Haleakala National Park

Scenic Driving
Gorp.com

The magnificent summit area can be experienced by car. This is the only place in the world where you can drive on a paved road from sea level to over 10,000 feet in less than 38 miles. Switchbacks on the map of the Summit District gives a sense of the steepness of this climb. You can make it in an hour and a half, but you'll want to stop, and stop, and stop. Even on a clear day, you'll probably run into clouds somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 feet. Pukalani, the town outside the park where the clouds frequently break, literally means "hole to heaven." You'll reach the park boundary at 6,740 feet.

The first stop in the park is Hosmer Grove . The quarter-mile interpretative walk is interesting, as well as a good leg-stretcher. Halemauu Trail, at 8,000 feet, is another good walk, and will lead you to the crater rim for a breathtaking view.

An even better view is offered at Leleiwi Overlook, 8,800 feet. From here you'll be able to see the gaps leading to the Keanae and Kuapo valleys. Next stop is the Kalahaku Overlook, at 9,324 feet. You'll be able to see the famous Haleakala silversword plant here. The silversword is a beautifully shimmery, metallic gray plant that was once threatened by overgrazing and destructive sightseers; its preservation was one of the prime motivations for creating Haleakala National Park in 1916.

At 11 miles from the park entrance, you'll reach the Sun Visitor Center, which is located on the crater rim at 9,745 feet. This is the place to really dig in deep for learning about the park's history and ecology. You can also take the quarter-mile trail to the top of White Hill, passing the ruins of old Hawaiian sleeping enclosures on the way.

The final overlook is Puu Ulaula, at 10,023 feet: the top. There is nothing in your way here from a 360-degree panorama that can, on a clear day, include the other Hawaiian islands: Hawaii, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, and Kahoolawe. For the motivated, Puu Ulaula is one of the best places in the world to see the sun rise.

Sky-watching is a great way to escape the world. Stop at one of several overlooks or take a short walk away from the traffic noise to watch the clouds. The visual horizon in many places in the park is up to 115 miles out to sea. Even cloudy skies can offer amazing sights including rainbows, moonbows, and halos seen around your shadow. Sunrise and sunset are both amazing events, but sunrise is more crowded. Arrive at least a half hour early to watch colors change. Good sunset locations include the Halemauu Trail and the Summit. Sunrise can be seen from Leleiwi or Kalahaku Overlooks, the Summit, and Haleakala Visitor Center.

Haleakala offers one of the most easily accessible places to watch planets, stars, and moons after dark. Rent a pair of 10 x 50 or 7 x 50 binoculars at one of the island dive shops, pick up a star map at Park Headquarters or Haleakala Visitor Center, and see if you can find the moons of Jupiter.

Hana Road is the coastal road that leads into the park to the town of Hana. This is not a road for student drivers. It's a narrow, winding, cliff-skirted, frequently blocked stretch of wonder. Along the way you'll pass secluded volcanic sand beaches, traditional farming fields, heart-stopping views, pristine pools, roadside waterfalls... get the picture? Paradise.

The road has recently been repaved and widened, so it's not the adventure it once was. But hey, you can't rough it all the time.

Crater Rim Drive and Halema'uma'u Overlook

Crater Rim Drive is a short one—only 11 miles—but it could be the most interesting road trip you've ever taken. The route passes through rainforest and desert, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks. So don't let the mileage fool you. You won't complete the circumference in a few minutes. If you do, you've missed the highlights such as Sulphur Banks, Steam Vents, Jaggar Museum, Halema'uma'u Crater, Devastation Trail, Kilauea Iki Crater, and Thurston Lava Tubes.

The Halema'uma'u Overlook is a ten-minute, half-mile round-trip walk to the crater's edge. Native Hawaiians practice their ancient traditions at Halema'uma'u Crater. Rangers ask that visitors respect this sacred site, and not build rock piles or leave any items that may desecrate the site. Visitors are also warned that volcanic fumes are hazardous to your health. Anyone with breathing problems, heart problems, and infants, young children, and pregnant women should avoid this area.

Stop and Explore

  • Devastation Trail, a 30-minute walk, takes the visitor through the cinder outfall of the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption, about a half-mile each way.
  • The Thurston Lava Tube hike, about one-third of a mile, is a 20-minute walk through a tree fern forest and prehistoric cave-like lava tube.
  • A longer hike is the two-hour walk to Kilauea Iki. The trail descends 400 feet through native forest into a crater and across lava flows still steaming from the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. The trailhead for this four-mile loop is located at the Kilauea Iki Overlook parking lot.

See Hiking for more detailed trail descriptions.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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