Haleakala Sunrise and Sunset Viewing Tips
Which is Best for You?
No trip to Maui would be complete without a trip to Haleakala National Park to watch the sun dance over the “House of the Sun."
That said, we are often asked: “Which is best: Haleakala sunrise or sunset?" The answer is: That depends.
Before we get into the pros and cons of each, allow us to tell you that whether you choose to get up with the stars and watch the sun rise, or stay late and watch the sun set, you simply cannot miss visiting the summit of Haleakala. There’s a reason it’s one of Maui’s top attractions- the views are legendary, you’ll have a chance to see rare plants and animals such as the nene (Hawaiian goose) and the silversword plant, and the landscape is simply otherworldly.
Haleakala Sunrise vs. Sunset
Most Haleakala visitors prefer to watch the sun rise; in fact, the overwhelming majority do. And among those who have had the good fortune to witness both, most pick the AM journey as their favorite.
+ Popular with most visitors.
+ Many people say the drive up in the dark is easier than the drive down in the dark.
+ If you’ve traveled to Maui from the east, you’ll likely be waking up early. Take advantage of this and watch the sunrise within the first couple of days there.
+ If you arrive early enough, you can watch the stars and the sunrise.
+ Better views on the ride back down.
+ Many people like to go hiking and/or explore after watching the sunrise. (However, we don’t advise this. Early morning wake times combined with freezing temps and high elevation make an easy hike much more difficult.)
- You’ll have to get up very early- not a favorite activity for many vacationers.
+ Fewer people. And by ‘fewer’ we mean a lot fewer (more than 1,000 vs. a few dozen).
+ Fewer people mean a more intimate experience and more personal space.
+ Temperatures usually not as cold as at sunrise.
+ More sleep- a big factor for many jet-lagged vacationers.
+ 'It's just as nice at sunset and potentially nicer,' per Haleakala National Park staff.
+ Sun is behind you, making colors of the crater more distinguishable.
+ You can often see the moonrise at the same time.
- Can be windier than at sunrise. (Often making it feel just as cold as sunrise.)
- No time for hiking and exploring afterward.
We understand choosing between sunrise and sunset is a matter of personal preference; frankly, both are spectacular. However, we do recommend visiting the summit with an expert tour guide, as it'll make your adventure much more enjoyable. First, you won't have to navigate the summit road in the dark. Second, no messing around and worrying if you'll arrive on time means a much more relaxed adventure. Of course, no driving also means you can sit back and enjoy the spectacular views along the way. Plus, many tours include a nice breakfast or dinner and even additional sightseeing. We think these adventures are the best Haleakala Tours you'll find; all headed by knowledgeable and professional guides. Book your tour soon, as they tend to fill up fast!
Haleakala Summit Tips
You can choose to visit the summit either on your own or via a Haleakala Sunrise Tour or Sunset Tour. If you’ll be taking a guided tour, you won’t have to worry about driving, timing, or a meal.
Tips for Independent Travelers
- For sunrise trips, leave no later than 3:30 AM. It takes one hour to reach the summit when leaving from Kahului, 1-1.5 hours from Kihei, and 2 hours from Lahaina. The very latest we'd suggest entering the park in the morning is 4:30 AM.
- Parking lots will close when full- a common occurrence at sunrise- another reason to arrive early.
- Make sure you have plenty of gas before you head out. This sounds like a no-brainer, but there are no gas stations in the park and you certainly don’t want to be late because of something so preventable.
- Have your credit card handy for the park entrance fee. Please refer to the Haleakala NPS website for up-to-date fee information.
- Take food and drinks- a cooler comes in handy for this. Neither can be purchased in the park.
- The summit road is steep, very curvy, and there is no street/road lighting. Plus, you may be tired and jet lagged; so drive carefully.
- Cattle graze on Crater Road September through March, so keep an eye out for them.
- Respect speed limits as the park road runs through endangered species habitat.
Tips for Everyone
- Dress Warmly! Temperatures frequently drop below freezing before dawn and after dusk. Plus, weather is often windy, wet, and can change quickly. Long pants, closed-toe shoes and socks, and a warm jacket are recommended. Some people even take a blanket from their hotel and/or a beach towel. Check the current summit conditions here.
- Use sun protection (sunglasses, hat, sunscreen), as UV rays at this altitude are harsh.
- Take water to stay hydrated.
- Leave natural resources, cultural artifacts, etc. alone.
- Haleakala’s summit is a sacred place for Native Hawaiians. Please be quiet and respectful when visiting.
Haleakala National Park is a true gem and a Maui vacation must do. In the words of Jack London, ‘Haleakala has a message of beauty and wonder for the soul that cannot be delivered by proxy.' We couldn’t agree more.
More Haleakala Information
Looking for the best Haleakala hiking trails? Wondering what other great sights you'll find in Upcountry Maui? Or maybe you're yearning to explore Central Maui and the Iao Valley? If so, then check out these helpful articles to help you learn more about the region, plan the perfect Haleakala adventure, and book your tour today.