Haleakala National Park is full of incredible things to do from hiking the crater to exploring the tropical trails of Hana, read on…
Haleakalā National Park is perhaps one of the most unique national parks in the United States. Far from the mountains, deserts, plains, and forests of the continental US parks, you’ll find this lush tropical rain forest and vibrant volcanic landscape tucked in a remote corner of the vast Pacific Ocean.
Here you can journey to the house of the sun and discover ancient volcanoes steeped in legend, rugged mountains, dense rain forests, hidden beaches, and the last wild home to spectacular wildlife.
About Our Travels to Haleakalā National Park
We visited Haleakalā for the first time back in 2016 and it’s vibrant and at times rugged island beauty has been etched in our minds ever since.
From the harrowing drive along the Road to Hāna, to the pristine beaches, to the roaring waterfalls and dense rain forests, Haleakalā will blow you away with it’s other-worldly sights. It may be difficult to reach, but once there you’ll come to appreciate it’s remote beauty and island tranquility.
We spent several weeks in the park visiting all of the main attractions and filming them to bring you the best things to do and see in the park. This remote island paradise is teeming with adventure opportunities and we’re excited to share them with you.
Things to Know Before You Go
Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (available at the park entrance gate). The pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Sunscreen: Use it. Lots of it. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.
Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
Insect Repellent: We carry around an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us, especially in the redwoods, as mosquitoes can be a bit crazy in the parks.
Cell Service is pretty spotty in the park, particularly in the forests. Higher elevations without tree cover provide better coverage, you can also find service in Hāna.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check before taking your furry friend on your trip to the park!
Getting to Haleakalā National Park
Getting to the park is a little different from the other parks to say the least. Unless you live in Hawaii getting to this tropical paradise is going to require hopping on a plane for more than a few hours. Flights to Hawaii vary in price throughout the year and many domestic airlines offer some very competitive rates so you don’t have to break the bank to make this happen.
Flying to Honolulu might be your best bet for the most affordable rate, from there you can hop over to Maui on a number of local Hawaiian airlines. If you’re able to, flying in to Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui will simplify your travel plans quite a bit. From there you can rent a car and be on your way to Haleakalā in no time.
Pickings can be slim for food in Haleakalā so you’ll want to plan ahead of time and bring plenty of snacks. That being said, there are a select few great spots to grab a bite near the park. Check out our Haleakalā Guide for the lowdown on the best places to grab a bite.
Best Time to Visit Haleakalā National Park is in the Winter. Temperatures are warm and pleasant and the park’s roads are devoid of the traffic one might find in the summer months.
Things to Do Haleakala National Park
1. Haleakalā Summit Sunrise
When we say the summit we mean the summit. Atop Haleakalā is an observatory, parking area, and a few trailheads. From this area at sunrise or sunset you can take in some of the most spectacular views in the entire national park system.
Perched high above the clouds the Haleakalā Summit offers a commanding view of the island of Maui and the pacific ocean far below. On a good day a sunrise or sunset here will be one that you’ll never forget.
Traveling to the summit for sunrise requires an advance reservation. This is a recent requirement the park has added to control traffic and overcrowding.
Be aware that it is strictly enforced. We recommend sunset from the summit as there are no reservations required, fewer crowds, and the same stunning scenery.
2. Haleakalā Crater Hike
Haleakalā Crater Trail Hike
The Crater hike in Haleakalā is one of the top destinations for visitors to the park. Most hiking is done via the Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trail which travels all the way down to the crater floor. The multi-colored volcanic landscape is unlike anything you’ve seen and definitely worth exploring.
Hiking the crater can involve just a short hike from the rim to view the spectacular area or a more involved backcountry hike down to the crater floor and beyond. The park has three wilderness cabins available to backpackers upon reservation which can make for a really unique visit to the park.
Distance: 3.9 miles one-way to crater floor
Time: 2-3 hours
Hiking up here is very strenuous and not recommended for beginners or pregnant women. The lower levels of oxygen near the summit area can cause altitude sickness and pose real danger to those unprepared. Bring plenty of water and proper clothing to prepare for the cold temperatures the area usually experiences. Lastly, check the park website for the latest information before going and have fun!
3. Drive the Road to Hana
Road to Hāna
The Road to Hāna, also known as the Hāna Highway is a narrow, one-lane, winding, scenic road that takes drivers through some of the most beautiful areas of Hawaii. The road is definitely not for the faint of heart as it’s as famously narrow and dicey as it is beautiful. If you’re renting a car and feel confident enough you just have to brave the Road to Hāna as it’s something you’ll be telling friends about for years to come.
The best time to drive the Road to Hāna
The best time to drive is in the winter when the road has much less tourist traffic and you can take in the views without the added pressure of lots of cars. We should also note that the best time to drive the Road to Hāna is when the weather conditions are favorable. Flash floods and rock slides are a common occurrence and should be avoided.
To learn more about this activitiy check out our Road to Hāna post.
4. Waimoku Falls
Breathtaking Waimoku Falls
Cascading some 400 feet down to the forest floor is the beautiful Waimoku Falls in the Kīpahulu area of the park. The falls can be accessed 2 miles into the 4-mile roundtrip Pīpīwai Trail. This trail which provides hikers with beautiful views of various waterfalls, streams, and various other natural features.
The Pīpīwai Trail
Distance: 4 miles roundtrip
Time: 2-3 hours
Flash floods and rock slides are common here and can occur with little to no warning. The area is typically muddy and wet and it’s easy to lose your footing and end up tumbling down a gulch if you’re not careful. You’ll also likely want mosquito repellent.
To learn more about this hike check out our Waimoku Falls post.
5. Pools of ʻOheʻo
The Pools of ʻOheʻo
Commonly referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools, this series of pools fed by cascading waterfalls is a widely popular tourist attraction going back decades. Located in the beautiful Oheo Gulch, it is recommended to view the pools from a safe vantage point rather than trying to physically access them.
The Oheo Gulch area is not recommended for swimming as violent flash floods or rock falls can occur at any time. Most areas are extremely difficult to access both for visitors and emergency responders. Do your research before venturing to the pools and be prepared for serious crowds, especially in the summer months. It’s advisable to consult the park staff before planning a trip to the pools as conditions vary greatly.
To learn more about the pools check out our post.
6. Explore the Bamboo Forest
About 1 mile in the Pīpīwai Trail gives way to a boardwalk that cuts through the heart of a vast bamboo forest, the likes of which you have never seen. The bamboo reaches soaring heights and hearing the rustle of the chutes in the wind is quite a treat. We definitely recommend it.
The trail is typically muddy and wet and it can be easy to lose your footing and end up tumbling down a gulch if you’re not careful. The mosquitoes can be pretty rough along this trail no matter the time of year so be sure to bring repellent and dress appropriately.
7. Stargazing at the Haleakala Crater
There’s a reason that several observatories are positioned at the top of the Haleakala Crater. The stargazing here is world class. On a clear night, you can an unfathomable amount of stars.
Make sure to pack a jacket as it gets cold here at night. Even if it’s 80+ degrees at the beach, the temperature can be 30 degrees or more colder at the crater.
8. See the Epic Haleakala (Pipiwai) Banyan Tree
Located on the Pipiwai Trail, this massive banyan tree draws folks in from all over the world. Estimated to be over 100 years old with branches that stretch over 60ft long this tree was the highlight of the hike for me.
The tree is situated about 3/4 mile down the trail and is impossible to miss!
Please do not carve into the tree or deface it in any way. If you see someone doing so please report it to a park ranger.
9. Spot (but don’t touch!) a Green Sea Turtle
Green sea turtles are abundant on the island of Maui but are a bit tricky to spot in Haleakala National Park as there is limited space for them to come ashore inside park boundaries. Sometimes they can be spotted near the Alele Bridge off the Hana/Pilani Highway.
Note: Do not touch the green sea turtles and give them their space. These are federally protected animals and the penalty for touching them is steep!
10. Catch a Sunset at Kukui Bay
Kukui Bay is a great spot to catch a sunset in Haleakala National Park. The bay is most easily accessed from the Kīpahulu Campground near the Pools of Oheo. From the campground, you can follow a trail down toward the ocean where there are numerous great spots to catch the sunest.
Note: Do not venture too far out on the rocks as random waves can easily sweep you off the rock and out to see. This almost happened to me!
11. Find a Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree
While I feel this photo does not adequately capture their beauty, these trees are absolutely gorgeous in person. The aptly named rainbow eucalyptus trees are a rare sight in the park but mesmerizing to see.
I have spotted them off of the road to Hana in a few places, most memorably in a pasture near mile marker 7. I *believe* are some places where they exist in the park as well!
Planning a trip to Haleakalā National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Haleakalā National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.
Haleakalā National Park Guide
Map of Things to Do
A quick map listing all of the locations mentioned in this article.
Video of Haleakala
We created this short video based on our travels to Haleakala National Park. If you plan on visiting the park you ought to give it a watch!
HALEAKALA 8K is the culmination of several weeks and multiple trips to the remote outer reaches of the island of Maui in the Central Pacific. Journey with us to the house of the sun and discover ancient volcanoes steeped in legend, rugged mountains, dense rainforests, hidden beaches, underwater worlds, and the last wild home to spectacular wildlife.
For this film we hiked every trail in the park and spent multiple seasons on the island of Maui. Haleakala is only one of six “tropical” National Parks in the system. The others are: Virgin Islands, Key Biscayne, American Samoa, Dry Tortugas, & Hawai’i Volcanoes.
Haleakala is unique because of it’s mix of ancient volcanic features in Haleakala Crater & it’s rugged, tropical coastline. Two standout locations in the park are Haleakala Crater which features one of the most beautiful (and popular) sunrises in the entire National Park system and the Pipiwai Trail which is one of the most beautiful hikes in the entire system.
Top 10 Things to do in Haleakalā National Park
- Haleakalā Summit
- Haleakalā Crater
- Road to Hāna
- Waimoku Falls
- Pools of ʻOheʻo
- Bamboo Forest
- Stargazing at Haleakala Crater
- The Pipiwai Banyan Tree
- Spot a Sea Turtle
- Sunset at Kukui Bay
- Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
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