House of the Sun: Exploring Haleakala

As the largest dormant volcano in the world, Haleakala (House of the Sun) is also one of the largest attractions on Maui. Every day, visitors drive the steep, winding road to the summit, often hours before sunrise, to take in the spectacular views when the sun peeks over the eastern edge of the crater. Sunset is nearly just as popular for those who aren’t early birds, but the crowds can be even greater. While an entire day or more can be spent at the summit and exploring the crater, the park itself is more than 34,000 acres of land that includes Maui’s southeastern coast, waterfalls, hiking trails and more.


The Summit

At 10,023 feet above sea level at the summit, the landscape changes in the 38-mile climb from lush tropical flora to pines and giant redwoods to the otherworldly landscape of the crater itself. The temperature at the summit can range from 80 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with the coldest temperatures often falling just before sunrise or right after sunset, so take note and plan accordingly if you plan to visit during one of these popular times.

488153201Any time of day, the views are stunning and hikes into the crater itself are an experience like no other. Guided activities like hikes, cultural demonstrations and nature talks provided by the staff of Haleakala National Park give additional insight into and education on the history, geography and life on the mountain. Several commercial tour operators also lead hikes, vehicle tours, astronomy tours and bicycle rides that explore the volcano.

If you want to explore the summit on your own, be sure to make your first stop at one of the three visitor’s centers. The Haleakala Visitor Center is the closest to the summit and is open daily from sunrise until 3 p.m. Here you can find cultural and natural history exhibits, books, maps and posters for sale and naturalists on duty to answer questions and help you make the most of your visit. Restrooms and drinking water are always available at the visitor’s centers.

With over 30 miles of trails in the summit area, there’s plenty to explore after a stunning sunrise or before the sun sets. Trails range in length from less than a mile to more than 10 miles. Check with the visitor’s center for maps, information and times for naturalist-guided hikes.

Below the Summit

The Kipahulu District, or coastal area of the national park, is well worth exploring on its own the day before or after experiencing Haleakala’s summit. This area has its own visitor’s center on the coast, open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. Once you arrive to the Kipahulu district via the famous Hana Highway, you’ll be able to explore gorgeous waterfalls, take in scenic ocean vistas and experience guided hikes, talks and cultural demonstrations.

Three miles of trails ranging from easy to strenuous reward hikers with gorgeous ocean views as they trek through diverse forests and past stunning waterfalls. Swimming is permitted in freshwater pools in the park when conditions allow. Along the coastline, keep an eye out for sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins, seabirds and humpback whales. Commercial companies licensed to operate within the national park provide vehicle tours, guided hikes, bicycle excursions and horseback riding tours.

The Nene

158472299It’s impossible to visit the Haleakala National Park without learning about the Nene, or Hawaiian goose. This bird, which looks similar to the Canadian goose that many mainlanders are accustomed to seeing certain times of year during their migrations, is native to Hawaii and is an endangered species. Nene were once numerous on most of the Hawaiian islands, but the population was reduced to a mere 30 birds in the 1950s due to over hunting, introduction of non-native predators and habitat loss.

Beginning in 1962, Nene that were bred in captivity were released into the park through the late 1970s. Since then there has been a protection and management program in place to keep the population steady and also to establish and increase the birds’ presence statewide. Look for these special birds near the Headquarters Visitor Center, at the Halemauu Trailhead and near backcountry cabin and camping locations.

Good to Know

With unpredictable weather and a wide range of temperatures any given day, it’s important to be prepared on a visit to either the summit area or coastal district of the Haleakala National Park. Allow a half day to a full day for each section as travel time getting to and from the park can be slow and you’ll want plenty of time to explore and enjoy the scenery. Here are a few things to be sure to bring with you:

  • Layers of clothing
  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunblock)
  • Rain protection (rain gear, jacket, poncho)
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Food (no food for sale in the park)
  • Water bottles (drinking water available at all visitor centers)
  • Sturdy shoes (hiking boots or athletic shoes)
  • A full tank of gas



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