Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

Places on Maui: Haleakala National Park

Basic Information

Aerial view of the 10,023 foot Mt. Haleakala.

Narrative

The one place over all others that I wanted to visit during my family’s recent trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui was Haleakala National Park.  I have always loved volcanoes and visiting the massive Haleakala volcano has long been on my bucket list.  Many people visit Haleakala National Park to see the sunrise from the crater’s summit at 10,023 feet which is what we originally planned to do for New Year’s Day.  However, the manager of the condo we were staying at in Wailea told me that we would have to leave at 3:00AM to ensure we found parking to see the sunrise.

Aerial view of Mt. Haleakala with the resort town of Wailea visible along the coast below the volcano.

Having two little kids I was not about to try and wake them up that early to see a sunrise; my wife and I decided to take them up to the top of the volcano to see the first sunset of 2017 instead.  So after lunch we slowly began to make our way up the Haleakala Highway to the National Park:

The highway travels from near sea level all the way to the summit of the 10,023 foot volcano.  The highway gains elevation quickly which means we soon had sweeping views of Maui down below us:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Unfortunately on the day we drove up there were a lot of clouds.  Despite the clouds the views were still outstanding and we could even see the tiny islet of Molokini which is a popular snorkeling spot off the coast of Maui:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

On the high slopes of Haleakala known as “Upcountry Maui”, much of the land is used for grazing cattle, but at one time this would have been lush rainforest:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Some pockets of trees of non-native vegetation can still be seen when driving through the grazing lands:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

As we continued to gain elevation on the extremely curvy road we began to approach the clouds that were engulfing the summit of the volcano above us:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Understanding how quickly the weather in Hawaii can change we continued drive through the clouds and rain up the road.  By the time we reached the lower visitor center we could see blue skies and even this scenic rainbow in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The lower visitor center was quite small and filled with people.  We found the National Park Service rangers that worked there to be quite informative and helpful.  I even saw one guy shivering inside because he was biking down the volcano in the rain and a ranger offered to give him a ride back down the mountain.  Something the park rangers do not want you doing on Haleakala though is feeding the native Hawaiian duck called a nene:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

During our trip to Haleakala we did not see any nenes, but on our previous trip to Kauai we saw a lot of nenes there.  Something of interest at the visitor center is its display of native plants on Mt. Haleakala:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The silversword plant only found on Haleakala is very impressive due to its extremely unusual color:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Incredibly these rare plants almost went extinct due to overgrazing by wild goats and other non-native animals.  These plants that can live up to 90 years are now protected by the NPS and have been quickly recovering.  Besides the silverswords the visitor center had other native plants like these shrubs and flowers on display as well:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

From the visitor center we could look up the volcano and see how different the foliage had become compared to the grazing lands below.  On the National Park land above the visitor center it is covered in thick bushes and other plants:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

After checking out the small visitor center my family and I loaded back into our rental car to continue our drive to the top of the volcano.  From the visitor center we still had about 30 minutes of driving to reach the end of the Haleakala Highway:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

As we drove up the highway we were soon engulfed in clouds and rain again:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

However, as we approached 9,500 feet the clouds began to part and we could see glimpses of blue skies:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

As we got near the summit of the volcano we found ourselves driving above the clouds now with blue skies above us:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Near the summit of the volcano the foliage had changed quite a bit.  The thick bushes above the visitor center had now been replaced mostly by dirt, rock and some scattered small bushes:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Just before the summit area of the volcano there is a very large upper visitor center parking lot:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is the temperature my rental car showed outside at the visitor center:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The temperature may have been 45 Fahrenheit, but it felt much colder due to the blowing wind.  Fortunately we had packed our Colorado winter gear and my family and I were very warm compared to most other people up on the volcano that day.  From the parking lot I walked over to the upper visitor center and it was closed, but the sign in front of it identified it as being 9,740 feet in altitude:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

From the visitor center I walked along the crater rim of Mt. Haleakala and could not see anything inside of the crater because of the thick clouds:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is a panorama of the view looking down into Haleakala’s crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

I did think it was kind of cool to see the outline of the volcano’s summit on the top of the clouds inside of the crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

From the visitor center I decide to take a short hike up the Pa Ka’oao Trail to the top of a small hill that peers into the crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

As I walked up the trail I could see many people huffing and puffing and complaining about the altitude.  Despite living so long at sea level, my body seems to quickly adapt to altitude from all my years living in Colorado.  I quickly powered up the trail passing many people and felt fine the whole way:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The only time I stopped on the trail was to take pictures of some of the plants such as this silversword:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is a picture of one of the small bushes located on the top of the hill:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Once on the top of the hill my view of the crater did not improve because of all the clouds:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is a panorama of the view from the top of the hill:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

From the top of the hill I walked back down the Pa Ka’oao Trail.  Here is the view from the hill looking back down towards the large parking lot:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Once I got back to the bottom of the hill I noticed the trailhead for Sliding Sands Trail which is the trail that travels into the crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

This is a hike I plan to do at a future date, but I was glad I was not doing it on this day considering the thick cloud cover inside of the crater.  From the visitor center parking lot my family and I then drove up to the upper parking lot on the summit of Haleakala.  This parking lot is much smaller than the upper visitor center parking lot down below:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

We were fortunate to find a parking spot because someone pulled out as soon as we drove up.  Many other people were not as lucky.  As we got out of our rental car and put on our warm jackets, hats, and gloves I noticed there were many people in shorts and I even saw one woman with a bikini top.  These people were freezing and would quickly run up to the summit point take a picture and quickly run back to their cars.  My family and I on the other hand leisurely walked around the summit since we were nice and warm.  We first stopped by to look at little grove of Haleakala silver swords that were growing nearing the parking lot:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

From the parking lot we then walked up the short staircase to the summit’s enclosed shelter at 10,023 feet:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

There was a lot of people in the shelter trying to keep warm from the cold wind outside and take in views of the crater.  Unfortunately there were still no views of the crater due to the thick clouds sitting inside of it:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

However, it was still neat to see the profile shadow of Haleakala’s summit slowing growing and extending towards the crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Fortunately from the summit there were plenty of other views that could still be seen.  Here is the view towards the south where on a clear day the Big Island of Hawaii could be seen, but we were not fortunate enough to see it on this day:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is the view to the east where the Haleakala Observatory is located at:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The observatory’s telescopes are located here because of the limited light pollution and thin atmosphere of being at over 10,000 feet in altitude.  The telescopes on Haleakala are operated by the University of Hawaii, the United States Air Force, and other organizations.  My family and I did a complete circuit around the summit of Haleakala before finding a place to settle in on the ledge and wait for the sun to set in the distance below the observatories:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Considering the madhouse crowds I have heard about on the summit for the morning sunrise, the crowd for the sunset was large, but not large enough to where it felt crowded.  Everyone had plenty of space to sit down and take in the awesome first sunset of 2017:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

In the Hawaiian language the name Haleakala means “House of the Sun” which from being up on the volcano to witness the sunset it was easy to understand why:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The colors of the sunset from Mt. Haleakala reminded me a lot of the colors I saw from sunsets in the Australian Outback which also had no light pollution and very still, clean air:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Here is a nice panorama picture of the sunset on Mt. Haleakala:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

After seeing the sunset my family and I walked back to our car in order to drive back down the volcano, however on the way off the summit we noticed that the clouds in the crater had mostly lifted:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

So we drove back to the large upper visitor center parking lot to take pictures of the crater:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

The longer I stood there watching the crater the more the clouds parted leaving me views of the various volcanic cones that once pushed out lava that spilled down the side of this great volcano:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

After a few minutes it became too dark to see anything in the crater so I walked back to my car.  As I was walking back I noticed the Moon and Venus in the sky above me:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

My family and then sat in the parking lot for a little while waiting for the sky to get dark enough so we could see all the stars:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

While we waited for the stars to come out we enjoyed the last fews views of the sunset we had:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

When it did get dark enough, the stars in the sky were incredible.  We could see the entire Milky Way, but unfortunately with my point and shoot camera I could not take pictures of it.  This did make me wish I had my telescope with me because the clarity of celestial objects would be incredible from the top of Haleakala.

After spending about 20-30 minutes viewing the stars we then began the drive back down the volcano.  You would think driving down a curvy road in the middle of the night would be worrisome, but it was actually quite easy considering there was pretty much no traffic to worry about.  The biggest problem we had though were cows grazing on the side of the road below the National Park boundary.  Haleakala is considered an open range grazing area so the cows are allowed to roam free and on to the road and it is the responsibility of the driver to avoid them, even in the pitch black darkness.  Here is one final picture on the drive down the mountain before it became too dark to take any pictures:

Picture from Mt. Haleakala

Conclusion

Fortunately we did not hit any of the cows grazing along the side of the road, but driving in such close proximity to them without initially being able to see them was quite unsettling for a good stretch of the drive back down the mountain.  Despite the problems with cows our trip to Haleakala National Park was quite enjoyable and we have just scratched the surface.  I definitely plan to one day come back to this great park and hike some its trails to really experience more of what the park has to offer.  Until then I will always treasure the great adventure my family and I had on Haleakala during this most recent visit.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *