Haleakala Sunrise versus Sunset

Maui Sunrise Haleakala

As you are making your sight-seeing plans for Maui, I do hope you are planning in a visit to the summit of Haleakala. Did you know that the name Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian? Given the meaning of Haleakala, I think it’s fitting to visit the summit for sunrise or sunset.

Which is the better time to visit Haleakala – sunset or sunrise? That’s a good question! Let’s just say that they’re both excellent choices. We’ve experienced and enjoyed both. Personally, I tend to lean towards sunrise being my favorite.

Here are my thoughts on Haleakala for sunrise versus sunset…

Practically speaking, you’re going to be jet lagged anyway so make good use of the time and see sunrise. To some extent you will be jet lagged, particularly if you are flying from the East. From my experience, I tend to be an early riser when I visit Hawaii. The first couple of days, I tend to wake up in the wee hours of the morning. Take advantage of your jet lag on the first or second day and drive up to Haleakala for sunrise.

On the flip side of the jet lag issue, if you want to watch sunset, you may want to wait to go to Haleakala towards the end of your stay. On the first few days I’m in Hawaii, I get sleepy early in the evening – I’m talking around 7:30 or 8:00pm. So, if sunset is around 6:30pm and I’ve got to drive two hours back to my accommodation, I’m going to be fighting to stay awake while driving in the dark down a steep and winding road. That’s not a good combination.

A bonus of getting to the summit early is that you get to stargaze before watching the sky and clouds slowly light up with vivid sunrise colors. It’s hard to put into words how amazing this experience is. Observatories at the Top of HaleakalaI’d encourage you to be observant as you watch this natural show and you will be rewarded. Now I know you can watch this sequence in reverse if you go for sunset, however, if you are fighting jet lag and you’re getting colder by the minute as the sun’s warmth goes away, you’re less likely to persevere to a nice dark sky for stargazing.

Sunrise is more dramatic, in my opinion.  Not only are you there early watching the sky change from dark to colorful lights, but the surreal, moon-like landscape of Haleakala summit emerges from darkness at sunrise.

I have always found that it’s easer to drive uphill than driving downhill in the dark. Has anyone else noticed that, too? I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, so I feel like I know a thing or two about driving on steep, curvy roads.  The road to the summit of Haleakala is very steep and abundantly filled with hairpin turns. I prefer to navigate up this tricky road in the dark before sunrise rather than down the road after sunset. Driving the road in the daytime is challenging enough. There are no street lights along the road, so it is very, very dark at night.

We created this video of the drive down Haleakala summit from a mid-day visit. Take notice that there aren’t many/any guard rails.

With Haleakala meaning house of the sun, I think it’s more fitting to greet the sun on its house.  Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, but I feel like watching sunrise on Haleakala has a cultural significance because of its name.

Now that I’ve gone all goo goo gah gah over Haleakala sunrise, you may be wondering if there are any plus sides to watching sunset. Yes, there are upsides to watching sunset! For starters, you’ll find less crowds at sunset. You’ll also find that the temperature is warmer for sunset. At 10,000 feet above sea level, it does get chilly especially without the warmth of the sun.

Haleakala sunset

If you’ve been trying to decide between Haleakala sunrise or sunset, I hope this article has helped you make your decision. Be sure to see all my tips for watching Haleakala sunrise.Have you seen Haleakala sunrise or sunset?  What did you think of it?

  1. Hi Sheila – I was just at Haleakala in August, and I will confirm that yes – it is a wonderful must-see Maui experience. One giant caution – DRESS WARM! I was bundled in fleece and wrapped in a comforter and still froze!

  2. Hi Valerie – I’m glad you enjoyed sunrise on Haleakala!

    Yes, yes, yes…I agree that dressing warm is super important!

    I appreciate you stopping by and adding your comment!

  3. Sheila, Yes, I’ve been to Haleakala and saw the most beautiful sunrise. And I’m quite allergic to rising so early, but when I’m on vacation, I do the most unusual things ever–like getting up soooooooo early. It was Great!! We met 2 park rangers there, one a local woman, who sang a Hawaiian chant to the sun (which I got on videotape), and the second was from Chester County, where I’m also from!! Such luck–he was just recently assigned there , only within a few weeks of our short trip there to Maui. The scenery changed from “Twilight Zone” to moonscape within about an hour or so. I only wish I had more time to spend there, maybe do a short hike within the crater, and see more silverswords–in bloom–the few I saw were not blooming yet. But we had to see SOOOOO much on our short 6 day stay, that we had to keep on keeping on.

    Oh yes, one more thing I,Joanne McCrery, am an HA (Hawaii Addict). I’m subscribed to Hawaii Magazine, and just received my Dec. issue, with LOADS of ads just ripe for the Christmas Picking. I didn’t get to bring home enough souvineirs from my trip, so I’m gonna do some shopping online for Christmas gifts from my Hawaii!!!

    Better sign off & let someone else some room to comment. Aloha.

    1. Joanne

      That is so neat that you got to watch the Hawaiian chant. I’ve been up to Haleakala three times for sunrise and still haven’t seen that chant.

      Sorry for this very delayed reply to your comment!

  4. We have just returned from a trip to Maui, and the Sunrise was certainly one of highlights of our trip. My three tips would be,go ‘early’ and avoid the ‘very slow drivers’ and buses ! DRESS WARM and in layers, there was no wind, yet FREEZING. Stay after the crowds have gone, as the sun rises the changing colours and views are amazing.
    I’d also be very wary about biking back down, we saw two accidents ! Not a great way to spend your holiday in a fracture clinic !!!!!!

    1. Neil – I’m with you, that biking trip just doesn’t look like it’s worth the risk. I’d be afraid I’d have to concentrate so intently on the road that I’d never enjoy the scenery. I guess I really shouldn’t knock it before I try it, though, there are many folks who have done it and loved it. Thanks for your first time comment.

  5. Sheila:

    Thank you very much for the article. Next week it would be our first trip to Hawaii and I wanted to make everything special for my wife. I was really under a dilemma before I read your article whether to make a reservation for sunrise tour or sunset. I just made sunrise tour reservations. Also I opted out of bike tour. Will write to you with our experience. We are sooooooooooooooooo excited.


  6. Thanks for sharing, I am heading to Maui on Monday and I am definitely going to check this out.

  7. Sheila,

    Do you have any recommendations to spend time for few hours in Haleakala summit area after the sunrise visit before going back?

    – Karthik

    1. Karthik – check out the displays at the summit area visitors center. There are a some hikes in that area as well. I recommend you speak to one of the rangers at the summit visitors center to get their hiking recommendations based on the amount of time you have available.

  8. I am wondering which scenario would be better. At the start of our trip, we will be jetlagged, which would be a good time to see Haleakala sunrise. Since there is a full-moon the night we arrive, we wouldn’t get much stargazing, but would still have a unique view of seeing the sunrise on one side and the moonset on the other.

    On the other hand, we could wait until the end of our trip when the moon doesn’t rise until after midnight and get both the sunset and star-gazing.

      1. Either way would be fine, however I think the stargazing opportunity tips the scale in my opinion.

  9. Hi Sheila,

    Thanks for this article it’s very helpful. My Fiancee and I land in maui around 10pm (coming in from California), and plan to start driving to the crater around 1:00am and get there super early (around 3) and just star gaze and take quick nap before sunrise. Probably not the most ideal, but at least we’d save money on a hotel for the night and also guarantee us a good spot in the morning. Our question is: how cold does up there if we just stay in the car for an hour or two to take a nap before sunrise? Would you recommend this route?

    Any insight would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  10. Great site, Sheila…

    how does one go about sharing some imagery (still and video) with you for posting on your wonderful endeavor here…?
    * * *
    I grew up on Maui… been in NC during my military career.
    Retired entirely last year… visited Maui, took several thousand still images and much video footage.
    I am going back again in a couple of weeks and would love to share still, video, and an article or two… (grin) Is that possible…?

    Maybe one or two before I leave…?

    Until that time… Earl J.

  11. I am intrigued. . .
    I will share with you soon about my effort to begin a helping hand project for the Kaupo Store… and administer the effort from here in NC (IF I can’t swing moving back there entirely…(wink))
    * * *

    Yes, I will go there and post images…

    I’ll have some fresh ones very soon… 16 SEP to be exact…

    Until that time. . .

  12. Hi Sheila,

    Thanks for your write-up! Unfortunately there are no sunrise passes available, so my fiance and I will have to settle for sunset. Do you know of alternative ways to get a pass? What’s a good time to leave Kihei for sunset?


  13. My husband and I are coming for the first time to Maui this coming up May. We have booked a condo in Lahaina. Would you recommend us doing a tour since we do not know the roads or do you think we would be fine to make the drive ourselves?

    1. That’s a personal decision as to how comfortable you are driving on unfamiliar roads in the USA.

    2. As Sheila has mentioned, it does come down to preference. If you guys have the endurance to drive for 8+ hours through winding roads, then you can definitely drive yourself. This way it’ll allow you to stop when you want and go at your own schedule. If you do end up doing it yourself, I’d recommend downloading a phone app that will guide you. Cellular data is almost non existent out there.

      1. Sorry, I confused this with Road to Hana. Same comments apply, but the drive is a lot shorter, it’s overall about 5-6 hour drive. The roads are windy but they’re well paved.

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