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The Top 11 Things to Do in Haleakala National Park for a Memorable Trip

A cloudless summit at Haleakala National Park. Visiting the summit is one of the best things to do in Haleakala.

Haleakala National Park, Maui’s only national park, is astounding. It’s basically two parks in one, presenting a splendid variety of things to do in Haleakala National Park. You have the coastal area of the Kipahulu District filled with cascading waterfalls, swimming holes, and rocky shorelines along the Pacific Ocean. Then, you have the Summit District at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level with silverswords and sandy volcanic craters.

Truly, it feels as if you are on a different planet rather than the same Hawaiian island. It’s a surreal experience. Who knew you could drive to the top of an active volcano and hike to a 400-ft waterfall all in one place? Keep reading for more things to do in Haleakala.

This post was updated on March 30, 2020. This page may contain affiliate links.

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Things to Know Before You Go

A close up of a depression in a cinder cone in Haleakala

Unsplash Photo

Park Entrance Fee: There is a fee to enter Haleakala National Park. You can pay this in either district and your payment is valid for 3 days. For private vehicles, the fee is $30. This will admit all passengers in your vehicle. For motorcycles, the fee is $25. If you enter the park on foot or bicycle, the fee is $15 per person.

Weather: The weather can be drastic, and extremely different in both locations. The summit, at 10,023 feet, can have extremely cold temperatures. Despite being located in Hawaii, prepare for freezing temperatures and windy conditions. In the Kipahulu District, the weather is typically hot and humid. You may also encounter many mosquitoes here.

Did You Know?: Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano at 10,023 feet above sea level. The name Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian. Haleakala has more endangered species than any other national park.

Maps of Haleakala National Park

Before you start researching the things to do in Haleakala, it’s a good idea to get a grasp of the area. Since the park is split into two regions, these maps should help you become more familiar. On the left is a map of the entire park and on the right is a trail map for the Summit District. Both National Park Service maps can be enlarged and downloaded by clicking the images.

A map of Haleakala National Park   A map of the trails in the summit district of Haleakala National Park

Things to Do in Haleakala National Park

An image of the Haleakala Crater shrouded in clouds. The text on the image is encouraging you to download a checklist of in Haleakala by signing up for e-mail notifications.

This list of things to do in Haleakala will be split between the two districts. This will make it much easier for you to plan your trip. I’d recommend spending at least one day in each district in order to experience the highlights of each one.

Things to Do in Haleakala: Summit District

1. Drive to the Top of Haleakala Crater

I took the video above as we made our way down from the summit of Haleakala. As you can see, the scenery is absolutely stunning. The road is also incredibly windy, so use caution. In the video, you can also see how suddenly the weather can change.

On the drive to the summit, you’ll encounter five different types of ecological zones. That’s the same number of zones you would cross if you drove from Mexico to Canada!

You may encounter bicyclists as you drive, so do your best to give them plenty of space. It’s very popular to bike down the road from the summit. If you enjoy cycling, you may want to consider this option. This particular tour offers both cycling the road and zip-lining near the park.

How long does it take to get to the summit?

These times are one-way.

From Kahului: 1.5 hours

From Wailea: 2 hours

From Lahaina: 2.5 hours

2. Watch the Sunrise at Haleakala’s Summit

The sun peeks out behind the silhouetted clouds as it rises above Haleakala.

NPS Photo

Watching the sunrise at the summit is easily the most popular thing to do in Haleakala. So popular, in fact, that it now requires reservations.

Your entrance fee does not include a ticket for sunrise, however, tickets are free. There is a $1 processing fee collected by Recreation.gov, the National Park Service partner that handles most reservations. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. A small number of last-minute tickets are available two days in advance, also online. These are released at 7 a.m. HST. If you have questions regarding sunrise reservations, contact Recreation.gov online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

As of now, reservations are not required viewing the sunset, making it a great alternative option. The sunsets are equally as stunning and followed by spectacular night skies. If you miss out on securing sunrise reservations, try to visit for sunset instead.

Curious about the weather? View the live webcam at the Haleakala Summit.

3. Hike the Sliding Sands-Halemau’u Trail

A woman hiking a trail above the clouds

If you have a full day to hike, consider this popular 11-mike trek in the Haleakala Crater.

The trail begins at the Summit Visitor Center and connects you with a network of trails within the crater. The route linking the Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) and Halemau’u trails seems to be the most popular since it will lead you back to the road. Furthermore, you’ll pass a growth of silverswords (more on those later).

A sign for two hiking trails, Sliding Sands and Pa Kaoao, in Haleakala National Park

When I visited Haleakala, we walked a small portion of Sliding Sands, and it was absolutely stunning. If you have limited time, I’d highly recommend walking as much of the trail as you can, even if it’s just a short amount of time. The views of the crater change with every step you take, and it’s a truly amazing walk. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the clouds flooding the crater before fading away again.

A visitor poses at the Pa Kaoao Overlook at Haleakala Crater

We also hiked the short Pa Ka’oao Trail to its overlook. This is another great option for those with limited time. It provides an amazing view of the crater. During our visit, we only saw one other person because so many others chose to walk into the crater instead. It was nice to have time to ourselves to take in the view and watch the clouds roll in and out of the crater.

There are many other trails as well that I hope to explore more in-depth one day, but this was a nice way to get my feet wet.

PRO TIP: It does take some time to adjust to the elevation change. After spending most of our time at sea level, hiking on the trails was more difficult than I anticipated. Prepare for this if you’ve been spending a lot of time on the beaches of Hawaii.

4. View the Endemic Silverswords

A small silversword plant shines bright

While you can see silverswords on the big island, they’re a different species from the ones in Haleakala National Park. This makes the ones in Haleakala endemic, only found in the summit area of this national park. While you may not notice the difference, you’ll still be looking at plants that can’t grow anywhere else on Earth. How neat is that?

These plants are really beautiful. They have shiny blades shooting out of the center, shining bright silver as if painted. They can live anywhere from three to ninety years.

A silversword plant in full bloom   A bare silversword plant after it has shredded its seeds

Once they’ve reached the end of their life, they bloom (pictured above, left; NPS photo). If you’re lucky enough to see this occur, consider yourself lucky.

A huge tower will shoot out and be covered with pink and brown flowers. Then, the plant perishes soon after, spreading the seeds for future silverswords to grow (pictured above, right).

They used to be picked for souvenirs, but are now protected as an endangered species. Do not remove them from the park. Take care not to step on the silverswords! Their root systems are incredibly fragile. Stay on marked trails to avoid harming these rare plants.

5. Explore the Wilderness and Backcountry

A group of tents in the grass below mountains at sunrise

Unsplash Photo/Paliku Campsite

If you have more time, explore the designated Wilderness that makes up 80% of this magnificent park. While the cloud forest of the Kipahulu Valley is closed to the public, you can explore the Wilderness in the Haleakala Crater area.

The Crater offers a moonscape of cinder cones and silverswords. You can stay in one of two Wilderness campgrounds or one of three historic cabins along the trails. The summaries of each are listed below. Please stay on the trails as you explore the Wilderness in order to protect the silverswords and other fragile flora.

A small cabin at the bottom of a rocky mountain

NPS Photo/Paliku Cabin

To camp in the Wilderness, you’ll need to acquire a permit. You may do so at the Headquarters Visitor Center at the bottom of the road to the summit. They are open for permits daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You may pick up a permit one day before your trip, but not earlier. Permits require a 10-minute orientation.

Houla Campsite: If you’d like a shorter hike, elect to stay in this campground when backpacking. It’s a 3.7-mile (6-kilometer) walk on the Halemau’u Trail from the Sliding Sands Trail. Staying here is a great base for exploring other parts of the Wilderness.

Paliku Campsite: Paliku is located at the base of a rainforest cliff on the eastern end of Haleakala’s wilderness. The hike to this campsite is strenuous, requiring a 9.3-mile (15-kilometer) trek on the Sliding Sands Trail or 10.4 miles (17 km) on the Halemau-u Trail. Rain is common here.

Holua, Kapalaoa, and Paliku Cabins: Advance reservations are required for the cabins. Furthermore, there is a $75 fee per night. Each cabin can accommodate up to 12 people. Limited amenities are provided, however, there are pit toilets and non-potable water faucets at each location. You must treat your water before drinking it. Each cabin also has a wood-burning stove and limited firewood. There is no electricity.

6. Check for Nene at Hosmer Grove

Up-close photo of the head of a Nene, a goose endemic to Hawaii

Nene (pronounced nay-nay) is a type of bird, also known as the Hawaiian goose. It is endemic to the state of Hawaii and found only on Oahu, Maui, Kaua’i, Molokai, and Hawaii. You won’t see this bird anywhere else in the world.

One of the biggest threats to Nene is cars. Use caution when driving the road to Hosmer Grove and look for Nene on the roadside everywhere you go in Hawaii.

In Haleakala National Park, one of the more fun things to do is hike the short trail to Hosmer Grove in search of these birds. They’re often seen grazing on the grass here.

Also at Hosmer Grove, you’ll find a small campground. It is filled on a first-come, first-served basis. It is the only campground you can drive to in the Summit District. The capacity is 25 campers, so arrive early if you hope to secure a spot.

Things to Do in Haleakala: Kipahulu District

The Kipahulu District is located at the end of the stunning Road to Hana. Despite the distance being only 60 miles, it takes a full 3-4 hours to get here from Kahului. The Road to Hana winds along the coast of Maui and includes many gorgeous places to stop, including the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. Travel 12 miles beyond the town of Hana to enter the park.

1. Hike the Kuloa Point Trail

The seven pools of 'Ohe'o

Along the Kuloa Point Trail, which departs from the Kipahulu Visitor Center, you’ll find a few stunning sights. First is the cultural demonstration area. Here, native Hawaiians will demonstrate a variety of cultural traditions for visitors.

Next, you’ll encounter a number of archaeological sites and beautiful ocean views at the mouth of ‘Ohe’o Gulch. This is a popular area to view the seven pools.

Kuloa Point Trail Stats

Distance: 0.5 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain: 80 feet

Difficulty: Easy

2. See the Pools of ‘Ohe’o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools)

A view of the 'Ohe'o Pools from the overlook

Once you arrive at the mouth, there are a couple of places along the Kuloa Point Trail to view the Pools of ‘Ohe’o, sometimes referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools.

Swimming is allowed, but not recommended. The water quality varies and violent flash floods can occur at any time. The pools could close at any time due to these (and other) hazards. Diving, jumping, and glass are all prohibited.

2. Take the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls

Makahiku Falls surrounded by lush green plants   Waimoku Falls, a tall thin waterfall in Haleakala National Park, cascades down a rock face surrounded by green plants | NPS Photo/Christian del Pozzo

One of the more popular trails in the Kipahulu District is the Pipiwai Trail. While the end is steep, there are many rewards including two waterfalls and a bamboo forest.

After walking 1/2-mile, you’ll see the first waterfall, Makahiku Falls (pictured above, left). There is an overlook where you can view it.

Continuing up the hill, after walking another 1/2-mile you’ll find yourself in a marvelous bamboo forest. While there are a few of these scattered along the Road to Hana, I found this one to be more impressive. It felt like a true canopy as I found myself fully surrounded. There are many boardwalks and footbridges to help you navigate this area.

Finally, after climbing a steep portion of the trail for one mile, you’ll arrive at Waimoku Falls (pictured above, right; NPS Photo/Christian del Pozzo). This is one of the main attractions in Haleakala National Park.

Rangers also lead guided hikes on this trail. When you arrive, inquire at the Kipahulu Visitor Center.

Pipiwai Trail Stats

Distance: 4 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain: 800 feet

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

3. Hike the Kahaki Trail to the Ocean

Bright green, lush plants on a rocky spit of land surrounded by rough ocean waves

Another trail in the Kipahulu District is the Kahaki Trail. This leads from Kuloa Point to the Kipahulu Campground. Along the way, you’ll encounter a few archaeological sites and remarkable ocean views.

Kahaki Trail Stats

Distance: 0.5 miles round-trip

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Difficulty: Easy

4. Camp at Kipahulu Campground

2

A short distance from the Kipahulu Visitor Center, you’ll find the Kipahulu Campground. One of two road-accessible campgrounds in Haleakala, the campsites here provide marvelous ocean views. Furthermore, the ‘Ohe’o Gulch pools are located only a short walk away.

The campground is equipped with picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets. There is no water or food available in the campground, however, water is available at the Kipahulu Visitor Center restrooms 24/7. Hana, about 12 miles away, is the closest town for supply purchases.

If you choose to camp here, prepare for rain, heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.

Continue Reading About Things to Do in America’s National Parks

How to Get to Haleakala National Park

A road winds through the red and brown dirt on a cinder cone

Pixabay Photo

The best way to reach Haleakala National Park is by car. While driving on Maui is beautiful, it can also take a while to reach your destination. There are limited roads available and portions of the island are very remote. This is particularly true in regard to Haleakala National Park. You can expect the drive to take multiple hours whether you’re visiting the Summit or Kipahulu districts.

Distances from Nearby Communities

From Kahului to Summit: 1.5 hours | From Kahului to Kipahulu: 3-4 hours

From Wailea to Summit: 2 hours | From Wailea to Kipahulu: 3-4 hours

From Lahaina to Summit: 2.5 hours | From Lahaina to Kipahulu: 4-5 hours

How Long to Spend at Haleakala National Park

The night sky above Haleakala

Unsplash Photo

It would be impossible to see everything on this list of things to do in Haleakala in one day. While the park takes up the greater half of the southern tip of Maui, there are limited roads. Furthermore, the park is 80% designated Wilderness and there is a Biosphere Reserve that is closed to entry. This results in no trails or roads from the summit to the coast.

If you can, spend at least two days exploring Haleakala. Ideally, three or four days is best. Four days would be ideal, as you could spend two days at each district in the park. Since the entrance fee only lasts for three days, that may be the best amount of time for you.

Where to Stay Near Haleakala National Park

A group of people watching the sunrise inside a building are silhouetted

Unsplash Photo

In order to take advantage of the things to do in Haleakala, the best places to stay are either inside the park or as close to it as possible. Staying in the most populated communities, such as Lahaina or Kahului, may be cheaper but are also very far. You’ll have to get up extremely early to accomplish this list of things to do in Haleakala, especially if you’re hoping to see the sunrise.

I stayed in Lahaina with family friends during my visit, and this worked fine for us. However, we didn’t have any long hikes planned or sunrise reservations booked. If you are on a tighter schedule, consider staying closer to the park. Camping at Hosmer Grove or Kipahulu Campgrounds is the best option, in my opinion.

Recommendations Nearby:  Hale KianaLumeria MauiAdventure in Paradise B&B

What to Pack for Your Trip to Haleakala

Be prepared to tackle all of the best things to do in Haleakala by packing the essentials. You’ll want sun protection, hiking boots, cold weather gear, rain gear, water, and food. Plan for the weather by bringing layers and long-sleeves for the Summit and rain gear for Kipahulu.

If you bring along your reusable water bottle, there are stations to refill. However, no food is sold in the park.

For Hiking: The 10 Essentials

A collection of the ten essential items for hiking: shelter, water, food, matches, tools, a light, insulating layers, navigation, sun protection, and first-aid

  1. Navigation systems: map, compass, and/or GPS
  2. Sun protection: sunscreen and/or ballcap
  3. Insulating layers: synthetic or down jacket, rain jacket, hat, gloves, and leggings
  4. Illumination (flashlight or headlamp)
  5. First-aid kit
  6. Something to light a fire: lighter, waterproof matches, and/or fire starter
  7. Repair kits and tools: pocket knife, duct tape, screwdriver, and/or scissors
  8. Emergency shelter: tent, bivy, tarp, and/or space blanket
  9. Nutrition: food for both meals and snacks
  10. Hydration: water bottle, water treatment (LifeStraw or SteriPen), and water

For Camping: The Basics

Pin Things to Do in Haleakala National Park

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National Parks by State: Checklist for All 419 • Riley's Roves

Saturday 21st of December 2019

[…] Haleakala National Park […]

Rowan Sims Travel Photography

Wednesday 28th of February 2018

I'm planning a trip to Hawaii later this year, so I'll have to add this to my itinerary. Thanks for the tips and beautiful photos!

Riley

Wednesday 28th of February 2018

Absolutely! You’ll love it. Have a great trip!

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