Sunrise at Haleakala National Park: Don’t Miss It!

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park Maui

There is nothing quite like watching the sunrise at Haleakala National Park.  Sitting in the dark with others, waiting expectantly for nature’s light show.  The sun creeps over the horizon, bathing a sea of clouds in light. You soon forget how cold you are and stare in awe at the beautiful display before you. It is something I feel should not be missed on your visit to Maui.

First Steps To Watching a Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

Book your reservation!  Due to a large number of visitors to Haleakala to watch the sunrise each morning, the National Park has created an online reservation system to limit the number of visitors between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. It costs $1.00, and you can reserve two months in advance which I highly recommend you do!

If you are unable to get a reservation prior to your trip to Maui, they do offer a small number of last-minute tickets 48 hours before the desired sunrise date. Visit Haleakala Sunrise Reservations for more information on reserving online as well as steps to get a last-minute ticket.

What to do if you can’t get a reservation?

If you are unable to get a sunrise reservation for your vacation to Maui, here is the next best option.  See a sunset at Haleakala National Park instead! Sunsets here are beautiful as well, and there are some advantages to coming here for sunset.

First, you don’t have to get up in the wee hours of the morning!  Second, you don’t need a reservation.  Third, you can plan your day around exploring Maui’s Upcountry, then do some day hikes from the Haleakala National Park before watching a fantastic sunset.  And finally, after your sunset, you can enjoy stargazing at 10,000 feet!  You will be up above the air pollution, away from the city lights where you can enjoy the millions of stars twinkling above.

Entrance Fee to Haleakala National Park

You must also pay an entrance fee to visit Haleakala National Park.  The sunrise reservation fee is only to reserve your spot to see the sunrise on the specific day you have reserved.  It does not include the Haleakala National Park entrance fee.

You do not need to pay the entrance fee if:

  • If you have already visited the Kīpahulu District (perhaps on a visit to Hana) to see the Pools of Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools) and you still have a valid 3-day pass from that, you do not need to pay an additional entrance fee.
  • You have a US National Parks annual pass.

Person wrapped in a blanket watching sunrise at Haleakala

What to Pack & What to Wear

Before your flight to Maui, if you intend on viewing the sunrise at Haleakala National Park (or even sunset) make sure to plan ahead and pack warm clothes.  I know when you think of packing for Maui, you are thinking swimsuits and flip-flops, and you definitely need those, but you’d be surprised how cold it can get at Haleakala.  Freezing temperatures.  No joke.

When I made my first visit to see the sunrise at Haleakala National Park, I read other traveler’s telling me to pack warm, and thank goodness I listened! I packed my ski base layers, thin, moisture-wicking layers I wear when I go skiing.  Then I wore hiking pants on top of these as well as a t-shirt and sweatshirt on top. I also wore my ski hat.  Additionally, we borrowed the blankets from our condo.  And yes, I still got cold!

Also, it’s important to note that there are no concessions in the park.  So you will want to pack extra water, snacks, and even a picnic lunch for later, especially if you plan to go hiking afterward.

Recommended Items:

Base Layers: Tights, moisture-wicking undershirt and/or pants
Pants (hiking pants or something you can pull on over a pair of tights or base layer)
Thick socks
Tennis Shoes/Hiking Shoes
Blanket from condo/hotel
Snacks & Drinks (picnic lunch for later or bananas and a muffin for breakfast, plus water and something hot to drink)
Sunglasses (it’s going to get bright!)

Things to Do After the Sunrise at Haleakala

After you enjoy the brilliant colors of the sunrise, drive over to the Haleakala Visitor’s Center. There are some great hikes you can do from the visitor’s center, ask a friendly park ranger, and they will be glad to offer you some suggestions. The hikes range from short paved trails to hiking for miles down the sandy trail into the crater of Haleakala. It is truly a breathtaking place, unlike any I had visited before.  Here in Washington state, we have composite cone volcanoes and I’ve never been able to walk inside one of them! It was both a fun and educational experience to learn more about shield volcanoes like Haleakala.

It is important to remember that you might experience mild altitude sickness at this elevation, so don’t overdo it!  If you are feeling dizzy or lightheaded rest and hydrate. Talk to a park ranger if you need assistance.

Take time to enjoy Maui’s Upcountry before heading back to your resort or condo. I have marked a few places you might want to stop on the map. Hali’imaile General Store, Maui Pineapple Tours, Piiholo Ranch Zipline, and Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm are just a few of the possibilities. Upcountry Maui is full of wonderful options and is worth staying a night or two if your visit to Maui allows it.  You might even consider spending the night in Maui’s Upcountry the night before your scheduled sunrise visit and save yourself a little driving time that morning.

Tip: Hang on to your entrance receipt to Haleakala National Park. You can use this to gain entry to the Kipahulu District and the Pools of Ohe’o. (must be within the 3-day validation period)

Sandy crater trail of Haleakala

Getting to Haleakala National Park

The best spot to watch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park is at the summit.  There is a summit house you can stand inside to get warm if needed and it is the highest point you can drive to for viewing the sunrise.  The Haleakala Visitor Center is also a great choice if the summit parking lot is full.

If you are coming from West Maui the drive will take you around 3 hours, so make sure to get up early enough to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise. For example, if sunrise at Haleakala National Park is at 5:30 a.m., then you will want to leave around 1:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.  It’s early I know! It’s also totally worth it and makes for unforgettable memories!

The road up to the summit is full of switchbacks and steep drop-offs, so take your time as you drive up in the dark.  Also later in the day, there are often hikers and bicyclists on the road, so always be on the lookout and drive slowly and carefully.

How to use this map: Click on the star to the right of “Haleakala N.P./Upcountry Maui” and you can add this to your own Google maps, you can also click on the icon to the left of this and use the drop-down menu to see the list of sites. Tap on the icons directly on the map to pull up options for driving directions.

Final Thoughts on the Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

“Haleakalā has a message of beauty and wonder for the soul that cannot be delivered by proxy.” ~ Jack London

I think Jack London is absolutely right. You really must see Haleakalā for yourself.  I can describe the beauty of the red colored sand cascading down into the crater or the surprising beauty of the desert you find on this tropical island.  I can do my best to paint a picture of watching the blackness of the night turn into a brilliant, blinding array of morning colors, but I really can’t do it justice.  You must discover for yourself why the Hawaiians called Haleakala “house of the sun.” So what are you waiting for?

If you need further help planning your trip, ask in the comments below and make sure to read The Ultimate Maui Itinerary for First Time Visitors and 7 Fun Things to Do in Kahului and our Road to Hana guide.

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