The House of the Sun is an apt name for a place that hosts the world’s most stunning sunrises. At Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, visitors vie for the opportunity to see what Mark Twain once described as “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”
It seems the sun begins and ends at Haleakala Volcano, where it is believed that the demi-god Maui lassoed it in the sky, slowing its descent to lengthen the days one has to enjoy this island park. Today you will need more than a long day to discover all of the treasures hidden between Haleakala’s rain forested rocky coasts and the top of its huge desolate crater.
History of Haleakala National Park
The Hawaiian Islands were colonized by the Polynesians between 0 to 800 AD, and during that time Haleakala Crater was visited frequently. By 1778, explorer Captain James Cook was the first European to have contact with the Hawaiians, then died in an uprising on the big island the next year. Forty years later American missionaries came to Maui.
Sugar cane plantations came and went on Haleakala, with cattle ranches taking their place, both destroying the habitat of the Hawaiian goose, called nē nē. But eventually Hawaii was annexed as a territory of the United States and by 1916 Haleakala became part of Hawaii National Park, along with the Hawaii Volcanoes region.
This provided some protection of native plant and animal species in the park, and by the time Hawaii became the 50th state, Haleakala was separated from Hawaiian National Park, becoming a national park in its own right in 1961, and the reintroduction of nē nē began.
A trip to Hawaii means leaving your RV on the mainland and taking a flight to the islands. But once you arrive at Haleakala National Park on Maui, you will find several hotels, lodges, and homes available to welcome you as a lodging guest.
Rent a car at the airport and enjoy all the benefits of this tropical paradise as you explore this most diverse national park from top to bottom.
It’s one of the most unique places in the U.S. and honestly the world. The wildlife is abundant and interesting, the views are spectacular, and the place is downright magical in all the right ways.
Places to Go
Here’s a look at some of the must-go places in the park. If you’re going to make the trek out there, you might as well hit these particular spots.
Overlooking the Haleakala Crater, this region of the park has cinders underfoot and outstanding views from above the clouds. It offers amazing sunrise and sunset observation points and a number of hiking trails through shrubland. The park headquarters visitor center is located here.
Accessed by the Hana Highway, the Kīpahulu region lies along the coast, with rain forests, waterfalls and Hawaiian cultural sites. Hike through lush vegetation to rocky shores, where sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales frolic in the surf. This district has its own visitor center.
Designated as a biological reserve, the roadless sections of Haleakala National Park preserve native and endangered plant and animal species and encompass more than 24,000 acres of land.
Visitors will find barren red desert land in the crater leading to coastal rain forests down below. The region can be accessed by two hiking trails: Halemauʻu Trail and Keoneheʻeheʻe Trail (Sliding Sands). The Haleakala visitor center is located within the Wilderness District.
Things to Do
Here’s a look at some of the amazing things you can do and see while you’re in the park. You definitely won’t be bored here.
Sunrise and Sunset Views
One of the most popular activities at Haleakala is driving to the top of the park to view sunrise or sunset. In fact, it has become so prevalent that reservations to view sunrise are now the only way to capture the morning’s entrance. Sunset viewing is a little less in demand, so no reservations are necessary for that.
The best way to see Haleakala National Park is on foot. There are numerous hiking trails, organized by district, and hikers are reminded to stay on designated trails, as required by law.
Summit District Trails
Over 30 miles of trails lie within the Summit District, where temperatures are much cooler and the air thinner at high altitudes.
- Pā Ka‘oao Trail is close to the park headquarters, with a view of ancient rock walls and the crater of Haleakala Volcano.
- Sliding Sands Trail takes hikers down into the crater and ends in the Kīpahulu District.
- Wilderness District Trails – About seven miles of trails lead hikers through endangered trees and shrubs that are critical to local wildlife.
- Leleiwi Overlook is a short walk to the crater viewpoint.
- Halemau‘u Trail leads to a Rainbow Bridge and the crater floor.
- Supply Trail intersects with Halemau’u Trail.
- Hosmer Grove takes hikers through a biological reserve, where over 50 endangered species of plants endemic to the Hawaiian Islands flourish.
Two trails lead explorers through coastal rain forests and past waterfalls.
- Pīpīwai Trail is a moderately strenuous hike to Waimoku Waterfall and through a bamboo forest.
- Kūloa Point Trail takes hikers to ocean viewpoints and several archaeological sites.
Camping and Backpacking
Two easily accessible campgrounds exist for tent and car camping. Each has pit toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and a three-night per month limit.
- Hosmer Campground lies below the summit at about 7,000 feet near Hosmer Grove.
- Kīpahulu Campground has ocean cliffs and is close to the Kīpahulu Visitor Center.
There are two backcountry camping areas available to backpackers. Each lies on a trail and has two-night maximum stays, but act as great base camps from which to explore more of the park. Campers are reminded that daytime temperatures run from 40 to 70 degrees, with nighttime temps at 30 to 50 degrees, so plan accordingly.
- Hōlua Campsite is almost four miles from Halemau`u trailhead and accesses the Wilderness District.
- Palikū Campsite is more than nine miles down the Sliding Sands Trail and is located at the base of rain forest cliffs for a lush, cool campsite.
When to Visit Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park is open year-round, but temperatures and weather are deceptive, as the summit of the crater can drop to 40 degrees with high winds and rain on a moment’s notice.
The Kīpahulu District is lower in altitude and exhibits typical tropical weather, with hot and humid temperatures and moisture in the forecast most days. Be prepared for drastic weather changes.
Where You Can Stay
RVers can leave their rigs on the mainland for a trip to Haleakala National Park, taking a flight to the islands from most major US cities. However, once there, there are numerous places to stay both inside and outside the park boundaries. Check out the options here.
In fact, there are three historic wilderness cabins in the crater that can be reserved for up to two nights in a row. Otherwise, travelers are encouraged to book lodging in any of the surrounding towns.
Getting To and Around This National Park
Most visitors arrive by air to Kahului, Hawaii, taking Route 37 to Route 377 and Route 378 into the Summit and Wilderness Districts in the Park.
If visiting the Kīpahulu District, take Route 36 to Route 360 to the entrance. Allow several hours to enter either area, as the roads are very winding and steep, and remember that there are no gas stations or groceries available within the park boundaries.
Haleakala National Park is a remote region full of contradictory landscapes and topography. From sea level to over 10,000 feet, visitors discover an amazing array of wildlife and vegetation. Dolphins may greet you along the coastal rain forest, and endangered songbirds might sing you to sleep at your campsite within an extinct volcanic crater.
Awe-inspiring sunrises give credence to the park’s name, and it is easy to see how Polynesians believed Haleakala to be the House of the Sun.
Have you ever been to the Haleakala National Park? What were your experiences there?