National Park Guides

Haleakala National Park: Exploring Maui’s Enchanting Summit and Surreal Landscapes

POSTED ON June 14, 2022 BY Ralph S.


Introduction to Haleakalā National Park

Embrace the untouched beauty and tranquility of Haleakala National Park – a mesmerizing paradise located in Maui, Hawaii. Its stunning volcanic landscape is home to a variety of ecosystems including native plants, a rocky coastline, cinder cones, and native birds.

The park is a beautiful juxtaposition of geography—from high slopes to lowlands; from valleys to forests; from ancient lava flows to lush vegetation.

History

Haleakalā National Park is a stunning natural wonder that has been shaped by millions of years of volcanic activity, cultural significance, and ecological diversity. It is steeped in history and culture, dating back hundreds of years to when ancient Polynesian voyagers first set foot on the island.

Located on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, Haleakalā means ‘House of the Sun’ in Hawaiian and refers to the summit of the dormant volcano that forms a large portion of the park. It was originally home to a powerful volcano that left a vast crater behind.

The Hawaiians considered this place so sacred that they held different ceremonies and retreats – an ancient tradition that is still practiced today. In addition, the volcano was believed to be the sacred home of the demigod Maui. Maui performed heroic feats on the West Maui Mountains, including slowing the sun to lengthen the day according to Hawaiian legends.

The volcano last erupted around 1790, and in 1916, the Hawaii State Legislature established Haleakalā National Park as the first national park in the Hawaiian Islands. It then became part of the U.S. National Park Service in 1961 and was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980.

The park was originally a part of the Hawaii National Park covering an area of 52 square miles ( around 135.6 sq km) of which about two-thirds of that is wilderness. It is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world. Many of these species include eagles, endemic Maui Nui birds, skinks, geckos, and beetles that have adapted to the harsh volcanic landscape and the extreme temperature changes that occur in the park throughout the day.

Today, Haleakalā National Park attracts over 1 million visitors annually who come to explore its stunning landscapes, hike its trails, and experience the unique culture & history of Hawaii. The park remains a vital part of the Hawaiian community and is committed to preserving the natural and cultural resources of the area for generations to come.

Haleakala National Park entrance, Maui, Hawaii.
Key Facts About Haleakalā National Park

Size: 30,183 acres (around 122 square kilometers)

Number of Visitors: About 853,000 (2021)

Established: July 1, 1961 (Hawaii State Legislature)

Hiking Trails: 22 trails

Length of hiking Trails: Over 30 miles (48 km)

Highest Point: Summit of Haleakala Volcano at 10,023 feet (3,055 meters) above sea level.

Lowest Point: Kahului at 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level

Other interesting facts about Haleakalā National Park:

  • Haleakalā National Park is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano, with a summit rising about 10,023 feet (3,055 meters) above sea level.
  • Haleakalā is known for its stunning sunrise and sunsets, which draw visitors to the park to witness as the sun peeks over the horizon.
  • The park is one of the most biodiverse parks in the United States, with more than 750 species of native plants and animals – many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. A few include Hawksbill turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, the lobeliads plant, and Haleakalā Silversword which grows only on the slopes of the volcano).
  • The park is home to a variety of rare and endangered bird species like the Maui Nēnē or Hawaiian goose, kiwikiu or (Maui parrotbill), the Hawaiian petrel, pueo (Hawaiian owl), and several species of Hawaiian hawks. The Nene is the state bird of Hawaii.
  • Haleakalā (house of the sun) is a sacred site for the Hawaiian people, who believe that the volcano is the home of the demigod Maui.
  • The park is one of the darkest places in Hawaii, making it a popular location for stargazing and astrophotography.
  • The Haleakala crater is filled with red, yellow, and black cinder cones, giving it a unique and colorful landscape.
  • More endangered species live in Haleakalā Park than any other national park in the United States.
  • Haleakalā National Park is home to many cultural sites which are sacred to Native Hawaiians. It includes petroglyphs that date back thousands of years.
  • The park is home to the Haleakala Observatory in Haleakalā Visitor Center, which houses some of the world’s most advanced telescopes.
  • The area receives an average of 40 inches (100 cm) of rain per year, making it one of the wettest places in Hawaii.

haleakala-crater

Climate and Weather

Haleakalā National Park experiences a unique climate due to its high elevation and location in the Pacific Ocean. The park is situated on the island of Maui, which has a tropical climate, but the higher elevations of the park experience cooler temperatures and more precipitation.

In general, the park experiences a wide range of weather with deviations from the forecast.

But visitors should check the park’s website for up-to-date weather information and plan accordingly to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.

Summer (June to August)

In summer, temperatures at the Haleakala summit typically range from 45-60°F (7-16°C), with average daily highs of 58°F (14.4°C). However, as you ascend the volcano, temperatures can drop significantly. The park receives little rainfall during this time.

Fall (September to November)

In fall, temperatures at the Haleakala summit typically range from 45-65°F (7-18°C), with an average daily high of 62°F (16.6°C). Rainfall levels increase in fall, and the park experiences frequent showers and thunderstorms.

mountain-range-haleakala-peak

Winter (December to February)

In winter, temperatures at the Haleakalā summit typically range from 40-60°F (4-15°C), with average daily highs of 56°F (13.3°C). The park receives a significant amount of rainfall between late January and early February (about 9 days of rainfall per month with an average total of 7.9 inches or 20 cm), and snow is occasionally seen at the summit. Winter storms and periodic thunderstorms are also common during this time of year, especially in the afternoon and evening.

In addition, the wet season brings more precipitation, but it can be a beautiful time to visit the park, with stunning waterfalls and lush vegetation.

Spring (March to May)

In spring, temperatures at the Haleakalā summit typically range from 45-70°F (7-21°C), with an average daily high of 63°F (17.2°C). Rainfall levels remain high during this time, although showers and thunderstorms are less frequent than in the winter months.

When To Visit Haleakalā National Park

haleakala-observatories

The best time to visit Haleakalā National Park depends on your interests and preferences. But here are some things to consider when planning your visit:

  • Weather
  • Crowds
  • Activities

Spring

One of the highlights of early spring is the blooming of the park’s wildflowers. Visitors can see a variety of flowers, including the park’s endemic silversword plants and the beautiful ‘ahinahina (Hawaiian for “very gray”) plant. The warmer temperatures make for ideal hiking conditions, with longer daylight hours and fewer crowds.

Additionally, spring is an ideal time for birdwatching in Haleakalā Park. The park is home to several endemic bird species, including the nēnē (Hawaiian goose) and the Hawaiian petrel.

Summer

Summer is generally a popular time for tourism in Hawaii, including Haleakala. However, you may encounter larger crowds and more visitors during this time, especially at popular viewpoints and attractions within the park.

One of the most popular activities in summer is watching the sunrise or sunset from the summit. During this time, the days are longer, which means earlier sunrises and later sunsets. But keep in mind that you may need to wake up earlier or stay out later to catch these beautiful natural phenomena.

Also, you need to remember that the temperatures at the summit can still be quite cool, and lower elevations, such as the Kīpahulu District can be much warmer.

Fall

Fall is a shoulder season when there are typically fewer tourists. It is an ideal time for hiking and exploring the park’s trails because the temperatures are cooler and the humidity is lower. However, visitors should be prepared for the cooler temperatures at higher elevations. The other highlight of fall is the changing colors of the leaves. Visitors can expect to see a variety of colors in the park’s vegetation.

The cooler temperatures can bring out some of the park’s endangered species, including endemic bird species.

Lastly, fall is an ideal time for stargazing in the park. The high elevation and clear skies also make it one of the best locations in the world for observing sunrise and sunset.

Winter

The winter season in the park allows visitors to see snow on the Haleakala summit. The temperatures can fall below freezing at night with occasional snowfall. While snow is not guaranteed, visitors may see snow-capped peaks and stunning snowy vistas. The cooler temperatures also make for winter activities like snowshoeing or skiing, with lower humidity and fewer crowds.

The winter months will bring humpback whales to the waters around Maui, and visitors can spot these majestic creatures from the park’s coastline or on a whale-watching sunrise tour.

Recommended Gear

The weather and conditions in the park can vary greatly by season, so it’s important to pack appropriate gear when visiting national parks in the United States.

Here are some recommended gear for touring Haleakala National Park in each season:

Summer: When touring Haleakala in summer, pack a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and plenty of water to stay hydrated on hikes. Lightweight clothing is ideal because it will help keep you cool while protecting your skin from the sun. Also, bring insect repellent to protect yourself from annoying bugs.

Fall: Pack a hat, extra layers of clothing for warmth, and waterproof gear (if rain is expected). A warm sleeping bag will also come in handy, as temperatures can get low at night and in the high elevations around the park.

Winter: In winter, pack a warm coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and waterproof gear (if rain is expected). Bring a sturdy pair of winter boots to keep your feet warm and dry in the snow. A camp stove or hot water bottle can be a nice addition for extra warmth.

Spring: In spring, pack a hat, drinking water, a waterproof jacket, and lightweight layers of clothing. A good pair of hiking boots or shoes will be essential as the trails can become muddy after a rain shower. A pair of binoculars is recommended for bird watching.

What To Do In Haleakalā National Park

With its breathtaking landscapes, native birds, and year-round outdoor activities, there is something for everyone. With its diverse terrain and variety of outdoor activities, Haleakalā National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore the beauty of Hawaii.

The Haleakalā summit is a breathtaking destination – standing at 10,023 feet (3,055 meters). It’s one of the highest points on the entire island. and trekking up to the summit offers some of the most spectacular views in all of Hawaii. There are amazing vistas out over Maui and beyond. You can view the entire park map here.

Seven-sacred-pools-in-haleakala-national-park

Hiking and Backpacking

Haleakala National Park is a paradise for hikers and backpackers. With over 30 miles (48 km) of trails, there is something for everyone from beginner-friendly hikes to more strenuous tracks that are sure to challenge even the most experienced adventurers.

The park has a variety of trails ranging from easy walks with stunning views of the Haleakala crater & coastal landscapes to challenging hikes that lead up Haleakalā volcano summit. There are trails that wind through dense rainforests and ancient Hawaiian religious sites. Popular trails include the  Pīpīwai Trail, Halemau’u Trail, Kaupo Trail, Hosmer Grove Loop Trail, Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (Sliding Sands to Ka Lu’u o ka O’o), and the Waimoku Falls Trail.

The park has several lookouts and scenic points of interest, including the Leleiwi Overlook, Kipahulu Valley Lookout, and Nakula Natural Area Reserve.

As you hike your way up the West Maui Mountains, keep an eye out for endangered species and endemic native plants, many of which can only be found in this part of the world. But you’ll need a sunrise reservation.

There are three different visitor centers within the park entrance offering information about hiking trails and other conditions.

Best Hikes in Haleakalā National Park

Haleakala National Park is home to some of the most stunning hiking trails in Hawaii. Here are some of the best hikes in the park:

  • Sliding Sands (Keonehe‘ehe‘e) Trail: This popular trail is a 0.50-mile (0.8 km) round trip hike that starts at the summit and descends into the crater. The trail is rated as moderate due to the 50 ft (15 m) elevation change and sandy terrain. Hikers can expect stunning views of the crater and surrounding landscapes, as well as unique cinder cones and lava flows. The hike takes about 1-2 hours to complete.
  • Pipiwai Trail: This 4-mile (6 km) round trip hike is rated as moderate and leads through berry-filled bamboo forests and the remarkable seven sacred pools. The trail ends at the impressive 400-foot Waimoku cascading waterfalls. Along the way, hikers can also see the Makahiku Falls and the ancient Hawaiian religious site of Hana Forest Reserve. The hike takes about 2-4 hours to complete, and you can take a refreshing dip in its pristine waters.
  • Halemau’u Trail: This challenging 2.2 miles (3.6 km) round trip hike starts at the summit and descends into the crater. The trail is rated as difficult due to the 400ft (123m) elevation change and rugged terrain. Hikers can expect to see the unique flora and fauna of Maui’s Ka’anapali Coast, including the endangered silversword plant and Hawaiian petrel birds. The hike requires an estimated 6 hours of walking time.
  • Kaupo Trail: Although not within the park boundaries, this strenuous 18-mile (29 km) round trip hike is rated as difficult and is recommended only for experienced hikers. The trail starts at the Kaupo Gap and descends into the crater before climbing back out to the summit. Hikers can expect stunning views of the crater and surrounding landscapes, as well as rugged terrain and changing weather conditions. The hike takes about 8-12 hours to complete.
  • Hosmer Grove Loop Trail: This easy 0.6-mile (0.9 km) loop trail with a 50 ft (15 m) elevation change is perfect for families and those looking for a short stroll. The trail leads through a beautiful forest of redwood trees and offers views of the surrounding landscapes. Hikers can also learn about the park’s history and ecology at interpretive signs along the way. The hike takes about 30 minutes to complete.
  • Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (Sliding Sands to Ka Lu’u o ka O’o): This challenging 11.2-mile (17.8 km) round trip full-day hike is rated as difficult and is recommended only for experienced hikers. The trail starts at Sliding Sands Trail and leads through the crater to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone. Along the way, hikers can see unique geological formations and stunning views of the crater and surrounding landscapes. The hike takes about 6-8 hours to complete.
  • Waihou Spring Trail: This easy 1.8-mile (2.9 km) out-and-back hike is perfect for families and those looking for a short walk. The trail leads through a beautiful forest of redwood trees and offers views of the Waihou Spring and surrounding landscapes. The hike takes about 1-2 hours to complete, and hikers can also learn about the park’s history and ecology at interpretive signs along the way.
  • The Waimoku Falls Trail is a must-do for anyone looking for a moderately challenging but enjoyable hike in Haleakala National Park. This 3.7-mile (6.1 km) track meanders through dense rainforest and culminates in a magnificent waterfall at the end. The entire journey takes around 2 hours and 30 mins to complete and is the perfect way to experience Hawaii’s lush tropical beauty.
Popular Pipiwai trail in Haleakala National Park on Maui, Hawaii, USA
Camping

Camping in Haleakala National Park is a unique and exciting way to experience the natural beauty of the park. There are three campgrounds available, each offering its own unique experience. Also, you need to check current conditions before planning a camping trip at the park.

Here is a rundown of the campgrounds and the permits needed to camp:

Hosmer Grove Campground: This campground is located near the summit of Haleakalā at an elevation of about 7,000 feet (2,133 m). It offers some of the best views in all of Hawaii, with a stunning vista out across Haleakalā’s volcanic summit.

The campground has 10 campsites, and each site accommodates up to six people with picnic tables. There is drinking water, barbecue grills, and pit toilets. Also, it is perfect for those looking to explore the park’s northern end.

However, a permit in the Summit District online is required to camp at Hosmer Grove, and reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

You can reserve campsites in advance through Recreation.gov.

Kīpahulu Campground: This campground is located 1/8 mile (0.2 km) south of the Kīpahulu Visitor Center in the Kipahulu District. It is close to Hana and the ocean at an elevation of about 100 feet (305 m). The campground has 10 campsites, and each site accommodates up to six people. There are also picnic tables, pit toilets, and water, but no trash facilities. So, campers must pack out their trash. A permit is also required, and reservations can be made up to six months in advance. Visit Recreation.gov to reserve a site at the campground.

Wilderness cabins: These are also three wilderness cabins offering unique accommodations and experiences for hikers who prefer to stay longer in the park. Visitors can make reservations on recreation.gov.

Wilderness tent camping: Lastly, there are also two primitive wilderness tent camping areas for more adventurous hikers. These include the Hōlua 6,940 feet (2,115 m) and Palikū 6,380 feet (1,945 m) Wilderness tent areas. But, you need to make early reservations through www.recreation.gov.

camping-in-haleakala-national-park

Sunset/Sunrise Viewing

Visitors can watch the sunrise over the crater and see the surrounding islands. Sunset viewing is also a beautiful experience, as the sky is painted with different colors.

However, the National Park Service requires reservations for all vehicles to view the sunrise from the Haleakalā Crater, summit district. Sunrise reservations are available here up to 60 days in advance. But no reservations are needed for sunset viewing.

Tour companies like Humble Tours or Holo Holo Tours also offer opportunities to drive around the park. But you can view a list of currently authorized tours operating in the park.

sunrise-at-haleakala-crater

Stargazing

Haleakalā is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. The remote location and high altitude make the sky look clearer.

Visitors can stargaze with the naked eye from the crater’s summit, which offers stunning views of the night sky.

Alternatively, the park has the Haleakalā observatory at the Haleakalā Visitor Center, which houses some of the most advanced telescopes in the world.

Here are some tips and tricks from the National Park Service website to make your stargazing experience comfortable.

Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is a scenic drive that takes visitors through the dense forest of Maui’s east coast. The drive includes many stopovers at cascading waterfalls, beaches, and other natural attractions. The road ends in the kīpahulu District of Haleakala National Park, where the Seven Sacred Pools and other natural wonders appear.

road-in-haleakala-national-park

Where to Stay

Haleakala National Park offers a variety of lodging accommodations.

Within the park, visitors can choose between camping or staying at the Kīpahulu Visitor Center Lodge. The lodge is located in Kipahulu District and is open from April through November. It has rooms with a kitchenette as well as shared bathrooms and showers.

For more comfortable accommodations in nearby towns, there are several lodging options available from the Haleakala visitor center. The upcountry town of Kula, located just outside the park, offers several bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, and small hotels. Kula Lodge is an ideal spot with cozy cabins and a parking lot. You can also explore the upcountry region from the lodge.

Another popular town is Hana, located on the east coast of Maui. Hana has beautiful ocean-view beaches, a lush dense forest, and small-town charm. There are several vacation, rentals, and small hotels, as well as a few campgrounds. Travaasa Hana Resort located on the east side of Maui, offers a secluded getaway close to the ocean.

Kihei and Lahaina towns are a bit further but offer hotels, resorts, and bed & breakfasts for travelers. It’s important to book well in advance, especially during peak season to find a convenient spot for the activities you plan to do.

How to Get There and Getting Around

Getting to Haleakalā National Park is easy as it is located on the island of Maui, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii. It can be done by air or road.

The nearest airport is Kahului Airport (OGG), which is located about 25 miles from the park entrance.

From the airport, you can request a rental car, take a shuttle, or use a taxi service to get to the park directly. There are several car rental companies at the airport, and it’s recommended to book in advance to ensure availability. A taxi or shuttle service can also be arranged in advance or at the airport. This is recommended for those who don’t have their own car or would prefer not to drive.

After arriving at the park’s entrance, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee. Note that the entrance fee and passes vary. Visitors can take a shuttle or rental car to access various areas of the park. You can purchase a site pass here.

The main road, Haleakalā Highway, runs through the park and provides access to most of the hiking trails and scenic overlooks. There is a shuttle service, called the Maui Bus, that provides transportation from nearby towns to the park. But if you are using a car, you should remember that most park roads vary in difficulty and some may require a more experienced driver.

For visitors who want to explore the Haleakala at their own pace, there are several hiking trails offering breathtaking views of the park’s landscape.

Conclusion

Haleakalā National Park is a true gem of Maui. It offers visitors a chance to explore a breathtaking landscape at the volcano’s summit, the lush rainforests of Kīpahulu District, the Seven Sacred Pools, and stunning waterfalls. From hiking to stargazing to cultural experiences, there is something for everyone at this incredible park.

Visitors can also enjoy a range of activities like camping, hiking, and watching the sunrise over the crater. With a variety of trails, campsites, and lodging options, visitors can plan a trip that suits their interests without worrying about where to stay.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual visitor, Haleakalā National Park is a must-see destination that offers an unforgettable experience. So come experience all that Haleakalā National Park has to offer!

For more guides, visit our National Park Guides section and find other stunning locations.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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