Exploring Haleakala Crater Hiking Trails

Posted by Mapuana Andrade on Monday, August 9th, 2021 at 4:47pm

Just above the white clouds that sit on top of Maui's upcountry skyline lies magnificent Haleakala. This unique location brings stories of ancient and current Hawaiian culture alive, and it serves to preserve the relationship between the ʻāina (native land) and the Hawaiian people. In Hawaiian, Haleakala means "house of the sun," and legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun as he stood on the volcano's peak, delaying its descent so that his family had more time in the day to grow their crops.

The dormant volcano, one of the most treasured sites on the island, sits at 10,023 feet above sea level and is home to some of the most breathtaking sights. Along its fertile crater are many hikeable pathways that take you on a journey through lush vegetation, rich red sand, towering rock formations, and terrain that looks more like Mars than Earth. 

Choosing the trails that best suit your hiking style is the hardest part, as all of the trails in Haleakala leave visitors speechless. Every path is unique, and every sight is different from the last. Make sure you and see the ahinahina, a beautiful and rare silversword that looks to be from outer space, historic lava flow trails, and pu‘u (hills that mark eruption sites from years ago).  

Seeing this 750,000-year-old crater at night is a whole other out-of-this-world experience. Looking up, the sky is covered in brightly lit stars so close you swear you could touch them if you reached high enough. Camping at Haleakala is probably the most surreal activity you can do on Maui. Reservations are required at both Holua and Paliku campgrounds. 

Haleakala National Park charges a fee to enter. Prices are $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle. If you are entering on foot or bike, the cost is $15 per person. You can also purchase a park-specific annual pass for $55. Note: Sunrise visitors will have to reserve access on the Haleakala National Park Summit Sunrise Reservations page. Hikers are obliged by law to stay within the trail paths because of the delicate nature of Hawaiian environments.

Keoneheehee Trail (Sliding Sands Trail)

If you're looking for a unique hiking experience, Keoneheehee Trail, or Sliding Sands, is for you. With the trailhead situated just below the visitor's deck, Keoneheehee faces the crater's vibrant fauna and flora giving you an unfiltered glance into an ancient land. This challenging 17.5-mile trail runs through roughly 1,400 feet of elevation alongside Maui's dormant volcano and leaves hikers exposed to direct sunlight the entire way. Be sure to do your research on best practices when preparing for a hike like this one, and always check the national park website for updates before you plan your trip.

The Halemau'u Haleakala Overlook

The Halemau'u Haleakala Overlook Hike is a 7.6-mile out-and-back trail in Kula. Here, you witness a piece of Haleakala that resembles the moon. This trail leads hikers towards the Holua campground and takes about 5 hours. Regarded as arduous, this hike offers glimpses of animals and views of lush forests like never before seen, especially when the light mist sets in and creates a magical view. The path, not considered rugged or too steep but having some rockiness to it, is open all year and is primarily utilized for hiking and jogging. 

Pa Ka'oao Trail (White Hill Trail)

This short but steep climb leads you up the side of a volcanic cinder cone above the visitors center to reach an incredible view of Haleakala and, on clearer days, the mountain tops of the Big Island in the distance. Revel in a birds-eye view of the entire crater and catch glimpses of the rest of Maui down below. Rock shelter formations you see along the way are a testament to the rich Hawaiian history of Haleakala and the many people who have come before us. Remember to treat our island with respect and leave it better than you arrived. 

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