Tips for Seeing Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

Haleakala at sunrise
Watching the sun rise above the clouds at Haleakala National Park is a unique and memorable experience that I highly recommend you see. Haleakala is a Hawaiian name that means house of the sun. It is truly an awesome place to watch the clear night sky and stars fade away as the sun lights up the sky and earth.

There are so many people who go to watch sunrise on Haleakala hurriedly as if it was just another thing to mark off their “to do list”. Do you remember the scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation when the Grizwolds saw the Grand Canyon in all of about 30 seconds? There have been so many people who treat sunrise on Haleakala the same way. I’d like to encourage you to really enjoy your time on Haleakala. So, I’m writing up my best tips for getting the most out of your early morning at more than 10,000 feet above sea level.

Getting there

image I highly recommend you map out your route at least the day before you go while you are alert and in light. What might be even easier is if you are bringing a GPS navigation system (see my post on Hawaii GPS stress savers), check your unit to see if it has the Haleakala crater or summit stored in the system. (Note that there are two Haleakala visitor centers on Maui — one on the summt, which is where you want to go and one past Hana that you do not want to go  to for Haleakala sunrise.)

You can create your own custom directions to Haleakala summit for sunrise. Write out or print out the directions including both the highway’s name and number. This advice may sound silly, but it will save you from having to navigate on-the-fly from the map in the dark. You’ll likely be sleepy and less alert when you’re in the car on your way, so by having your directions all laid you, you’ll save yourself from stress and possibly prevent making a wrong turn.

Make sure you have plenty of gas the day before you go. You certainly don’t want to trying to find a gas station that is open in the middle of the night. Be advised that there are no service stations in the park.

Be aware that the road that leads up to the crater is very curvy and steep and there are no street lights. The road also runs through open range cattle farm, so it’s possible that cows could be in the road.  I say this not to freak you out, but to help you to be prepared for what you will find. The road is well paved and marked.

From around September through March, Haleakala Ranch has their cattle grazing along Crater Road. Please drive with caution coming up to the summit as cattle may and will be on the road. Be especially careful driving the blind curves.

You should also be aware of the entrance fee to the park. Currently for a car, the fee is $10 and that allows you to have entrance valid for three days. Here is a link to the fee structure to verify the current pricing. Your entrance fee will allow entry over multiple days. Take note of how long your park entrance slip is valid. Then, aim to plan your day to drive the road to Hana within the valid date so that you can present your entry slip at the Haleakala visitors center at the Kipahulu region and not have to pay the fee again.

What’s it like to drive the road?

After a mid-day visit to Haleakala, we created this video of driving down Haleakala. A few things to notice is that the road is on the cliff edge and there aren’t guard rails.

When to go

I like to plan to see the sunrise at Haleakala on the first or second day of my trip to Maui. I travel to Maui from the east, so I’m jet lagged anyway and getting up in the wee hours of the morning is not hard to do particularly early on in the trip.

Some folks prefer to go to Haleakala at sunset. Personally, I like sunrise. In this link, we look at the pros and cons of Haleakala sunrise versus sunset.

Most people will look at the sunrise times for Haleakala and the drive time and allow the minimum time to get to the summit. They rush straight to sunrise barely getting there before the sun appears. These people really miss out on the beautiful and serene show that God provides beforehand.

I love to get to the summit around 5am so that I can do some star gazing before the sky starts lighting up. The summit of Haleakala is actually one of the best places on earth to stargaze. It is also one of the most easily accessible places in Hawaii to get a world-class view of the night sky. You will most likely see more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life — unless you are there on a full moon night.. Watch for shooting stars.

As the stars start to fade and the night sky lightens, take note of the direction the light is coming from. Then take a seat along the rock wall towards that direction. You’ll then have the “best seat in the house” for watching sunrise. Notice all the subtle changes in color in the sky and land. (Note: if you see lights off in the south east direction, that will most likely be from the Big Island.)

Weather might also factor in your decision of when to go to see sunrise.  Call this toll free number to access the National Weather Service’s Haleakala summit forecast.  That toll-free number is  (866) 944-5025.

What to bring

  • The summit of Haleakala is over 10,000 feet above sea level, so it is cold and often windy. Check the summit weather forecast at this link. If you have room in your suitcase to stuff in a warm coat or windbreaker, bring it. At a minimum bring a warm scarf, gloves and a hat that’s not easily blown off. Those items don’t take up much room in your luggage. You might consider bringing thermal underwear, if you have it. Wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirt. (It’s always a good idea to have long trousers in Hawaii anyway.) If you can, wear layers of clothing. Bring beach towels and blankets to wrap around you. Trust me, it’s going to be cold, even in the summer. It could also be windy, so be as prepared as you can for those conditions.
  • A camera for taking photos of sunrise and the volcano’s summit.
  • A flashlight for navigating your way from the parking area up to the observatory steps.
  • Binoculars to get a closer view of the stars, planets, and terrain.
  • You might want to bring water and/or a light snack as there are no food services at the park. If you’re staying in a condo, you may have access to a thermos for bringing a warm beverage.

What to do after sunrise

  • Take in the views of the island that were most likely dark when you arrived.
  • See the endangered silversword plant — usually seen in the summit parking lot.
  • Check out the crater view at the visitors center. It’s located immediately below the summit.
  • The summit area of the park offers over 30 miles of hiking trails for taking in the views, seeing native shrubs and plants, and possibly seeing some wildlife. We saw the endangered Nene when we were there.
  • After leaving the park, my favorite thing to do is to have some fluffy macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup at the Kula Lodge restaurant. Breakfast is good here, but the views are even better!

See my article, If you are wondering whether you should see Haleakala sunrise or sunset.

I hope these tips will help you get the most out of your sunrise experience. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please post them in the comments.

See more ideas of what to do and see on your Maui vacation.

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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

57 comments

  1. You can’t stress enough how cold it is up there, until the sun comes up. That wind whips through you. They do have a glass shelter you can use to get a break from the wind, but it gets so crowded you’d miss the spectacular sunrise – and it is spectacular!

  2. I love blogs because this information will still be around so that I can check back and follow your directions! I still love the idea! What a wonderful thing for newlyweds to do! Thank you for sharing this! I will keep Andy’s advice in mind too! Must have thick jacket! :)

  3. Sheila:

    What a gem of a site you have!!! Not only do you write so well but the information here is absolutely fantastic! When the time comes for me to go to Hawaii, I’ll definitely know where to go for unbaised advice!

    I am grateful to have discovered you!

  4. To Stephen – I don’t know what to say about your extremely kind words. I’m totally lost for words. All I can say is thank you.

    To Evelyn – First I apologize for the much delayed response to your comment. Oh yes, a warm jacket is definitely useful. As a Honolulu resident, do you even own a warm jacket? :-)

  5. Not as extremely warm as it needs to be! :)

  6. I must agree with Stephan, you have a very nice blog. The layout and photos are very pleasing to the eye. Your posts are helping me prepare for my trip in March.

  7. Hi Ericka – Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you’re finding useful information to plan your trip to Maui. I love being able to pass along my best tips.

    Did you know you inspired yesterday’s post? http://www.govisithawaii.com/2008/01/18/top-5-things-you-must-see-and-do-on-your-maui-vacation/
    :-)

    Aloha,
    Sheila

  8. Annie Chavez Hollingshead

    My friend and myself visited Maui last December. We took some pictures of the sunrise at Haleakala. I have a gorgeous capture of the sunrise, despite the flurries, and cold that we experienced right before this. I also have a wonderful picture of a man that looked like Santa Claus. This was right around Christmas as a matter of fact. The interesting thing about this morning, is that is was very cold. Everyone there shivering, but this man. He had shoulder length naturally white hair, mustache, and a beard. Invision Santa. He wore nothing but a Hawaiian short-sleeved shirt, and some Cargo shorts and sandels. I never once saw this man even remotely act like he was cold. I got his attention by saying: Santa, to get his attention, and as he turned, and he realized I was going to take his picture, he gestured with a thumbs up, and let me take his pictures. As we were all leaving, I didn’t see where he disappreared to? I have both pictures that I would love to sell as advertisement for the Maui literature that is distributed. Any leads would be wonderful. We have other excellent shots also. Was Santa taking a quick breather just before he had to get back to the North Pole? Noone else, seemingly, was looking at this Santa looking person, but me and my friend. We have examined the photo, and noone else seemed to see what we were seeing. We had nothing on board altering our person. Just sharing…

  9. @ Annie – Wow! What an experience. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Re: pic of your Santa; no it wasn’t what I saw that Dec. visit. Where do I send pictures, and I will share the Santa I saw, along with a pic of my beautiful sunrise that looks very similar to the one you posted on this site. I think I might have mentioned that I thought it was one of mine? No reply from you on that.I await your info on where to send my pics. Thanks, Shiela!

  10. Just spent a week in Maui….just got home October 5, 2009. The sunrise at the summit was totally awesome. My hubby…who really could have cared less about getting up to see the sunrise got up at 2:30 AM to drive me to the summit so that we were there well before sunrise. We got there about 5ish and had enough time to catch the changing colors and see the “ceremony” that a guide did. She chanted and prayed and then basically told everyone “the sun has risen”. People laughed because alot of peolple were standing around and some were mumbling about when was the sun going to rise? The sunrise at the summit is totally worth the drive…if you don’t mind getting up that early and driving on a very dark and curvy road.

  11. Great tips, Thanks so much for the information about visiting the volcano, I will try to make that stop next time I go there!

  12. Sheila,

    your blog is awesome and really help me plan for my trip in FEB 2011 that’s coming up. I am really getting confused regarding the directions. are there any unauthorized or dangerous to drive roads that we might encounter. can we trust google maps. Please explain. Thanks in advance

  13. Hi sheila,

    i am trying to get directions to to Haleakala visitors center at 10,000 ft. I typed in Visitor’s Center at 10,023 Ft, Haleakala National like you said in Google map but it doesn’t calculate directions to that point all it does is to Visitor center headQuarters which is at the bottom of the summit i guess. how can i get directions to the top point of the summit. Appreciate your help

  14. I have edited this post to remove the google maps reference to Haleakala summit at 10,023 feet.

  15. We just got Back from 2 Weeks in Hawaii, and I will say that this is the BEST sunrise that I have seen in YEARS!

    My Biggest tip is a rather Simple one. CAMP – with a tent – inside the park the night Before you want to see sunrise. You can get some stargazing in and then go to bed. Wake up at 5:00, grab a couple energy bars, and drive the last few miles up to the summit. Sunrise for us on 1/28 was at 0702, and we got to the Summit Parking lot just in time. There are Limited Parking spaces, and you don’t want to have to hike it from the parking lot 1/2 mile away.

    Ohh, and for those people Worried about how much it’ll cost you, HA! Camping inside a National Park or National Forest is FREE! In 4 nights on Maui, we spent $0 in Lodging expenses!

    T.S

  16. Hi Sheila,

    I just wanted to thank you for your site. Three of your tips in particular (bring a blanket, arrive early to stargaze, and enjoy some macadamia nut pancakes at Kula Lodge) were all thumbs up for this traveler! I was warm at the summit, had a good hour to see the incredible view of the stars before sunrise, and am currently full of pancakey/syrupy goodness. Keep up the great work!

    • Awesome, Michael! We don’t give advice that we wouldn’t do ourselves.

      Oh my, how we wish we’d just seen the stars and then the amazing Haleakala sunrise and were full of pancakey/syrupy goodness, too. Enjoy the rest of your time on Maui!

  17. Sheila,
    I’m trying to figure out if I should try to incorporate seeing the sunrise and traveling the road to Hana all in the same day. We will be coming from the West side of Maui (Kaanapali). Would you recommend driving to Haleakala Summit for the sunrise then doing the road to Hana in reverse, or not? I really like your blog! Being a first timer to Hawaii I have found it extremely useful in planning our trip. Thank you so much!!

    • Carman- I highly recommend that you plan Haleakala sunrise and driving the road to Hana on separate days. Both drives take a hefty amount concentration. Though, technically you could make both drives in the same day, it would be super exhausting and you wouldn’t enjoy the road to Hana nearly as much.

      Also, driving the back road (the in reverse route) is not approved by most rental car agencies. That means if the car breaks down or you get into an accident while driving that prohibited drive, you would be held financial responsive for the repairs. I want to make sure people are aware of this risk before driving that section. See more here: http://www.govisithawaii.com/2009/08/26/should-you-drive-the-back-side-of-the-road-to-hana/

  18. Hi Sheila,Your blog is simply amazing..it is so so great! I am trying my best to include the Haleakala sunrise in our trip..my husband and me are gonna be in Maui for just 3 nights! I am planning to reach the summit around 5 am to experience the sunrise, and would be driving from a small hotel in Kahului (closest to the airport). I added the address in your custom made map to see how much driving time do I need..and it shows 38.3 miles and 1 hour 21 minutes :) Just wanted to check with you again…is that much time enough to reach the summit from Maui Seaside Hotel, Kahului?

    • Hi Sneh. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. It’s music to my ears. :-)

      The drive time sounds about right from Kahului. If you decide to get an earlier start, you’ll just have extra time for stargazing, assuming it’s not a full moon night.

      • Thanks a lot Sheila for the help :) still working on my itinerary and soaking up as much info as I can from your articles ! thanks :)

  19. Sheila,
    Just wanted to tell you that we had THE BEST time in Maui this past January, and a lot of the reason for that is all your info in this blog. I had no idea what to do and what not to do, it’s pretty overwhelming planning things to do for a place you’ve never seen. I took a lot of your suggestions and put together the most awesome 7 days we’ve ever had on a vacation. Thank you for all the info and always answering everyone’s questions. btw, we went to Mt Haleakala for sunset, and breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it!! There is so much beauty everywhere you look on Maui, its difficult to take it all in. Thanks again for your blog and info.

    Aloha,
    Carman

  20. Thinking of going in early Jan. ( my 40th birthday) to the top of Haleakala. I read (somewhere) it snows….are the road passable if snow fall does happen or do they close the road down?

    • It does snow on Haleakala, but not very often at all. From my observation, Haleakala might get snow once every one to two or three years. From my memory, I don’t believe there was any snow at Haleakala over the winter of 2012/2013. The park does close for severe weather.

      • I wanted to add, that any substantial snow accumulation is rare. Though, they probably get some snow flurries at the summit level each winter.

  21. Wow! Thanks so much for all this info! We are planning a trip this September and I just about gave up because there was so much info it was about overload, then I found your site! My question is this: I will be travelling with my husband and 2 semi small (5 and 10) children. We will be there 10 days not including travel time, but really just wanted to see the natural beauty of Hawaii, and therefore had really planned on only staying in Kauai and travelling a few days to see some other gems ( they really just want to snorkel with sea turtles, go figure :)) What would you recommend to be able to see the sunrise? Is there anyway to get there early or should we go ahead and just try to stay in maui a few days? Thanks so much!!!

  22. Wow thanks for the fast and great response!! I’m still going through your site, could I ask one more question related to this? If we are wanting to see the more natural part of Hawaii(sea turtles, volcanoes, rainforest), would 4-5 days in maui and then 4-5 in Kauai be your recommendation? I thought we could ‘do’ all the maui spots and then relax in Kauai. My husband really wants to see the Arizona too but again it’s on another island and from your writing I know we need to be there early, so i’m not sure we’ll be doing that. It’s a little overwhelming! Thanks so much I really appreciate it!!!

  23. Hi Shiela,

    You have a very informative and detailed blog! Its proving to be really helpful in planning our trip. :-)I would like to know if we should do both Mauna Kea sunset and stargazing as well as Haleakala sunrise or is doing just one of the two good enough? Are these two quite similar experiences?

  24. How cold would you expect it to be in July at the summit?

    • Anywhere between 30s to 50s. Use the weather forecast link in the article for more information as you get closer to July.

  25. How do you feel about the bike tours down Haleakala?

    • I have heard from many people who biked down Haleakala and loved it. I’ve not personally tried it because I’ve heard of many injuries and even deaths that have resulted from these tours. As we wrote in this post back in 2007: “Doctors at Maui Memorial say, they see at least two to five injured cyclists in their emergency room each week, with broken bones or facial injuries from their downhill ride.”

      Also, just from my observation as we’ve safely passed the bikers going down Haleakala, they didn’t appear to be having fun.

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