So one of THE most popular things to do in Haleakala National Park is to see the sunrise at the Haleakala summit.
This is one of the things that Maui is famous for.
In order to see the Haleakala sunrise, many people report leaving their hotels at 3am or 4am to make it in time to see an epic Maui sunrise.
It also requires a permit from the National Park Service which often (always?) sells out in advance.
I am sure that seeing the Haleakala sunrise is an unforgettable experience. And maybe I will do that one day.
But if you are like me and waking up at 3am (or earlier) sounds like something you’d rather not do when you’re in Hawaii… and you don’t want to work really hard to get the sunrise permit… then is it worth it to visit the Haleakala summit at another time during the day?!
Well of course, as with many things… it depends…
But I will say that YES it can be totally worth it to get to the top of Haleakala and the highest point on Maui no matter when you go, including during the day!
Well, as long as you have good weather at the top of Haleakala.
And, I’ve talked to people who have also gone to see the Haleakala sunset (for which there is no permit required), and it also seems like it is an epic Haleakala experience. So that is another alternative to the Haleakala sunrise.
Below I will show you what a late morning and early afternoon Haleakala summit experience can be like! And then you can determine if it’s something that seems like it can be a worthy alternative to waking up at 3am for a sunrise!
There are also a few notes if you are someone who thinks waking up early to watch the Haleakala sunrise will be well worth it.
Can you go to Haleakala without a reservation?
If you want to watch the Haleakala sunrise, you NEED a reservation. (Or you need to go for a Haleakala sunrise tour.) If you want to go after sunrise time, then you can go to Haleakala without a reservation on your own! You need a reservation only if you want to go to the Haleakala National Park summit between the hours of 3am and 7am.
It is possible to drive to the Haleakala summit!
So first, yes, you can drive yourself all the way to the Haleakala summit. There is no real hiking required if you want to stand on the top of Haleakala.
There is a parking lot near the Haleakala summit, and then from there it’s a short walk around the summit.
👆 The final ascent to the Haleakala summit! You can drive this. A half mile to go to get to the end of Haleakala Highway.
If you want to hike near the Haleakala summit, THE hike to do is the Haleakala crater hike.
You will not have summit access from this trail, so going to the actual Haleakala summit will be a separate thing.
The trail starts half mile down the road from the summit, near the Haleakala Visitor Center.
👆👆 Hiking near Haleakala summit: The Haleakala crater hike starts about a half mile down the road from the summit.
Haleakala is at high altitude!
The height of the Haleakala summit is listed as an elevation of 10,023 feet.
In case you live at sea level and don’t know what that means, around 8,500 feet is the generally accepted elevation for what’s considered to be “high” altitude.
So as you are driving to the Haleakala summit, you’ll be driving at high altitude.
You might not so much need to worry about the effects of altitude during your national park visit in terms of real physical effects and altitude sickness, but it is possible.
If you’re doing any of the trails in the summit area of the park, it is possible that you find yourself to get out of breath more quickly.
If you’re a little worried about altitude sickness, you can take your time driving up the mountain by stopping often to take pictures at the many scenic overlooks along the way! (If you’re going during the day!) For example, the Kalakahu Overlook can be your first glimpse of the famous Haleakala crater views!
You’ll be driving above clouds to get to the summit!
There is a Haleakala Observatory
The observatories on the top of Haleakala are said to be the “fourth-best viewing conditions on the planet,” according to the National Park Service.
It’s said that the high altitude, the clear and dry atmosphere, and minimal air and light pollution make for ideal sky observation conditions.
But, the Haleakala Observatory is not open to the public. (It was like this pre-covid.)
Still, you can do your own star gazing from other areas near the Haleakala summit!
You might also stop by the Haleakala Visitor Center to see if the park ranger led astronomy talks have started back up. (Previously canceled because of covid.)
So now first, a bit about how to see the Haleakala summit at sunrise.
And then a bit about what it’s like to visit the Haleakala summit during the day!
How to see the Haleakala sunrise
Here is how to see the Haleakala sunrise on your own:
- Make a Haleakala sunrise reservation for $1 per ticket through the National Park Service in advance. Reservations are required in order to enter the Haleakala National Park summit entrance between 3am and 7am. (It was like this even pre-covid.)
- The night before your Haleakala sunrise, get ready as if you’re going on winter vacation the next day. (The summit at high altitude can be COLD, even more so in the dark.) Also make sure you are ready to show proof of reservation. Reviews indicate email or print will work.
- On the morning of your Haleakala sunrise, leave your hotel very early in the morning in time to make it to the summit (or near the summit) by sunrise. From South Maui (Wailea) and West Maui (Kaanapali, Kapalua), the time to drive to the summit of Haleakala may take 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Arrive at the Haleakala National Park summit entrance. Pay your national park entrance fee of around $30. (This will get you a 3-day Haleakala pass which is also good for the Haleakala coastal side with the bamboo forest and waterfalls.) Or, buy/show a Hawaii national park pass or US national park pass.
- Drive in the dark up a narrow winding unfamiliar road. (Just saying!) Look carefully as you are driving so you don’t kill the NENE! It’s happened on this road. 😟 The nene is a Hawaiian bird. (pronounce: nay-nay)
- Arrive at the Haleakala National Park Visitor Center parking lot near the summit. (Driving straight from the national park entry to the visitor center may be around a 30 minute drive.)
- If the parking lot at the summit isn’t at capacity, then keep driving to the Haleakala summit parking lot!
- Watch the sunrise from the top of Haleakala!
Or something like that!
☝ The Hawaiian bird called the nene, as seen in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You may also see nene in Haleakala National Park. As you are driving to the Haleakala summit, take extra care to look out for nene!
If you end up parking at the Haleakala National Park Visitor Center, you can walk the remaining half a mile to the summit.
👆 Parking lot near Haleakala Visitor Center.
Or, one Haleakala sunrise review reports an “incredible” experience near the visitor center, being all alone while taking in the sunrise from the overlook at the end of the Pa Kaoao Trail. (This is not the summit, though.)
👆👆 Overlook near Haleakala summit: The Pa Kaoao Trail starts near the Haleakala Visitor Center which is about a half mile down the road from the summit.
If you want to shorten the morning drive time, there is the Hosmer Grove Campground located in Haleakala National Park.
This is around a 30 minute drive to the summit.
And technically even though you are already in the national park, you are supposed to still have the sunrise reservation if you want to be on the road to the summit between 3 and 7am.
And finally, another thing that’s sometimes mentioned in planning for a Haleakala sunrise drive.
If you’re flying from the mainland US or Canada, you might want to plan to do the Haleakala sunrise within the first few days of your time on Maui.
Jet lag will be on your side! 3am Hawaii time is 6am PT is 9am ET! (Exact time difference will depend on when you go. There is no daylight savings time in Hawaii.)
And so, that’s a bit about driving to the Haleakala summit at sunrise! Now, a bit below about driving to the Haleakala summit during the day!
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IMPORTANT!!! If you want to do the back road to Hana, be sure to check the Maui County government website before you go. As of early June 2022, it is not possible to drive the Road to Hana as a loop because of a bridge repair. This is expected to take 2 months. You can still drive the Road to Hana as an out-and-back.
This is what a visit to the East Maui volcano summit aka Haleakala summit during the day can be like!
This is basically how it was for me during my January 2020 visit! My entry to Haleakala National Park was around 10:35am. I arrived at the Haleakala Visitor Center near the summit at around 11:45am. I arrived at the Haleakala summit around 1:35pm. No, it doesn’t have to take you 3 hours to get from entry to the Haleakala summit! It’s very possible to do it in (way) less time.
For google maps, your destination can be a number of spots including the Red Hill and Haleakalā Visitor Center, or really any location on the summit side of Haleakala National Park. Once you get onto Haleakala Highway, it is just one road that goes to the summit, and you can’t get lost. So you just need the directions to navigate to Haleakala Highway!
Haleakala National Park entry fee
And then, once on the Haleakala Highway, you will come to the Haleakala National Park summit entrance.
Here you will pay an entry fee if you don’t have some sort of national park pass already.
The fee for 2021 is $30 per vehicle, and this pass lasts for 3 days. You can check current prices here.
Haleakala National Park has 2 main areas: the summit side and the Kipahulu coastal side. These 2 areas are not connected by road through the park, so the vast majority of people who visit both sides will do so on separate days. The popular Haleakala trails on the coastal side are the Pipiwai Trail and Kuloa Point Trail.
If your visits to the summit side and coastal side will be more than 3 days apart, instead of paying for the individual pass twice, you can also get the Hawaii national park pass. It’s an annual pass so this pass will last for one year, and it will also cover the national park on the Big Island.
And, if you plan on visiting more U.S. national parks around the country within a year, then there is also the America the Beautiful national park pass. This is also an annual pass.
You should be able to buy any of the passes when you enter the park.
Continuing the drive to the Haleakala summit!
If you were to drive straight from the park entrance to the summit without stopping, it may take 30 minutes or less. But, you may want to stop to go up the mountain more slowly!
So shortly after you continue your drive past the national park entry, you’ll come to the first visitor center.
This is the “HQ” visitor center, and not the visitor center near the summit.
So unless you’re eager to get a map and park information, or you’re eager to talk to a park ranger, then you can keep driving. Or, if you’re looking for an excuse to drive up the mountain at a slower pace, you can stop here too!
And then, keep driving up the mountain to the Haleakala summit!
You will come across a number of small pullovers where you can stop to take in the views. You will also come across the “official” overlooks of the Leleiwi Overlook and Kalahaku Overlook where you can also stop off at.
Also, as you are driving to the Haleakala summit, you will also pass by a “hiker pick-up point.” (There will be a sign that you’re approaching it.)
If you see someone waiting at the hiker pick-up point, they will SO appreciate if you stop to drive them further up the road towards the Haleakala summit!
This is a legit “hitchhiking” thing in Haleakala National Park, and it’s officially recommended by the National Park Service to hikers as a way to hike one way from Sliding Sands Trail to Halemauu Trail.
But it can only work if there are kind drivers like you! 😉 You will make someone very happy!
So as you continue the drive along Haleakala Highway, you will then come to the Haleakala Visitor Center near the summit!
It will be a big parking area that you will come across as you are driving on the road to the summit so you can’t miss it.
You can make a stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center parking lot to learn about the East Maui volcano at the visitor center, to see the famous Haleakala crater views from the overlook right next to the visitor center, to hike up the short Pa Kaoao Trail to see the Haleakala crater from a higher vantage point, and/or to start the Sliding Sands Trail to hike into the Haleakala crater!
You can keep driving directly to the Haleakala summit!
You have just a half mile to go from the Haleakala Visitor Center!
And then you will reach the end of the road and get to the Haleakala summit parking lot!
And then you can walk around the top of Haleakala!
Up the stairs is where you will find the small shelter area with the elevation sign that you are at 10,023 feet.
And then on the other side of the parking lot you will find more sweeping views of Maui all around you! …If the weather is good!
And then after you’ve finished up taking in the views from the top of Haleakala, you can start the drive back down to sea level!
And that’s a bit about making a drive to the Haleakala summit!
More for your Haleakala National Park trip planning:
- Hiking the Pa Kaoao Trail (near the Haleakala Visitor Center)
- Hiking the Sliding Sands Trail (Haleakala crater hike)
- Hiking the Pipiwai Trail (bamboo forest and waterfalls on the Kipahulu side)
- Hiking to the Oheo Pools (waterfalls and stream that flow into the ocean on the Kipahulu side)
- Things to do on the Haleakala coast
More Maui volcano exploration:
- Hiking the lava fields in South Maui
- Hiking the lava fields in East Maui
- Hiking the Hana lava tube cave
More for your Maui trip planning:
- The best of Maui with a car
- The best of Maui in 3 days
- The best of South Maui
- The best of West Maui
- How to spend one day in the West Maui mountains
- The best of the Road to Hana
HAPPY DRIVING TO THE HALEAKALA SUMMIT!