Haleakala National Park In-Depth Travel Guide
Haleakala National Park contains Maui’s highest peak, and the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala. The mountain peak is visible everywhere on the island of Maui, and is a perfect place to watch the sunrise and sunset.
Every day, swarms of visitors flock to Haleakala for hiking, sunrise watching, and camping. There are several trails, Martian-like landscapes, and native species. The park is 10,023 feet above sea level, which makes it a wonderful place for solar and astronomical exploration.
For those planning a trip to Maui, Haleakala National Park is an unmissable place to visit. Unfortunately, the majority of visitors to Haleakala are simply there to watch the sunrise, yet there is so much more to this national park than the beautiful rising sun. If you need detailed guides and tips to visit Haleakala National Park, please read on.
Getting to Haleakala National Park
Driving: the road leads to Haleakala is Haleakala Highway (Route 37). Get on the Hana Highway (towards Hana on Route 36) then turn right onto Route 37. Follow Route 37 all the way, and you will reach the summit of Haleakala. This route takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours from downtown Kahului.
Part of the highway is above the level of the clouds, so watch out for morning mists, clouds on the road, cyclists, Nene (Hawaiian geese), and steep inclines. Pay attention to the speed limit, as there are police on the road issuing speed tickets.
Free hiking and sunset tour from Banana Bungalow: I stayed at Banana Bungalow hostel and signed up for a free guided tour of Haleakala National Park available every Saturday. You will leave the hostel at 9am, spend the day hiking the Sliding Sands Trail, and watch the sunset.
Tour shuttles: commercial tour companies will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the summit of Haleakala in the early morning. The cost of the tour is between $110 and 225, depending on the tour service and duration.
Bike: some companies offer bike tours. Among them, Haleakala Bike Co. features a self-guided bike tour for tourists, so you can rent a bike and ride at your own pace.
Entrance Fee and Hours
Haleakala National Park entrance fee is $10 per person, and a private vehicle costs $20. The receipt is valid for 3 days.
Effective February 2017, visitors wish to watch the sunrise will need to make reservation in advance here.
Some days are fee – free for visitors to enter the Haleakala National Park. Please visit here for more information.
Haleakala National Park is a wonderful destination for sunrise and sunset watching, hiking, and camping. There are a few hiking trails. Choose the trail that matches your schedule, level of hiking experience, and fitness level.
Beginner-level hikers can check out the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area and Forest Preserve, where several trails offer some of the best views of the island. During the hike, you will go through the misty clouds, and see endemic silversword, friendly Nene, and forests of redwood and plum trees. On a clear day, you can get an incredible view of other parts of Maui and the neighboring islands.
The Sliding Sands Trail takes you down to the valley floor, where giant cinder cones and lava tubes are located, past the Kapalaoa cabin and Paliku Cabin, and up again to the summit through the switchbacks on Halemau’u Trail. This is an almost 12-mile hike, suitable for experienced hikers, and it is recommended that you make a pit-stop at the Kapalaoa or Paliku Cabin to refresh yourself before trekking uphill. The view along the trail is very peaceful, and the surrounding landscape makes you feel like you are on another planet.
The Switchbacks Trail is the last leg of Sliding Sands Trail. This offers a different view of Haleakala, and visitors can see the clouds floating around the mountains and trails. However, all visitors should bear in mind that if they plan to hike the Sliding Sand Trail, the first 8 miles are easy, but the switchback trail that leads you out of the crater (4 miles) takes as much time, or even more, as the time you spent hiking the previous 8 miles. This is because the air is thin, and you are walking uphill while exposed to the blazing sun, wind, and, sometimes, rain.
Those who are driving need to get a lift to their car once they reach the trailhead. Please note that there is a hiker pickup area, so you will not encounter difficulties in getting a ride.
Sunrise and sunset
Haleakala summit is an excellent place to watch the sunrise and sunset, and visitors are actually standing above the clouds to view them. Visitors can also see the Milky Way, and sometimes stars are below them.
Watching sunrise is the most popular activity, and every day, groups of tourists start driving to the summit around 2am to get the best spot to watch the sunrise. If you plan to have a relaxing morning and beat the crowds, the sunset is equally as beautiful as the sunrise. There are not so many people atop Haleakala at sunset, and you can stay for stargazing.
If you plan to break the 12-mile hike on the Sliding Sand Trail, you can spend the night in Paliku or Holua Cabin. Each cabin has bunk bed, and is equipped with a wood-burning fire, gas cooking facilities, and cookware. Water is available at both campsites, but it is not purified so you either need to bring a water purifier or your own water. Camping permits (free) need to be obtained at the Headquarters Visitor Center at least a day in advance.
Haleakala experiences strong sunshine during the day, with temperatures fluctuating between 40 and 70 degrees. At night, the temperature can drop below freezing. There can be wind and rain, and it can get very chilly during the night.
When it comes to hiking and watching the sunrise and sunset, it is better to check the weather forecast in advance. Rainy days are not recommended for hiking, and it can be cloudy on the summit at sunrise and sunset. When I visited in early September, it was sunny at sea level, but when I reached Haleakala, it was raining and very cold. The day before I was there, Haleakala had beautiful weather. If the weather forecast shows the weather is great at the summit, just go! Do not postpone your trip.
Where to eat
There are no restaurants and food stalls at the summit. It is important that you bring your own food and drinks. There is a Foodland and plenty of restaurants on the way for you to stop by and shop for your meals.
Make the most out of Haleakala National park
Although the sunrise atop Haleakala is incredible, the park itself offers so much more, and it takes days to explore. Moreover, there are very few places on earth that allow you to actually venture above the clouds. It is one of the most surreal and beautiful sites in Hawaii, with otherworldly landscapes and challenging but fun hiking trail.
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