Article Overview: Haleakala Crater Hike
The Haleakala Crater hike is everything you DO NOT expect Hawaii to be. At the same time, the experience of this Maui hike is EPIC, exhilarating, and exasperating.
The name Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” so why do the photos look so dark and barren? You can see a transformative sunrise (with a permit) and then go down to a place that resembles the moon – all within a few hours.
Make no mistake about it – this trail can kick your rear if you’re not prepared. The altitude is enough that you shouldn’t dive within 12-18 hours of visiting the summit. The weather is unpredictable and requires clothing you wouldn’t normally pack for a Hawaiian trip.
Several trails lead into the crater (which isn’t actually a crater, BTW), and I’m going to take you through the grueling long route I took.
HAVE YOU HIKED THE HALEAKALA CRATER? We’d love to see your feedback in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Haleakala Crater Hike
Expand Table of Contents: Haleakala Crater Hike
Table of contents: Haleakala Crater Hike
- Haleakala Crater Hike
- 5 Important Things to Know Before Visiting Haleakala National Park
- Starting the Haleakala Crater Hike
- Getting to Haleakala Crater Trailhead
- Sunrise Before Haleakala Crater Hike
- Haleakala Crater Hike Elevation and Weather
- MUST KNOW Details about Haleakala Crater Hike
- Map Of Haleakala Crater Hike
- Pin the Haleakala Crater Hike on Maui
- Helpful Related Links
5 Important Things to Know Before Visiting Haleakala National Park
- The entrance fee is $25 per vehicle or purchase the America the Beautiful Pass to get access to all public lands for just $80.
- Maui requires mineral sunscreen only as of October 1, 2022. I suggest this one, which helps protect the reefs and your skin.
- Here is the best Guidebook and Map for taking the trails through Haleakala Crater.
- You’ll need to travel a bit from any hotel you choose, but my preferred location was Wailea Beach Resort.
- This trail is tough for those who suffer from altitude sickness. The starting and ending elevation is near 10,000 feet. As noted above, as much as you shouldn’t dive and fly on the same day, you shouldn’t dive and hike Haleakala Crater on the same day.
Starting the Haleakala Crater Hike
Remember all those times you were told never to hitchhike or pick up strangers? Those rules don’t apply here. In fact, the National Park Service encourages hitchhiking if you’re going to the Haleakala Crater hike loop. That’s because you will start and end in two different places.
The walk between the two trailheads will be six miles on a winding, steep road if you don’t hitchhike or have two cars to park at the trailheads.
If you have just one car, park at the Halemau’u trailhead and then follow the signs to the hitchhiking area for the Haleakala Crater hike. It’s common for people to stop for hitchhikers here, and we met a nice local man who helped us with the Hawaiian names and pronunciations on the way to the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) trailhead.
To reiterate– No park shuttle service transports people between the Haleakala Crater hike trailhead and other trailheads, and rideshares/taxis are unreliable in this region.
The Sliding Sands Trail
The Haleakala Crater hike offers several paths that can be as short as 0.5 miles to 11 miles roundtrip via a series of connecting trails. The Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands) trail is the best starting point. Along the first part of the trail, kiosks tell you a lot about the history and geology of the path clearly laid out ahead of you.
Views along the Haleakala Crater hike might be obstructed by clouds or fog. That’s more likely than not. Also, the weather will change often along the Haleakala Crater hike. The trailhead starts at 9,700 feet, and it will take almost four miles of hiking downhill on a series of switchbacks to reach the crater floor of the Haleakala Crater hike, which is 2,500 feet lower.
The Haleakala Crater hike is high-altitude hiking and you can easily get symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). The only way to alleviate these symptoms is to descend. The danger of going too far on this trail is that you’ll eventually have to climb back up.
The first half mile of the Haleakala Crater hike takes you to a scenic overlook, which is ideal for those prone to altitude sickness to turn around.
The Haleakala Crater Bottom
Between six and nine miles into the Haleakala Crater hike, you’ll come across spur trails that can cut the length of the hike before you join the Halemua’a Trail to the end. If you go 8.4 miles on the Sliding Sands Trail, you will enter Haleakala Wilderness.
Day hikers should follow signs to the Halemau’u Trail. You should look for a few key features in the crater before taking the path out of the Haleakala Crater hike.
Pele’s Paint Pot
Pele’s Paint Pot circles a shallow depression about 200 feet wide. Vivid colors of red, orange, yellow, and white derived from oxidized volcanic minerals give the surface the visual appearance of a painter’s palette.
Kawilinau “Bottomless Pit”
A volcanic pit was once thought to be bottomless (it’s 65 feet). The vintage photo shows people standing at the edge, but now a fence surrounds the area.
When you reach these features, you are halfway through the loop of the Haleakala Crater hike.
The Halemau’u Trail
My research helped me enjoy the bottom of the crater on the Haleakala Crater hike. The dark, vast expanse of the Haleakala Crater hike wouldn’t have been impressive without it. I can only imagine this scenery mimics what Nuclear Winter would be.
But I know the best was yet to come on the approach out of the crater up the strenuous switchbacks of Halemau’u Trail. Just over a mile from the bottomless pit, catch the Silversword Loop. Patches of greenery start to pop up on the Haleakala Crater hike.
The silversword is a unique flowering plant endemic to Hawaii that grows on volcanic slopes and craters. Identified by its dense rosette of silvery sword-shaped leaves and towering flower stalk covered in hundreds of maroon blossoms, the silversword survives harsh volcanic environments and lives up to 90 years before flowering just once. It is imperative you do not leave the trail of the Haleakala Crater hike to protect the seedlings of silverswords.
The Final Ascent
At this point on the Haleakala Crater hike, the fog hovered heavily. I knew the switchbacks were coming. They wait two miles from the end of the Silversword loop. The reality hit me with every step up the 400 feet of incline that I was walking crater walls. I was stepping on ancient lava that eroded from above or below.
You get a lot more greenery in this section of the Haleakala Crater hike, albeit not the lush forests and waterfalls I initially expected on a trip to Hawaii. The trek up this incline is hardened by the distance you’ve done and the thinning air.
At the final quarter mile of the Haleakala Crater hike, you come to Rainbow Bridge and get sweeping views of the crater.
Getting to Haleakala National Park on Maui
Haleakala National Park is on the island of Maui, one of eight major islands among nearly 140 smaller islands. Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, 100 miles as the crow flies from Maui.
If you fly into Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), you will need to take a separate flight to get to Maui. Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) offers some intercontinental and interisland flights. Hana Airport (HNM) only offers interisland flights.
Is Maui Open? Since the devastating wildfire in Lahaina on Maui in August 2023, there have been mixed messages about whether visiting Maui is safe or encouraged. The answer is, yes, Maui is open. You are welcome. However, please avoid Lahaina until further notice.
Getting to Haleakala Crater Trailhead
Haleakala National Park is a remote section of eastern Maui, a region known as “Upland.” The National Park Service asked us to share this information with you, “There is no public transportation on Maui that will bring you into or near either district of Haleakala National Park.”
Unless you are using a tour service, which will cost extra, you will extra, walk, bike, or drive yourself to the park. Then you still have to get to the Haleakala Crater Hike starting point.
The closest cities to Haleakala Crater Hike are:
- Kahului: (29 miles) – This is the closest major town, located on the coast and home to the Kahului Airport. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the park entrance.
- Paia: (24 miles) – A small coastal town near the intersection of Hana Highway and the road up to Haleakala, about a 40-minute drive to the park.
- Hana (28 miles) – A remote town on the far eastern side of Haleakala located at sea level. It’s about 1.5-2 hours to drive here from the park.
You still have another 30-minute drive to reach the summit from the park entrance.
Biking to Haleakala Crater
In addition, you can rent a bike or hire a bike shuttle service to take you to the park. Before you choose this option, please review the high elevation and steep inclines/declines on the mountain. Hypothermia is also possible any month of the year. (Yes, it gets THAT cold at this elevation.)
Biking to the Haleakala Crater hike is only for expert-level bicyclists.
No bike paths are on the winding road up the mountain, and even finding a shoulder is a struggle.
Sunrise Before Haleakala Crater Hike
For those going as far as to hike Haleakala Crater, you should tack on a sunrise summit trip to see this view Mark Twain called “the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed.”
This popular thing to do at Haleakala National Park now requires reservations because of the large crowds. Tickets are released on a rolling 60-day loop. That means if you want to see the sunrise on December 25, you should try to get reservations on October 26.
How to Get a Sunrise Pass
Here are some tricks to improve your chances of getting a sunrise reservation to the summit of Haleakala Crater before the Haleakala Crater hike.
- Create a Recreation.gov account in advance.
- Figure out the time difference between where you live and 7:00 am Hawaiian Time. Since Hawaii doesn’t adhere to Daylight Saving Time, you will need to factor that in. Here’s a little help.
- Use the website to book a ticket, not the phone reservation line. These 100 tickets sell out quickly. Being on hold is wasted time.
- You are purchasing a ticket PER CAR, not per person.
- Have a form of payment ready, as the reservation costs $1.
- The only timed option is 3:00 am to 7:00 am.
Furthermore, if you can’t get 60-day advance tickets, try again two days before your preferred date when another batch of tickets can be released. You’ll use the same process. Only one ticket per vehicle is allowed every three days.
If you want to let someone else do the sunrise planning, book a tour. These are the only park-approved vendors for sunrise tours.
Sunset After Haleakala Crater Hike
Strongly consider timing your Haleakala Crater hike to end close to sunset so you can see that “sublime” view as well. Reservations aren’t required, and you get the bonus of night skies from 10,000 feet high without light pollution while being much closer to the equator.
Haleakala Crater Hike Elevation and Weather
Putting the words Hawaii and hypothermia in the same sentence might seem odd, but it’s a reality you need to know before taking the Haleakala Crater hike. As part of the Uplands region of Maui, that means it’s at a higher elevation. The Summit District, where you’ll go to reach the crater, peaks at 10,023 feet above sea level.
Here are some key elevation points along the way to the summit.
- The base of the Haleakala Highway: 3,403 feet
- Haleakala Park Entrance: 6,759 feet
- Top of Sliding Sands Trail: 9,772 feet
- Lowest Spot in Crater: Approx 6,365 – 6,607 feet
Before we even look at the forecast averages for the Haleakala Crater hike, you should know that the weather here is forecast by zones. You can also get a forecast just for the summit. Barring severe or dangerous weather, never rely on one forecast to plan your trip. Conditions can quickly go from foggy to rainy to sunny and then a mix of all three throughout the hike.
This does mean you’ll need to add more layers (and more weight) to your backpack on the Haleakala Crater hike. While temperatures range between 30°(F) and 65°(F) every day of the year, you can experience wild temperature changes during this 11-mile hike. Add in high winds and chilling fog, and it can feel even colder.
Plan for the temperature to drop or rise three degrees for every 1,000-foot change in elevation. That means the summit will be 30° F cooler than the coast.
MUST KNOW Details about Haleakala Crater Hike
Eruption Risks on Haleakala Crater Hike
The United States Geological Survey states, “The on-land segment of this lengthy volcanic line of vents is the zone of greatest hazard for future lava flows and cindery ash.” The threat potential is ranked as moderate, though you’re more likely to experience an earthquake than an eruption on the Haleakala Crater hike.
Volcano Activity Tracking Tools for Haleakala Crater Hike
Even though Haleakala has been dormant for up to 600 years, it’s not considered by the USGS to be a dormant volcano. In fact, Haleakala is said to the “the only active volcano on the Island of Maui.”
Much of the aggravation of the volcano comes from the 97% of its mass that is underwater. If the entire volcano were above water, it would be nearly 30,000 feet tall and 675 feet higher than Mount Everest! Nearly 20,000 feet are below the water line, including the Haleakala Ridge, which is the largest rift zone of the archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands.
The overall risk of being on the Haleakala Crater hike when the volcano erupts is slim, random, and unpredictable.
What Do You Mean Haleakala Crater Isn’t a Crater?
Shield Volcano vs Stratovolcanoes
While common phrases like mountain, valley, crater, and summit are used, the Haleakala Crater hike isn’t a traditional mountain. Moreover, it’s not even a traditional volcano.
Haleakala is a shield volcano. Most people think of a volcano similar to Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. Mount St. Helens is another example of what is called a stratovolcano.
Shield volcanoes are typically gently sloping, broad domes built up over time by fluid basalt lava flows. The low-viscosity lava from shield volcanoes makes them spread out more gradually than stratovolcanoes.
That is why the Haleakala Crater hike has steep sides at the beginning and end of the trail. This also helps explain why Haleakala Crater isn’t really a crater.
What some call “the crater” is actually a massive valley carved by water and landslides. The original circular crater of the summit is long eroded away. This vast valley was once twice as deep, but subsequent eruptions of Haleakala partially filled the valley with flows and cinder cones.NPS Haleakala National Park
Cinder cones form on Haleakala Crater when thick lava fragments and builds up a steep hill. Prominent cinder cones within Haleakala National Park include Pa Ka’oao (White Hill), Lua o Palahemo, and Pu’u O Kali. You will pass several of these during the Haleakala Crater hike, and 14 total are in the park.
It is believed that Haleakala once summited up to 15,000 feet, but the same erosional forces that carved the valley impacted the ridge of the shield volcano.
Terminology of Hawaii and Haleakala National Park
Respect and honor Hawaiian culture’s sacred nature as much as possible on the Haleakala Crater hike. Even nailing the words aloha (to be used when greeting or departing) and mahalo (an expression of thanks) helps show respect.
Most trails along the Haleakala Crater hike will have the Hawaiian name and the English name.
- Keoneheʻeheʻe (Sliding Sands Trail): You will take this trail to enter the crater.
- Halemau’u Trail: This trail intersects with the previous trail to Halemau’u Overlook and onto the summit.
- Puʻu (cinder cones): The 14 cones you’ll pass in the crater, each with its own name.
Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” tied to demi-god Maui’s battle with the sun (ka lai) for longer days. He captured the sun with ropes and only let go when the sun promised to slow down its daily progression.
On the Haleakala Crater hike, you’ll pass many rocks. At least, they’re just rocks to you. Aside from the “Leave No Trace” principles of the National Park Service, there’s the Curse of Pele. Legend has it that anyone who takes rocks or sand is cursed. To further punctuate the point, even going off the designated trails is considered a desecration of sacred land.
DO NOT MAIL ROCKS: The National Park Service fields thousands of returned rocks each year from visitors who said the rocks brought them bad luck. They are now asking people to stop doing this. The rocks are already tainted by new climates and this ecosystem is fragile enough that you can’t just “throw it back.”
Protect the Ohi’a Trees on Haleakala Crater Hike
One story well-known story in Hawaiian culture involves the goddess Pele, focusing on the Ohi’a flowering trees. One legend has it that Pele fell in love with a man named Ohi’a. Unfortunately, Ohi’a loved another woman named Lehaua. Pele’s rage ended with Ohi’a transforming into a mangled tree.
When Lehua saw what became of her beloved, she asked her deified family to turn her into the bright red blossoms that adorn the tree. Forever after, Ohi’a and Lehua could be together. Rain reportedly falls when you separate these lovers by removing a flower from the tree, representing their tears of being apart.
Now, those beautiful flowering trees are in danger of what is called Ohi’a Rapid Death. The spread of the fungus to these trees will kill them. Anyone coming to Haleakala National Park from the Big Island (Island of Hawaii) should remove dirt and debris from their gear and clothing. Then, spray your stuff with an alcohol spray to kill off any potential fungus.
Checklist of Items for Haleakala Crater Hike
Checklist of Items for Haleakala Crater Hike
FAQ – Haleakala Crater Hike
The most popular Haleakala Crater hike from Keonehe‘ehe‘e through the crater bottom and up Halemau’u can take six to eight hours. Since the last two miles of the hike climbs steep switchbacks, don’t expect to make up any time here. Err on the side of caution due to the high altitude challenges.
No other road in the world gains this much elevation in such a short distance. The road is winding, narrow, and subject to quick changes in weather. Slow drivers can pull over at regular roadside pull-offs. The road is only as scary as your driver’s attention span and driving skills.
The National Park Service closes the summit region if the winds are too high, but it’s going to take a National Weather Service wind warning to make that happen. Be prepared for winds that could gust from 20 to 40 miles per hour at times. The average annual wind speed is 16 miles per hour.
Map Of Haleakala Crater Hike
Pin the Haleakala Crater Hike on Maui
Helpful Related Links
Stop at Hawaii’s other National Park: HAWAII VOLCANOES National Park: Expert Guide
Is there winter in Hawaii?: Winter in Hawai’i Volcanoes
Need to know more about Haleakala?: 12 FASCINATING Facts About Haleakala National Park
Planning a trip to Alaska after Hawaii?: Visiting 8 EPIC ALASKA National Parks (How to Actually Get There)
Another otherworldly park: 25 AMAZING Things to Do in Death Valley National Park