If you’re looking for a volcano national park vacation in the United States, then Hawaii can make for a perfect trip!
On the island of Maui, you can go to Haleakala National Park.
Haleakala National Park is home to the Haleakala volcano, and this East Maui volcano is thought to have last erupted 400-600 years ago. (Also written as Haleakalā National Park in reference to the official Hawaiian language way of writing it.)
At the moment, Haleakala is considered a dormant volcano. This means that there’s no immediate threat of it erupting.
In terms of the risk of the volcano erupting when visiting the Haleakala volcano, it can be considered pretty safe.
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 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Interior.
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.)
To explore the Haleakala volcano, you can visit Haleakala National Park!
There is the Haleakala summit and Haleakala coast that you can explore that is a part of the national park.
And aside from a visit to Maui’s only national park, there are more ways you can explore Haleakala’s past volcanic activity outside the park. You can hike across old lava flows. And you can visit Maui’s famous black sand beach that is the result of old lava turning into (eroding into) black sand. And you can also walk through a cave where old lava flowed through.
Haleakala travel guide: Tips for planning your time in Haleakala National Park!
As long as you are renting a car on Maui, then it is very possible to visit Haleakala National Park on your own.
You can totally do Haleakala without a tour.
You don’t need a guide for it to be a worthwhile trip. (Although there are Haleakala tours on Maui if you are looking for that!)
There is no bus or public transportation that goes near Haleakala National Park, so you DO need to rent a car in order to tour Haleakala on your own, though!
So, the first thing to know about planning your visit…
There are 2 areas of Haleakala National Park, and they are not directly connected by road through the park!
There are 2 areas to know about within Haleakala National Park:
- Haleakala National Park summit district
- Haleakala National Park Kipahulu district aka the coastal side of Haleakala
Most people likely think of the summit area when they think of Haleakala. In this area is where you’ll find the famous red crater views, and it’s this side that will get you to the top of the volcano.
And although most people think of the Haleakala summit area when they think of Haleakala National Park, there is also the coastal area of the Haleakala Kipahulu district where you’ll find more famous Maui activities: the bamboo forest and some famous waterfalls!
And, as the “coastal” district, you will find ocean views here too!
So visiting both sections of the national park will allow you to see Maui’s (and Hawaii’s!) diverse natural landscape!
Night sky at Haleakala National Park
There are observatories located near the summit aka near the highest point on Maui. It’s said that they were placed here because this is one of the best spots to view the night sky in the world.
These observatories are not open to the public, but you can still do stargazing on your own in the park.
When I was at Haleakala National Park in January 2020, they had just set up their very first night sky astronomy talk, said to be a “trial” and they were unsure if there was going to be another.
Well, prior to the whole travel world closing down, it seems that they had decided to continue it, as they had announced future dates, calling it the Stars Over Haleakala night sky astronomy series. This was set to happen once a month. It’s yet to be seen if it will start back up again in the future, but if this sort of thing interests you, it’s something to look into once your Maui travel dates get closer!
Haleakala summit district is at high altitude
You’ll be driving above clouds to get to the summit!
The Haleakala summit is at an elevation of over 10,000 feet.
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 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 this 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! For example, the Kalakahu Overlook can be your first glimpse of the famous Haleakala crater views!
How much does it cost to visit Haleakala National Park?
Photo taken in 2020.
There is an entry fee to visit this national park. The fee in 2021 is $30 per vehicle, and this pass lasts for 3 days. You can use the same pass to visit both sides of the park. You can check current prices here.
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 get the Hawaii national park pass. It’s an annual pass so this pass will last for one year.
If you plan to visit the national park on the Big Island within a year, then you may also consider getting the Hawaii national park pass. This will cover you for both national parks in Hawaii.
And, if you plan on visiting more U.S. national parks around the country within a year, then there is also the annual national park pass.
You can buy any of the passes when you enter the park as long as the entrance station staffed.
Make one of your stops the Haleakala Visitor Center
There are 2 visitor centers in the park. One is the “headquarters” visitor center that is shortly after you enter the park. You can skip this one, unless you are eager to pick up a map and learn about the Haleakala volcano as soon as possible! There’s another visitor center that is up closer to the summit.
At the visitor center, you can learn a few things about volcanic activity on Maui, and get a little bit better appreciation of what you’re seeing as you’re driving and walking around.
Another reason to make a stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center is to see if there are any free park ranger programs happening! (Like night sky talks.)
Haleakala in 2021: What’s open and what’s closed?
For 2021 updates, check the National Park Service alerts before you go to be informed on the latest closures and limitations: NPS Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park is open for day visits and day hikes, while overnight accommodation that includes campgrounds and cabins continue to be closed through early 2021. See the section on closed facilities for the latest updates.
More below about how to spend your time in Haleakala National Park!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
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- 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
Best things to do in Haleakala National Park
aka ideas for your Haleakala volcano itinerary!
- Summit district
- Kipahulu coastal district
Starting off with the Haleakala summit area…
Driving to Haleakala summit district
In the summit district of the national park, the destination is… the summit! You can drive all the way to the summit. So no real hiking required to access the Haleakala summit. Before you reach the summit, there will be overlooks you can stop at along the way, along with access to hiking trails.
aka Pā Ka‘oao Trail
This is one of the super short hikes you can do. You’ll start this from the Haleakala Visitor Center that’s a half mile “below” the summit.
This trail goes up a little bit and gives you those famous red crater views from just a little bit higher!
You can also view the crater without hiking too, from the overlook near the visitor center.
Pa Kaoao Trail: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
aka Keoneheehee Trail or Keonehe‘ehe‘e Trail
This is the hike into the crater.
The full trail is 11 miles round trip, but you don’t need to do the full 11 miles in order for it to be worth it. There are a few ways you can do this trail.
This trail starts from the “top” of the crater, which means that you will be hiking down into the crater.
Here are your basic options:
- Start on the trail, and turn around after hiking for 20-30 minutes
- Hike to the crater floor and back (this will be 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 (this will also be around 11 miles)
So for the first 2 options, you will park at the Haleakala Visitor Center and do the hike as an out-and-back.
For the third 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 this way. There is a designated hiker pick-up spot for this.
No matter how you do this trail, keep in mind that going back is UP, so it will likely feel harder. Also remember that you’re at high elevation, so you might find that you’ll get tired more quickly.
Sliding Sands Trail: See more about this Haleakala national park activity.
aka Haleakalā summit
This is the “main event” for most people who visit Haleakala!
A very popular way to visit the summit is to see the sunrise at Haleakala. This is so popular that you need a permit for this, and it can be difficult to get. People report leaving their hotels at 3am or 4am to make it in time for the sunrise.
The sunrise permits are available up to 2 months in advance and generally go quick. The permit costs $1 for the “reservation fee.” If you don’t manage to get a permit when they are first released, then there are also a limited number of permits you can try for around 2 days before you go. See here for more info.
Another option is to go for the Haleakala sunset. People who have visited at sunset report it being very good as well. There is no permit required for the sunset. The only time you need a permit to visit Haleakala National Park is the morning hours of 3am to 7am.
And then, 10,000+ feet is 10,000+ feet no matter when you visit! So during the day can be a fine time to visit the Haleakala summit too!
And also no matter when you visit, the weather has to be on your side!
There are also bike tours where you can bike down the mountain (the volcano!) from the summit.
Haleakala summit: See more about this Haleakala national park activity.
If you want to get in some more quality time with a national park, you can spend an overnight in the summit area! This is a drive-up campground. This can be an ideal camping spot if you want to see the Haleakala sunrise without having to wake up so early. (It’s the closest accommodation to the Haleakala summit!) It can also be ideal if you want to see the night sky. From the campground to the summit is around a 30 minute drive.
Hosmer Grove campground: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
There are also campgrounds in the summit area that you can hike to by taking the Sliding Sands Trail (aka backpacking in Haleakala!), as well as cabins that you hike to. (The cabin reservations tend to go quickly.)
And that’s a bit about the summit district!
Now the coastal area (Kipahulu district) of Haleakala National Park…
Driving to Haleakala coastal district
A drive to the Haleakala coastal district means a drive on the Road to Hana! The Road to Hana is THE famous drive on Maui. This is a drive on Hana Highway where there are TONS of stops you can make to see waterfalls, colored beaches, and more!
The Haleakala National Park is at the “end” of the Road to Hana, past Hana town. It marks the turnaround point for many people who do the Road to Hana as an out-and-back drive in one day.
aka Pīpīwai Trail
This trail will basically take you on a hike into the valley through a forest.
You’ll see different types of trees on this trail, including a banyan tree. You’ll also see bamboo trees. This trail takes you through THE famous bamboo forest on Maui, which is a big reason many people make it over to this side of Haleakala.
Pipiwai Trail: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
6. Waimoku Falls
Not only will the Pipiwai Trail take you through a bamboo forest, but at the very end of the trail are the magnificent Waimoku Falls!
aka Kūloa Point Trail
This is a short trail, more like a leisurely walk, that will take you to the coast.
Kuloa Point Trail: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
On the Kuloa Point Trail is where you’ll see the famous “seven sacred pools.” This has been known as a popular waterfall swimming spot, but nowadays it seems it’s closed to swimming because of the continued risk level from flash flooding.
Oheo Pools: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
aka Kīpahulu campground
If you want to get in some quality time at a national park, you can also camp on the coastal side of Haleakala! The campground on this side comes with ocean views!
Kipahulu campground: See more about this Haleakala National Park activity.
How much time do you need in Haleakala National Park?!
Most people will spend a half day (or less) in the summit area and a half day (or less) in the coastal area and feel good about it.
But these half days will typically be done on separate days.
So to go to these 2 very different parts of the park, it will be best to dedicate to 2 days to it. You don’t need to dedicate the full day to the national park on either of the days if you’d rather not, though.
Here are ideas for things to do alongside Haleakala on the national park days, after your national park visit.
How to do both sides of Haleakala National Park in one day
Is it possible to go to both the summit area and coastal area of Haleakala National Park in one day?
Well, yes it IS possible, if you REALLY want to. This would basically be a national park ONLY trip, and if you are prepared to make it a long day with a lot of time in the car.
Here is how one day in Haleakala National Park with a visit to both sides might go:
- 7am: Start in Kaanapali (West Maui) or Wailea (South Maui)
- Drive to Haleakala Visitor Center (not HQ visitor center) – 2 hours
- 9am: Hike the Sliding Sands Trail (hike down for 20 minutes, then turn around) – 1 hour
- Drive to the summit and walk around – 10-20 minutes
- Depart by 11am: Drive the Hana Highway to get to the Haleakala coastal area Kipahulu Visitor Center – 3.5-4 hours with no stops and no major traffic delays
- Hike the Pipiwai Trail – 2-3 hours
- FINISHED! Depending on how much daylight you have left, you can make some Road to Hana stops on the way back. If it’s still light out, for sunset stop by Hookipa Beach to see turtles! The drive from Kipahulu back to West Maui or South Maui might be around 3-3.5 hours
- With this kind of plan, you may not be back to your hotel in West Maui or South Maui until 8pm or 9pm!
- When looking at google maps, you’ll look for your first destination in the summit area as the “Haleakala Visitor Center“, not the “Haleakala headquarters visitor center” that you’ll pass shortly after the park entrance
- To get from the summit area to the Kipahulu coastal area, google maps may show an alternate route that is faster, but that’s the “back road to Hana” and it’s not recommended. First time visitors to Maui do drive it, but be sure to look into it before deciding to drive that way.
- Check the sunset time before you go so you know how much time you have left at the end of the day! In winter, sunset on Maui might be around 6pm. In summer, sunset on Maui might be around 7pm.
- On your way to the Haleakala coastal district, stop by the Keanae Peninsula for famous Road to Hana banana bread. It will be closed on the way back. They might be out of banana bread by 2:30pm. Cash only if you will be buying just one loaf.
- If you have time, the ONE stop not to miss on the Road to Hana on the way back I would say is Waianapanapa State Park! This is the location of Maui’s famous black sand beach. This does require a reservation in advance. It’s about a 45 minute drive from the national park to the state park. (There is camping at the state park too, along with cabins – book early.)
- If you want to stop for food with an outdoor seating area that accepts credit cards on the way back, you might try Hana Farms or Braddah Hutts BBQ food truck.
- Bring food and water! Not only do they not sell these items in the national park, but it’s less time you’ll need to spend stopping for food. And if you will be hiking, then you especially want to make sure to have water and snacks as part of your hiking essentials for Hawaii! (If you’re renting a car for a few days, just have a few gallons of water in the trunk for easy refill!)
- The earlier you start, the better!
So, if you’re chasing national parks and have minimal time on Maui, or if want to dedicate minimal time to the national parks, while still seeing what the different areas have to offer, then you CAN do it in one day.
Be prepared for a packed day and a long day!
And a REST day the following day! The beach can make for a perfect recovery day! See where to go for the best snorkeling spots on Maui!
Or if you’re ready for more Maui adventures, then see:
- How to spend one day in the West Maui Mountains
- Best things to do in West Maui
- Best things to do in South Maui
- Best hikes on Maui with amazing views
HAPPY PLANNING YOUR VISIT TO HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK ON MAUI!
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