakalā National Park. The non-transferrable passes are valid for three days, including the day of purchase. Park entrance fees for 2022:

  • $30 per private vehicle
  • $25 per motorcycle
  • $15 per pedestrian without a vehicle

Entrance is also possible with an annual pass. See the Haleakala National Park website for the most up-to-date prices and fees.

Haleakala Summit Weather and Altitude

Starting at sea level, you ascend more than 10,000 feet to the Summit of Haleakala. The challenge is not only in elevation change but also the weather.

Pack layers so you can change upon arrival, as the temperature difference between sea level and the summit can be drastic. At its coldest time (around sunrise), the lowest is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also be windy and sunny, making exposure more likely. If you are hiking around Haleakala, make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and sun protection.

Local Tip: Take your time if you are not used to high altitudes. Stay hydrated, take your time, and relax within the environment. Headaches can be an early sign of altitude sickness but if this occurs, do not panic—simply descend back to sea level and your condition should improve.

What Can You Do When You Visit Haleakala?

There is so much to do at Haleakala National Park. You can start by visiting the volcano’s front and back sides. The following is a list of activities you can enjoy in Haleakalā National Park’s Summit and Kīpahulu District:

    • See sunrise or sunset
    • Hiking
    • Camping
    • Stargazing
    • Birdwatching
    • Hawaiian cultural activities

    Reservations to Visit Haleakala for Sunrise

    Watching the sunrise at Haleakala is one of the most popular activities in Maui. This is when you can watch the clouds turn their famous cotton candy shades of pink, orange, and purple alongside a bursting sun. Many visitors make their way to the Haleakala Visitor Center early to glimpse the most breathtaking sunrise on Earth. If sunrise is too early for you, Haleakala’s sunsets and star-filled nights are also epic.

    Make sure to make reservations ahead of time. Do not wait until the day of or the evening before. Guests can reserve up to seven days in advance. The best time to arrive at the Summit is at least 30 minutes before sunrise, so check sunrise times the evening before. There are roughly 150 parking spots and peak season reservations fill up very quickly.

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    Haleakala Hiking Trails

    The Summit and the backside of Haleakalā provide superb hiking opportunities with several different trails offering extremely diverse terrains.

    Sliding Sands Trail: Located in the Summit, the Sliding Sands Trail is the most popular trail in the park. It begins at the top of Haleakala and finishes at the bottom of the crater. This trail is very unique. As hikers descend into the crater, they hike along a sandy, dusty trail through a Mars-like landscape. For an even better view, walk inside the crater and climb the volcano cones. The Sliding Sands Trail is five miles and takes about three hours round-trip.

    Halemauu Trail: If you wish to traverse the crater and explore another part of the backside, you can add the Halemauu Trail to the Sliding Sands Trail. This hike is approximately 11 miles. Along the path, you will see small pit craters, old lava flows, and various lava rock formations. The terrain is uneven, and the elevation changes by about 1,300 feet. This is not a novice hike.

    More Summit District hikes include:

    • White Hill Trail
    • Leleiwi Overlook Trail
    • Hosmer Grove Trail

    In the Kīpahulu District, hiking takes place mostly in lush rainforests.

    Pipiwai Trail: The four-mile Pipiwai Trail features waterfalls, freshwater pools, and bamboo forests.

    Kūloa Point Trail: This quick ½-mile round trip drops you at the mouth of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch, also known as The Seven Sacred Pools.

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    Camping in Haleakala

    Overnight camping is available in Haleakala’s three wilderness cabins or on its two wilderness campgrounds.

    Hōlua Cabin: These cabins are located near Koolau Gap at the base of the crater wall. Visitors staying at Hōlua can hike further into the crater on day hikes. Several tent camping areas are also nearby.

    Palikū Cabin: These cabins are nestled near the eastern edge of the crater. This part of Haleakala receives a lot of rain, so the area is lush and green.

    Kapalaoa Cabin: The cabins are conveniently situated near Sliding Sands Trail’s 5.6-mile marker.

    Local Tip: Cabin and campsite reservations are available six months in advance.

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    Bird Watching at Haleakala

    Some of the best birdwatching spots in Haleakala National Park are in Hosmer Grove and along the Waikamoi Nature Trail. Hosmer’s Grove is a eucalyptus grove planted by Ralph Hosmer in 1909. Hosmer was Hawaii’s first territorial forester. Also adjacent to Hosmer’s Grove are a few nature trails home to colorful Native Hawaiian forest birds.

    Depending on the season, birdwatchers can see a Short-eared Owl, Eurasian Skylark, Japanese Bush-Warbler, Japanese White-Eye, Chinese Hwamei, Myna Birds, Northern Cardinals, ‘I’iwi, Hawai’i ‘Amakihi, Apapane, Maui ‘Alauahio, Nene Goose, and more.

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    Explore The Seven Sacred Pools of 'Ohe'o

    The Seven Sacred Pools, or ‘Ohe’o Gulch, is a collection of cascading freshwater pools that flow into the coastline. If you are hiking on the Kuloa Trail, you can see the ‘Ohe’o Gulch. This half-mile hike is easy and offers views of the pools from a few viewpoints.

    Please note: Swimming is no longer allowed at the Seven Sacred Pools.

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    Haleakala Conservation

    A little-known fact: more endangered species live in Haleakala National Park than in any other national park. Two of the most significant endangered species are Silverswords and the Nene Goose.

    Silverswords: These tiny, silvery plants are unique to Haleakala on Maui. Previously, visitors took them home as souvenirs, and they have also been affected by climate change. The species is now endangered. Silverswords can live for up to 90 years. You can find silverswords along the Sliding Sands Trail between miles two and three.

    Nene Goose: This native Hawaiian goose is also endangered. It can be found in the Hosmer Grove area. If you see them, keep a safe distance, and do not try to pet them or feed them.

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    Hawaiian Legends of Haleakala

    Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire. She is responsible for creating the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaiian mythology, she’s a well-known deity and has become an enduring figure in Hawaiian culture. Among other Hawaiian gods, Pele was birthed by Haumea, goddess of fertility and childbirth. Pele descended from Papa, the Sky Father, Earth Mother, and Wakea, both descendants of the supreme being. Versed in ancient Hawaiian chants, Pele shaped the sacred lands of Hawaii.

    In Hawaiian legend, Haleakala’s Summit is home to the crater of the demigod Maui’s grandmother. It is said that she helped him capture the sun to slow down the sun’s journey through the sky and lengthen the day. To this day, Haleakala remains sacred to the Hawaiian people and is considered Wao Akua, the wilderness of the Gods.

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    Mahalo for reading Pride of Maui’s Complete Guide to Haleakala. For more amazing articles about the Valley isle, visit our blog.