Rising above the island of Maui at 10,023 feet above sea level and making up 75% of its land mass is the East Maui Volcano, also known as Haleakala (“house of the sun” in Hawaiian). This massive volcano is the third-largest in Hawaii and boasts a crater that is 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and 2,600 feet deep. The 30,000-acre Haleakala National Park near Upcountry Maui all the way to the southeastern coast offers numerous hikes and activities with rocky desert landscapes near the frontside Summit District and lush rainforests and waterfalls near the backside Kīpahulu District. There are even places to camp for more adventurous travelers!
Haleakala Summit is the best place on the island to watch an absolutely unforgettable sunrise in the morning or sunset in the evening with an amazing array of colors. During the day, Haleakala Summit offers outstanding views of both the land and ocean in all directions with incredible views of the universe while stargazing at night. Without any competition from city lights, the number of stars you can see is nothing short of impressive.
Both the frontside summit and backside near the coast can be visited on your own. However, a reservation and permit are required to visit the summit at sunrise if you are driving yourself. Sunrise is between 5:30 and 6:30 AM meaning you’ll have to depart around 3 or 4 AM as the drive via Haleakala Highway is typically 1.5-2.5 hours depending on where you’re coming from.
One of the best ways to experience Haleakala is through a tour with a knowledgeable guide. Tour options range from sunset/sunrise viewing, hikes, and our favorite, being shuttled to the top and biking back down to the bottom! Whatever you decided to do, keep the elevation in mind as it can be much colder with strong winds at the top, so be sure to bring extra layers. Additionally, walking trails can be a challenge given how thin the air is at that elevation, so take your time and above all else, have fun!
Best Haleakala Tours in Maui
Watching the sunrise at the top of Haleakala makes for a truly unforgettable experience. Start your day with a hotel pickup by your guide and an early morning drive through the Kula District to the top. Having a guide makes viewing the sunrise a lot easier as the road has a lot of turns and it’s still dark out at that time in the morning. Once there, you’ll be treated to breakfast and unmatched views of the sun rising above Haleakala.
If you’re not into waking up early enough to see the sunrise, no problem! Viewing the sunset from the top of Haleakala is an equally outstanding experience that makes for some incredible photo opportunities. This tour includes hotel pickup for your drive to the top along with a knowledgeable guide that will share with you facts about Maui’s legends, history, and culture.
Lahaina Cannery Mall, Maui Mall or Kula Lodge
In addition to viewing the sunset at the top of Haleakala, stargazing is another amazing activity you can do while up there. For all the hype that sunrise and sunset get, stargazing doesn’t get enough! As we already mentioned, without competition from city lights or pollution, you can see an incredible number of stars from the top of Haleakala. In fact, it’s so good that Haleakala is one of the most sought-after places in the world for ground-based telescopes, which you’ll be able to experience via a large high-powered GPS-controlled telescope on this tour. If you’re going up for sunset, we highly recommend you stick around for stargazing as well.
If you’re looking to explore even more of Haleakala National Park, a crater and summit hike might be for you. Hiking Haleakala crater will take you across a desert landscape of red volcanic sand where you’ll have a chance to spot native flora and fauna such as the Silversword plant or the Hawaiian goose known as the Nene. Keep a special eye out for the Silversword plant as it can only be found on Haleakala. This tour follows two different trails led by an expert guide in a small group. Remember, the air can be thin at the top, so if you have trouble breathing or have young children, a hike might not be for you. However, the views are amazing, so if you can make it, it’s worth the trek!
While hiking anywhere at the top of Haleakala can be a challenge given the thin air, this tour is geared towards advanced hikers seeking more. On this hike, you will embark on a 4-mile, 4-hour trek at the summit and along the 8,000 ft lava trail that will take you to areas not normally seen by visitors. This tour is led by a knowledgeable guide and includes lunch to keep you fueled while you hike!
One of our favorite experiences at Haleakala National Park has been a downhill bike tour. So much so that we’ve done it more than once (that’s us in the picture)! On a bike tour, you’ll start your day by being shuttled to the top by your guide. Once there, you’ll take in the sights at the summit (or sunrise depending on what you booked) before heading back down to 6,500 ft to start your descent on two wheels. Along the way, you’ll pass by the towns of Upcountry Maui including a stop at the Kula Marketplace before making your final stop in Paia for lunch. We highly recommend checking out the Paia Fish Market while you’re there as the food is outstanding!
A self-guided bike tour is another option for biking down Haleakala Highway. You’ll still be shuttled to the top by an expert guide with time to take in the sights. However, when it’s time to make your descent, you’ll be doing that on your own and at your own pace! You can stop anywhere you’d like on the way down as you make your way to your final destination and bike drop-off in the town of Haiku.
Haleakala summit and crater get most of the attention but don’t forget about the backside Kīpahulu District near Hana! This coastal section of Haleakala National Park is home to lush rainforests, waterfalls, and streams that are a stark contrast to the summit’s desert-like landscape. On this tour, you will hike to and swim at two private waterfalls along the Hana Highway. Once there, you will enjoy a picnic-style lunch before heading to the slopes of Haleakala for the second part of this tour, five ziplines crossing the Upcountry Valleys of Haleakala!
If you’d like to skip the hike and just focus on ziplining, this 2-hour tour is for you. Get ready to soar as you reach speeds up to 45 mph on five different ziplines and cross a swinging suspension bridge through the treetops along the slopes of Haleakala. This is a family-friendly tour that is great for anyone with children 8 years or older.
Get a completely different view of the entire island of Maui by embarking on a 65-minute helicopter tour that not only takes you above Haleakala National Park but all of Maui from a bird’s eye view. In this complete circle of the island, you’ll catch glimpses of sights such as the Hana Rainforest, the West Maui Mountains, and Iao Valley State Park. You’ll fly along Maui’s picturesque shoreline passing by towns such as Lahaina, Kapalua, Kaanapali, Wailea, and Hana all narrated in-flight by your expert guide. If the thought of flying in a helicopter doesn’t make you squeamish, this is a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Haleakala Tips & Facts
Should You Book a Haleakala Tour?
Driving to the top of Haleakala Summit on your own is possible via the 10-mile Haleakala Highway if you have a car and want to drive. However, it’s a road with a lot of twists and turns that makes for a slow drive and typically takes between 1.5 – 2.5 hours. Additionally, an entrance fee is required for all visitors to the park. A tour is a great option if you’d prefer to sit back and relax on the way up. Not only do you not have to drive but most tours are led by a knowledgeable guide that will share with you facts about Hawaiian history, culture, and folklore.
Be Sure to Bring Extra Layers!
As mentioned, the air can be much cooler at the top, as much as 50 °F (-1 °C) cooler than the base with strong winds (it has snowed at the top before). We recommend bundling up or bringing extra layers even when the sky is clear. Additionally, don’t forget to apply sunscreen. Even though it’s cooler at the top, the sun’s rays are still strong enough to give you a burn!
Take Your Time on Walking Trails
In addition to the cool air, the air is also much thinner 10,023 feet up at the top of Haleakala. This elevation can make walking trails a challenge for those with breathing problems. So take your time, walk slowly, and stop for breaks often. If you end up with a headache, that could be a sign of altitude sickness that should clear up when you’re back at sea level.
Camping in Haleakala National Park
Did you know that you can also camp in Haleakala National Park? Camping is only allowed in designated areas including the Hosmer Grove Campground in the frontside district and the Kīpahulu Campground in the backside district. For serious adventures, there are also three historic cabins within the crater that are only accessible by trail, meaning you have to hike all of your gear in and out. Visit the National Park Service website for more information on camping in Haleakala National Park.
Is Haleakala Still an Active Volcano?
Technically, Haleakala is still considered active! However, it is a dormant volcano and radiocarbon dating put its last eruption close to 500 years ago. By comparison, Mauna Loa on the Big Island has erupted more than a dozen times in the last century. The USGS currently has the Volcano Alert Level for Haleakala at “normal” meaning it’s in a non-eruptive phase.
What is the Meaning Behind the Name Haleakala?
The name Haleakala comes from early Hawaiians and means “house of the sun.” They believed that the crater at the summit was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. According to Hawaiian folklore, Maui lassoed the sun to slow its journey across the sky to make the day longer.
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