Keonehe‘ehe‘e or commonly known as Sliding Sands Trail, is one of the best Maui hikes inside the summit district of Haleakala National Park.   This strenuous 5 hike takes you down inside the crater to the floor of the volcano.  Red and orange colored hills and volcanic rock take over the back drop as you hike along the black sand.

Along the way you’ll see exotic plant life like the silverswords which are a rare and endangered plant that can only be found on Haleakala, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Many people describe this hike as taking a walk on the surface of Mars.

Haleakala Sliding Sands Trail

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The Sliding Sands Trail is a heavily trafficked trail inside Haleakala Crater.   If you’re looking for an out of the world experience on Maui, this is the hike for you.

In this guide we’ll go over what to expect when hiking Sliding Sands, how to get there, best time to hike, what to pack, additional Haleakala crater hikes and other things to do inside Haleakala National Park.

Inside Haleakala National Park

Haleakala Sliding Sands Trail Quick Facts

  • Difficulty:  Strenuous
  • Distance:  Up to 11 Miles one way to the Halemauu Trail
  • Elevation:  2,500 feet to the crater floor.
  • Duration:  Full day hike.

How to Get to Sliding Sands Trail

Sliding Sands is located inside the summit district of Haleakala National Park.  The summit district of Haleakala NP is located upcountry Maui.  Depending on which part of the island you are staying on, the drive will take at least an hour and a half drive.

Travel Tip:  Haleakala National park has 2 separate entrances, the Summit and Kipahulu District.  These districts do not connect to each other.

It cost $30 for an entrance fee which is valid for 3 consecutive days.  This is valid for both the Kipahulu and Summit Districts.  A National Parks Pass also grants you access to the park which will be your cheapest option.

Once inside the summit entrance, you will drive to the Visitors Center, a half mile below the summit rim.  This is where the Sliding Sands trailhead starts.  There are restrooms at the Visitors Center to use before you start hiking the Sliding Sands Trail.

Hiking Haleakala Crater in the Summit District

What to Expect while Hiking the Sliding Sands Trail on Maui

Sliding Sands Trail is a popular 11-mile hike on Maui that offers premier access to Haleakalā crater.  This full-day hike begins at Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trailhead (near the Visitor’s Center), crosses the valley floor, and ends at the Halemau’u Trail.  To hike in and out of the crater, hikers continue along the Halemau’u Trail and up the switchbacks carved into the crater walls.

It is recommend that you park your vehicle at Halemau’u and hitchhike up to Keonehe’ehe’e at the beginning of your hike.  This way once you’ve completed hiking in and out of the crater, you will have immediate access to your vehicle at the Halemau’u parking area.

Unlike most mountain hikes, this one starts at the top and descends to the bottom.  The first four miles takes you down to the crater floor.  Red, orange, pink and green colored hills and volcanic rock take over the back drop as you hike along the black sand.

The dramatic change of colors and scenery are nothing short of amazing.  There are often clouds cresting over the crater rim on the northeast side where Maui meets the trade winds.  You’ll also pass by ʻāhinahina or Silverswords which are a rare and endangered plant that can only be found on Haleakala, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Just remember, it’s much more difficult to climb out of the crater at the end of the hike than in.  Once you’ve reached the crater floor and the first intersection no matter which direction or trail you take, its going to be a strenuous full day hike.  Even if you turn around and hike out of the crater, it’s going to be almost a 8 mile hike with over a 2,500 feet elevation gain.

At the first intersection on the crater floor, there is a hitching post and rocks for sitting.  This is a great spot to take a rest and eat a sandwich.  From here there are a several different trails to use that will allow you to explore the crater floor.

Holua Cabin

Hike to any of the three historic cabins inside the crater, Kapalaoa, Palikū, and Hōlua.  Palikū cabin currently closed.  A great way to experience this hike is by scoring a cabin permit to camp inside the crater for the night.  Although seemingly difficulty you can check availability here.

As you head towards Halemau’u Trail there are a few short distance offshoots to take to see some cool sights.

Points of interest:   The “crater floor” is 3.9 miles down one way.  Elevation change is 2,500 feet.

“Pele’s Paint Pot” (about 5.7 miles in) is roughly the halfway point of this hike, near
the north side of Halāli’i cinder cone.

Kawilinau (also about 5.7 miles in) was formerly called the “bottomless pit.”  The volcanic pit is 65 feet deep.

Finally you’ve explored the crater floor and you’ll start the last 4 miles of the hike.  These are a doozy as its 4 miles and 2,500 feet up the switchbacks to the rim of the crater.  Keep going I promise you will eventually see your car at the Halemau’u parking area where you left it.

Snacks, an ice cold beverage and slippas to change into are always necessary for completion of the hiking Haleakala Crater.

Other Haleakala Crater Hikes

The Sliding Sands Trail isn’t the only hike you can do when exploring the summit are of Haleakala.  There are shorter hikes fun for the whole family or longer hikes through the crater for more experienced adventurers. 

The more strenuous hikes can only be reached by hiking to the end of sliding sands and connecting to another trail from there.  These are other Haleakala Crater hikes to check out when exploring this part of the National Park.

Halemauu Trail

  • Difficulty:  Strenuous
  • Distance: 5 Miles
  • Duration: 5-7 Hours

The Halemauu Trailhead starts at 8,000 feet.  The only way to reach this trail is by first hiking down Sliding Sands or by hiking down the switchbacks.  Combined, these trails total a strenuous 14 miles and enables you to hike through and out the crater.  This requires 2 cars or hitch hiking back to your vehicle.

Hosmers Grove Loop Trail

  • Difficulty:  Easy
  • Distance: 0.6 Miles
  • Duration:  Less than an hour.

Another easier trail is the Hosmer Grove Trail which is located just inside the entrance to Haleakala National Park.  Since this trail is lower in elevation than the summit you’ll pass through sub-alpine tress like eucalptus, sugi pine, spruce, cedar, Douglas fir, deodar and sandalwoods.  There are also campgrounds nearby.

Pa Kaoao Trail

  • Difficulty:  Easy
  • Distance: 0.5 Miles round Trip
  • Duration:  Half Hour

A shorter, easy walkable Haleakala crater hike that will give you great views of the crater is the Pa Kaoao Trail. This trail starts at the summit of Haleakala at 9,740 feet just outside the House of the Sun Visitor Center. If you’re short on time this trail will give you the panoramic views above the clouds.

Leleiwi Overlook

  • Difficulty:  Easy
  • Distance: 0.3 Miles
  • Duration:  Less than a half hour.

Carefully cross the park road to the trailhead for a short walk to a crater viewpoint.

Best Time to Hike the Crater on Maui

It is possible hike Haleakala any timer as the weather is pleasant all year round.  In the winter time temperatures are 10° cooler.   The summer months have a less likely chance of rain.  On a sunny day it may feel cool but don’t forget to wear your sunscreen as you’ll need it. 

Travel Tip:  Respect the ‘Aina and do your part to help protect the ocean by only wearing reef safe sunscreen.  This is a requirement in Hawaii and should be around the world.

Hikers must be properly prepared for high altitudes and cold, rainy conditions at any time. Weather  in the Summit Area is unpredictable and ever-changing.  Prepare for harsh UV rays, wind, rain, and cold temperatures year-round.

Tips for Hiking Haleakala Crater

  • Temperatures can get cold.
  • Wear sunscreen. It’s easy to get burnt at this elevation.
  • It cost $30 to enter or the use of a National Park Pass.
  • Leave no trace.
  • Bring ample water.
  • Bring snacks.
  • Don’t take rocks!  Leave rocks where you found them.  By leaving rocks in place we repeat Hawaiian beliefs and help nature thrive.

What to Pack for Hiking Haleakala Crater

  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • GoPro
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking poles optional
  • Hat for sun protection
  • Sunglasses
  • Trail Mix/ Snacks
  • Cold/wet weather clothing (raingear, pants, jacket, poncho).
Hiking boots
Osprey backpack
yoga pants for travel
Supergoop Unseen reef safe Sunscreen

Other Things to do inside Haleakala National Park

Where to stay near Haleakala Summit

Summit

  • Watch sunrise above the clouds at the summit of Haleakala.   You need to make reservations in advance and can do so here
  • 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.  Find out more about Maui’s best hikes.
  • Book a tour and bike down 26 miles from the summit to Paia town.
  • Stargazing!  You can’t get much better than this.
  • Explore the Visitor’s Center.
Where to stay near Kipahulu district of Haleakala NP

Kipahulu

  • The Pipiwai Trail – A moderate 4 mile round trip trail is one of Maui’s most popular hikes.  This trail gives you views of several waterfalls, takes you through a whispering bamboo forest and finally ends at the 400 foot Waimoku Falls.
  • Swim at Oheo Gulch.  *Open dependent upon the National Park Service.
  • Have an ocean view campsite at the Kipahulu campground inside the park.

Where to Stay Inside Haleakala National Park Summit

Lodging is limited inside the National Park.  Cabins on the crater floor are available book and require permits.  There are 3 cabins all of which you must hike to get to.  Each district also has one drive-up campgrounds on a first come first serve basis.

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 stargazing, you can’t get closer to the stars then a stay at the Kula Star Dome.  Located at 2600 ft. elevation on the way to crater of Haleakala National Park, 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 and one of the coolest Airbnbs in Hawaii all around.

Have you hiked the Haleakala Sliding Sands Trail?

Sliding Sands Trail | Hiking Haleakala CraterSliding Sands Trail | Hiking Haleakala Crater
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