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Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

I just returned from a family trip to Maui. We arrived Saturday evening and the rest of our party arrived on Sunday afternoon, so on our first morning there, Sam and I made the trek to the summit of Haleakala National Park to watch the sunrise at the top of the world. It is a breathtaking, magical experience, and below are some tips for your trip!

The earth's shadow at dawn over Haleakala observatories
Remember to turn around! The earth’s shadow over Maui at dawn
Shadow of Haleakala just after sunrise
Shadow of Haleakala just after sunrise

 

 

 

 

 

 


Plan your visit at the beginning or end of your trip. It will give you something to do when you are jet lagged, or can help you adjust back to your time zone. Depending on where you stay (see next tip), you could be leaving your hotel at 3am or 4am!

Startrails at dawn above the Haleakala observatories at dawn
Star trails above the Haleakala observatories at dawn

Plan to stay closer to the park. The drive times to the summit are: 60 minutes from Kula and Makawao, 75 minutes from Paia, 90 minutes from Kahului, 100 minutes from Kihei, 2 hours from Wailea, 2 hours 15 minutes from Lahaina, and 2 hours 30 minutes minutes from Ka’anapali. We stayed at a comfortable but cheap hotel in Kahului, but you could also find an Airbnb in Kula, Makawao or Paia.

Plan to arrive a minimum of 1 hour before scheduled sunrise. This is a popular trip, so the two parking lots (summit at 10000ft and visitor center at 9700ft) will be full close to sunrise. We arrived about 40 minutes before sunrise and we were the last car allowed up to the summit lot. If you arrive 2 hours beforehand on a night with little or no moon, you can stargaze under some of the darkest skies in the country (hence the presence of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy observatories – also at the summit, but unfortunately closed to the public.  Easy to admire from afar!). Be sure to check the local sunrise and moon phase before you go!

The lower visitor center parking lot close to sunrise, 2009
The lower visitor center parking lot close to sunrise, 2009
The summit parking lot close to sunrise, 2016
The summit parking lot close to sunrise, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan to be freezing. It is cold (30s) and windy at night at 10,000 ft, every month of the year. A warm under layer, a wind proof top layer, a warm beanie, warm gloves, socks and closed shoes are key! You will be happy you packed those hand warmers and jacket. I like to wear yoga pants under my wind proof hiking pants, a tank/hiking tee under my hoodie and insulated jacket, along with my hiking sneakers. My face and my hands are always the coldest. Many people will wear shorts and wrap up in a beach towel – this is not enough to keep you warm! At the summit lot is a glass-enclosed hut that will protect you from the wind, but it gets crowded fast, so if you don’t have the proper clothes, try arrive early to grab a spot in front.

People are dressed for cold weather at the summit of Haleakala
The only reason to bring a jacket to Hawaii

Plan to bring enough food and water with you. There are no restaurants in the park, so you must pack food/trash in and out. You can grab pre-packaged food at local grocery stores the day before your trip, or stop at the 24-hr Zippy’s in Kahului before you head up the mountain. Also, at 10,000 ft elevation, you will become dehydrated much faster so be sure you have plenty of water, especially if you are sticking around a while.

Plan other activities from the summit. You can hike into the crater along the sliding sands trail, take a bike tour down crater road starting at the park entrance, or rent a mountain bike and ride down the spine of the crater along the Skyline trail. On a previous trip after the sun came up, I hiked into the crater to Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o cinder cone. It was lovely until I had to hike out. They call it the sliding sands trail for a reason – I was envious of the people on horseback (which they no longer operate inside the crater). Be aware it will get very warm as the sun comes up, so dress in layers. Also remember to pack sunscreen! Lower down the mountain you can zip line, take a horseback ride, visit lavender farms, and shop in upcountry towns.

Sliding sands trail into the crater with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Big Island in the background
Sliding sands trail into the crater with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea from the Big Island in the background
Horseback riders on the sliding sands trail in 2009. This tour is no longer available, but you can bike down the mountain road on a tour or rent a mountain bike and ride the spine.

Plan to pay the park entrance fee of $15. It is good for 3 days, so if you want to visit the coastal area of the park near Hana, plan that day close to your Haleakala trip.

You can also visit the park for sunset, but be aware you will have to drive down the mountain switchbacks in the dark.

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Quick facts and overview: Haleakala National Park

Year established: 1916

Size: 34,294 acres

Annual visitors: 1.2 million in 2015

Best activities: Sunrise/sunset viewing, stargazing, hiking

Where to find the passport stamp: The Haleakala visitor center at the summit (9740 ft.) has a passport station in the far back corner. The posted hours are sunrise-3pm. The headquarters visitor center down the mountain at 7000 ft. also has passport stamps, open 8am-3:45p daily.
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Explore on ~ Heather