A Guide to Haleakala National Park on Maui

I really enjoy exploring Haleakala National Park whenever I visit Maui. Visiting the Haleakala summit feels like you suddenly transported yourself to another planet. Everything here looks so different and alien. The mountain is home to five distinctly different climate zones, stunning views, breathtaking sunrises, otherworldly landscapes, and flora and fauna that are found nowhere else in the world than here.

Haleakala is Maui’s highest peak and you will quickly find yourself at 10,023 feet high above the clouds. On a clear day, you are even able to see the other islands on the horizon. It is absolutely breathtaking! Mount Haleakala is considered a dormant volcano because it has not erupted in many many years, but it could erupt again in the future. Nothing indicates that will happen in the future though.

Price $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per pedestrian or bicyclist. The ticket allows you to visit for the next 3 days if you save your receipt.

What to do on Haleakala Summit

Sunrise at Haleakala

Watching the sunrise above the clouds at Haleakala National Park is a magical and memorable experience. The color of the sky and clouds before daybreak are absolutely breathtaking. Due to limited parking, the National Park Service requires that you make a reservation if you wish to enter the summit district from 3 to 7 am to watch the sunrise. It is possible to make the reservation 60 days in advance and it only costs $1.50 (the entrance fee is separate). You can make the reservation HERE.

When to leave? This depends on where on Maui you drive from.

Kahului: 1,5 – 2 hours
Kihei: 1.75 – 2.25 hours
Lahaina: 2.25-2-75 hours

You want to be arriving at Haleakala no later than 4.30 am. Haleakala is one of the best places in the world to stargaze so in case you are early you can always enjoy the beautiful night sky.

When is sunrise? In the summer the sun rises as early as 5:38 AM, in the winter as late as 6:55 AM.

What to wear? Something warm! It is about 30 degrees colder than at sea level. Therefore, be sure to bring pants, shoes, layers of clothing. It can also be a good idea to bring some blankets. Be prepared for temperatures in the 40-degree range. It can be very windy at the summit and it can easily feel even colder.

Sunrise vs. Sunset

Sunrise is without a doubt the most popular option at Haleakala, but does that mean it is the best option? The truth is that sunset can be just as spectacular as the sunrise. There are a few differences and all in all it pretty much comes down to one’s preferences.

Sunrise at Haleakala
Sunrise is the most popular option for visitors. The sunrise is a little less crowded than the sunset. The reason for this is that you will need to make an online reservation. This means that only a chosen amount of people can stay at the summit watching the sunrise, which makes it a less crowded experience. Another reason why the sunrise is a more popular option is that it has a cultural significance of Haleakala, which makes the sunrise a little more magical.

The Legend of Maui: Haleakala means “house of the sun”. The legend is about the goddess Hina who thought the sun was moving across the sky to fast. Her son Maui decided to climb to the top of Haleakala and catch the sun with his lasso to slow it down. The sun demanded to be released, but Maui didn’t want to let it go. Maui and the sun made a compromise. The sun promised to move slowly for six months out of the year, and then move its preferred pace the other six months out of the year. The sun was then released and now we are blessed with long sunny days!

Sunset at Haleakala
You don’t need to reserve a spot for the sunset at Haleakala summit. The sunset can be equally as beautiful as the sunrise, but you will most likely need to share the moment with more people. The good thing about watching the sunset is that you don’t need to wake up extremely early in the morning and it is typically a little warmer as well.

Best Hikes at Haleakala Summit

Hiking down the crater at Haleakala is still one of my best experiences on Maui. Many visitors seem surprised to learn there’s hiking in Haleakala Crater, but the truth is that there is a ton of trails to choose from. The summit area of Haleakalā National Park has over 30 miles (48 km) of hiking trails. The trails range from just 10 minutes to multi-day overnight trips. The most popular trail is Keonehe’ehe’e, which is also known as “Sliding Sands.”

Sliding Sands (Switchback Loop) *My Favorite*

12.2 miles
This is without a doubt my favorite hike on Haleakala! If you’re in good shape and have a full day to devote to exploring the crater, this is hands-down the best day hike in the summit area. Park at the Halemau‘u trailhead, then hitch a ride to the top, where you’ll hike down to the crater floor. Follow the signs toward Holua Cabin and the Halemau‘u trail, where a leg-burning, switchbacking, 1,000-foot climb leads back to the car. Be prepared to be tired, but oh so pleased after finishing this hike! You will feel like you went to the moon and back.

Sliding Sands Trail

8 miles
If you don’t feel like a full day of hiking you can do the 8 miles version of the Sliding Sands trail. Starting at the summit visitor center at 9,800 feet. You can turn around anytime you want to hike out. Be aware that it is easier coming down than hiking back up! Continuing to Kapalaoa Cabin adds 3.5 miles round-trip. This trail will give you the stunning views of the cinder cones.

Kaupo Gap

17.5 miles
This is one of the more extreme trails at Haleakala Crater. The Kuapo Gap is a two-day hiking trip where you will have to camp at the Paliku campground. Permits are required for camping. Be aware you will need to either have a prearrange a ride back or try to hitch yourself back.

Halemau‘u Trail (Switchback Trail)

7.5 miles
This hike starts further down at an altitude of 7,990 feet, which means that you will be walking through more of a green area for the first 1.1 miles. After this, the trail will take you to the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff that you will have to hike down. You can then keep going 3,7 miles more and you will reach the Holua Cabin. You can then decide to turn around or you can decide to keep going and explore the Silverwood Loop that is known for some special silversword plants, which is unfortunate endangered.

Best View Overlooks at Haleakala

Pa Ka‘oao Overlook

0.4 mile
Pa Ka’oao is a great small hike leaving from the Visitors Center parking lot. The view from the top is pretty amazing and gives you views right down in the crater. It is also a good spot to go for sunrise or sunset if you want to get away from the crowds.

Leleiwi Overlook

0.5 mile
Leleiwi Overlook is another great spot to see the crater. If you are running late for sunrise this is a good spot to stop and watch it, but if you do have time I would recommend driving all the way to the top as the view is a little more from the east.

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