by Matt Morris – Owner & Lead Concierge
With a summit that soars more than 10,000ft above sea level, the Haleakalā National Park is Maui’s largest attraction. Though the drive itself is only about 40 miles from Kahului Town (Where the airport is), the steep elevation along the way makes the drive to be about 2 hours to get to the summit area of the Park. Haleakalā (pronounce “hal-lay-aka-lah”) makes up nearly the entire eastern portion of the island of Maui and is so large in size that it affects the weather and creates many different climates from rainforests to deserts. Guests can experience a variety of things at the summit during different times of the day and regardless if you are an adventure seeker or simply looking to site see.
Site Seeing Information
The most popular area of the National Park is the summit area. The summit area features a parking area with a partially enclosed structure to protect visitors from the wind and has stunning panoramic views of the surrounding crater area. From this location, guests will be able to see into the crater during the day, check out the surrounding clouds, see the telescopes (non-accessible to the general public), and at times see some of the neighboring islands. Since the summit peaks above the cloud inversion layer (where hot air & cold air meet) it is typically quite pleasant in the morning and afternoons at the summit area and watching the clouds pass by is an experience in itself. Though there are very limited services available in the National Park, there are restrooms located at the 9,700ft elevation parking lot. This is a great place to see the crater as well. You may find this National Park Map to be really helpful.
Hiking at Haleakala
The National Park has an amazing network of trails to explore and one of the most popular trails that guests like to hike is called the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (sliding sands trail). This is the easiest trail from the summit to take down to the crater floor. Along the way, guests see the amazing colors of the cinders (red, orange, brown) along with some of the other earth tone colors on the side of the volcano along the way down the trail. The challenging part about hiking at Haleakalā is that the trails tend to be quite long in distance and some of the trails can be several miles long each way. Guests can always walk as far as they wish and turn back. If you are a less experienced hiker, or need something a little less challenge to walk on, you may wish to check out the Leleiwi Overlook trail which is less than a 1/4 mile each way and at the end of the trail, there is a stunning view of the crater. For more information about the hiking trails found here, check out this helpful Trail Guide to Haleakala for more details on the trail distances or feel free to contact us with any questions. Due to the high altitude and thin oxygen levels found around the park, it is best to take it easy, stay hydrated, and dress accordingly by planning for warm and cooler weather as conditions change quickly at the summit.
Sunrise & Sunset at Haleakala
One of the most popular times of the day to visit the National Park is in the early morning hours to watch the sunrise. Visitors can make the drive up to the summit area on their own using their rental cars or consider taking a guided tour if they wish. If you are driving your own, parking is often very limited at the summit area especially right around the sunrise time and we highly recommend arriving there 30 minutes before the sun rises to secure a parking spot and to find a location you wish to await the sunrise. Dressing warmly is crucial as temperatures can be in the low 30 to 40-degree mark with windy conditions before the sun comes up, making it quite chilly for those guests thinking it will be much warmer. For those guests wishing to let someone else do the driving, you can consider a few unique tour options such as a basic Haleakala Guided Sunrise Tour, or for the adventure seekers, the Downhill Volcano Bike Ride or the Sunrise / Zipline / Biking Tour are quite popular too. Another option for those guest who may wish to sleep in and enjoy the day first is to go up to the National Park later in the day to watch the sunset. Similar to the sunrise, temperatures in the evening can dip below 40 degrees with windy conditions at the summit though guests will still have a really incredible experience watching the sun sink into the evening sky. Typically there are more clouds surrounding the lower elevation of the National Park as the day goes on making the sunsets from the summit area even better to see. Like the sunrise option, guests can either make the drive on their own or consider doing a guided Sunset Tour or even a Stargazing Tour to learn more about the park and the evening sky.
Another really unique thing to see around the National Park is the ahinahina plants (known as the silversword). This plant is really unique in that it only grows in remote places in Hawai’i such as Haleakalā (on Maui) and the Mauna Kea & Mauna Loa (Big Island of Hawai’i) and only flowers once in its life. This plant is remarkable to see as it has thousands of little hairs on the plant which allow it to collect water and also to protect itself from the intense sunlight. If you happen to see the plant blossoming with a little red/orange flower, consider yourself lucky as the plants can live up to 50 years before blooming and ultimately dying after they flower. The plants are sensitive and quite rare so it is very important to keep your distance away as they have very shallow root systems and walking around the plans can damage the network of roots they have. To see them up close, upon arrival to the park you can see keiki (infant / child) ahinahina plants at the ranger station as they are making efforts to grown and replant them there. There are some larger plants at the summit around the parking lot area too. Though there is a lot of traffic here, there are many silverswords growing here and is a great place to see them as adult plants. Please ensure to keep a respectable distance away from the plants as they are rare and nearly endangered.
Other Things to Do Upcountry Maui
While many guests prefer to drive to the summit and check it off of their list of things to see and do while here on Maui, there are many other really great attractions upcountry Maui to consider visiting. One of the most popular activities that we recommend is ziplines. Since there is a location literally right on the way up to the National Park that is convenient to stop at on the way down from the summit. You learn more about the Haleakala Zipline online through our website. Other fun places to stop at include the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. Located on the slopes of Haleakala, the lavender farm is a beautiful garden that features both native and non-native species of plants. We recommend taking the guided tour as it is fairly inexpensive thought the information the guides provide is wonderful. If you are looking for a great place to eat breakfast while upcountry, you have to check out Grandma’s Coffee House in the very small town of Keokea, just a slight drive off the beaten trail on the way back from the summit area. Also located upcountry Maui is Makawao Town, a small quiet town with various shops such as art galleries, restaurants, and local vendors/crafters.
We hope that this information has been helpful to you for your time here on Maui. Maui Activity Concierge is pleased to assist you with any questions about the National Park. You can already reach us by phone at 808-868-0253 or by email. Enjoy your visit to the Haleakala National Park!
Owner & Lead Concierge