Haleakala National Park

Published on February 14, 2022 - Updated on February 24, 2022

History of Haleakala National Park

In 1916 Hawaii National Park was created. This included volcanoes on the big island of Hawaii and the Haleakalā Crater on the island of Maui. In 1961 Haleakalā was designated a separate park, and the park on Hawaii became known as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In 1969, Ohe’o Gulch was added to Haleakalā National Park, creating the 47 square miles it is today.

Haleakalā means “house of the sun,” derived from a legend that tells how this special place was formed. Hawaiian legend tells of the demigod Maui and his mother, Hina. They lived on the big island, Hina was a very hard worker, but she often didn’t have enough time in the day to finish her tasks. Maui wanted to help her, so he created a strong rope out of coconut and hid atop Haleakalā. When the God of the sun, La, arrived at sunrise, Maui tied him to a tree. He made La promise to deliver extra sunlight every day in exchange for releasing him. That is how the Hawaiian Islands got so much sun.

About Haleakalā National Park


Haleakala National Park is divided into two sections. Kīpahulu District, and the Summit District. Both are uniquely beautiful and worth a visit. Due to how far apart they are, you shouldn’t attempt to visit both districts on the same day. Both districts charge a fee, so be sure and keep your receipt from the first one you go to. Your admission fee is good for three days and can be used at both entrances. The fee is $30 per vehicle, or you can use your America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 and gets you in to unlimited National Parks for one year.

A few things to note about Haleakalā National Park before you go:

  • There are no services in either park area, so be sure to have gas, food, and water.
  • Kīpahulu district closes before dark; check the NPS website for current times.
  • You’ll need a reservation if you want to watch the sunrise at the Summit District. Don’t show up without one.
  • We had cell service in both parts with no issues, but this can vary based on your provider.
  • Wear sturdy shoes.
  • Prepare for drastic changes in weather and bring appropriate clothing.
  • Bring Sunscreen
  • Please leave natural resources and cultural artifacts, rocks, and structures alone.
  • The park is remote. You are not close to emergency services. Be smart, follow the rules, be respectful.

Visiting the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park


Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park is located about 12 miles North of Hāna. Visiting this portion of the park is a great way to cap off your day if you have driven the famous Road to Hāna. However, the park does close at 5 pm here, so I highly recommend driving the Road to Hāna, spending the night in Hana, and then beginning the next day exploring the park!

This area gets a lot of rain. Bring a light jacket and shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. Watch for flash flooding. Swimming is not recommended here as the water levels can change quickly and drastically. The beaches in this area have high surf and rough conditions. You are in a remote area, far from any kind of emergency help, so make good choices.

Things to do in Kīpahulu District


  • Hike the Pīpīwai Trail - the hike is 4 miles R/T and rated moderately strenuous. This hike takes you through a bamboo forest and to 2 waterfalls.
  • Walk along Kūloa Point Trail - this trail is half a mile and starts from the visitors center. During this hike (walk), you’ll pass a Hawaiian Cultural Demonstration area. You will end up at Kūloa Point, which is a breathtakingly gorgeous view of the ocean and back to the Pools of Ohe’o. This trail is a loop, so you will continue back to the visitors center. It’s a very easy walk, and you can see a lot of native plants here. This one is stroller-friendly, and anyone can do it. Just keep a hand on little ones as you near the cliff sides, and be prepared for it to be very windy!
  • Visit the seven sacred pools - these are called the Pools of Ohe’o. These are a series of swimming holes, waterfalls, and ledges that you can swim in and explore. Be wary of signage and closures. The NPS will close these pools when conditions are dangerous.

Visiting the Summit District of Haleakalā National Park


If you only have time for one park visit in Maui, drive to the Haleakalā Summit! In addition to the tips posted above, there are a few additional things to know before you head for the Summit District. Electric vehicles may not make it to the summit, and there is no place to charge them. Drive slowly as you are in an endangered species habitat. (Watch for Nene’s the elusive Hawaiian Geese).

Please be quiet and respectful. The Summit is sacred to Native Hawaiians.

The Summit of Haleakalā is 10,023 feet in elevation! It’s a bit harder to breathe up here. It’s typically 20-40 degrees cooler here than the beaches. The wind blows and makes it even chillier. It is barren. It’s beautiful! The drive up to the Summit is half the fun. Don’t let the thought of bad weather deter you; it can change before you get to the top! You’ll pass cows grazing in open fields and then pine trees. You’ll see clouds and then drive through them, and then suddenly be above them. We had rain, sun, and wind. It is a windy road, so drive slow, pull over if you need to, and sit upfront if you get car sick!

  • Watch the sunrise - Haleakalā is one of the most breathtaking places on earth to watch the Sunrise. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though! First, you must get a permit. Be sure and dress WARM if you are heading up for sunrise!
  • Drive past the Summit for incredible views above the clouds! On a clear day, you can see the Big Island of Hawaii and other islands as well! There is a large parking lot and plenty of space to walk around up here.
  • Watch the sunset - unlike sunrise; you don’t need a permit for sunset. Head on up, bring some blankets and watch the sun slip below the clouds. On a clear night, you’ll have awesome stargazing opportunities.
  • Look for rare birds like the Nene and rare plants like the silversword. You’ll see things here that are found nowhere else in the world.

Hiking at the Summit District


Hiking here can be intense. The altitude can make you sick. If you have heart or lung problems or are pregnant, check with a doctor first. Bring plenty of water, clothes for all weather types and good shoes.

  • Pā Ka’oao - start at the visitor center and walk up a rock wall .2 miles to great views of the crater. There are rock steps and a slight bit of elevation change, not stroller friendly, but easy enough for everyone to do.
  • Halemau’u Trail - 1.1 miles down a rocky path to a natural land bridge
  • Leleiwi Overlook - mostly just a walk across a parking lot to some great views
  • Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) - this one goes into the crater. The first overlook is at .5 miles, and you can decide to go further or turn around from there.

Visiting Haleakalā National Park is an adventure you will remember forever. Even though I had seen photos prior to our trip, I was not prepared for the unique beauty and special feeling of this incredible park. I know you’ll love it!

Read up on additional information and places to go in our Maui blog!

Headed to Maui with the family soon? Be sure to download the happyly app and check out other great activities and local ambassador advice on The Road to Hana, Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, Aunt Sandy's & Keanae Outlook, and more!

And if you will find yourself spending any time on Oahu, be sure to check out our blog post on Fun Things to Do Around Oahu with Kids!

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Chantelle Kincy
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