Haleakala Things to Do
To say Haleakala National Park is impressive would do it a great injustice. Spanning a huge swath of land across Maui’s southeastern region, Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. If that weren’t enough, it also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles!
And not only is it one of the most popular sights in Hawaii, but it’s also home to five distinctly different climate zones, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, stunning views, otherworldly landscapes, and flora and fauna that are found nowhere else in the world.
Haleakala encompasses over 30,000 acres which can be generally thought of as three distinct areas; two of which are very popular with visitors.
First, there’s the volcanic, rocky area that closely resembles the surface of the moon in many areas. This side is known as the Summit Area and can be reached from central upcountry Maui via Hwy. 377/378, also known as the Haleakala Highway, and takes you to the summit portion of the park.
The other side, to the far east, is known as the Kipahulu Area and can be accessed via Hwy. 360, also known as the famous Hana Highway or Road to Hana. This region is home to lush green landscapes, waterfalls, pools, and more.
Reservations now required for Haleakala Sunrise
A reservation is now required for each vehicle entering the park from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Beginning April 7, 2021, you may book a reservation up to 60 days in advance.
Please Note: Tickets are per vehicle, not per person. Tickets are limited to one per customer every three days.
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Haleakala Summit Attractions (Upcountry- Haleakala Hwy. 378)
Many people think the summit area is simply a relatively barren landscape, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Because the summit region encompasses different climate zones, there are a variety of activities to enjoy and sights to be seen here. Enjoy the spectacular views at the overlooks, and be sure to keep an eye out for rare plants and animals along the way. Check out some of the best Haleakala summit attractions here.
Brief History of Haleakala
Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian and has long been a very special place for Native Hawaiians. In fact, the summit is one of the most sacred places in Maui. Historically, it was visited only on special occasions and by certain members of society. However, Hawaiian archeological sites located towards the bottom of the Kipahulu Valley show that everyday activities were realized here, including fishing, taro farming, animal husbandry, home and canoe construction, and travelling to neighboring islands to visit and trade. Scientists have used radiocarbon dating to place Native Hawaiians at the Crater Area between 660-1030, and between 1164-1384 in the Kipahulu Region.
Ancient chants and songs have conserved much of the history and culture of Haleakala. Such is the case of Pele, the Volcano Goddess, battling with one of her siblings on the crater floor. There is also the story of Haleakala’s famous sun. It is said that Maui, the legendary demigod for which the island is named, lassoed La, the Sun God, to keep him from rushing across the sky. This allowed Maui’s mother to complete her household chores during daylight hours. Rich stories and legends such as these have been handed down for generations.
Native Hawaiians maintained their traditions and ways of life for centuries. However, British Captain James Cook arrived in the islands in 1778, thereby marking the beginning of what would be a drastic change to life in the islands.
It was during the period from 1819-1850 that American missionaries and whalers arrived on Maui in large numbers, significantly altering the daily lives of many Native Hawaiians. Soon thereafter, sugarcane became an established industry in Kipahulu, and with it, a diverse range of immigrants arrived to staff the sugar plantations. The industry flourished until the mid-1920’s.
Shortly after the sugar industry gained a foothold, Haleakala Ranch was established and cattle grazing began on Haleakala’s slopes. In the Kipahulu region, ranching was established after sugar production came to an end.
The first recorded summit journey made by non-Native Hawaiians occurred in 1828. By the early 1900s, Lorrin Thurston, a businessman and grandson of two of the first Christian Missionaries to Hawaii, and Dr. Thomas Jaggar, a volcanologist and founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, advocated for the area to be designated as a national park. This officially occurred in 1916 when Hawaii National Park was established by Congress. This establishment included the Haleakala section.
By 1936 the official Haleakala Visitor Center was built, and visitor cabins soon followed.
During WWII, the U.S. Army occupied Haleakala and used the area for various military installations.
By 1952, the Kipahulu Valley was added to Haleakala National Park.
In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state and visitation to Haleakala, and, indeed, the entire state skyrocketed.
Today, visitors revere this magical place for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets, opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, stargazing, camping, and spotting rare animals and plants- including the rare silversword plant that can only be found here.
Kipahulu Area Attractions (Oheo Gulch- Hana Hwy. 360)
Seemingly a world away from the summit area, a trip to the Kipahulu region reveals a verdant world full of sparkling pools, beach views, groves of fascinating hala trees, and so much more; it's the perfect place to hike, swim, explore the many waterfalls, and even spend a night or two camping. Whether you're looking for a guided tour or want to venture out on your own, these are our picks for the best and most popular Kipahulu area attractions.
There are many ways to enjoy Haleakala National Park. Some people choose to explore independently, while others opt for a guided tour. And while there are certainly advantages to a guided tour, we understand that how you choose to tour Haleakala is a matter of personal preference. Either way, we recommend you check out the official Haleakala National Park Website for up-to-date information on fees, alerts, closures, addresses, and phone numbers- all of which will prove useful for your Haleakala trip. That said, below you’ll find links to some of our favorite Haleakala overlooks, hiking trails, information on our website that we think you’ll find useful, as well as links to guided Haleakala tours. Enjoy your adventure.
Haleakala Travel Tips & Information
Planning a visit to Haleakala can raise a lot of questions: "Which is better- sunrise or sunset?" "What's the weather like at the summit?" "Where are the best hiking trails in Haleakala?" Find the answers to these FAQs and more below.