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Haleakala Summit in Maui

Drive to Haleakala summit, the world’s largest dormant volcano in Maui

Haleakala is the world’s largest dormant volcano in Maui. One of the top attractions in the island is to drive to the summit to watch the sunrise and enjoy some of the best and most memorable views in Hawaii. More than half a million visitors per year make the winding drive to reach the summit of Haleakala National Park to witness the dramatic landscape. Prepare your camera to experience stunning views and don’t forget your jacket because the temperatures can be below freezing up there!

Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano

According to Hawaiian legend, the volcano, which is frequently referred to as the House of the Sun”, is the spot at which the demigod Maui ensnared the sun, freeing it only after it promised to linger longer in the sky. The world’s largest dormant volcano rises at 10,023 (3,005 m) feet above sea level and from downhill bike rides through the cloud line to stargazing on its slopes after the sun goes down, everyone has discovered unique ways to experience its vast beauty. Haleakala Volcano, it’s a must!

Drive to Haleakala summit

Sunrise at the summit of Haleakala

Sunrise at the summit of Haleakala has been a visitor attraction since the late 1800s when the famous father of American literature, Samuel Clemens wrote: “It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory of it will remain with me always.”  The lack of environmental pollution, light, and also the dynamic weather patterns make the place an ideal and popular place to view the sky. 

Driving to the Haleakala summit

Preparing to get up early in the morning. And by early, I mean around 3am! The summit is roughly two and a half hours from Central Maui’s, Kahului area, and three to three and a half hours from Kihei and Lahaina areas. The drive to and from the summit is only 38 miles and relatively easy, however, it involves a lot of hairpin turns and there are no lights to guide you in the dark. Drivers must be careful and drive slowly. 

Considering the road reaches 10,023 feet (3,055 m), the first thing visitors will notice is the drive winds its way up towards the top.  It’s believed to be the world’s steepest route from sea level to 10,000 feet. The trip starts out at 7,000 feet (2,134 m) with lush views of the ocean and the valley, then as the elevation increases, the landscape dramatically changes.

What to to at Haleakala National Park

Haleakala Observatory

In addition to the stunning sunrise and sunset views, the summit is considered one of the leading destinations in the world for observing and monitoring astronomical wonders. Up there you will find the Haleakala Observatory, the first astronomical research observatory in the Aloha State. Unfortunately, the observatory is not open to the general public. The place is also known as Science City and other than being around one of the world’s largest solar telescopes, you can take pictures and enjoy the stunning views of the Haleakala Volcano “crater”, which is actually a valley carved by erosion and covers a huge portion of the Maui Island .

Haleakala Observatory

Biking down Haleakala summit

Biking down Haleakala is one of the most popular thrill activities on Maui Island. There are several companies offering an assortment of tours where visitors will be driven to the summit in time to watch the sunrise, and after taking beautiful shots, the mission is biking all the way down from the top. Be prepared to share the road with adventure cyclists on the way back to the city. You can also buy a tour later in the morning or rent your own bike and ride down from the 10,000-foot summit yourself. Haleakala Bike Company  is one popular company for bike activities.

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Stargazing at Haleakala summit

If you prefer stars rather than sun, visitors used to meet at Kula Lodge before sunset to make the drive up to Haleakala, where seeing conditions are spectacular on clear nights. Maui Stargazing is a small company that offers private and group stargazing experiences. 

Ziplining, paragliding and horseback riding trails are also some fun activities you can try when visiting the park. The entrance fee is good for up to 3 days which gives you perfect time to explore the Haleakala National Park without rushing. If arriving at the 10,000-foot summit before the sunrise requires an ultra-early wake-up call for you, you can also consider staying in the center of the action booking a place to stay at Haleakala.

Planning your trip to Haleakala summit

The cost for entering Haleakala National Park is $10 per vehicle. Due to the popularity of sunrise viewing at the summit and limited parking, Haleakala National Park requires reservations for each vehicle entering the park between 3am to 7am. Reservations can be secured two months in advance and up until 6pm the day before your visit. The fee is minimal, $1.00 per car.

If your plan is watching the sunrise, make sure to check the Haleakala weather conditions the night before, the sunrise starts happening about 20 minutes prior to the scheduled sunrise time when the sky starts changing colors. “The sunrise show” takes around 1 hour. If a sunny day is not in the forecast, the views won’t be that amazing and maybe you will prefer to leave after breakfast. Don’t worry, it’s a nice drive with spectacular views anyway! 

To ensure a smooth journey, make sure to pack water and snacks and fill up your gas tank the day before. After driving three hours to the top, the last thing you will want is to remember that you forget something important. Charges, battery, camera, check your list before getting to the road. Haleakalā’s Headquarters Visitor Center is near the park entrance and open from 9am to 4pm. You can also stop by the Visitor Center and park store near the summit, which is open from 9:30 to 2:30pm.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.

– Jack Korouac.

How is the weather at Haleakala summit?

Keep in mind that it is going to be “cold” on the top, the summit is usually between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures dip below freezing in winter with ice and occasional snow. It’s amazing to see, but you must be prepared to enjoy it! Don’t forget to bring warm clothes, no matter what season you go! Jackets are also available for rent, just in case you have no idea you can see more than white sand beaches and turquoise waters in Maui. Did you have any idea you could see snow in Hawaii? We loved the experience.

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