Haleakala National Park: The Ultimate Guide

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Haleakala National Park is one of the many reasons The Hawaiian island of Maui is so popular.

In fact, it’s one of my favorite places in Maui! And one of my favorite things to do on the island. (Check out my complete list of best things to do in Maui here!)

Thousands of vacationers arrive here every year for the luxury resorts, beautiful beaches, and perfect weather. (Myself included).

However, travelers would be missing the crown jewel of the island if they didn’t make the drive to Haleakala National Park in southeast Maui!

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is named after the dormant volcano and the highest peak in Maui found within the park’s borders.

The volcano last erupted nearly 500 years ago.

Today, it serves as a breathtaking vantage point from which to view Maui, the surrounding islands, and an unrivaled Hawaiian sunrise at the volcano’s summit.

Haleakala National Park is one of Hawai’i’s many national parks, but the only one you will find on Maui. 

I highly recommend a day trip from wherever you are staying on the island to visit this stunning park- it’s a must!

Key Information About Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park is home to the highest peak on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The park stretches from the southeast of the island towards the very center, with the summit of Haleakala standing at 10,023 feet!

It covers an area of roughly 52 square miles, the majority of which is a wilderness area.

Unfortunately, the park lacks public transportation so you will need to rent a car in order to visit.

If you’re staying at a resort, talk with your concierge to see if they offer a shuttle service to and from the park.

You can easily access the park from Kahului in the north.

If you choose to drive to the summit, follow Routes 37, 377, and then 378 from Kahului to the top.

This drive will take you about one hour and fifteen minutes in regular traffic.

We drove from Wailea and reached the park in 1.5 hours (not including all of the stops we made along the way).

Haleakala Entrance Cost & Information

Via npsmaps.com

On your visit to Haleakala National Park, I recommend stopping at a visitor center for current information. Depending on where you enter, you can either stop at the Park Headquarters Visitor Center, the Haleakala Visitor Center or the Kipahulu Visitor Center.

The park staff will inform you of daily conditions and other need-to-know information about Haleakala. You should also check here before going to make sure the park is open.

Visitors will need to pay a fee to enter the park for passes that are valid for three days from the purchase date.

Entrance Cost

The cost to enter Haleakala is $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 for pedestrians or cyclists.

If you are arriving in a non-commercial vehicle, the $30 entrance fee will cover everyone in the vehicle.

Sometimes park staff closes the entrance station but the park has automated self-pay machines that still allow you to pay your fee.

The machines do not accept cash, so remember to bring a valid credit card with you to pay.

Where to enter Haleakala

As you can see from the map above, the park is quite huge and has different entrances. What you can do in the park largely depends on where you are entering.

For example, the Pools of O’heo, which I’ll talk about later, can only be accessed when you’re on the Road to Hana on the east coast.

That is a huge reason why you’ll want to hold on to your park entry pass when you visit either the Haleakala summit or the Pools of O’heo. The same pass is valid for either entrance- as long as you visit within 3 days.

Bathrooms are available at the park’s visitor centers, but you won’t be able to find food or water along the way. Remember to get all the necessary supplies before entering the park!

Campers should be aware of the rules of the park and avoid hiking off-trail to preserve the delicate flora and fauna at Haleakala.

Leave no trace and take everything you bring into the park out of it when you leave!

Senior & Disability Entrance Information

Seniors and those with disabilities can take advantage of a lifetime pass to Haleakala National Park.

A lifetime pass for seniors over the age of 62 costs $80 and is only available to citizens and permanent residents of the United States.

Those with permanent disabilities may access the park for life with an Intragency Access Pass that is absolutely free!

Things to Do in Haleakala National Park

As you can imagine, a day or two spent at Haleakala National Park will be full of nature and adventure.

You can access all available activities in Haleakala by car, but you’ll probably want to do a bit of hiking on your own as well.

Take a look at some of what Haleakala has to offer on your visit to the national park.

Visit the Haleakala Summit and Red Hill

This is the best thing to do in Haleakala in my opinion! No matter what time of day you visit, being above the clouds at the summit is a memorable experience.

Insider tip:

To get to the viewpoint above, you’ll want to take the road less traveled.

When you’re driving up to the top of Haleakala and you come to the fork in the road, the right road will take you to the observatory and the classic views of Haleakala Crater.

But the small, left road will lead you to this view of Red Hill!

You’ll just keep following the road until you see a small parking lot. This viewpoint will be on your right!

Watch a Haleakala Sunrise

Ewen Roberts via Flickr

The first thing you will need to watch a Haleakala sunrise is a permit.

The Haleakala National Park is a stickler for this extra fee and reservation due to the popularity of this scenic activity!

Once you’ve obtained your pass in advance online, you can watch the sunrise from the top of Haleakala, also known as the House of the Sun.

The drive to the summit is clear and reservations will allow you to enter the park from 3 to 7 am to catch the first light of the day.

I’ve heard you need to arrive early if you want to get a good spot due to limited parking!

Tickets are only a dollar to reserve your sunrise admission (this doesn’t include the entrance fee), but the hard part is actually getting one. If the day you’re planning on visiting is already sold out, the park releases 80 more tickets two days before the date at 7AM Hawaii time.

Here’s the kicker: you need to book them right at 7AM because they will all be gone in just a few minutes!

And the biggest secret to getting one of these tickets: you should create an account for recreation.gov before booking the ticket!

I learned this the hard way.

When trying to get our sunrise tickets, I had two in my cart and when I was checking out, it told me I needed to create an account. By the time I had created my login and gotten the verification email to my inbox, the tickets were already sold out!

If you don’t have a sunrise ticket, you’ll have to wait until the park officially opens at 7AM.

Booking a Haleakala Sunrise Tour

If you want to avoid all of this sunrise ticket confusion, you can also book a tour. It’ll be much more expensive, but it has some pros:

  • Not having to drive the windy roads in the dark before sunrise
  • Guaranteeing sunrise admission
  • Timing is all worked out beforehand

You can book a sunrise tour here!

See the Stars at Haleakala

Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Because most areas of the park are open 24 hours a day, the sunrise isn’t the only natural wonder you can witness. (Check out the National Park Service site here for current hours and information.)

Visit Haleakala after sunset for an evening of stargazing! 

You can rent a pair of binoculars from a dive shop or visitors center and observe the stars and planets with nearly zero light pollution!

The summit of Haleakala allows for 115 miles of visibility which makes for a perfect stargazing spot.


Heading to Maui? Check out my Maui Itinerary so You Don’t Miss a Thing!


View the Haleakala Observatory

While at the summit, you can’t miss seeing the futuristic-looking Haleakala Observatory.

The site stands at the summit of Mount Haleakala, a heigh of over 10,000 feet above sea level. 

While it’s not open to the public, the Haleakala Observatory structure makes for a great subject of photos at the top of the volcano!

Ride on Horseback on Haleakala

person riding brown horse

You can also hop on the Pony Express for a ride on the side of Haleakala Volcano.

While rides used to be allowed in Haleakala Crater, the park recently discontinued horseback riding permits there.

But while you can’t ride in the crater, you can still ride on the side of the volcano or on the Sliding Sands Trail (more on Sliding Sands later!).

Check out the tours that Pony Express offers here!

Take a Helicopter Tour of Haleakala and Maui

Ted Murphy via Flickr

Visiting Haleakala on foot gives you an up-close and personal view of the landscape.

But if you want to experience a unique and exciting way to see Haleakala National Park and the entirety of Maui, try a helicopter tour!

Although I haven’t yet experienced a helicopter tour in Hawaii, I have in Alaska, and it was absolutely amazing!

The folks at Blue Hawaiian offer half and full hour tours of the island’s wonders including the coastline, rainforests, taro fields, and waterfalls that cannot be accessed on foot.

You can also watch for whales on your helicopter tour!

You will maximize your odds of seeing them during their migratory period between January and April.

Explore the Wilderness of Haleakala

The wilderness of Haleakala offers a unique hiking experience for outdoorsy adventurers and those with an interest in ecology.

Haleakala National Park has two environments that make up its wilderness area: Haleakala Crater and the upper Kipahulu Valley.

The Haleakala Crater drops 3,000 feet from an elevation of 10,023 feet where you will hike to the summit.

The Kipahulu Valley offers a stark contrast to the volcanic space at the crate.

It is covered in a lush cloud forest, waterfalls, and a coastline that borders the Pacific Ocean.

The weather in Maui is consistent so be sure to dress for heat and humidity.

You can see lush vegetation, breathtaking coastline, and any number of creatures along the southeast coast including whales, dolphins, and sea turtles in the wilds of Haleakala.

Hike the Trails of Haleakala

There are several popular trails in the park that are of moderate difficulty. 

The Pipiwai Trail is a four-mile round trip journey that will take you through forested areas with views of waterfalls and streams.

You can take the trail on a guided hike with a Ranger or make your own way!

The Kahakai Trail is a short half-mile trek and takes you from Kuloa Point to Kipahulu Campground along the coast, with stunning views of the ocean.

You can also reserve one of three cabins in the park that are found along the trails.

You can make the reservation up to six months in advance!

It’s a worthy investment if you want to spend the night in the park.

Visit Haleakala’s Sliding Sands

Jeff Wallace via Flickr

Known by its Hawaiian name of Keonehe’ehe’e, the Sliding Sands in Haleakala National Park are a popular destination for the unique landscape.

Follow the Sliding Sands Trail to witness what can only be described as a desolate volcanic landscape in a variety of colors and contrasts.

The Sliding Sands area is a testament to thousands of years of volcanic eruptions and constant erosion that have transformed the land into what it is today.

I recommend visiting in the early morning or late afternoon during golden hour to watch the shadows stretch across the land from atop the slopes of Haleakala.

The Pools of ‘Ohe’o

Scutter via Flickr

Located in the Oheo Gulch, just 10 miles south of Hana, are the Pools of ‘Ohe’o. You’ll access this amazing part of Haleakala National Park through the southeastern entrance along the Road to Hana.

These tiered pools offer a tranquil and refreshing dip in the same water that feeds the area’s waterfalls, including the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.

Lush tropical rainforest surrounds this area which offers plenty of hiking opportunities along the Pipiwai Trail.

Zip Line in Haleakala National Park

There are two large ranches in Haleakala where you can zipline over the canopy of lush rainforest.

Choose between a visit to Piiholo Ranch Zipline or Skyline Eco-Adventures for a canopy tour in Haleakala National Park.

Speak with the staff to learn more about the region’s flora and fauna or zip along the lines for a shot of adrenaline!

Book your Haleakala zipline adventure here!

Look Out for Wildlife

Sean Hagen via Flickr

This isn’t so much a thing to do as a thing to avoid: Haleakala’s feral animals!

Many free-roaming animals such as goats, pigs, and deer make their home in this park.

While all of them are fun to look at and photograph from afar, try to avoid close encounters with these creatures.

You never know how wild animals will react to a human encounter.

While you’re looking out for them, keep an eye out for Hawai’i’s state bird, the Nene.

With the help of biologists and even the Boy Scouts, conservationists bred the Nene and brought it back to the park after the bird nearly died out in the first half of the 20th century.

History and Culture of Haleakala National Park

The area in which Haleakala National Park sits is an important territory for native Hawaiians.

Radiocarbon dating shows that the Haleakala crater and surrounding areas were inhabited as early as 660 AD.

This was during the time of the arrival of the first Polynesians to Hawaii’s islands.

Nearly one hundred years after Captain Cook made contact with the native Hawaiians, American missionaries and whalers arrived in Maui.

Shortly thereafter, sugar production sprung up in Kipahulu.

Later, Haleakala Ranch was established which brought crazing cattle to the slopes of the dormant volcano.

After the annexation of the Republic of Hawai’i, the US Army occupied Haleakala and built the road which leads to its summit.

Since becoming the 50th state in the Union, visitors have poured into Hawai’i.

Tourists love Maui in particular because of its gorgeous beaches and untouched wilderness.

In conclusion…

I hope you can see just how there are so many things to do at Haleakala National Park!

When visiting the island of Maui in Hawai’i, be sure to spend at least a day exploring Haleakala National Park. 

While beaches and resorts are a lot of fun, nothing beats time spent in nature; walking along winding trails surrounded by lush rainforest or watching the sunrise from the summit of a dormant volcano!

Have you visited Haleakala? Or do you have any questions that I might be able to answer? Comment below!

And if you’re visiting Maui, you might find these posts helpful:

Safe travels!

Jasmine

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Hi, I’m Jasmine! I’m a nature-obsessed, beauty-finding, Jesus-loving dreamer with a serious case of wanderlust. I’ve quit my 9-5 to become a travel blogger, and my goal is to show others how they can too! And if you love your full time job, stick around for travel tips and inspiration! Thanks for following along on my adventures!

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