It’s one of the 2 national parks in Hawaii, and a visit to Haleakala is one of the most popular activities on Maui!
And if you are looking to do just ONE hike in the Haleakala National Park summit district, then the Sliding Sands Trail is it!
aka Keoneheehee Trail or Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trail
The Sliding Sands Trail is one of the best hikes on Maui. You can do this Haleakala crater hike near the Haleakala summit on your own no problem. No Haleakala tour necessary. (Also written as the Haleakalā crater.)
According to the National Park Service:
The trail descends into a former eruption zone, where fountaining lava created a relatively recent series of cinder cones.
From a distance, the cinder desert appears devoid of life.
But down in the basin, unusual species of plants, birds, and insects – often hidden among the rocks – have adapted to the summit’s extremes.
And, the good news about this trail is that you can make it as long or as short as you want! The longer you go, the more you’ll get to see. But even if you don’t go so long, it’s still totally worth it, I think!
This is a hike into a crater.
The Sliding Sands Trail starts right near the “top” of the crater near the summit. (You won’t be reaching the summit by doing this trail, and that’s a short drive of a couple minutes further up from the start of the trail. You may consider first driving to the summit, and then starting the Sliding Sands Trail afterwards. See more about walking around the actual Haleakala peak.)
So starting at the top of this crater means that no matter how you choose to do this trail, you will be starting off the hike by going DOWN…
And then your way back will be going UP.
DOWN is optional. UP is mandatory!
This is a sign from the Grand Canyon National Park’s famous trail – it’s similar in the aspect that it’s also a hike that starts from the top and goes down, and you want to make sure you think about the energy required going back up! With the Grand Canyon hike you’re hiking down into the canyon, with the Haleakala hike you’re hiking down into the crater!
And on that note… also be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks in your hiking daypack – more than you think you need!
If you’re lacking energy on the trail, it’s amazing what a few hundred calories can do for your energy levels!
You might also consider bringing along hiking poles too in an effort to save your knees on the way down.
Sliding Sands Trail is considered a difficult trail which makes it even more important to make sure you’re prepared!
See the hiking essentials for Hawaii for the basics, and then also be sure to factor in the Haleakala summit weather which can mean preparing for hiking in cold weather… or at least cooler temperatures than you’d expect for a Hawaii vacation!
The Sliding Sands Trail is at high altitude
The Haleakala summit is at an elevation of over 10,000 feet.
The Sliding Sands Trail starts at an elevation of around 9,740 feet. (Then you’ll be going down once you start the trail.)
In case you don’t know what that means, around 8,500 feet is the generally accepted elevation for what’s considered to be “high” altitude. You’ll get to this height as you’re driving up to the start of the trail.
You might not so much need to worry about the effects of altitude on the Sliding Sands Trail in terms of real physical effects and altitude sickness, but it is possible.
In terms of doing the hike, it is also possible that you find yourself to get out of breath more quickly. So keep this in mind as you’re deciding how far to go on the trail, both in your plans before you go, and in making decisions when you’re out on the trail about when to turn around.
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!
This might not prevent it completely, but it’ll allow you to get used to the elevation at a slower pace!
It’s colder up top! It can be windy too. Pack layers of clothes for your hike!
Haleakala is a volcano
So, Sliding Sands Trail would also be THE volcano hike to do when you’re on Maui!
At the moment, Haleakala is considered a dormant volcano. This means that there’s no immediate threat of it erupting. And there hasn’t been any immediate threat in recent history.
In terms of the risk of the volcano erupting when you’re hiking the Haleakala volcano, it can be considered a pretty safe hike.
But, as this is nature, things can change, and things can change quickly!
Some scientists do say that Haleakala is due for an eruption, and actually the current threat for volcano eruption is listed as moderate.
The National Park Service is sure to provide an update if there is increased activity detected. (It’s good to check the official national park website before you visit any U.S. national park just in case there are important updates, closures, and such.)
Cost to hike the Sliding Sands Trail
Since the Sliding Sands Trail is a part of Haleakala National Park, an entry fee is required.
In 2021, an individual pass costs $30 per vehicle. This will get you a 3 day Haleakala pass, and you can use it to visit the coastal Kipahulu side of the national park where you will find the famous bamboo forest hike and some famous waterfall pools.
So it costs $30 to hike the Sliding Sands Trail, but with the fee comes the possibility of exploring more of Haleakala National Park!
You can also consider buying a Hawaii national park annual pass which will cover you for one year for national park sites on Maui and the Big Island. The U.S. national park annual pass is also valid at Haleakala National Park.
More below on how to hike Sliding Sands Trail!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
- The top 5 Maui adventures you definitely need to think about doing: Maui tour OR on your own?
- Driving to the top of the Haleakala summit
- Road to Hana food stops
- Best Road to Hana hikes
- Things to do in Hana
- Things to do in the West Maui mountains
There are a few different ways to do the Sliding Sands Trail
Many people who do this trail do it as an out-and-back.
This trail can also make a perfect part of your one day in Haleakala National Park.
You’ll get amazing views no matter how you choose to do it!
And because the Sliding Sands Trail is an out-and-back trail, it’s easy to adapt the hike to your fitness level or to adapt it based on how long you want to hike – you just turn around sooner, or later!
People also do the full length of the Sliding Sands Trail and back to make it a long day hike. People also do it as a one-way hike by taking another trail for the second part instead of making it an out-and-back. There are estimates of the Sliding Sands Trail taking 6 to 10 hours depending on your fitness level. It’s possible to do this as a day hike or as an overnight trip.
So here is the quick list of your basic options for hiking the Sliding Sands Trail:
- Start on the trail, and turn around after hiking for 20-30 minutes
- Hike to the crater floor and back (around 8-11 miles depending how far along you go)
- Do this as a one way hike combining 2 trails: Sliding Sands Trail + Halemauu Trail (around 11 miles)
- Do this as an overnight hike through backcountry camping or a cabin stay
So for the first 2 day hike options, you will park at the Haleakala Visitor Center and do the hike as an out-and-back. (There are 2 visitor centers: the “headquarters” visitor center located near the park entrance, and then the visitor center located near the summit. The trailhead is the one near the summit.)
And then doing the combined trails one way means that you will end up at the Halemauu Trail parking lot, which isn’t close to the Sliding Sand Trail starting point (aka your car) at all. It’s like 6 miles away by road.
So if you want to do the combined trail option, it will require parking at Halemauu Trail and then getting a ride from someone who’s driving up to the summit to start the Sliding Sands Trail.
The National Park Service officially recommends hitchhiking to do the Sliding Sands Trail as a point-to-point hike:
We recommend parking your vehicle at Halemauu and hitchhiking up to the Sliding Sands Trail at the beginning of your hike.
Upon concluding your hike, you will have immediate access to your vehicle at Halemauu.
The park cannot offer hiker shuttles, so consider using the “hiker pick-up” near here.
There is a designated hiker pick-up spot for hitchhiking from Halemauu Trail.
And then, if you want to make it an overnight backpacking trip, you can do that too!
Short Haleakala hike instead of Sliding Sands Trail
If you think you don’t want to spend much time hiking into the crater, then an alternative Haleakala hike can be the Pa Kaoao Trail. This is another hike that starts near the visitor center. For this short trail, you aren’t hiking into the crater at all. Instead, you’re going a little up to see the crater from a slightly higher vantage point!
One hour Haleakala crater hike on Sliding Sands Trail
I did this Haleakala hike in January 2020 around the noon hour, so around late morning and early afternoon.
I did the option of hiking part way in, and then turned around. It took me around 20-30 minutes to get to the overlook area as you’ll see below, and then I went back.
Even though I didn’t get to the crater floor, I still thought hiking Sliding Sands Trail was worth it. That said, I’m sure hiking to the crater floor would make this hike VERY worth it!
So there’s only one road in Haleakala National Park, and this is the road to the summit. You’ll drive this road until you see signs for the Haleakala Visitor Center. (Again, different from the “headquarters” visitor center that’s near the park entrance.)
The national park entrance to the Haleakala Visitor Center is around a 30 minute drive.
There is a parking lot here, and this is where you’ll park to start the Sliding Sands Trail. So the Sliding Sands trailhead is near the Haleakala Visitor Center.
Then, you can head to the visitor center to learn a little bit about Maui’s volcano so that you can have a better appreciation of what you’re seeing in Haleakala National Park!
Near the visitor center is an overlook. If you didn’t stop at the Kalahaku Overlook with the crater views on the drive up, then this can be your first real glimpse of the crater!
Then right near this overlook is the short trail that will take you up to a higher viewpoint, along with a sign pointing in the direction of the start of Sliding Sands Trail.
So then you just follow the signs and path to get to the crater hiking trail! This will take you along the road to the summit for a short bit before you reach the crater.
And then you’ll reach the crater and start the best Haleakala crater hike!
And then back!
And finally, the warning from the National Park Service about the difficulty of the Sliding Sands Trail:
For hikers, the trail is also an exercise in adaptation.
Weather, solar radiation, and the effects of altitude are more intense here.
The walk down can be deceptively easy.
Allow twice as much time for the steep return ascent.
And that’s a bit about hiking in the summit area of Haleakala!
If you want to spend an overnight in the Haleakala summit area without hiking to your campsite, you can drive to the Hosmer Grove campground. It’s about a 30 minute drive from the start of the Sliding Sands Trail.
And a little more about the national park.
Haleakala National Park has 2 areas:
- Summit district (where Sliding Sands Trail is!)
- Coastal district aka Kipahulu district
These 2 areas are not connected directly by road.
You get to the coastal district by driving the Road to Hana.
The best hiking trail in the coastal district of Haleakala is the Pipiwai Trail, which is a bamboo forest hike and waterfall hike in one! There is also the coastal hike of Kuloa Point Trail which also comes with waterfalls, along with ocean views. There is also a campground you can drive to in this area of the national park, the Kipahulu campground.
See more about planning your visit to both sides of Haleakala: Hiking in Haleakala National Park
If you are interested in Sliding Sands Trail, then you may also be interested in these top activities on Maui:
- Driving to the Haleakala summit
- Pipiwai Trail
- Oheo Pools
- Waihee Ridge Trail
- Iao Valley lookout
- How to spend one day in the West Maui Mountains
- Kapalua Coastal Trail
- Nakalele Blowhole
- Hoapili Trail
- Best of Maui hiking
And also have a look at visiting the other national park in Hawaii on the Big Island where you can see lava flows from past volcanic activity all around! THE day hike to do at that Hawaii national park is a hike into a former lava lake!
HAPPY HIKING THE HALEAKALA VOLCANO ON SLIDING SANDS TRAIL!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Maui maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on Maui:
- Molokini Crater and Turtle Town snorkeling or snuba tour
- Haleakala sunrise tour with breakfast
- Road to Hana driving tour with lunch
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight #1: Fly over 2 Hawaiian islands to see Maui and Molokai waterfalls, rainforest, and sea cliffs
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight #2: Hana waterfalls and rainforest from above plus Hana fruit plantation walk on the ground
- Sailing the ocean with a sail + snorkel trip