Maui is full of impressive natural wonders but one of the most stunning is Haleakala National Park. Seeing a Maui sunrise at Haleakala often tops the Hawaii bucket list. Beyond the popular sunrise, you can also experience a beautiful sunset, see the stars, moon, planets (and their moons) if you decide to spend the day at Haleakala! Here are some of the things we got to do at Haleakala National Park during our recent visit to Maui.
We wanted to see the sunrise at Haleakala but didn’t want to deal with the 2 am alarm and decided to do the sunset at Haleakala and let me tell you it was just as spectacular! We left later in the day enjoyed lunch and lavender scones and tea in Upcountry Maui and did some leisurely hikes before staking a spot to catch the sunset.
Did you know that the Haleakala volcano is taller than Mt. Everest?
You probably knew that Haleakala National Park contains one of two volcanoes that make up the island of Maui but did you know it is taller than Mt. Everest?
While the summit rises to 10,023 ft but if you were to measure from its base on the ocean floor the summit Haleakala volcano is approximately 30,000 ft tall! Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet tall. Haleakala along with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes on the Big Island, in Hawaii are the three tallest mountains on earth.
Over a million visitors make it to the top of the volcano at this National Park in Maui to experience sunrise and sunset from the Haleakala summit. It is one of the top things to do in Maui! Scroll on to see why this will be one of those travel memories of a lifetime!
I’m not the same after seeing the sunset from the top of the clouds!
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History & Legends of Haleakala
The West Maui Mountains were the first volcano to rise above sea level about 2 million years ago and Haleakala is estimated to be around 1 million years old. Successive lava flows continuously built up the land around it. In the Hawaiian language, Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and legends of Hawaii tell the story of the demi-god Maui, a powerful and super-natural god who lassoed the sun to slow its progress across the sky.
This helped his mother and the Hawaiian people to live more comfortably on the land. Numerous archaeological sites including heiau (sacred sites), ceremonies platforms, pictographs can be found in Haleakala National Park to confirm the early use do this region.
Haleakala, a unique Biosphere
You will experience many “microclimates” as you make your way up the mountain in Haleakala, so come prepared with some layered clothing and good shoes if you are planning to go on a few hikes. You will be surprised at how cold it can be at 10,000 ft, even though the tropical climate at the beach on the same day averages around 75 to 85 degrees. Mr. Suburbia did not listen to the advice and come unprepared and had to sit in the car when it got too windy and cold.
If you are lucky you might see the Nene, the Hawaiian goose, a species of bird endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and the official bird of the state of Hawaiʻi. They are descended from the Canadian goose and are considered one of the rarest geese in the world. Don’t miss the endemic Ahinahina (Silversword) plants that can be found near the summit area.
Split into two distinct areas, Haleakala National Park covers more than 27 square miles at the summit and 19 square miles at Kipahulu Valley and offers many adventures, hikes, and scenic drives.
The Summit & the drive up Haleakala National Park
The summit of Haleakala rises 10,023 feet above the ocean and looks down into a massive crater some 7 miles across, 2 miles wide and close to 3000 ft deep. On a clear day from the summit, you can enjoy expansive views of the four nearby Hawaiian islands and it is truly one of the most impressive experiences when visiting Maui. In fact, over half of all Maui visitors visit Haleakala Crater, making it about 1.25 million visitors a year.
The journey up Haleakala is scenic and thrilling, you drive through many switchbacks as the road rises from sea level to 10,000 ft in only 38 miles. It is one of the shortest ascending roads to this kind of elevation in all the world. There are many pullouts on the road where you stop to enjoy the views. This drive reminded me of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP.
The summit is also home to a string of futuristic-looking domed observatories. They are not open to the public though.
The remote Kipahulu District is another iconic Maui destination, it runs from the top of the volcano’s eastern slope down to the ocean at the Pools of Oheo. The Haleakala National Park website notes that the only way to get to Kipahulu is via the Road to Hana, a 64-mile-long route along the northern coast of Maui’s east side.
With more than 600 curves along the way, the road takes about 3 hours or more to drive the 52 miles to Hana (if you don’t stop at every spot and waterfall). From Hana, it’s another 10 miles or so to the famous Pools of Oheo (Seven Sacred Pools) located in the Kipahulu District.
For a view of the pools, the half-mile Kuloa Point Trail is an easy option, or for the waterfalls and a bamboo forest, take the Pipiwai Trail which is about 4 miles long. You will hike through Oheo Gulch and see several smaller waterfalls before you come up to the massive 400-foot waterfall, Waimoku. Allow at least three hours to complete the four-mile round-trip journey.
See more about Road to Hana
The drive through Upcountry Maui is gorgeous, the scenery feels like you are somewhere in Switzerland. Being near Mount Haleakala the area gets a lot of rain, resulting in lush foliage and you can find many gardens and farms here including a goat farm and the Ali’i Kula Maui Lavender Farm.
If you know me, you probably know that I never miss an opportunity to frolic in fragrant lavender fields and drink copious amounts of lavender latte. So that is what we did on the day we were visiting Haleakala. We stopped for lavender scones, and coffee and were rewarded with panoramic views of the entire western half of the island.
The farm itself was tranquil with pretty blooms, lemons, olive trees, climbing roses and we even saw a few King Protea blooms (something I missed out on last time we were in South Africa).
See more things to do in Maui & photos from the Maui Lavender Farm
Another place to eat near Haleakalā National Park is the Hali’imaile General Store.
Tips for visiting Haleakala National Park
PRO TIP: We got this super helpful Audio Tour App that navigated us through the National Park and our other Maui adventures, all the while giving out entertaining and informative information about Maui.
Keep the weather in mind
The weather at the summit is constantly changing and pretty tough to forecast. So come prepared with warm layers. The mountain creates its own weather! While at sea level, the light rains are refreshing, at 10,000 ft these become intense rain and winds that can reach 70 to 80 miles an hour! Always check the National Weather Service for the summit forecast, or you can get up to the current weather conditions from the University of Hawaii’s Haleakala Institute for Astronomy website.
Viewpoints and Hikes at Haleakala National Park Map
How to Use This Map: Use your fingers or computer mouse to zoom in on the details. Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers (places and the driving route). You can click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on the list.
Best Hikes in Haleakala
Experiencing dawn and dusk from the Haleakala summit is bucket list-worthy but don’t miss out on the hiking and seeing the crater basin. We had time just for a couple of quick, easy hikes in Haleakala.
We did the part of the Halemau’u Trail. While the hike is about 11 miles, the first mile of the trail leads to the rim overlooking the summit basin. It passes through subalpine shrubs and vegetation. This first mile and a half was a moderate hike compacted to the entire hike 7.5 miles hike that ultimately reaches the Holua Cabin in the center of the volcano’s hollow.
Pa Kaoao Trail
This easy half mile near the Haleakala Visitor Center offers spectacular views. Ash, cinder cones, rolling volcanic slopes, and more of a moonscape and you will also see ancient rock wall shelters and the Haleakala Crater.
Sliding Sands Trail
This 11 mile crater hike is considered one of the toughest hikes at Haleakala —it is an all-day hike. You descend about 2,500 feet into the crater basin starting at an elevation of 9,800 feet. If you have the stamina for it, you will be rewarded with unreal colors of red, yellow, green, and see many ‘ahinahina, or Hawaiian silversword on the slopes.
You can also opt to hike the first 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone before making it back to the car.
Just before the summit is the Kalahaku overlook that you don’t want to miss, it is about a half-mile before the summit. You can see the “the crater’s” basin from here. It is pretty windy but so crazy to see the cinder cones of a volcano that was once spewing up lava.
Hosmer Grove Loop Trail
A mile and a half loop trail will take you through some of Hawaii’s original plantings, including spruce, cedar, eucalyptus, and a few pines. It is a contrast to the volcanic moon-like landscape at Haleakala’s summit.
Sunrise at Haleakala
Depending on the time of year, the sun rises over Haleakala between 5:35 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Irrespective of where you’re staying in Maui, the drive is will be loooonnnggg — from 1.5 hours to 3 hours. You will have to wake up by 3 am and leave the resort by 3:30 am to get to the summit in time for sunrise. There WILL be traffic and remember that parking is limited, so you don’t want to be the last to arrive!
Alternatively, you can book a tour and let someone else do the driving in the wee hours of the morning.
The Haleakala sunrise is so very popular that reservations are currently required. Dress warmly for Mt. Haleakala, it can be surprisingly chilly especially in the mornings and after sunset.
Regardless of how you get there, the sunrise at Haleakala is a sight to behold, to see that big ball of fire popup from the clouds and cast a golden glow is simply surreal and you have to experience it during your trip to Maui.
See details from our last trip when we visited the Big Island of Hawaii
Sunset at Haleakala National Park
If you are not a morning person or didn’t score those highly sought-after sunrise tickets, no worries — sunset at Haleakala is just as special! Just see these photos! How often do you get to sit above the clouds to watch a sunset. We made it to the summit area, but parked just below the summit and waited for the sun to do its thing! No reservations or tickets(just your park entrance fee) are currently required for the sunset at Haleakala.
After you check out the sunset and you can stay to see the night sky. We saw a tour group with heavy-duty telescopes and dinner parked and waiting for the stars. We waited for about 30 to 45 minutes after the sunset and headed back into town. There are no lights and it gets pretty dark after about 8 or 8:30 pm. It was almost pitch black when we made it back to the park entrance.
Sunrise or Sunset at Haleakala?
We have seen the sunrise at Haleakala a few years ago and the sunset was just as spectacular — if you are trying to decide between sunrise or sunset at Haleakala, IMHO sunset if you don’t want to deal with crowds and just enjoy a leisurely day at Haleakala NP.
TIP: Just before the summit is the Kalahaku overlook and there is a small parking lot. That is where we parked, it is about a half-mile before the summit and you will be facing West. No crowds and beautiful views all around. Walk up to see “the crater’s” basin from here and stay put and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime sunsets!
Stargazing at Haleakala
The Haleakala National Park has world-class night sky conditions and offers one of the most easily accessible places to watch the planets, stars, and moon after dark. This tour offers a 60-minute guided telescope tour of the cosmos to see visible planets, nebulae, star clusters, and the galaxies and deep-sky objects of the Milky Way. They bring along their portable 12-inch aperture Dobsonian telescope on the journey.
Another option is to rent a pair of binoculars at one of the island dive shops if you didn’t bring your own. Pick up a star map at the Haleakala Visitor Center, and see if how many stars and constellations you can count.
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See a visual story of our day at Haleakala NP
Mark Twain once wrote that Haleakala “is the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed” and it has “healing solitudes,” and we couldn’t agree more… whether you are just watching a sunrise or sunset or hiking to the cinder cones, the scenery, silence, and solitude at Haleakala soothes the soul.
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