View of early sun hitting clouds beyond a gently curving road on Haleakala Volcano.

Even obscured, the Haleakala Volcano crater is breathtaking at sunrise. Photo © Denis Dore/123rf.

Admission to Haleakala National Park is $10 per car and $5 for bikers, hikers, and motorcycles, but it is good for three days. If you’re driving up here for sunrise, you’re going to want to drive straight to the summit to catch the show.

To add some perspective to size and distance, it’s 100 miles from the top of Haleakala to the volcanic peak of Mauna Loa on the Big Island to the southeast.If you’re meandering up the mountain during the middle of the day (or are on your way up for sunset), take a side trip to Hosmer’s Grove, a densely forested swath of hillside where an early 20th-century forester by the name of Ralph Hosmer experimented with over 80 species of nonnative timber in hopes of kick-starting the island’s lumber industry. There is an enjoyable 0.5-mile nature hike and a campground for visitors who are just passing through. To reach Hosmer’s Grove make a left on a short access road just after entering the park.

Continuing straight past the Hosmer’s Grove turnoff you’ll soon arrive at park headquarters (808/572-4400, daily 7am-3:45pm) at an elevation of 6,800 feet. Campers can get their permits here, and others can stop for information concerning the park, gifts, water, or to use the toilet or pay phone. There are some ‘ahinahina (silversword) plants outside, and a few nene can occasionally be seen wandering the area.

After you pass the park headquarters and zig and zag a couple more times, there’s parking for another hiking option: Halemau‘u Trail. Following that are two overlooks, Leleiwi and Kalahaku, both offering tremendous views and different perspectives looking down into the crater basin.

Haleakala’s Visitors Center

Near road’s end is the visitors center at an elevation of 9,740 feet. It’s approximately 10 miles up the mountain from headquarters or about a 30-minute drive. This is where all of the bike tour companies bring you for sunrise because you get one of the best views into the basin from here. It’s open from sunrise to 3pm and contains a clear and concise display on the geology of Haleakala. Maps and books are available, and ranger talks are particularly informative. A 20-minute ranger talk takes place daily at 9:30am, 10:30am, and 11:30am at the summit observation center above the visitors center, and various ranger-led hikes are also given (Tues. and Fri. 9am for a two-mile hike on Sliding Sands Trail). By 10am, there will be lots of people at the top, so enjoy the time between when the bikers leave and the buses arrive.

Bikes going down the mountain travel about 20-25 miles per hour, sometimes faster. If you’re caught behind a string of bikes on your way down, just slow up and wait for them to pull over and let you pass. On your way down, shift into a low gear to control your speed to prevent riding the brakes.

Summit Observation Building

At the road’s end is Pu‘u ‘Ula‘ula (Red Hill), the highest point on Maui at 10,023 feet, where a glass-sided observation area is open 24 hours. From here, you have more expansive vistas than from the visitors center below, but the view into the crater isn’t quite as good. This is where many people come to see the sunset. To add some perspective to size and distance, it’s 100 miles from the top of Haleakala to the volcanic peak of Mauna Loa on the Big Island to the southeast.

Behind you on the slope below is Maui Space Surveillance Complex, aka Science City, a research facility with telescopes used by the University of Hawai‘i, a satellite tracking station that’s staffed by the U.S. Air Force, and the largest telescope controlled by the Department of Defense. This complex is closed to the public.

Color Map of Maui, Hawaii


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.