How To Do Sunrise (Or Sunset) At Haleakala National Park

Around here, there are a few travel truths we live by — discover lots, support local, eat well — but one we don't talk about as much? Staying active.

Getting out and about when on the road gives you a sense of place, some lay of the land, and for food lovers like us, it's how we earn our next meal. Hawaii has a ton of opportunities to do just that from sand and sea to the hiking (on coastal cliffs! under waterfalls!) and the parks (the Grand Canyon Of The Pacific). In 2016 it was the 100th anniversary of the National Park System as well as one park in particular: Haleakalā National Park.

What Is Haleakala?

Talk to anyone about traveling to Maui and sooner or later they'll mention Haleakala. Meaning "house of the sun" in Hawaiian, it is named such because of the legend wherein the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from the volcano's summit in an attempt to slow it down and make the days longer. 

Sitting 10,000 feet above sea level, this dormant volcano is one of the best places on earth to watch the sunrise. Go on a clear morning and there is a 360° view that includes Hawaii Island to the south and the island of Molokai to the north.

On my recent trip, I woke up at 3 AM to summit Haleakala in time for sunrise. I'm NOT a morning person, but, after experiencing it first hand, I'm gonna join in on the insisting and say you have to make time for it next time you're on Maui.

It took some digging around to figure out the best plan for making sunrise happen, so, to make it easier on you, here are our top tips for how to do sunrise at Haleakala National Park:

Silhouettes at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comFirst Light at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.com

Get A Sunrise Reservation

First things first, be sure you can actually get in the park. The National Park Service requires a reservation for all vehicles to access the summit for sunrise. To do so, head to Recreation.gov and make a reservation – it costs $1.00 and is made available up to two months in advance and then you will need to show your reservation and photo ID upon arrival. Note that the reservation fee allows you to park at the summit, but it doesn’t include the required national park entrance fee.

Stay Nearby In Upcountry

The night before you go, stay upcountry in the Kula or Makawao areas (the Lumeria Maui is a good option) so that you only have to drive from the park entrance to the summit. It's a lesser-frequented part of Maui and will cut your drive time in half if you were coming from the major resort areas.

Get To The Park Entrance An Hour Before Sunrise

The park entrance gate is at 7,000 feet but the summit is at 10,023 feet elevation so you drive to take the winding and narrow Haleakala Crater Road for more than 3,000 feet. Aim to arrive at the summit at least 30 minutes before sunset and give yourself at least one hour to drive from the park entrance to the summit. In other words, plan to arrive at the park entrance gate no later than 90 minutes before sunrise. Finally, keep in mind that the parking reservation doesn't guarantee a spot in one specific parking lot -- get there early so you can park as close to the overlook as possible. 

Drive Times From Popular Spots In Maui

If you don't stay in Upcountry, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get there. Depending on the time of year and where you start driving from, you'll need to drive for anywhere from 2 to 3 hours to reach the summit. Plan at least two hours of driving from the Kahului airport to the summit, from Wailea to the summit, or from Lahaina to the summit. If you're staying in Kapalua, you'll want to give yourself more than three hours to be safe.

Fuel Up (Both You And Your Car)

You'll want to start early and eat something small so you don't get nauseous (you will, after all, be driving up to 10,000 feet). Oh, know that there is NO gas or food available in the park so make sure your gas gauge (and your stomach) is full.

Pack Layers

Remember you'll be heading to high elevation so be prepared. It can be cold — for Hawaii, at least — and windy at the summit, so pack layers. I had my Patagonia nanopuff (which pretty much goes with me everywhere), but I could have also used a hat and gloves since it was about 40°F the morning I went.

And Bring Provisions

If you plan on staying a bit afterward (which you should because the park is beautiful), bring along some water and snacks, even if it's just a banana or two.

Keep Quiet And Be Respectful

Sure, this is generally good manners, but it's particularly important at Haleakala because the summit is a sacred location for Native Hawaiians. There are a lot of visitors to the Haleakala summit. If you're looking for a lesser-traveled spot, head to the Leleiwi or Kalahaku overlooks.

Prep Your Tech

Give yourself a few minutes to enjoy the experience without any technology so you can take it all in. After that you're going to want to take some photos, so make sure your camera has plenty of storage, a full battery, and a clean lens.

Go On A Weekday

There will be fewer people if you go on a weekday morning. But, if you can't swing that, go on the weekend and plan to take one of the short trails up and away from the Haleakala Visitor Center (and crowds) so you can enjoy the sunrise in relative solitude.

Take Your Time

There are a lot of tour groups that take people up for sunrise and then bolt, which is such a shame because those people miss out on the rest of the park. Instead of fighting traffic down the hill, hang around a bit be it to hike the Sliding Sands Trail, check the sandalwood trees at Hosmer Grove, or just pull over to glance at the silverswords.

Sunset Is Great Too

Traditionally people go for sunrise as this is considered a sacred time in Hawaiian culture. However, keep in mind that the sunset is also gorgeous (and doesn't require a reservation) so you could go then if you don't grab a sunrise reservation. 

Stop in Makawao For Brekkie

You'll likely be starving once you finally leave the park, so stop in the historic town of Makawao on your way down. Head to T Komoda Store & Bakery if you want to treat yourself—as in have what is argued to be the best malasada on Maui.Or, if juices and gluten-free breakfast is more your speed, head to the adorable shop, Sip Me, that was bustling all morning when I visited.

Plan Your Trip To Maui

Okay, enjoy your trip to Maui. And, if you need some help arranging it all, let us plan your trip!

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comVisitors Center at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comLayered up at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comDrive To Summit at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comSliding Sands at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comSunrise Flare at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.com

Summit Walk at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comDrive Up Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comWatching Sunrise at Haleakala National Park | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.com 

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Sponsored Post: This trip was sponsored by Visit Maui but all content, ideas, and words are our own. Thanks for supporting these sponsors who allow us to keep Salt & Wind up and running.

Photo Credit: Chris Kalima

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