Have you ever had an experience that literally takes your breath away? And almost makes you cry? A sunrise at the top of Haleakalā crater in Maui is THAT experience. The type of experience where you close your eyes and think of one word: grateful.
Grateful for whatever opportunity brought you to Hawaii to experience one of the most breathtaking events you’ll ever witness.
Grateful to be alive.
Or maybe you’ll just think “holy crap, that was amazing!” Regardless, those are both good thoughts to start the day!
In order to do this excursion, you now have to make reservations ahead of time. It got too popular and parking became an issue, so now they limit the number of people who can go per day. If its high season in Maui (April-May and September-November), I’d recommend making a reservation at least 1 month in advance. You can do so by visiting the recreation.gov website. It’s $1.50 to secure a reservation, but you will still have to pay a $25 entrance fee to get into the park. They do check that you’ve made a reservation, so don’t waste your time driving all the way there if you don’t have one!
The Haleakalā summit is 10, 023 feet. It’s a long, windy drive to get to the top, so it will be an early morning, but it is 100% worth it. The recommended drive time from West Maui is 3 hours, and from South/Central Maui is 2 hours. We left from Kihei at 3:30 am for a 6:15 am sunrise. We left early enough to get to the crater way before sunrise so we could enjoy the stars. There is NO artificial light up there, so the stargazing is incredible. Be sure to fill up on gas, food and water, as the options are limited and nothing is open. Also be sure to bring WARM CLOTHES. Nobody brings warm clothes to Hawaii, but if this is something you want to do, make room for jackets and gloves in your suitcase. Since you’re up so high and the sun hasn’t risen yet, it can get down to 30 degrees, especially if its windy. We wore pants, long-sleeved shirts, windbreakers, scarves, hats and gloves.
Once you enter the park and climb up to the summit, you will reach the Visitor’s Center. Most people watch the sunrise from the lookout there so it can get crowded and loud. If you want to enjoy this experience with much fewer people around, follow the signs for Pa Ka’oao Trail and go to the lookout point from there. It’s a lot more peaceful and you will get much better photos.
Then, find a seat on a rock and watch the magic happen. Watch the sky start to wake up with a hint of orange over the horizon. The clouds, which in the dark look like mountains, start to become apparent, and then the crater itself emerges beneath the light.
Once the sun rises, people start cheering and chanting and I promise, that 3 am wake up call quickly becomes one of the best mornings of your life.
After the sun is up, most people leave. HELLO! YOU HAVE A WHOLE CRATER TO EXPLORE! There are tons of trails around the park. The most well-known one is Keonehe’ehe’e, or Sliding Sands. It’s an 11.2 mile out and back trail, so you can choose how far you go. About 1 mile down, there’s a great lookout spot to get some photos and take in the view, and we turned around there. The trail goes down into the crater, so the way back up will take about twice as long, so make sure you have plenty of water.
Now, it’s time to make the drive back down. Coming up at 5 AM, it’s pitch black. You don’t notice that there’s 5 feet of edge followed by a several thousand foot drop. But oh boy is it apparent on the way down in the daylight!
Turn your vehicle into low gear and drive slow and enjoy the view. We’ve never been able to say that we were driving above the clouds. Until now anyways!
Once you get back into town, go grab yourself a big breakfast and some coffee and then go relax on the beach. It’ll be the highlight of your vacation in Maui. Guarantee it!
Have you guys heard of the Haleakalā sunrise before? Let us know what you think or if you have any questions!