Watch the sunrise from the Haleakala summit


Maui is a land of great contrasts of weather, landscape, and topography. On any given day you can have multiple options for exploring our island paradise, but in terms of peak experiences, nothing compares to reaching the summit of 10,023 foot tall Mount Haleakala. It is rare that you can drive from sea level to the summit of such a mountain, but the development of scientific observatories and the National Park stewardship of the area have made for paved and passible roadways the entire distance of 40 miles.

At a Glance:

Highlights: Infinite views of multiple islands light up with the dawn as you have a peak experience watching sunrise from the summit of a 10,023 foot mountain. The morning glow on the crater rocks and surrounding rim makes for the feeling of being on Mars. After sunrise go warm up on a tropical beach in style.
Activity Level: Moderate to strenuous due to thin air and altitude.
Preparations: Warm blankets and layered clothing, a camera, beverages and snacks.
Costs: $10 per vehicle entry fee, good for 7 days entry into the park.

The literal translation of Haleakala is "house of the sun". This name refers to the ancient myth of the god Maui lassoing the sun as it rose above the summit, in doing so Maui insured through agreement that the sun would rise high enough in the sky daily for the Hawaiians to achieve there daily survival needs.

This fascination with sunrise persists to this day, and believe it or not, one of the busiest times of day is the dawn. Hundreds of people drive to the summit for the sunrise experience daily. It is truly an epic scene, with 40 miles of visibility on a clear day you will see a full 360 panoramic progression of the dawns light and eventually the rise of the golden sun out of the distant horizon. However, considerable preparation and a very early wake up are needed to make the sunrise a pleasurable experience. Here are some tips before you make the journey.

Be prepared for the cold temperatures:
As volcanic mountains rising above the sea, the Hawaiian Islands possess mountain peaks far removed from the warmth and comfort of the tropical beach version of paradise. It is said that every 1000 feet of elevation that you gain in altitude, the temperature drops 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. At 10,023 feet tall at its summit, we actually get frost and snow conditions at the summit during the winter. If you come unprepared for this, you will definitely regret not doing so. Even in the summer months, the summit predawn temperature can be in the 40 F. degree range making for shock to those showing up in shorts and a t-shirt. Packing multiple sweatshirts, hoodies, coats, socks, shoes, and long pants are best. If you can layer up properly, you can enjoy the sunrise and even stay for the first few hours of reduced crowds in the park. It is often predictable that within 30 minutes of sunrise the masses of people that have not prepared will rapidly descend the mountain and head for warmth.

Bring a picnic:
If heading up for sunrise, you will want to bring food, snacks and beverages along as there is no snack bar or refreshments in the park. If staying in a rental with an available thermos to borrow, a warm thermos of tea or coffee will make you the savior of the day if temperatures begin to affect your companions' morale.

Local's Tip:
The summit journey can be very disappointing if the dawn is clouded or raining. Observe the weather patterns the day before your journey.

Other supplies:
A quilt, towels or blanket to sit on.
Closed toed shoes, better then sandals.
Jackets, hats, gloves

All journeys to Haleakala Summit begin by finding the Haleakala Highway and Hana Highway intersections (HI-routes 36 and 37) it is approximately 2 miles from the airport in Kahului. Travel up route 37, aka Haleakala Highway, for approximately 7.8 miles. You will pass two towns Makawao and Pukalani, note these are your last supply and shopping stops before you go further up the mountain. After passing Makawao on route 37, look for a traffic light intersection for Kekaulike Road, get in the left hand turn lane. Turning left on to 377 or Kekaulike, you will pass a high school then the road winds up through miles of pastureland. Once the road passes "Kula Lodge" proceed approximately 2 miles ahead looking for "Haleakala Crater Road" on the left. Once you turn left onto Haleakala Crater Road, you will be ascending "Switchback" style through a neighborhood then pastureland. Beware of cattle on this road and watch your speed as many curves are of the "hairpin" variety.
20 miles up Haleakala Crater Road you will come to the National Park. A $10 admission fee is charged. The visitors' center is a few miles past the gatehouse and makes a good orientation or bathroom stop. (Visitor center closed predawn, but bathrooms open). Several miles further drive up the road above the Visitor center brings you to the summit lookouts. They both have parking areas and shelters. You will have to look at the conditions and crowds at this point to determine which viewing area is for you. For sunrise both summit vistas are recommended.

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