Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: November 2019
Haleakalā National Park was named after Haleakalā, a dormant shield volcano that forms more than three quarters of Maui. The park consists of two distinct areas: the summit district high up in the mountains (or rather, volcano), and the Kīpahulu district located along the coast. The landscape (and temperature) difference between the two areas is also very extreme, making for a unique hiking experience in both areas of the park.
Day 1: From mountains to jungle
We arrived in Maui yesterday afternoon after a long day of travelling (two flights, thirteen hours in transit, and a five hour time change). We woke up super early this morning with a lot of energy and excitement, which was great as we decided to spend the day hiking in Haleakalā National Park.
We started off in the summit area of the park, which features a rugged volcanic landscape with stunted vegetation. This area is particularly busy in the morning as it is renowned for its sunrises. So much so that visitors who wish to see the sunrise not only have to wake up very early and arrive at the park between 3 to 7a.m, but they also need to make a reservation for a couple months in advance to do so. Since we booked our trip to Maui a few weeks prior, the sunrise tickets were all sold out. The park does release a small number of sunrise tickets two days in advance, but we were unable to acquire any of these.
While we missed the sunrise, we didn’t miss any of the phenomenal views at the summit of Haleakalā. As we weaved and wove our way up the mountain, at around 7,000 ft of elevation gain or so, we were above the clouds.
We started off by hiking along the Halemau’u Trail (3.5km roundtrip). The trail leads through a shrubland to the rim of the valley below. It’s not quite clear where the trail actually ends, as the path itself continues down to the floor of Haleakalā crater and onwards. We turned around at the point where the trail switched into a series of shorter switchbacks that steeply made their way into the crater.
The weather can change quickly up here. We started our hike off with blue skies, but within minutes a thick layer of misty fog rolled in, only to clear up a bit later on our hike.
Located a short distance from here is a short path to the Leleiwi Overlook (0.5km roundtrip). The path leads to another nice viewpoint of the Haleakalā crater.
We continued our journey up to the summit where the Haleakalā Visitors Center is located at 10,000ft. From the visitors centre we hiked along the Pā Ka‘oao trail (0.64km roundtrip), to view ancient rock wall shelters as well as well as the inside of the crater.
There’s another popular trail that starts here, the Sliding Sands, but we planned to tackle that tomorrow.
After wrapping up our short hike we headed to the visitors centre to attend the ranger program about the Haleakalā volcano and history of how the Hawaiian Islands were formed.
At this point it was nearing lunch time. Since the only other hikes in the area were significantly longer and more challenging, we decided to drive to the coastal part of the park along the Kīpahulu district. Where it was also warmer and humid.
This district is accessible via the Hana Highway. Since we were already in the summit district, the shortest route, which is also the sketchiest route is to go west along the highway. The highway winds through an area with stunted vegetation and eventually leads to an unpaved portion where the sides of the road are littered with abandoned cars. Turns out this is the path least travelled. And for good reason.
There are two trails in the coastal district, and both originate from the same parking lot. We first hiked along the Pipiwai Trail (5.5km roundtrip) to get to the Waimoku Falls. The first portion of the hike leads through a forested area and provides glimpses of other waterfalls and natural features along the way.
One mile in the trail winds through a bamboo forest. Things start to get real muddy here. And we nearly turned around completely before even reaching the bamboo forest, but at the last minute, decided to trudge on through the mud. It was totally worth it. It also helps that the path does get better in certain areas as there are a series of boardwalks to walk along.
Once the bamboo forest ends, it’s a short remainder of the hike to Waimoku Falls. There’s a marker to signal the end of the hike, but people often go past this point up to the base of the waterfall. We turned back at this point since it looked like the trail gets even more muddy the closer you get to the waterfall.
We hiked back the way we came. Near the start of the trail we veered off at the turn to the Kuloa Point Trail (1.0km roundtrip), which is also known as the Seven Sacred Pools Trails (‘Ohe’o Gulch). The trail leads leads to an opening in the trees that provides stunning views of a series of waterfalls that trickle into a number of pools, eventually leading into the ocean.
With a limited amount of daylight left headed back home, driving along the legit part of the road to Hana. With narrow roads, one-way bridges, and many twists and turns, the drove back definitely kept us on the edge of our seats. Plus, there’s also the lovely views of the lush greenery and various waterfalls along the way.
Day 2: Sliding Sands
We woke up bright and early again and made the drive back to the summit district of Haleakalā National Park. This time we were dressed more appropriately (we wore pants) and were ready to spend the day hiking along the Sliding Sands Trail (17.8km roundtrip) into the Haleakalā crater.
There are various ways to hike this trail. You can hike one-way into the valley floor and over to Halemau’u where there is a designated “hiker pick-up” area to hitch a ride back to your car. Or, you can hike into the crater, turn around whenever, and hike the way you came in. We opted for the latter as the park wasn’t busy since we were visiting in the off season.
We were pretty cold at the start of the hike all the way up at the summit. But, the further we descended into the crater, the more protection we had from the wind. There was zero protection from the sun though.
It was dangerously easy winding our way down to the crater floor. Especially since the views of the cinder cones and Mars-like landscape were simply stunning along the way. At 6.3km in the path leads to the valley floor. We continued walking along this, pausing for a snack when we reached the junction for the path that leads to Halemau’u or Kapaloa.
We strolled along the path to Kapaloa, turning around once the path started to ascend. We’d have enough uphill on our return journey to the car and wanted to conserve my energy (and water). This turned out to be a good call as, let me tell you, I was a huffin’ and a puffin’ with even the slightest bit of elevation gain. It’s the altitude! It took nearly three times as long to walk back up than it did down.
Eventually we made our way back up to the summit, after taking many breaks to rest, reapply sunscreen, and drink lots of water. It was a strenuous day of hiking, but the views along the way were well worth the effort.