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Maui Sunrise at Haleakala Volcano

Witness an otherworldly sunrise atop Haleakala volcano, where you’ll see orange-red craters and purple valleys—but remember to bring your jacket.

 

The peak of Haleakala volcano is Maui’s highest point at 10,023 feet (and is the third highest in the state), according to the National Park Service. Its name means “house of the sun” in the Hawaiian language, and in island lore, it’s the place where the god Maui forced the sun to slow its daily route across the sky.

The sun hadn’t even begun its journey at 5:30 a.m. when we left our resort in Kahului and drove in the dark toward the volcano. We’d hoped to catch the crater at sunrise, but it would take about an hour and a half to drive there.

Cold as Ice

The road was very windy with hairpin turns, and the scenery didn’t change. Corner after corner, turn after turn—it seemed as if we were making no progress. Our first clue that we were gaining altitude and getting to a colder climate was when we encountered mist from the cloud cover.

When we stopped at the park entrance to pay our fee, we were asked if we’d brought warmer clothes to wear once we arrived at the summit. “The temperature can go from 80 degrees down in Kahului, to only 30 degrees up at the summit,” we were warned. We weren’t prepared for that.

We had beach towels in the car from the previous day, so we put hoodies on the kids and wrapped each one of them in a towel. They both looked like little mummies as they waddled their way across the parking lot to the crater’s edge.

A Whole New World

What we saw was a foreign land. It was barren and dry, like I imagined the moonscape to be, with jagged rocks, peaks and valleys. The sky was a vivid blue in striking contrast to the crater of pinks and purples, oranges and browns—and the rising sun was illuminating everything in its path. The summit itself has more than 30 miles of trails for hiking, but with the kids wrapped in beach towels, we chose to linger over the beauty of the volcano from the crater.

We spent some educational time at the Haleakala Visitor Center learning about the different types of wildlife and plants that are able to thrive in such a dramatic climate. The summit is one of the few easily-accessible areas in the Hawaiian islands where you can get a glimpse of these endemic species.

If You Go

If you journey to the peak of Haleakala, learn from our mistake and bring proper warm clothing for everyone, including anything with a hood to protect you from the wind, extra blankets, hats and scarves. Don’t forget your camera to capture the amazing views.

The Haleakala National Park is open year-round, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. The only exception is unexpected closures due to severe weather conditions. The Visitor Center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The park entrance fee is $10 per private vehicle (including all occupants). www.nps.gov/hale


Destinations: Hawaii, Maui

Themes: Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Sightseeing


User Comments

If you like good day hikes Take a crash course in vulcanology as you descend into this giant dormant volcano on this exotic hike! Leave your car at the Halemauu trailhead on the way up the crater. Then take a second car or hitchhike to the very top of the crater at the Visitor Center parking lot. There you can start a great hike into the crater on Keoneheehee Trail (also called Sliding Sands Trail). It's a strenuous descent of 2,800 feet (853m) in the first 4 miles (6.4km) to the valley floor and then you're on Mars. It's a totally different world down there than what most people can appreciate from the overlooks. Then you can turn left to catch the Halemauu Trail, through the crater and back up the other (smaller but still 1,000 feet) side of the crater to your car. You'll never forget this.

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