Maui is one of the most beautiful places we have visited. For most people, Maui is their dream vacation. For us, it was the perfect opportunity to check another National Park off our bucket list. Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion is an outstanding way to start your morning.
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Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion-Everything you Need to Know Before you go
When we went, anyone could venture up and see the sunrise. I have since learned that the National Park Service allows tour vendors but limits the number of individual vehicles. Haleakalā National Park now requires reservations for each car planning on entering the park between 3 am and 7 am. Make reservations at www.recreation.gov. It costs $1.50 per vehicle. The reservations are open 60 days in advance. They vanish quickly.
TIP: 24 hours before your trip login at 7 am to the website when they release another block of reservations.
If you arrive at the park without a sunrise reservation, they will not allow you to enter the summit parking lots until after 7:00 AM.
Purchase an annual park pass or you can pay the $35 entry fee. This is one way to support our National Parks is to purchase an annual park pass. America the Beautiful pass gains you entery into all the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands. The pass costs $80 for one year. I would suggest purchasing an Annual Park pass it gives you unlimited access to all National Parks and monuments in the US.
Entering into Haleakalā National Park
I highly recommend booking a tour of the Mount Haleakalā National Park sunrise excursion. This is by far the best way to see the mountain. The advantage of tours is you can leave the driving to them. This requires a 2:30 AM roll call at your hotel. We stayed at the Royal Lahaina in Ka’anapali. The pickup vehicle is a minibus that seats 12 plus driver, very comfortable. The trip up the mountain takes about 2.5 hrs.
Our tour guide provided interesting facts & history on the arduous journey up the switchback road. He explained that in the Hawaiian language Haleakalā means “House of the Sun” and legend tells of the demi-god Maui who lassoed the sun to slow its progress across the sky. Haleakalā is a massive shield volcano that rises 10,023 feet. The dormant volcano forms over 75% of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. It contains 17 unique ecosystems within the park boundary area. The driver also stated that because weather changes, you may get a great sunrise, you may not. Stop for bathrooms at Visitor’s Center. There are minimal restrooms at the summit.
Watching the Sunrise over Haleakalā
You need to get there 30 minutes before the scheduled sunrise so you can get a suitable spot. There is a shelter with windows, but if you dress warmly, you can be assured of getting the best seats in the house. Word of advice you are at 10,000+ feet, so dress appropriately.
The winds at 30 mph will produce chilly temperatures of 26 degrees. I felt sorry for those folks who did not do their research & showed up in shorts and tank tops. The shelter is a good place to keep warm until the sunrises. Bring a thermos of coffee and snacks. No food is available at the summit.
The parking lots fill quickly. Just remember you won’t be alone… lots of people come for sunrise. Being above the clouds is almost dreamlike. We took got a comfortable boulder on the edge of the crater, taking time to chat with the surrounding crowd of people. The beauty of the lightening sky as the sun peeks over the clouds is amazing. The actual sunrise is spectacular, like nothing I have ever seen. It is more the experience of being “on top of the world,” watching as the sun comes to you. A lone Hawaiian priestess offered a blessing chant. Magical!
Haleakalā Visitor Center
There are three locations: Haleakalā National Park Headquarters Visitor Center, House of the Sun (Summit) Visitor Center, and Kipahulu Visitor Center. All locations have restrooms and water stations. Haleakalā National Park Headquarters Visitor Center at the entrance to the park (Kula) is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Most people stop here first before venturing to the summit. It offers a wealth of resources such as general park information, permits, interpretative programs, cultural and natural history exhibits. Nice retail shop with books, maps and other merchandise.
The Haleakalā Visitor Center (Summit) is open daily from sunrise to noon. Most people step inside just to keep warm. However, there have some interesting archaeology exhibits and a souvenir gift shop. The giant 3D relief map of Haleakalā fascinated me in the center of the room. I have always loved maps! The Kipahulu Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center can be accessed by driving 12 miles past the town of Hāna. If you are a collector of NPS, passport stamps each of the visitor’s centers as a different stamp.
Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion – Breakfast-Kula Lodge
On the trip down, we stopped for an hour at the Kula Lodge for a breakfast “buffet” of fruits, eggs, potatoes, bread, ham, and bacon. The Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion included breakfast. They gave us homemade pineapple papaya jam and wild berry jam. Get the fresh fruit tray – fresh strawberries, pineapple, papaya, bananas with homemade vanilla yogurt. Sit outside, the deck surrounded by a beautiful garden has stunning views of the West Maui Mountains and the valley below. If you’re in the Upcountry Maui area and are looking for local flavor, you definitely want to try the Kula Lodge!
Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion-Try the Haleakalā Bike Tour
Pondering a bike ride down the mountain slopes? It is one of the most popular activities in Maui is biking down Haleakala. Many tour companies offer this alternative as part of the sunrise excursion. They provide all the gear and some offer hotel pickup.
They do not allow the biking adventures to start at the summit inside (they were when we went). Instead, they are taken outside the park boundary (6,500 ft) to begin the descent. I know Barry wanted to do this, however, there are minimal to no guardrails on the road so I am not a fan. The scenery is incredible, but I think I would be too concentrated on safety and thus miss seeing the view. I preferred watching the bikers coast down the mountain as we drove back.
After your Sunrise Excursion Try Haleakalā Crater Trails
Consider taking a hike down into the crater. It was surreal, like being on the moon. You can get trail maps from the Visitor Center. They limit hiking groups to 12 people. There are 37 miles of trails in the park. Trails range from just 10 minutes to multi-day overnight trips. Multi-day hikes have the option of renting one of the three cabins. Accommodating up to 12 the cabins requires hikers to have reservations. Accesses to all the cabins are via backcountry trails. You don’t need any unusual equipment to do the half-day hike, just a day pack, hiking shoes, light jacket, water in a refillable water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, and camera. Both Visitor Centers have water refill stations.
Hike the Pā Ka‘oao Trail
The shortest trail is Pā Ka‘oao Trail starts at House of the Sun Visitor Center. It is a 0.4-mile hike to lead to the top of Pa Kaoao (White Hill), a small cinder cone. Ancient stone walls build by the early Hawaiians are visible along the trail. The views from the lookout reminded me of what Mars must look like in the early morning light. The trail is sandy and some areas are rocky and slippery. Our shoes were red by the time we returned to the van.
Hike the Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trail (Sliding Sands)
This is a beautiful but challenging trail. Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands) is the most popular trail. Starting from the House of the Sun Visitor Center heading into the crater, the trail descends 2500 feet in 3.9-miles. Just remember, you need to go back up. When beginning your hike on a downward slope, allowing for twice the time hiking to get out, e.g. 15 minutes hiking down + 30 minutes up = 45-minute hike. The thinner the air at this elevation makes for difficult breathing. The trail passes Ka Luu o ka ‘O’o Cinder Cone a kaleidoscope of colors: red, pink, green, and yellow mixed into the volcanic soil. At the 5.7 mile mark is the trail junction with the Ka Moa o Pele Loop. The trail is fairly level, continuing to the Kapalaoa Cabin.
Depending on your stamina, you can turnaround back to the Visitor Center at any point. If you have time, do the loop to Halali‘ito sees Pele’s Paintpot before returning out of the crater. Many people combine this hike with the Halemau’u trail to create a loop. This is not a hike for the faint-hearted. This is a full day hike, taking 5-7 hours.
Hiking the Halemau‘u Trail
First, this hike involves leaving your car at the trailhead and hitchhiking to the Summit Visitor Center. Use the designated hitchhiker pickup point near the trailhead. The hike starts at Keonehe’ehe’e Trailhead, descending into the crater and follows the trail until the junction of the Horse Hitch trail. The trail leads to Halali‘i & kawilinau (Bottomless Pit), a distance of 1.7 miles, to join the Halemau’u Trail. It is worth taking the short trail to the west of Halali‘i to see experience Pele’s Paintpot. This is roughly the halfway point of this hike. The vivid red, orange, golden brown, yellow with some green makes these soils a painter’s palette of color. The vent of Kawilinau is 65-feet deep, protected by a barrier fence. Just before the junction of the Halemau’u trail, the solitude is complete. No voices, no noise. Tranquility at its best.
The trail is relatively flat, heading northwest for 2-miles to the Hōlua Cabin/Campground. There is an outhouse if needed. This is an ideal location to eat lunch. Nēnē is Hawaii’s national bird. You should be able to see several geese. Nēnēs inhabit these grassy alpine desert areas below the summit. Considered an endangered species, so please do not feed them. They have become habituated to people, even begging. They are often hit by cars on the Mount Haleakalā Road as they beg for food. Leaving the cabin, you climb up switchback after switchback to get back to the road climbing 900′ in 1.6 miles. The trail is extremely rocky as it traverses through low-growth shrubs.
The Magical Silverswords
Maui is the only place on earth that the silversword exists. It takes anywhere from 5 to 50 years to mature. The endangered silversword, or “āhinahina” in Hawaiian, only blooms once before dying. The plant has made a remarkable comeback from the verge of extinction. Many plants, animals, and birds are ecologically and culturally significant. Be sure to heed the warnings to stay on trails so as not to damage this fragile ecosystem.
Red Hill Observatory (Puu Ulaula)
This is the highest point in Maui. The observatory is closed to the public. It is the perfect place to explore the night sky. At night, bright, starry skies are revealed. Devoid of light pollution, this is the 4th darkest place in the world. There is a prime celestial viewing here. Experts at the University of Hawaii use the telescopes to track satellites, conduct astrophysical research, and extrapolate planetary movements.
The Red Hill Trail is an easy 0.2-mile loop trail that is a loop around the parking lot. We took our time climbing on the rocks to get the best views. We combined this trail with the Pa Ka‘oao (White Hill Trail). The 270◦ views are magnificent.
It generally symbolizes the “aloha spirit,” or the feeling of gratitude, friendship, understanding, or solidarity. The “Aloha Spirit” exemplifies what the Mount Haleakalā Sunrise Excursion gives you. “Hang Loose”
Have you been to Hawaii? What did you like best? Comment below and share with us your experience!