Haleakalā National Park is a sacred volcanic area on Maui that dates back nearly a million years ago. At a dramatic peak of 10,023 feet, this dormant volcano watches over the island, reflecting Haleakalā’s name translation, “The House of the Sun.”
With a summit that staggers higher than Mount Everest, this rare place offers something for every visitor – craters, stargazing, lush rainforests, waterfalls, and rocky coastlines. From volcanos to oceans of clouds, you’ll have no shortage of beauty.
We recently spent a week in Hawaii, exploring Maui with our travel blog team. This journey took us from the Western beaches of Wailea to the Eastern Road to Hāna. Haleakalā was undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences of my life!
I curated this list of intel so you can discover the best places to see in Haleakalā National Park, what to bring to, the best times to visit, plus tips that will enhance your journey from start to finish!
About Haleakalā – Is the Volcano Active?
Based on Māori and Polynesian mythology, Maui was the mischievous God of trickery. He climbed to the top of Haleakalā volcano and threw a lasso around La, the Sun God, tying him to the mountain in an effort to stretch out the afternoons so humans could have more daylight to grow crops and prosper. Legend has it that Maui only agreed to free the Sun God in exchange for more hours in the day, thus making Haleakalā a ‘wao akua’ – a sacred place of the gods.
The National Park offers two distinct sections – the Kipahulu Coast and the Summit District. The Hawaii Volcanoes and parks were once unified, but since 1960, they have been separated into two parks.
The high peaks, Pu’u ‘Ula’ula (Red Hill), are best for sweeping view of the horizon, while the Kipahulu Valley harbors a more lush ecosystem with botanicals, wildlife, and natural swimming holes.
Since the park encompasses nearly three-fourths of Maui, you might be wondering how active the volcano is.
While Haleakalā hasn’t erupted in 4-500 years, it has erupted 10 times in the last 1,000 years. Volcanologists argue that Haleakalā is due for an eruption soon, and scientists believe there is still some energy trapped inside.
Nonetheless, the volcano has been long dormant for centuries and shield volcanos, like Haleakalā, are not as dangerous as others since they slope downward to trap the lava in a rift zone. These types of volcanoes do not pose as large of a threat to humans, and specialists survey the area regularly, so there will be ample warning signs and closures.
Getting to Haleakalā & Booking Reservations
Nearly 1.1 million people visit Haleakalā each year and it can take anywhere from 1-4 hours to reach the summit by car, depending on where you are coming from on the island. You will pay for entry at the 7,000-foot-high access station, which will cost $30 per car or $15 per pedestrian/cyclist (valid for up to 3 days).
Driving up the windy roads is not for the faint of heart! But it is also heavily guard-railed and the slopes would not send you flying off a cliff. Still, we recommend taking the curves at a slow pace and following the speed limits.
Reservations are only required for sunrise bookings at the summit. This is intended to prevent overcrowding at the summit so everyone can enjoy the views in peace and comfort. Reservations can be made 60-days in advance, and once this first batch is snagged, you will have to wait for the 48-hour ticket release in order to secure your entry.
You can only reserve online through Recreation.gov or by showing a U.S. Park Pass. You can learn more about sunrise at the park through NPS.gov. If you miss all available tickets for sunrise, another option is to book a guided tour with a local giving you an authentic experience. Many of these tours include breakfast and it’s a great way to learn more about the history and geology of this area.
No reservations are required to visit in the evening for sunset, but there is still limited capacity, so get there a couple of hours early.
What to Bring to Haleakalā
To make the most of your time in this otherworldly destination, utilize this resource list for everything you may need at Haleakalā National Park:
Jackets, Layers, Blankets – Maui will be warm year-round, but reaching an elevation of 10,000+ feet can lead to some pretty chilly temperatures! I was wrapped up in 3 jackets and a blanket and STILL got cold (this is even in the middle of June!) I wish I had packed gloves and warmer shoes to stay for star-gazing after sunset, so pack appropriate clothing by anticipating temps of 30°F to 55°F, with a wind chill that makes it feel significantly colder. This will be even lower during the winter months.
Altitude Acclimation / Motion Sickness Relief – The elevation can make you feel a bit dizzy and low on oxygen. You are above the clouds, so be prepared to take your time and ease into it. If you feel a headache coming on, it can be an early sign of altitude sickness. Simply make your way to a lower elevation nearer to sea level. If you are concerned, I recommend bringing Altitude Relief Supplements and Motion Sickness Patches for the vertical drive up the volcano.
Food & Water – There are no restaurants in the park so bring a picnic of snacks, plus enough water for everyone in your group. Makawao, Kula, and Pukalani are the closest towns to grab provisions or find accommodations.
A Full Tank of Gas – There are no gas stations within the park. You can ride the brake in neutral for the downhill descent, but you won’t want to enter the windy path without a decent amount of gas in the car.
Something to Sit On – Rocks aren’t cozy, so if you plan to stay a few hours – you will want a comfortable layer to perch yourself on for a while. Bring fold-out chairs or a padded picnic blanket.
Sunscreen – Don’t underestimate the Sun God’s power. You are nearer to the sun’s rays and will feel a much higher UV index. Use lots of biodegradable sunscreen (opt for reef-safe since you’re on the island of Maui, you can re-use it for beach days too).
Deet-free Bug Spray – In many areas of Haleakalā, there are endangered species and unique insects. We didn’t experience any bug bites at the Summit but there were plenty near Road to Hāna. If you’re exploring the lower ranges (especially the Pipiwai Trail), I would recommend a natural bug spray that is deet-free/low in chemicals.
7 Best Things to See in Haleakalā
1. The Summit at Sunrise & Sunset
Watching the sunrise or sunset at the Summit is arguably the most popular thing to do at Haleakalā National Park. This space is famous for its crystal clear air with little environmental pollution, a deficit of light pollution, and perfect viewing for a spectacular natural showcase.
At 10,023 feet (3,055 meters) you will see planes soaring through the clouds that look like tiny ants, the big island of Hawaii and La Perouse Bay off in the distance, and the sparkling town of Pukalani below.
This was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and I can’t recommend it enough. The silence as the sun creeps over the eastern horizon is profound and healing. The crowds cheered as the sun finally crept over the earth’s curve and colors broke out into hues of orange, pink, and indigo.
You should aim to arrive an hour or two early for great seats, and this will leave time to peruse the crater while the sun is still out. All in all, you will experience what the locals refer to as the mountain’s ‘mana,’ or ‘innate power.’
2. The Crater
Another highlight of Haleakalā National Park is the Crater, said to be “the quietest place on Earth.”
Hiking to the crater is a must-do experience and you will feel like you’re on Mars! This sunken-in area is not volcanic, but the sound ricochets in a way that absorbs sound for a meditatively subtle effect. Scientists debate the crater’s creation, but many believe it is the result of lava accumulation that caused two valleys to merge near the summit.
There are many trails emerging from this area, including Sliding Sands Trail and Halemau’u Trail. Hike up the rim of the rater for the reward of incredible views! By sunset, you may not be able to see the details of the crater as clearly.
Check out the milky way up close and personally! Astrologers from all over the world come to stargaze at the Haleakalā High-Altitude Observatory (HO), found near the summit.
Unfortunately, you can’t visit the observatory that has detected 19 astroids and tracks Venus’s path, because it is no longer open to the public. BUT! You can still stargaze with your own eyes in the pristinely clear air. In the pitch blackness after sundown, the stars shine so much brighter here, and you will have no problem detecting constellations like the big dipper, Cassiopeia, Scorpius, and the Southern Cross.
This to the left picture was taken on my boss’s iPhone and depicts the unforgettable colors of the milky way. There were even more stars in person and some things are simply too magical to be captured on film. In the picture I took to the right, you can see the planet of Venus shining brightly overhead a blanket of clouds.
4. Hike to the Hidden Waterfalls
On the opposite end of the park, you’ll find a plethora of lagoons, waterfalls, and rainforest-like environments that will be truly rejuvenating.
Some of the best hiking trails are The Pipiwai Trail which includes a bamboo forest and spotting a huge Banyan tree, this path will lead you to Waimoku Falls.
Hosmer Grove Trail is an easy hike, while Halemau’u Trail is probably the most difficult and well-known. Pa Ka’oao is an intermediate-level trail that is only 0.6 miles long, leading you back toward the Crater. Some of the best overlooks are Kalahaku and Leleiwi, where you can see the north shore of Maui.
These trails can be muddy and slick, so bring appropriate footwear and plenty of bug spray if trekking in this area. The insects can be ravenous! And you’ll quickly learn that bugs are bigger in Hawaii. They’re clearly thriving in paradise.
5. Discover the Sacred Pools
The Kuloa Point Trail will lead you right into the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o, a series of 7 waterfalls that pour into each other, creating fairy-like pools that cascade into the ocean.
Do not hike this area in rainy weather because flash floods are common and have literally washed people out to sea. You can no longer swim in these pools due to safety reasons, but you can check their updated accessibility on the National Park website.
6. Drive the Road to Hāna
Hāna was one of the most memorable parts of our journey. Haleakalā Highway connects with the Road to Hāna, a road that wraps around the island’s eastern coast. This gorgeous stretch of untouched land is how we spent our last day of the trip, hopping from waterfalls to gardens to beaches.
Be sure to bring motion sickness patches to mitigate any car sickness because this highway is windy like a snake. So even if you don’t usually get car sick, bring nausea preventative as a wise backup plan.
We started at Twin Falls, where everyone took turns jumping 20-30 feet off the waterfall’s edge, then we headed to Haipua’ena Falls, a modest but glorious spot for a quick swim.
Leave time for the Garden of Eden, a botanical arboretum that sprawls across 26-acres of preserved scenery. You can see from the pictures below that it hugs the southeastern coastline and offers plenty of flowers, colors, waterfalls, and overlooks (as well as a 100-year-old mango tree and familiar backdrops from the movie Jurassic Park!)
The Road to Hāna will spit you out at the Kipahulu Campground near the Pools of ‘Ohe’o. You can obtain camping or cabin permits between Kipahulu and Hosmer Grove, where you’ll find 21 campsites and 3 cabins that must be reserved in advance through Recreation.gov.
You’ll love marveling at the sunset views from Kukui Bay and following the myths of the land. But don’t take any rocks or sand with you from the island or you will be ‘cursed’ by the Hawaiian legend of Pele, the Goddess of fire and volcanos, who believes the rocks and sand are her babies, not keepsakes.
When to Visit Haleakalā
There is truly no bad time to witness the extraordinary beauty of Haleakalā.
The sunrise is peaceful and worth getting up before dawn for. You can book a camping or sunrise reservation through Haleakalā’s website and should get there an hour or two before sunrise to guarantee a high-elevation parking spot.
The sunset at Haleakalā can be a spectacular way to wind down for the day and offers the ability to stay late for the star show. This timeslot is less crowded than sunrise and does not require a reservation to access the park; evening entry is on a first-come-first-serve basis until capacity is reached.
Summer will offer longer days and more colors, while winter will offer more stars. Just remember that it was near-freezing temperatures for us at the summit in the peak warmth of summer! So it will be noticeably colder during the fall and winter along with a fierce wind chill that can make it feel 10-15 degrees lower than the outside temp.
Consider your preferences with this quick breakdown:
64-84°F High (sea level) 18-28°F Low (summit)
Sunrise: 6:30 a.m. Sunset: 6:35 p.m.
Sunrise: Yes Sunset: No
71-91°F High (sea level) 21-31°F Low (summit)
Sunrise: 5:38 a.m. Sunset: 7:10 p.m.
Sunrise: Yes Sunset: No
69-85°F High (sea level) 21-31°F Low (summit)
Sunrise: 6:15 a.m. Sunset: 6:00 p.m.
Sunrise: Yes Sunset: No
63-83°F High (sea level) 19-33°F Low (summit)
Sunrise: 6:35 a.m. Sunset: 5:50 p.m.
Sunrise: Yes Sunset: No
Final Tips for Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā is a sacred summit and all those who visit will be forever changed.
From the volcano to the Pacific coast, you could take multiple days to explore all areas of the park, or simply spend a couple of hours here.
Respect the wildlife, drive at a tempered speed, and savor the moment! Haleakalā will help you to make the most of your time in Hawaii and step closer to the heavens.
Learn more through Recreation.gov and “E huakaʻi me ka palekana” – Safe travels on your journey!
Asher has been traveling the world since he left Australia to study in the USA in 2004. He received a Master’s in Business Administration degree in 2013. He has lived all over the globe including India, Europe, Hawaii, and mainland US. He enjoys researching the travel industry, loves being a dad, cooking & eating delicious food, photography (took many of our photos), surfing big waves on Maui, camping trips and walking barefoot on the earth.