Best Day Hikes in Haleakala National Park
Picture Maui, and chances are you'll think of its postcard-perfect beaches.
And while it’s true that the Valley Isle’s 120 miles of coastline are nothing short of magic, the trails and hikes in Haleakala are just as epic.
Just think: A bamboo path that leads to a 400-foot waterfall, a guava-filled route that provides stunning views of the coastline, and a steep climb that curves around a windmill farm.
Oh, and a dormant volcano—one of the world's largest—that contains over 30 miles of hiking.
Happen to be heading up the island’s biggest mountain on your trip? Lucky you, as four of Maui’s top hikes are found above the cloud line (no pun intended). Some require lungs of steel and shoes with serious tread. Some are a walk in the park. Others still are a moving meditation, bringing you closer to Haleakala’s history as one of the most culturally-significant spots on the island. But all offer unforgettable views and an opportunity to see the “other side” of Hawaii.
Whether you’re traveling with Shaka Guide by your side or hitting the volcano solo, here are the best day hikes in Haleakala. See why you should fit them into your schedule.
1. Halemau’u Trail and Hike in Haleakala
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
A number of visitors to Haleakala make what we consider a mistake—they arrive for sunrise or sunset and then instantly head back down the mountain.
No doubt about it: dawn and dusk from Haleakala’s summit are some of the greatest sights most experience in their life. But “the crater’s” basin offers more than what immediately meets the eye. With 19 square miles, and unparalleled views of the island, the national park is ripe for exploring.
Halemau’u Trail is a terrific place to start. True, the entire hike is a knee-aching 7.5 miles, ultimately reaching the Holua Cabin in the center of the volcano’s hollow. This, however, might be one of those rare times where it’s forgivable for not finishing what you started.
It is located 7,990 feet above sea level. Halemau’u Trail starts out gently enough that you can hike in a mile, return to your car—and still have the time and energy to go snorkeling.
That first mile isn’t mediocre, either. Scrub brush might be a common enough sight, but where that mile ends—at a 1,000-foot cliff—is not. Peering down into the Ko’olau Gap, you’ll be granted with one of the most staggering views of the island. Bold hikers can keep going on what’s known as “Switchback Trail” to reach Holua Cabin. It is a historic cabin, roughly 1,000 feet below, that’s surrounded by federally-designated wilderness. Keep your eyes peeled, should you make it all the way down: The Hawaiian petrel, or ‘ua‘u, calls this part of the volcano home.
2. Sliding Sands Trail
Sliding Sands Trail; Forest Starr and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0
In Hawaiian, Sliding Sands—one of the toughest hikes Haleakala offers—is known as Keoneheehee.
Think that’s tricky to say? Consider the mind-boggling trail itself. Starting at an elevation of 9,800 feet, the trail descends 2,500 feet to Haleakala’s giant basin below. Those are vertical feet, mind you. (Did someone say sliding?)
It might sound intimidating, but the pay-off is well-worth the courage, and fitness, it requires. Lunar beauty abounds. Silence is practically felt. The colors—gray, red, yellow, green—mesmerize. The ‘ahinahina, or Hawaiian silversword, can be seen on the slopes. And while the whole hike—11.2 miles—will probably demand your day, you can opt to hike the first 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone before trekking back to your car. Either way, prepare to be blown away. This is otherworldly country.
3. Pa Ka’oao Trail
dronepicr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Located right next to the visitor center, this trail is .2 miles (one way), with only a 100-foot change in elevation, Pa Ka’oao—also known as “White Hill”—is more stroll than hike.
But that doesn’t make it any less scenic, as “White Hill” goes down as one of the highest vantage points in the park.
Translation? Spectacular views. Ash, cinder cones, rolling volcanic slopes, and more of that rocky moonscape jungle—this is Haleakala at its finest. But it’s the white clouds streaming below that’ll make you feel like you’re close to heaven.
4. Hosmer Grove Loop Trail
Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons
Barren terrain dominates most of Haleakala’s landscape, but below the summit rests a trail that offers something else entirely.
Called Hosmer Grove, the area is located near mile marker 10.5 (just listen to Shaka Guide for directions). A mile and a half loop trail will take you through some of Hawaii’s first territorial forester's original plantings, including spruce, cedar, eucalyptus, and sugi pine. Simple and pretty, it’s the perfect contrast to the volcanic moonscape at Haleakala’s summit. In other words? Hikers on Maui are downright spoiled.
Hikes in Haleakala Tips
Whether you decide to brave Sliding Sands or select a short walk, keep in mind that Haleakala National Park holds a number of endangered species. Some of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Walking off trails, littering, pulling up plant roots, camping in undesignated areas, fires—all can be a threat to Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem.
Also keep in mind that the weather on Haleakala can be fierce and unpredictable. Given the elevation of these hikes, you can easily go from bright sun to heavy rain to sudden cold. Dress in layers, lather on sunscreen, bring lots of water (and hiking poles for the longer trails), and arrive rested and nourished. Then, enjoy. Mark Twain once wrote that Haleakala has “healing solitudes,” and we’d agree that it soothes as much as it enthralls.
When you're in Hawaii, please be respectful of the land, animals and plant species you come across. Hawaii's ecosystems are fragile. You can show your aloha by leaving the trail better than you found it. Always dispose of your trash properly and never trespass on private property. If there are no trespassing signs, they are there for a reason! For more on how to be a safe and responsible traveler when you visit Hawaii, click here.