The Haleakala National Park ranges through five distinctly different climates zones. The road to the Haleakala summit, known as the Haleakala Highway, holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance of 38 miles. The dormant volcano's vast moon-like crater floor with its towering cinder cones is an incredible wonder of Maui. From the 10,023 foot summit, the Big Island of Hawaii can be seen off in the distance, usually with a peak or two poking above the clouds. One mile inside the park is the Visitors Center. In front of the Center, the rare Silversword can be viewed. This is a threatened species of plant that only grows above 6,000 feet. The plant can live for up to 50 years and blooming ends its lifecycle. Read more on our Silverswords of Hawaii article. So what does Haleakala National Park have to offer as you head up Highway 378 towards the summit? Let's take a Mile by Mile look up the highway.
Park Entrance You'll approach the official entrance to the park right beyond mile marker 10. Here you will see the official ' Haleakala' sign welcoming you to the park. The $10 fee for admission is good for both the summit and Kipahulu area of the park. If you already paid in Kipahulu (within the last 3 days), just show them your park pass or receipt. If you arrive early enough for the sunrise, there may not be anyone in the booth so you may want to pay on the way back down. The fee is important because it helps maintain this beautiful National Park. We should note that while the pass was once valid for seven days, that has now been changed to three days (as noted above) - view the official NPS fees page. Hosmer Grove Loop Trail (6,800 ft) At approximately mile marker 10.5 on Highway 378, just after entering the park, you'll want to turn left and drive to the start of the Hosmer Grove trail. Hosmer Grove Trail is a half-mile-long nature trail that winds through a very intriguing forest of introduced trees not native to Hawai'i. More details can be found on our Hosmer Grove Trail page. Haleakala Park Headquarters Visitor Center (7000 ft) Hours of Operation: 8:00am - 4:00pm (As of 02/2008) About one mile past the entrance you'll come to the Haleakala National Park Headquarters Building. This is a good place to stop and familiarize yourself with the park and browse the store inside. Anyone planning to hike into the crater and camp overnight needs to obtain a permit here (for camping only). The Park Headquarters building is at about 7,000 feet above sea level. At this altitude the clouds begin to come in thin in Hawai'i, as this elevation marks the top of the NE trade wind clouds. It is at this elevation you will begin to notice just how quickly the environment changes as you go up. But climate is only one of the factors affecting the environment here. Livestock has been the other reason for the noticeable changes before you. Prior to the 1920s in Hawai'i, the Haleakala Ranch would drive their cattle up the slopes to the far boundaries of their ranch, which was then at the summit. Here the cows, and occasionally goats, would graze on the eastern crater wall disrupting the natural environment of the mountain. Today a mix of man-made fences and the help of hunters have restored Haleakala to a more natural state. Halemau'u Trailhead (To Summit) (7,990 ft) Continuing up the mountain, at approximately 14.2 miles into our journey, you'll see the parking lot for Halemau'u Trail. This rather long trail starts at 7,990 feet in the native shrub land ecosystem and leads down into the crater before traversing back up all the way to the summit of Haleakala. You can read more about this trail on our Halemau'u Trail page (including information about starting at the summit). Leleiwi Overlook and Hike (8,800 ft) At mile marker 17.5 you'll want to pull into the parking lot on the right side of the road. Cross the road on foot and take the short trail to the overlook for a panoramic view of the vast crater of Haleakala. Many folks don't even notice this location because at first glance, even along the trail, it appears nothing is here. Don't make that mistake! Read more on our Leleiwi Overlook page. Kalahaku Overlook and Hike (9,324 ft) At approximately mile marker 18.7, turn left onto a short road and drive to the parking area. The rim overlook, at 9,324 feet, provides another superb view of the crater floor. Read more on our Kalahaku Overlook page. Haleakala Visitor Center (9,740 ft) Hours of Operation: 6:30 am to 3:30 pm (as of 02/2008) Around mile marker 20.5 you'll want to turn left at the intersection into the large parking lot for the Haleakala (House of the Sun) visitor center. From the visitor center, you can catch the world's best view of Haleakala Crater. This tapestry of cinder cones, red banks, and lava fl ows took millions of years to form. The cinder cones provide a muted mixture of reds, oranges, and grays. Don't be fooled, the cinder cones may seem small from here, but they actually reach heights of over 600 ft. To have full appreciation for the sheer size of these craters, you really have to hike among them. In geological terms the cinder cones and crater-floor flows that can be seen from this location are very young. During the last 2,500 years it is estimated that some 20 eruptions have likely taken place inside the crater. Today we can substantiate that number by taking into account that several lava flows inside the crater are not covered by red ash deposits; deposits that are believed to have fallen about 2,500 years ago. Another clue to the ages of these cinder cones can be found by the fire goddess herself, Pele. A much less scientific method, for sure. For example, Pu'u o Pele (Hill of Pele) is a cinder cone on the south fl oor of Haleakala Crater. Places in Hawaii that include the name of Pele typically imply that it was named post-Polynesian arrival in approximately 800 AD. Therefore, we can assume the volcanic activity that occurred at Pu'u o Pele has occurred since that time. Radiocarbon dating has since confirmed this conclusion in more recent years. This location is also the start of the Keoneheehee Sliding Sands Trail, a hike we highly recommend. Make sure you put on sturdy shoes and a warm jacket as you prepare to hike into the crater. At first glance the smooth sand trail might seem like a piece of cake. But after a few switchbacks you'll realize the enormity and surreal silence of the crater. Make sure to turn around and observe the relative smallness of those hiking behind you. Volcanic ash and cinders can be thanked for the sand that covers this trail. Remember, at this altitude the air is thin. This means that while hiking down is a breeze, going back up is more of a challenge and may take twice as long. We recommend traveling to the first cinder cone, Ka Lu'u o Ka 'O'o, and then making the trip back for a good half-day hike. Pakaoao or Pa Ka'oao (White Hill) is the favorite spot for experiencing the world-renowned Haleakala sunrise. The 9,778 hilltop allows views that extend into and across the immense crater below. White Hill is adjacent to the visitor center. Pu'u 'Ula'ula Summit of Haleakala (10,023 ft) After leaving the visitor center you'll definitely want to head up to the summit on the southwest rim of Haleakala Volcano. Turn left out of the visitor center parking lot and at mile marker 21 you'll come to another intersection. You'll want to take a right to reach the parking lot for the summit (the left road takes you to visit Science City and the observatories, but they are off limits to the public). Pu'u 'Ula'ula or Puu Ulaula is known as "red hill" which should not be confused with Pa Ka'oao, or "white hill" which is down at the Visitor Center (see above). More information on the summit can be found on our Haleakala Pu'u 'Ula'ula Summit page. Haleakala Sunrise and Sunset Viewing the sunrise from atop Haleakala is like nothing else on earth. It's an experience that'll last a lifetime. Because this activity is so popular we've split it off into its own article. We've also included sunrise (and sunset) times for the entire year so you'll know when to set the alarm and head up the mountain (it'll be early). Read more in our Haleakala Sunrise and Sunset article. Haleakala Hiking Trails Haleakala offers a diverse array of hiking trails and we highly encourage all visitors to check them out. There are several distinct areas of Haleakala, and we've split the trails into their own posts to help clarify. You can read more on their respective pages; Haleakala Summit Trails, including Pa Kaoao, Halemau'u, and Keoneheehee Sliding Sands Trail (the later has its own page and is a fantastic hike). Beyond Hana in East Maui is the Kipahulu portion of Haleakala National Park, and it also has a wonderful set of trails. Our favorites are the Pipiwai Trail and Kuloa Point Trail. Other facts and news One of Maui's best-known attractions continues to get a little bigger. In March 2009, an important 34-acre parcel was donated to the park by the Nature Conservancy. This new parcel will add a official gateway to the Kipahulu portion of the park. Additionally, in January 2008, Haleakala National Park acquired more than 4,000 acres from the rim of the crater to the south coast of Kaupo on Maui. The 4,100 acres contain critical habitat for rare birds and animals, historical Native Hawaiian sites and remnants of a koa forest. More Information Coming Soon We'll be adding additional information about the park, its incredible trails, and sights very shortly. Don't forget that the 'Ohe'o Gulch is also part of Haleakala National Park, on the Kipahulu side of the park (beyond Hana town in Southeast Maui). You might also want to take a look at the Haleakala National Park website, which is full of useful information and current conditions within the park.
Article Edited/Contributed by: John C. Derrick