Haleakalā National Park: The Complete Guide

Sunrise over Haleakala National Park
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Haleakalā National Park

Address
Hawaii, USA
Phone +1 808-572-4400

The island of Maui holds many treasures, but none are quite as majestic as the looming dormant volcano that is Haleakalā. Towering over 10,000 feet above sea level, the Haleakalā Crater is visible from practically every section of the island, a true manifestation of its Hawaiian translation: “house of the sun.” The legend goes that the demigod Māui lassoed the sun from here in order to make the day last longer.

Today, visitors can drive to the top of the summit where Māui stood to access one of the best views on Earth, but it doesn’t end there. Haleakalā National Park contains more than 30,000 acres, nearly 25,000 of which are designated wilderness areas. Here's everything you need to know to plan your trip.

Things to Do

From experiencing an unforgettable sunrise to exploring the unique landscape, Haleakalā National Park offers countless adventures for every type of traveler.

Watch the Sunrise or Sunset

Haleakalā has long been touted as one of the best spots on Earth to watch the sunrise. Mark Twain himself (who wrote about Hawaii early in his career), described it as “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”

Keep in mind that the National Parks Service now requires reservations ahead of time to view the sunrise at Haleakalā National Park; these can be made online up to 60 days in advance (permits are released every day at 7 a.m. HST) and are only valid for the specific day reserved. Depending on the time of year, sunrise happens anytime from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. Drive time from the tourist hot spots of Lahaina and Wailea can reach upwards of two hours, so that means setting your alarm clock pretty early for the full experience.  

If you can’t bring yourself to wake up in time to catch the sunrise, watching sunset from Haleakalā is a close second. However, the elevated landscape tends to attract more clouds as the evening wears on, so there’s a higher chance that your view will be blocked during sunset hours. Even so, visiting for sunset comes with additional perks in the form of stargazing. Sunset takes place sometime between 5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

Stargaze

The summit at Haleakalā National Park completely transforms after the sun goes down. High elevation and a lack of light pollution makes for truly pristine stargazing on clear nights—there’s a reason why the University of Hawaii and the United States Air Force chose this location for the state’s first astronomical research observatory. Bring some snacks (or hot chocolate!) and a blanket or beach chair to lie on. While the national park doesn’t have a public stargazing program as of right now, there are several private companies that offer guided telescope tours of the night sky.

Birdwatch

Seeing as a vast majority of Haleakalā consists of natural wilderness, it comes as no surprise that the park is home to more endangered species of plants and animals than any other national park. Keep an eye out for the nene goose, the state bird, or the rare honeycreeper. A songbird only found in Hawaii, there are fewer than 500 individuals left.

Volunteer

Take some time to give back to the stunning island of Maui with volunteer work inside Haleakalā. Visit the Friends of Haleakala National Park website to learn about volunteer opportunities, including working in the park’s plant nursery or donating to the Adopt-a-Nene Program. Through one of Hawaii’s most respected nonprofits, the Pacific Whale Foundation, volunteers can work with a Certified Naturalist and Haleakalā Park staff to remove invasive plant species and help with other ecosystem preservation projects. Those who sign up will be given free admission to the park and free transportation to the summit.

Bike

Haleakalā National Park is famous for its bike riding, thanks to the steep, windy road leading up to the summit. There are several local companies that offer guided bike tours or drives to the top of the road for an exciting downhill experience. Check out Bike Maui for a combination sunrise-biking tour of Haleakalā. 

Explore the Culture

Throughout the year, experienced park naturalists present ranger-guided walks and cultural demonstrations. When you get to the visitor center, ask about times and locations.

Best Hikes & Trails

The summit area has more than 30 miles of hiking trails, ranging from short, under-30-minute jaunts to multi-day advanced excursions. 

  • Pā Ka‘oao: Head up past the pu‘u next to Haleakalā Visitor Center to access the ancient rock wall shelters on this 0.4-mile roundtrip trail with a slight elevation change.
  • Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands): Arguably one of the most popular trails inside the park, Sliding Sands takes hikers downhill into the crater floor. Start at the trailhead next to the visitor center parking lot and hike about half a mile to the first overlook. Beyond that, more experienced hikers can choose to tackle the 11-mile day hike, which crosses the valley floor and ends at Halemau'u.
  • Pipiwai Trail: The Pipiwai Trail sometimes gets overlooked since it is located inside the forested Kīpahulu District, closer to the southern side of the island. This 4-mile, moderately strenuous roundtrip hike will take you through bamboo forests and smaller waterfalls before reaching the impressive 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls.

Where to Camp

For wilderness camping within the summit area, hikers can choose between the primitive Hōlua and Palikū campsites, both of which are at high altitudes and only accessible by trail. The cost is between $8 and $9 per reservation; reservations can be made up to six months in advance, for a maximum stay of three nights.

There are two drive-up campgrounds inside the park: the Kipahulu Campground, which sits on the more rugged backside of the park close to the Pipiwai Trail, and the Hosmer Grove Campground. The latter is located just below the Haleakalā cloud belt in the summit area at nearly 7,000 feet in elevation. Drive-up sites cost $5 per night and also require advanced reservations.

Where to Stay Nearby

The closest area to stay outside of Haleakalā National Park summit area is in the Kula district, though if you’re focused more on the Kīpahulu region, you’ll want to stay in the Hāna area.

  • Kula Lodge: Located in a forest 3,200 feet above sea level, on the western slope of Haleakalā, the Kula Lodge has breathtaking views and rustic accommodations—complete with a restaurant and bar. Even better, it is just 21 miles from the prime sunrise viewing spots at Haleakalā’s summit.
  • Maui Coast Hotel: Just a bit further towards the coast in Kihei, this laid-back resort is within walking distance to some of the island’s best beaches.
  • Fairmont Kea Lani: If you’re looking for a luxury vacation near Haleakalā, the Fairmont Kea Lani is an upscale accommodation set on 22 acres of tropical gardens overlooking the beach. The resort also boasts a massive waterslide, world-class dining, and proximity to one of Maui’s premier golf courses.
  • Bamboo Inn on Hana Bay: Although sleepy Hāna town probably has more private vacation rentals than actual hotels, the Bamboo Inn on Hāna Bay has got to be one of the sweetest little B&Bs on this side of the island. A quiet property just 3 miles from Hāna’s famed Waiʻānapanapa State Park, the Bamboo Inn is also an eco-friendly option, with solar panels that help the hotel produce more than 90 percent of its energy passively on-site.

How to Get There

Haleakalā National Park contains both the summited region of Haleakalā and the Kīpahulu section closer to the coast near Hāna. The two areas aren’t directly connected by road, but you can reach both of them separately by car; note that there is no public transportation on the island that will take you to the park.

The summit area where the volcano sits is just under 40 miles from Kahului Airport; take Highway 37 to 377 to 378 to get there. From Lahaina, it will take about 3.5 hours, and from Wailea, it will take around three. Expect to add roughly 10 more miles to get to the park entrance (30,000 Haleakala Hwy, Kula, HI 96790). To get to the coastal Kīpahulu Area from Kahului, drive roughly four hours along Highway 36 to 360 to 31. The closest GPS address is: Mile Marker 41 Hana Hwy, Hana, HI 96713.

Accessibility

The summit, Haleakalā Visitor Center, and the Hosmer Grove picnic are all accessible, including an accessible exhibit featuring Hawaiian culture inside the Headquarters Visitor Center. You can also ask for a park brochure in braille or a transcript for the backcountry orientation video at the visitor center. There are accessible restrooms available at the Haleakalā Visitor Center, Kalahaku Overlook, Park Headquarters Visitor Center, and Hosmer Grove. While the park’s trails are unpaved, the summit building itself has a steep ramp that is accessible with assistance.

On the Kīpahulu side, the Kīpahulu Visitor Center is accessible, as well as the accessible parking spaces and restrooms near the visitor center; both are connected by a paved path. Like the summit side, the Kīpahulu District has unpaved trails that can get quite muddy and rocky depending on the weather.

Tips for Your Visit

  • If you want to visit the Kīpahulu District section of the park, consider pairing the trip with a road trip along the Hana Highway. Affectionately known as the Road to Hana, the 52-mile drive contains 620 curves and 54 bridges, with a range of gorgeous sights and waterfalls along the way.
  • Park admission is $30 per vehicle or $15 for walk-ins, and is valid for three days starting from the day of purchase. The pass includes admission to the Kīpahulu District, which offers a completely different experience than the summit area.
  • Especially while driving at night, remember that Haleakalā is teeming with wildlife that may not be used to the bright lights of your vehicle. Pay extremely close attention while driving to avoid accidents (the road has no lights or guardrails).
  • Temperatures drop quickly on the summit, so bring warm clothes (especially if you’re staying for sunset).
  • There are no gas stations or power changing stations near the park; the last opportunity for gas is en route to the summit in the town of Pukalani. For the Kīpahulu side, the last place to get gas before reaching Hāna is in the town of Pāʻia; be aware that this drive can take at least 2.5 hours.
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Haleakalā National Park: The Complete Guide