Watching a Haleakala Sunrise is one of the most exotic things to do on Maui. I mean it’s not everyday that you get to watch the sun rise above the clouds on top of a dormant volcano with the crater floor as your backdrop.
Before you start the long trek up the volcano to witness this magical sunrise, there’s a few tips you’ll want to know before you go. In this article I’ll go over tips to know before you watch the Haleakala sunrise, explain a bit about Haleakala, list other Maui activities to do in the area and let you in on some local tips to help plan your trip to Maui.
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About Haleakala Volcano
Haleakala is the dormant volcano that covers more than 75% of Mauis surface. The majestic volcano dominates the landscape and is home to Maui’s only National Park.
Haleakala NP has two separate districts, Kipahulu and the Summit. Inside the Summit District is where you can witness the sunrise from above the clouds. The clear skies and lack of light pollution make visiting the summit a must see.
When you are at the summit an hour or so before the sun rises, you will see an extravagant transition from the night sky with stars glistening all around you into the illumination from the sun slowly taking over the night. As the sun rises further over the crest of the ocean, it shines brightly sending sun rays majestically through the passing clouds.
This is truly a spiritual experience that anyone can experience. In Hawaiian, Haleakala translates to “House of the Rising Sun”. In Hawaiian mythology, the story goes that Maui the Demi God created a rope from coconut husks and lassoed the sun. He captured it atop Haleakala creating longer days so his mother Hina would have more daylight to farm.
This is the short version of course. Hawaiian culture is beautiful and worth diving into as it will only amplify your experience in the Hawaiian Islands.
Haleakala Sunrise Tips
When you set off to watch the Haleakala Sunrise, you’re in for an early wake up call. At minimum it will take an hour to reach the summit of Haleakala which sits at 10,023 feet and that’s if you’re staying somewhere upcountry like in Makawao, Kula or Pukalani.
Tip number one: Give yourself ample time to reach the summit. If you are staying in the popular resort area of Kaanapali in West Maui, give yourself at least 2 and a half hours to reach the summit. A lot can happen between West Maui and the summit. If you are staying in South Maui in Kihei or Wailea, you’ll have a bit of closer drive. Give yourself two hours to make it to the top.
The drive might not seem that far away but there are a ton of switchbacks with other cars on the road more than likely taking their time the whole way up. This is where most of the drive time comes from.
Before you hop in the car and begin the journey to the top of Haleakala Crater, you first need to make reservations. This is a recent change over the past couple years to help thin out the crowds and I’m pleased about it.
Tip number two: Reservations are required to be at the summit from 3am to 7am. You can make reservations online here and they only cost $1 which is refreshing.
If you are reading this post the night before you plan to watch sunrise and can’t get a reservation, don’t fret, you can still watch sunrise atop Haleakala and this activity does not require reservations. The experience is still above the clouds, the only difference is the sun sets over west Maui and the Pacific ocean opposed to the sun rising above the crater floor.
After the sunsets its always relaxing to watch the stars start to appear as the sun sets further around the earth and the night sky starts to take over. Both sunrise and sunset are stunning and this next tip applies to both experiences.
Tip number three: Dress warm!
Yes, I know, Maui is a tropical paradise year round but that does not mean it does not get cold on Maui. Since the summit of Haleakala sits at 10,023 feet, it gets extremely cold atop the volcano especially when the sun hasn’t risen yet.
It’s not uncommon to see snow atop Haleakala in the winter time so wear/bring a heavy jacket, beanie, gloves, closed toed shoes, you name it. Bring a beach towel if you’re in a jam. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
After the sunsets its always relaxing to watch the stars start to appear as the sun sets further around the earth and the night sky starts to take over.
Tip number four: You may experience altitude sickness. Unfortunately, it is common to experience altitude sickness while atop the summit. It is 10,023 feet after all.
Symptoms of altitude sickness can range from mild to severe and can include headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing and dizziness. I have been atop Haleakala dozens of times and only experienced altitude sickness once. It went away as soon as I descended.
Basically it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and to take the necessary steps to alleviate the effects if they occur. This includes drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol and take breaks to rest.
Tip number five: The best spot for viewing Haleakala Sunrise is on the Sliding Sands Trail.
Okay this is a completely objective opinion. The place that all tour groups and many people watch sunrise is next to the visitors center on the railing. This makes the area a bit crowded in my opinion.
If you want to find an area that is secluded but still offers you an amazing view of the sunset, then hike a bit down the Sliding Sands Path until you find the perfect spot.
You can also view the sunrise at the tippy top of the summit. There’s an enclosed glass observation deck to hang out in to keep warm and wait for the sun to rise. Just a little side note, there are plenty of little spots for you to pull over way before you hit reach the summit, where you will be all alone.
Haleakala Sunrise Tips Recap
- Give yourself ample time to drive to the top of the summit.
- You may experience altitude sickness.
- Dress warm!
- You need reservations to enter between 3am and 7 am.
- Best spot for sunrise viewing is on the Sliding Sands Trail.
Haleakala Sunrise Tour
If you don’t have your own wheels or prefer to take a tour, you can book one here.
Other Things to do inside the Summit District of Haleakala National Park
There are plenty of other things to do inside the Summit District, which I’ll list below. If you want more details about a specific activity, just click on one of the blue links.
- Hike down Sliding Sands Trail to reach the crater floor.
- Reserve a cabin and spend the night inside the crater.
- Hike the easy half mile Rim Hike to get a glimpse of a crater of a volcano.
- Book a tour and bike down 26 miles from the summit to Paia town.
- Stargazing! You can’t get much better than this.
- Go Zip-lining on the slopes of Haleakala
- Hike down the switchbacks on the Halemau’u Trail to the floor of Haleakala Crater
Things to do Nearby Haleakala Sunrise
- Grab a bite at Grandmas one of the best spots for breakfast on Maui.
- Tour the Ocean Distillery.
- Pau Vodka Distillery.
- Explore Poli Poli State Park.
- Cruise Makawao one of Maui’s most charming towns.
- Check out the Maui Honeybee Farm, a unique thing to do on Maui.
- Enjoy a glass of pineapple wine at Maui’s only winery.
Where to Stay Near the Summit of Haleakala
If you’re not into the early wake up call and would rather stay near the base of Haleakala for a shorter drive, these are the best places to stay.
Get an early start for sunrise atop Haleakala Carter when you stay a Kula Lodge. Nestled in the slopes of Haleakala, it’s a charming hotel that offers great views of Maui’s Upcountry.
Kula Star Dome
If you enjoy star gazing, you can’t get closer to the stars than a stay at the Kula Star Dome. Located at 2600 ft. elevation on the way to crater, this is a way to comfortably be able to watch the stars with an unobstructed view. Plus it is one of the most unique Airbnbs in Maui.
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