Haleakala's Highest Peak
A trip to Haleakala, Maui's highest peak, is most definitely a bucket list adventure. So if you are fortunate enough to make this journey up into the clouds, make sure to go as far skyward as possible to Puu Ulaula Summit- the highest point on Haleakala.
After leaving the Haleakala National Park Visitor Center at mile marker 20.5 on Hwy 378, 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 . Note that the left road takes you to Science City and the observatories, but they are off limits to the public. The summit parking lot is built in the shallow crater of Puu Ulaula (Red Hill). This should not be confused with Pa Kaoao (White Hill), which is located below the Visitor Center. Before you walk up the ramp to the summit, take a look around you and appreciate some of Pele's fiery missiles. These chunks of lava were catapulted through the air during eruptions and hardened on their trip to the ground. The largest chunk is roughly four to five feet across!
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Climb the steps to the shelter or take the more gradual ramp from the far end of the parking lot. If you look to the southeast you will probably see the high summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes on the Big Island, each over 13,000 feet in elevation, poking their summits through the clouds. At this point, Haleakala's summit elevation is 10,023 feet, but the mountain was once much higher than this.
A number of factors have contributed to Haleakala's shrinking, including thousands of years of erosion, rapid caldera collapse, and slow island subsidence (sinking into the ocean bed). It can be concluded that the summit of Haleakala likely reached an elevation of 13,000 - 14,000 ft., even higher than the modern-day volcanoes on the Big Island.
As you look to the southwest, just outside the park on the next cinder cone of the rift, you will see Science City. Unfortunately, it is primarily off limits to the public and none of the high altitude observatories allow visitors. Scientists use the observatories to track satellites, to measure the wobble of the moon, and to conduct other space research.
The summit of Haleakala is considered to be the sun's altar, and many brave tourists drive the highway in the wee hours of the morning to watch the world-famous Haleakala sunrise. Unfortunately, many people are unprepared for what they find at the summit: bone-chilling cold and sometimes gusty winds. Some misguided tourists try to bear the 20 - 40 °F temperatures armed only with summer clothes and a hotel towel. Check out our Haleakala Summit Area page for more information and tips.
Those shivering sunrise visitors can thank the demigod Maui for the slow pace of the sun. As you may have noticed on the sign entering the park, Maui once snared La, the sun god, with twine and made a deal with him that he would "walk" more slowly across the sky. Maui did this so that his mother, Hina, would have more hours in the day for her tapa cloth to dry. To this day, La continues to carry out Maui's wishes, often to the chagrin of summit visitors!
Thinking maybe a Haleakala sunset might be better for you? Visit our Haleakala Sunrise and Sunset Times page to decide which to view as well as tips to stay safe and comfortable.
We have done a lot of traveling in Upcountry Maui; much of it on our own. And while exploring an area as breathtaking as Haleakala is always amazing, we do recommend doing so with an expert guide: you learn more, appreciate your surroundings in a more in-depth way, and have everything all planned out for you so you can just have fun. Whether you’re up for ziplining over a waterfall, watching the sun move across the sky in a dazzling show, zooming down from the summit on a bicycle, or hiking a moon-like landscape, these are the best Haleakala area tours we have found. Choose your adventure and be sure to book right away, as these popular tours can fill up quickly.