Haleakalā—the house of the sun, in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi—is among Maui’s top attractions. Known for its high-altitude splendor, fiery sunrises and sunsets as well as its world-class stargazing, visitors and locals have come to love the massive Maui shield volcano. But there’s more to visiting Haleakalā than just driving to the summit and watching the sun dip below the horizon. There are unexpected aspects like finding parking, knowing which hikes to tackle, battling the cold weather and more to contend with on a day trip above the clouds. Here are a few ideas, suggestions and tips worth knowing.
1. A Place of Legend
Understanding the story and culture of a place in Hawaiʻi is very important, regardless of where you are visiting. To know the moʻolelo (legends) of a site will give visitors a whole new appreciation for the area, and Haleakalā has quite the story to tell. It was here that demigod Maui—whom the island was named after—captured the sun with a mighty lasso to convince it to slow down its daily descent, so his mother Hina could dry her kapa (bark cloth). This is how seasons were born in Hawaiian legend.
2. Trails, Hikes and More
While Haleakalā is known for its sunrise and sunset show, the area also has a plethora of hiking trails absolutely worth exploring. From the short, half-mile Pā Ka‘oao trail to the Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands) route with multiple points of interest to reach at various mile markers, there’s more than enough to hike to on a day trip to Haleakalā. Since there’s less oxygen at such high altitudes, be sure to pace yourself on your journey and take ample breaks and rests—and account for an increased hiking time on each trail to accommodate for a more leisurely pace. To find a comprehensive list of hiking trails located at Haleakalā, visit the National Park Service’s Haleakalā hiking page here.
3. Parking and Fees
If you’re going to be entering the park, you’ll be doing it by car—unless you’re a really good walker. However, be prepared for the fee upfront for private vehicles, which includes yours. It’s $30 and sneaks up on many first-time visitors not expecting to spend that kind of money to enter Haleakalā. Obviously, it’s a small price to pay for what you’re about to experience. The other major aspect of driving around Haleakalā is finding parking, which based on the time of day of your visit can be a bit tough.
If you’re looking for a premier spot at the summit for the sunset, find a stall an hour or so before the sun dips below the horizon. The small, limited parking lot gets absolutely packed thirty minutes to an hour before sunset—and nobody wants to miss the show because they’re jammed up behind three cars all waiting for a parking stall. If you don’t want to worry about the hunt for a spot, the Haleakalā Visitor Center—which is a short walk away from the summit—has an ample amount of parking stalls.
4. What to Bring and Wear
Just because you’re in Hawaiʻi doesn’t mean it can’t get cold. And up on Haleakalā, it gets real cold, real fast. While the daytime temperature isn’t too chilly, those looking to catch the sunset and stargazing spectacular afterward will want to bring some sort of second layer to combat the cold. Since Haleakalā is actually located above the cloudline, you’ll also want to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water, especially if you’re planning to hike or explore during the day. A packed lunch is also a safe bet, as there are no food vendors in the area.
5. Haleakalā Sunrise Reservations
Yes, you need a reservation to see the sunrise atop Haleakalā. Since the view is so popular amongst locals and visitors, the state requires reservations to be made on an online platform. This is to make sure that the viewing platform is not overcrowded when the sun does decide to rise—and to provide enough parking for everyone with a reservation. Reservations can be made in advance, and if you’re thinking about catching the sunrise, you’ll want to act fast. Early-morning entry into the park is often booked out months in advance, and tickets go very fast.