While there are plenty of activities that demand your attention during your time in Hawaii, from visiting Oahu to the many other island parks, sunrise at Haleakala National Park is an experience that can’t be missed.

If you’re lucky enough to have visited a few national parks, then you know how each one boasts a tremendous number of natural wonders. The lists of attractions can be a mile long.

You also know that each park has that one defining characteristic. They all have that one attraction that can’t be missed, and it’s that experience that turns a trip into a pilgrimage.

For Haleakala, that experience is the sunrise.

What Makes Haleakala National Park Unmissable?

Haleakala actually means “House of the Sun.” And legend has it that the demigod, Maui, captured the sun there to help lengthen the day. Clearly, there is no better place to witness a sunrise than the summit of Haleakala. 

The dormant volcano has an elevation of 10,000 feet, and it is the highest peak in Maui. It offers unobstructed views for miles, and its secluded spot keeps it safe from invasive light pollution. 

Haleakala National Park

Image CC BY-SA 4.0, by Niagara66, via Wikimedia Commons

3 Ways to Experience the Perfect Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

The setting couldn’t be better to watch the sunrise, but you have to make sure you follow a few simple tips to ensure that you can make the most of it. Here are three ways to make sure you see the perfect sunrise at Haleakala National Park.

1. Make a reservation

A sunrise seems like a funny thing to make a reservation for, but at Haleakala, it is a necessity. You will not be allowed up to the summit to see the sunrise unless you have a reservation. So, before you start making grand plans, make sure you have a spot.

This is due in part because the sunrises are so popular, and because there is limited space for parking. It’s also to help keep the experience as peaceful.

Our National Parks must always find ways to balance people’s interest in nature with the preservation of nature, and requiring a reservation is part of that effort. 

The rules to enter

You will need a reservation to enter the park from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m., daily. However, you can reserve a spot two months in advance, and as close as the evening before.

You’ll need a reservation for each vehicle that enters before 7 a.m. And be prepared to pay a $1.50 fee per vehicle. It might seem strange to pay for the privilege of watching a sunrise. But, once you witness it, you’ll realize $1.50 isn’t nearly enough. After all, the sunrise itself is priceless. 

2. Go Silently and unplug

To native Hawaiians, the mountaintop is sacred land. Visitors are frequently reminded by park officials and tourist websites to remain quiet and respectful when watching the sunrise. It’s not only polite etiquette, but it’s also just really good advice.

Remember, you are there to commune with nature.

You might not reach any sort of personal epiphany. And there’s no guarantee that the surrounding landscape will change your life. But you really should at least give it the opportunity. 

Go low-tech

For that, you might try unplugging a bit. Obviously, you want a good camera with you to snap some photos of the amazing sunrise. But, after you’re satisfied with your photography work, try putting your camera and your phone away. 

Observe the sky. Take a deep breath. Watch the clouds roll in. Feel the cool wind and the warmth of the light. Smell the air. Think about how you are standing on a dormant volcano. Yeah, think about that for a moment.

Remember the raw and beautiful power of nature. Be present. Be in the moment before the sun gets drawn up into the sky like a blind, and the day becomes ordinary again.

3. Take the Bike Tour

There is a paved road that stretches from the park’s entrance up to the summit of Haleakala. So, it’s easy to take a car there and back. However, there are some more exciting ways to do it. 

Several companies will shuttle you to the summit to see the sunrise. Then, they’ll provide you with a bike and riding gear. This way, you can make your way back down to sea level. The 23-mile bike ride down the mountain is self-paced. So, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pull over, hop off your bike, and take a few more photos.

It’s a one-of-a-kind adventure that starts with a serene sunrise and ends with a thrilling trek down the mountain. It’s a great way to harness the invigorating energy that watching the sunrise will give you.

You can take your time meandering down the mountain. And if there are some in your party that would prefer not to bike, the shuttle service will drive them down. 

Haleakala Summit FAQ

If you’re planning to visit Haleakala Summit for Sunrise or any other time, you probably have a few questions about it.

Can you drive to Haleakala Summit?

You certainly can, but be prepared for a long drive. Depending on where you start, the drive can take from 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

During the drive, you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for a few possible hazards. The first one is fog. The mountain air and humidity means foggy views. You’ll also need to keep your eyes open for animals — both wild and domesticated. Cows and geese often wander into the road.

What to wear at the Haleakala Summit

Even though you’re in Hawaii, you’re going up a mountain, which means the temperatures will be cooler than expected.

While you don’t want to overdress for the mild climate, make sure you bring along some options. A fleece jacket is a good choice. And you might even appreciate a pair of jeans or track pants.

Important Facts About the Haleakala Summit

Because the Haleakala Summit is remote, there are a few things you’ll want to know before heading up.

The summit sits at over 10,000 feet, so it’s important that you prepare for the elevation. If you have health issues, especially respiratory conditions, you may want to choose another excursion.

No food or beverages are available at Haleakala National Park, so be sure to pack any necessary supplies. Also, you’ll need to fill your gas tank before setting off.

Where to Stay Near Haleakala Summit

If you plan far enough in advance, you can reserve one of the historic cabins built at Haleakala National Park by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The cabins are primitive and you can only reach them by a nearly 4-mile hike. But they offer an excellent opportunity to dig in and enjoy the park.

Hikers can stay at one of the two campsites available. The Hōlua campsite is the shortest hike, at 3.7 miles from the trailhead. It sits within scrubland around the old lava flows.

Somewhat further, with a 9.3-mile hike, lies the Palikū campsite, which features a cool, tropical landscape.

Catch the Sunrise for Yourself 

Now you’ve got three great tips for how to enjoy the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. So, you don’t have to worry that you will miss out on a great experience. You’ll be sure to be there as the sun rises over the ocean, and you just might find yourself a little changed from seeing it.

Featured Image: CC by 2.0, by daveynin, via Flickr

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