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Haleakala National Park

Just a few comments before I start. A lot of people drive to the top of Haleakala to enjoy the sunrise. Frankly I was on my vacation and was not about to get up at 3:30AM to make the trip from the Lahaina area to the top of Haleakala! We picked the clearest day of our vacation and took the drive up and got great views of the island below all the way up and didn't have to fight that many bicycle groups on the way down as you would post-sunrise. Also, if you drive up in the dark it is more dangerous and you can't enjoy the trip. Just my personal opinion.

The area now know as Haleakala national park was originally part of Hawaii National Park and was redesignated as a separate entity in July 1961 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. More than 80% of 30,183 acres in Haleakala National Park is designated as wilderness.

Stock your cooler as there are not any places to buy food within a long way of the summit, and prepare for a variety of weather conditions. The weather in the summit of Haleakala National Park is unpredictable and can change quickly, although it was quite cold when we were there in late July. Temperatures in the summit area range between 32oF and 65oF, and potential wind-chill.

Haleakala National Park
Haleakala silversword

I would recommend is to buy one of many CDs available for your trip. They cost anywhere from $10-$20 and give you a good overview of the trip. You periodically turn off the guide CD so you don't have them going on and on so it doesn't get tiresome. It also allows you to learn more about the volcano itself and it's place in the Hawaiian mythos.

Stop at the visitors center at the entrance. There are some interesting exhibits talking about the history of tourism and the local wildlife. There is also a great example of the Haleakala silversword plant, which only grows on the slope of Haleakala. Normally you could not want to get that close to one of these plants as their small roots extend as far as six feet from the plant and are easily damaged by the weight of human footsteps. More information on Hawaii's endangered ecosystem is available at:

Southwest Maui from Haleakala

On the way up, be sure to take the time to pull off and enjoy the view. It is important for the driver to pull off to the side to truly enjoy the view since there is more than enough twists and turns (and not to mention bicycles) to keep your full attention!

Here are shots at the right looking at the south end of the island and on the left looking at the north end of the island. On an exceptionally clear day you can see almost the entire island as you drive up.

Northwest Maui from Haleakala

Haleakala is a shield volcano that has been above the ocean surface for about 1.5 million years. A surprising thing about Haleakala is that they actually expect it to erupt again, as it is considered a "dormant" volcano and not "extinct. The recent geologic history suggests that Haleakala erupts regularly every several hundred years. The last major eruption was detailed in 1790 - althought that date is a matter of dispute and could be as far back as 1400 (still a tick of the clock in geologic terms) - so it may be within your lifetime!. The eruption is likely to occur in one of the rift zones along the sides of Haleakala (as with the 1790 eruption) and will not likely be in the crater itself

Haleakala craterHaleakala crater

Haleakala crater

Hiking in and around Haleakala can be a memorable experience, but you better come prepared! The elevation makes you tire easily and sometimes the changes in elevation make a short hike more tiring that it would normally be. I had a backpack carrying my 2 year old daughter and it was more exertion than I bargined for, as I opted for a nap after returning to our hotel. White Hill trail at 0.4 miles (round trip) and a 140 foot change in elevation is a pretty easy hike. Also the Sliding Sands to first switchback offers some nice views and is 0.66 miles (round trip) and only a 30 foot change in elevation. We went almost halfway to Ka Lu'u o ka O'o from Sliding Sands, the full trail is 5 miles and we probably saw 2-2.5 miles of it. Definately worth the time as the view from inside the crater is certainly more rewarding than looking down into it.

For the truly ambitious, the National Park Service maintains three wilderness cabins that you can hike into. Occupancy is determined via a monthly lottery system. For more details visit the national park service website at: This is definately on the future agenda as my daughter gets a little older...

After you get to the visitors center, a lot of people assume this is the top, however it is just the best place to view the crater area. Just up the road is an observation deck at the summit of approximately 10,023 feet in elevation. On a clear day you can actually see the volcanos of the big island. You can't see them that well in this picture, but I could see them from the observation deck. To your right you will see what is commonly noted as Science City. This is a complex of observatories run by the University of Hawaii and DARPA for basic research as well as missle tracking and space surveillance. Some of the native hawaiians are not very happy with these observatories, since they are very conspicous and disturb the natural view of Haleakala from a great distance.

On the way down I suggest that you take your time, use a lower gear to prevent your brakes from heating up, and make sure to watch for bicyclists and others enjoying the view (when they should pull off the road).

Big Island from Haleakala summit 2005. All Rights Reserved.