There are two very different ways to see Haleakala. At the summit, you can watch the sunrise at 10,000 feet and hike near volcanic cindercones. On the coast, you can explore the waterfalls and pools at Ohe'o Gulch, also called the Seven Sacred Pools. Whether you've decided to visit the crater at 10,000 feet or drive to the coastal part of Heleakala on East Maui, you'll have to allocate a full day to complete the trip. Keep in mind that there is no direct road from the summit to East Maui, so you won't be able to squeeze both trips into one day.
We found both areas of the park very beautiful and well worth a visit, but both drives are quite strenuous. The road to Hana and the Seven Sacred Pools, with its one-way bridges and more curves than you can count, is the more challenging of the two. If you decide to see the summit as well as the coastal part of the park, plan on taking two separate trips.
Haleakala National Park Summit
Most visitors head to the summit to see the sunrise, go hiking, horseback riding or biking down the main road. The drive to the summit takes one and a half hours from Kahului airport. If you are staying in one of the popular resort areas, such as Kapalua, Kihei and Wailea, it will take about 2.5 hours one way. Accommodations are available closer to the summit, such as the rustic Kula Lodge.
There are a few things you should know about visiting the summit. Most importantly, the weather is unpredictable. When you start your drive up the slopes of Haleakala there is no way of knowing what the weather will be like once you reach the top two hours later. You may be stuck in a cloud on the drive up and find that the summit is sunny above all those clouds. Or it may rain the whole way up and down.
Hiking in the Crater Area
There are several trails available to hikers near the summit, ranging from quick 10-minute walks to full-day and overnight trips. We noticed pretty quickly that it's more difficult to breathe up there because the air is thinner. Keep that in mind when deciding how far to walk.
Sunrise at Haleakala
Sunrise at 10,000 feet with a view of one of the world's largest dormant volcano is an experience you'll not want to miss. Find out more about viewing the sunrise.
Waterfalls and Pools at O'heo Gulch
O'heo Gulch is a beautiful coastal area located several miles from Hana on the eastern side of Maui. A path leads past waterfalls and pools of water. The pools, also called the Seven Sacred Pools although there are more than seven, are sometimes open for swimming. During the periods of heavy rain, the pools are closed off by the National Park Service, but you can still see them from the trail.
There are several hiking trails in the area which will take you through lush forests to beautiful waterfalls. If you are pressed for time, however, follow the Kuloa Point Trail from the visitor center for half a mile. The trail includes views of Hawaiian habitation sites, the ocean, waterfalls and several large pools.
To reach the Seven Sacred Pools on the east side of Maui, you'll have to brave the curvy Hana Highway for about 2.5 hours from Kahului airport to O'heo Gulch. If you are staying in Kapalua, Napili, Ka'anapali, Kihei or Wailea, add another hour to estimate your driving time. A day trip to the Seven Sacred Pools won't give you much time to enjoy the area and swim in the pools because you'll have to complete the same 3.5 hour drive back. It's a better idea to plan on staying in Hana for a day or two.
The Weather Near the Summit
Temperatures in the summit area usually range between 32 and 65 degrees F. The wind frequently causes the temperature to drop below freezing. If you are planning to watch the sunrise, bring a warm jacket.
You won't be able to tell what the weather is like until you reach the summit. No weather predictions or forecasts are available for the summit of the mountain because the weather changes so often. Just to give you an idea, when we set out on a morning hike, the sky was clear and sunny. On the way back two hours later we almost couldn't see the trail through the thick rainy cloud.
On average, the temperature drops about 3°F for every 1,000 foot rise in elevation, making the 10,023 foot summit of Haleakala about 30°F cooler than the coast.
The Weather Along the Coast
Temperatures are much warmer here, in the 70s and 80s during the day, but can drop quickly with rain showers and winds. The pools are closed for swimming during periods of heavy rain because flash floods are such as danger. Kipahulu receives an average of 187 inches of rain each year. Nighttime lows are mid-60s to 70s.
For More Information
The three visitor centers in the park are the best source of information. Headquarters Visitor Center is located at 7,000 feet, Haleakala Visitor Center is near the summit and Kipahulu Visitor Center is on the coast. If you have questions about the summit, call 808-572-4400; for information about the coastal area, call 808-248-7375.