Haleakala is located on the island of Maui, and translates to “house of the sun” in ancient Hawaiian. At Haleakala you’ll get to see clouds fly beneath your feet, get a fantastic view of the sliding sands, and see multiple Hawaiian islands. This is a must-see attraction if you’re in Maui!
So how did Haleakala get its name? According to Hawaiian legend, the sun god La was fond of sleeping in (don’t we all?). This meant that La had to race across the sky to complete his cycle, and this drastically shortened daylight hours. It got so bad that Maui’s (the demigod that the island is named after) mother couldn’t get through all of her chores in the daylight hours.
One day Maui lay in wait on the summit of the mountain where La appeared each morning. As La rose above the rim of the crater, Maui used a rope to tie La to a tree. Maui only freed La after the sun god agreed to slow his travels through the sky, and increase the amount of daylight. The site of this encounter was then named Haleakala.
Driving to The Top of Haleakala
From the base of the mountain, it will take you about 30 minutes to drive to the top of Haleakala. The roads are very twisty, and there are sections where there are no guardrails. Be sure to drive at a pace that is comfortable for you, and utilize the pullover areas to let faster traffic pass.
There is no need to make a reservation to enter the park unless you’re showing up early to watch the sunrise. You’ll just have to pay a park entry fee when you arrive at the base of the mountain (don’t worry you can’t miss the payment booth).
The Summit of Haleakala
The summit is over 10,000 ft from sea level. Due to the elevation, it is pretty darn cold and the air is noticeably thinner. When we went, the base of the mountain was about 90F (32C) and the top of Haleakala is around 50F (10C). Also, it is very very windy at the summit. You should bring a sweater and a windbreaker to make sure you’re able to walk around comfortably.
In addition to spectacular views of Maui, the summit is home to a series of observatories. This location offers the fourth best viewing conditions on the entire planet!
The largest telescope here can track something as small as a basketball from more than 20,000 miles away. There is also a space surveillance complex run by the US Airforce, and this facility aims to track all man-made objects in space. How cool is that?
WOW! This is why the mountain is one of the prettiest places in all of Hawaii.
In the past, the summit towered much higher than the current elevation, but wind/water/ice has eroded the mountain over thousands of years.
This same erosion created the picturesque Haleakala Crater. It’s not a true volcanic crater since it was created by erosion and not volcanic activity. Nonetheless it is still stunning.
If you’re adventurous enough you can take the sliding sands trail to get an unbeatable view of the crater. On the trail you will feel like you’re on a different planet.
Haleakala is generally a somewhat barren place, but there are some species unique to the area.
Before modern travel, the isolated Hawaiian islands received about one new species of life every 10,000 years. Today, about 20 alien species arrive every single year!
Despite the massive influx of potentially hostile plants and animals, Haleakala is still home to a unique species of plant that is found nowhere else in the world.
This unique plant is the silversword (Ainahina in Hawaiian). The plant was once near extinction due to grazing as well as human vandalism. However, the plant is now under strict protection from Haleakala National Park.
Pro Tips for Visiting Haleakala Crater
Don’t let the cool summit air fool you. The UV is still very strong, and you’ll get roasted if you don’t sunscreen.
Make sure you bring layers. As we mentioned, the top of Haleakala is much colder than the bottom (it can be a 40F difference). Also, the strong winds tend to bring in short periods of heavy rain.
Put your car gear in “L” if possible. This will give your car more torque, and make going up the steep mountain roads easier.