Just to be straight with you…if you don’t watch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala in Haleakala National Park while on Maui, you are missing something special. It’s one of the most incredible places on Planet Earth to take in a sunrise. And, rightly so. It’s inspiring, peaceful and simply breathtaking. We highly recommend making some time for a Haleakala sunrise. However, there are few things that you should know before you wake up in the middle of the night to drive to the top of the mountain for this otherworldly experience.
Here are Travelin’ Stiles 5 Tips for a Haleakala Sunrise!
1. You NEED a Reservation
Yes, it’s that popular. But, rightly so. The Haleakala sunrise is pretty incredible. And being at the top of a mountain, 10,000 feet above sea level, you can imagine there’s limited space. It wasn’t always necessary to have a reservation, but now it’s required.
The sunrise reservation grants you access to Haleakala National Park between the hours of 3-7am. It’s a small fee separate from your $25 park entry fee. The good news about all this bureaucracy is that the sunrise reservation only costs $1.50 and you can get it online at recreation.gov. The bad news is, reservations often sell out a week to 10 days in advance. If you want to see a Haleakala sunrise, it’s best to plan for it in advance. If reservations bum you out or somehow slip your mind, 40 additional tickets are released every day at 4pm for 2 days from then. Example, if you are sans reservations and want to visit on Friday the 10th, be online at 4pm sharp on Wednesday the 8th to have your best chance at the late release reservations.
2. Dress Warm
Surprise! In the middle of the night at the top of a mountain, it’s cold. It’s not Annapurna Basecamp cold, but close. While during the day on the beaches of Maui, temps reach the upper 80s or low 90s regularly, the top of Haleakala around sunrise temps are closer to freezing. It was in the upper 30’s/low 40s when we were there. We were fairly prepared in that we wore about every piece of clothing we had since we didn’t bring any gear for cold weather. However, there were several folks who did not get the memo and seemed to be having a less than fun time in their shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops.
We’d suggest wearing a coat, shoes, socks and long pants. If you’re really prepared, a beanie and some gloves. If you’re short on cold weather gear, wrap up in a blanket from your accommodation to help fend off the cold. Once the sun comes up the rays feel pretty good and you won’t need your cold weather garb for too much longer.
3. Start Early
When you plug it into the GPS, the distance will not seem far. It isn’t. However, it is a long, dark, winding mountain road and it takes time to reach the summit. The road is sans guard rails for the most part. As you get closer to sunrise, the traffic volume can become heavy and parking areas become crowded. Give yourself plenty of time so that you can make it there safely, without rushing.
We left from our accommodation near Kamaole Beach II in Kihei around 3am for the 6:05 sunrise. We arrived around 4:45am. Once we reached the summit, we checked out the sunrise viewing area and headed back to the car for a cat nap. Arriving early was key. We arrived prepared and had a great spot at the summit for sunrise. Make your life easy and get going early! There were plenty of disappointed people who wanted to watch from the summit, only to find there were no parking spaces left. More people than we can count rolled up to the summit minutes after the sun came up and the spectacular show had just ended.
4. Bring All Your Gear and Charge you Batteries
If you reach the top and realize you forgot something you’re going to be #bummed, and it’ll be a #fail. Also, if you plan to shoot the entire sunrise, which can last an hour or more, you’re going to want to have full batteries. Make sure all your gear is fully charged and that you’ve got everything you want before you leave. Once you’re at the top, it’s a long way back down.
Note that batteries and electronics can act strangely in cold weather. Bring extra batteries and portable power sources for your electronic gear.
5. Stay to Explore Haleakala National Park
Sunrise is not the only draw to Haleakala NP. Besides the incredible views from the highest point on the island, there’s plenty to explore. From trails across Mars-like landscapes to sightings of the Nene, Hawaiian goose. There’s lots to keep you busy the rest of the day. There are some longer hikes or shorter trails out to vista points. Even if you simply take your time coming down the mountain to take in all the views, it’s quite worth it.
Another thing to keep in mind when you visit Haleakala is that the Seven Sacred Pools. On the east side of the island past Hana, the pools are inside Haleakala National Park. Your NP entrance fee is good for 3 days. So, it’s a good idea to try and get out to the pools within three days of taking in the sunrise.
If You’re on Maui, Don’t Miss a Haleakala Sunrise
With so much to do on Maui, it’s easy to put off getting up at 3am to drive to the top of a freezing cold mountain. But Haleakala sunrise is a must see. We’ve watched the sun come up in nearly 70 countries. The sunrise at Haleakala is easily in the Top 5 we’ve ever witnessed. Of course, nature plays a role and weather conditions play a huge role. Be sure to check the weather reports and hopefully, you’ll have ideal conditions like we did. If you do, it’ll be a moment you’ll never forget!
There’s a sweet video of the 5 Tips for a Haleakala Sunrise we made. Check it out!
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