How to Experience an Haleakala National Park Sunrise

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Hawaii is one of the many US states that has been blessed with more than its fair share of natural beauty. From an expansive coastline to colorful flora and breath-taking landscape, it’s no wonder that this tropical paradise is a popular destination for travelers. The wonderful adventures in Hawaii are an added bonus!

For those nature-loving travelers who like to get off the tourist path, seeking out some of Hawaii’s lesser known locations such as Haleakalā National Park is a must when visiting Maui. Thankfully, guest writer, Vanessa Chiasson from Turnipseed Travel, is taking us on a trip to explore this gorgeous Hawaiian destination and fun national park adventure.

How to experience a Haleakala sunrise on your own

Viewing the spectacular Haleakala sunrise is a highlight of any Maui vacation. There are a multitude of outfitters offering different excursions to the summit but planning an independent trip is an easy and economical option.

If you’re visiting Maui from North America, use the time change to your advantage and plan a trip to the summit on your first day. For better or for worse, jet lag will have you awake bright and early—best to make the most of it!

A sunrise visit to Haleakala National Park begins early in the morning

Hawaii National Park Travel
The sunlight chases the early morning fog on the summit.

We began our day at 3:00am with muffins and thermoses of hot chocolate in our Lahaina guest house (here are more places to stay on Maui) before heading out in the dark and making our way to the park gates. Your drive will be a quiet one in these early hours but just before the park you’ll see a number of roadside stands offering hot coffee and basic breakfast fare.

If you haven’t already stocked up, do so now. There’s no concession stands within the park and, trust me, you’re going to want something warm to wrap your hands around!

Haleakala National Park
Early morning light show on the Haleakala summit.

The Haleakala summit is COLD in those early morning hours. The high altitude and the unhindered wind make for some mighty chilly moments.

You’ll want to wear layers and plenty of them. Heck, bring along your beach towel and wear it as a cape! We found ourselves in a snug position against the fence and behind the visitors’ center—it blocked the wind a little bit and also blocked us from the jostling of the many other travelers all eager to share in the sunrise.

Haleakala National Park travel
Sunrise on Haleakala National Park.

While your trip up to the summit was likely a dark one, prepare yourself for some spectacular views on the way back down. We frequently pulled over to admire the endangered silversword plants with their graceful and feathery leaves.

Haleakala National Park
State Bird of Hawaii.

We also couldn’t help but be enamored with the nene, the state bird of Hawaii. Nenes are greatly endangered birds that unfortunately don’t do much to help their own cause. These curious creatures all too frequently hang out on the side of the road and it’s every visitor’s responsibility to be on the lookout.

Go hiking in Hosmer’s Grove

You’re likely to see nenes and silverswords on Haleakala’s many hiking trails, which range from strenuous overnight trips to modest nature walks. My personal favorite is Hosmer’s Grove, a short loop near the visitor’s center.

This area was once an experimental forestation project and trees from around the world were planted in hopes of creating a timber industry. This is the last place you’d expect to see Norwegian Spruce, but there it is!

This is one of the quietest, most peaceful trails I’ve ever explored and it’s due in part to the work of The Friends of Haleakala Park. The Friends have worked tirelessly to remove many of the invasive alien species around Hosmer’s Grove and other areas of the park. They also lead multi-day service oriented hikes to help with this work and other aspects of park maintenance.

The Friends aren’t the only group offering amazing travel opportunities for visitors. Like all National Parks, the rangers of Haleakala offer daily programs for both children and a general audience. You can even go on a guided hike with them!

Be sure to visit the Kīpahulu District

Hawaii National Park Travel
Mini waterfalls of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch.

The rangers don’t just offer programing at the summit side of Haleakala but also at the second section of the park, the Kīpahulu District. Accessible only through the remote southwest coast of the island, the Kipahulu District entrance is just 12 miles from the town of Hana and a million miles from the look and feel of the Summit District.

Here in Kipahulu you’ll find the Maui that’s sold in the brochures. Everything is incredibly colorful and lush and bright—a huge contrast to the unearthly desert of the summit.

Haleakala National Park travel
Yes, this area is gorgeous, but be careful!

There’s wonderful hiking in the Kipahulu District side of the park but the most popular attraction is the turquoise waters and mini waterfalls of the ‘Ohe’o Gulch. Haleakala doesn’t get much better than this!

But, with all outdoor activities, take heed. This area is known for slippery rocks and flash floods and the possibility of being swept out to sea would almost certainly result in disaster—both rip tides and sharks like to hang out at the mouth of the pools.

Enjoy the sunrise at Haleakala National Park then take a hike 

The ride to Haleakala may look short on a map, but don’t be deceived. A considerable portion of the drive involves a never-ending series of hairpin switchbacks that are unnerving to say the least.

Before entering the park gates, we saw a number of roadside coffee and breakfast stands, which would allow travelers to stock up on hot drinks for the ride—Haleakala can be freezing cold in the morning! We had purchased an American National Parks Pass the previous summer, so we were happy to enjoy free admission.

After watching the incredible sunrise, we enjoyed a leisurely drive back down the mountain, stopping at scenic lookouts and admiring the nene birds. We also did a short nature walk on one of the many trails— and in “touristy” Maui, we were the only people there, enjoying views of exotic trees from around the world.

Finding a proper breakfast after viewing the Hakeakala sunrise

When we finally exited the park, it wasn’t even 9:00 am. We drove—with a few wrong turns—to Grandma’s Coffeehouse in southern Maui.

We enjoyed a huge breakfast on the balcony, enjoying coffee harvested just feet away, and relaxed as a local guitar player entertained us and the coffeehouse cat slunk around, searching for dropped tidbits. Grabbing some banana nut bread for the road, we made our way to our next stop.

Stop to see the goats before finding a beach

The Surfing Goat Dairy is a really unique experience. In the heart of central Maui’s farmland, it’s a cheerful oasis of chevre production. We visited with adorable kids (baby goats, that is, not children) who were sweet and affectionate with us, and did their best to be aggressive with each other – producing hilarious results. We picked up cheese, of course, and goat’s milk soap before making our next stop – the beach!

Hawaii national park travel
Beautiful coast along the Kipahula District.

We weren’t really planning a beach stop just yet, but when we got to the coast, we couldn’t resist pulling over and walking out into the scorching sand and dipping our feet into the Pacific. It seems that with each stop we removed a layer of clothing and now finally we were down to bare legs! We could have stayed there forever, but at this point it wasn’t even noon and jet leg was starting to take its toll.

More Maui boomer travel adventures

Boomer travelers will find plenty of adventure on Maui. Here are a couple of our favorites:

As you can see, from hard to easy, you’ll find every type of adventure experience on Maui. Viewing a Hakealaka National Park sunrise might be the most serene.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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