The Ultimate Guide to Sunset at the Summit of Haleakala National Park
One of the most stunning natural wonders in Hawaii is the sunset at the summit of Haleakala National Park. Standing at 10,000 feet above sea level, watching the sun dip below the clouds is an unforgettable experience. However, getting there can require a bit of planning to make sure you get the most out of this experience. So, if you're planning to go to Haleakala for sunset, here's what you need to know.
Checkout our vlog from sunset to Haleakala
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Haleakala is a dormant volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii. It stands at an impressive 10,023 feet above sea level and is one of the world's most unique volcanic landscapes. Haleakala is a national park and is one of the most popular destinations on the island of Maui. With its spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, it has become one of the world's premier destinations for star-gazing and viewing sunrises and sunsets. The name Haleakala means "house of the sun" which is fitting considering the sunrises and sunsets from the summit of the volcano are truly incredible!
How do you pronounce Haleakala?
Try as I might, I'm terrible at pronouncing names of places when traveling. I always try and I seem to always make a fool of myself at least once per trip. Haleakala was no different. While we've heard a variety of ways to pronounce "Haleakala," the most common pronunciation seems to be "hah-le-ah-kah-lah."
Something to note about Hawaii: the Hawaiian people are incredibly kind as long as you respect their home and do your best to pronounce things. In our experience, they're pretty forgiving. On Youtube we did receive a lot of backlash from Hawaiian locals who weren't actually of Hawaiian decent, but rather transplants from the mainland who were a bit territorial and were trying to be extra politically correct. The people who have always called this place home were beyond nice and seemed to appreciate visitors trying their best to learn about the culture, history, and pronounce things to the best of their ability. Most of the transplants were very laidback and welcoming, too, it's just that the only negative comments we've received were from them.
Do you need tickets for sunset at Haleakala?
Unlike sunrise at Haleakala, sunset at Haleakala does not require reservations. However, you still need to pay the park admissions fee unless you have the America the Beautiful Pass. We'd also recommend getting there early because the summit gets very busy with hundreds of other people who had the exact same idea. We'll talk more about timing here in a minute though.
How much does it cost to visit Haleakala?
The entrance fee into US national parks is per vehicle vs. per person. A private vehicle (max 14 people) is $30 and is valid for 3 days at both the Haleakala Summit entrance and Kīpahulu Areas. Three days isn't very long for an entrance fees compared to some national parks in the USA such as Glacier National Park where the entrance fee is good for 7 days. To make the most of your trip to Maui, here's what we'd recommend...
Purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. I know we've already mentioned this pass, but to us, it's well worth the investment! If you're someone who enjoys nature and plans to visit one or two more national parks in a year, chances are it's a better deal to purchase the NPS annual pass. The America the Beautiful Pass is $80 a year and gets you into any property managed by the National Parks Service as often as you'd like for 12 months. Considering the most popular national parks in the USA have entrance fees for $30-35 USD, the pass pays for itself in three visits.
Make sure you schedule your Maui itinerary to include sunset at Haleakala and the Road to Hana within a day or two of each other. The entrance fee to Haleakala's summit for sunset also includes entrance into the Kīpahulu Areas. Kīpahulu is on the far eastern side of the island near Hana. Most people who drive the Road to Hana end their drive at the national park and we'd say it's well worth the stop! Because the park entrance fee is only good for 3 days, you'll need to be sure you visit both sides of the park within that timeframe, otherwise you'll end up paying $60 instead of $30. If this is the first time you've heard of the Road to Hana, we have a whole blogpost and travel vlog all about our time on the road. In short, it's one of the most popular things to do on Maui (and for a good reason).
Another note, if you're arriving at the park on foot, motorcycle, or by bike, the entrance fees are a bit less but are still good for 3 days.
Private vehicle (up to 14 people): $30
Per person: $15
Note: The official Haleakala National Park website doesn't list a cost for bicycles. It does say that per person is "one individual with no car," so I'd assume it would be $15 per bike.
How to get to Haleakala Summit for sunset
While Haleakala is visible from most points on the island of Maui, getting there does take a bit of time. Away from the beaches and through the upcountry before climbing all the way to 10,000+ feet. I know it's hard to pull yourself from the amazing Maui beaches, but trust me, it's worth the extra time!
Lahaina to Haleakala Summit: 1 hr 47 min | 60 miles | Google Maps
Paia to Haleakala Summit: 1 hr 17 min | 34 miles | Google Maps
Kihei to Haleakala Summit: 1 hr 29 min | 47 miles | Google Maps
Kapalua to Haleakala Summit: 2 hr 5 min | 66 miles | Google Maps
Hana to Haleakala Summit: 2 hr 47 min | 69 miles | Google Maps
What to wear for sunset at Haleakala
It's not intuitive to pack warm clothes in your suitcase next to your swim-suite for your vacation to Hawaii. However, if you plan to visit Haleakala at sunset, you're going to need to dress warm! At 10,000 feet, temperatures can get much cooler, so wear warm clothes, and bring some blankets too, just in case. You'll want to wear some comfortable shoes or boots as well since the summit can be rocky at times.
Bulky winter clothes can take up quite a bit of space in the suitcase, so comfortable active are a good option. I always pack mid-length active pants for running anyway, so between those, socks with my running shoes, and my go-to Patagonia Nano-Puff Jacket, I was much warmer than those we saw who clearly had spent the day at the beach. The wind can be pretty extreme up at Haleakala Summit since the volcano is by far the highest thing around and you're exposed with no tree coverage, so just be aware. I promise you, even if you get cold, it's well worth it to see the sunset!
Pack whatever you think will keep you warm, but keep in mind it does get cold. It even snowed on the Haleakala Summit the week after we visited!
Weather at the Haleakala Summit
Since the Haleakala Summit is 10,000+ feet above sea level, the weather can (and does) change fast! It can be sunny at the summit when you leave the valley and begin the climb up the mountain, but by the time you get there it can be raining. While even cloudy conditions can give way to incredible sunsets, if there's a strong chance of rain before you begin your drive up the summit, I'd recommend not going.
Many people say the sunsets without clouds are the best because of the visibility you have over towards the mountains on the western side of the island as well as the ocean all around. Personally, I liked the clouds!
The day we visited Haleakala it was sunny at sea level, very foggy through the hairpin turns on the way up the mountain, then sunny above the clouds. The cloud coverage did increase the longer we were there. When we first arrived we could see the southern side of the island clearly, but then more clouds rolled in. The biggest drawback to clouds at sunset is the shorter amount of time you get to watch the sun. Once it dips below the clouds, it's over. There's something really magical about being above the clouds and witnessing some of the most beautiful sunset colors in the world!
While everyone prefers different conditions to enjoy the sunset, the truth is that sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate. As long as it's not a downpour at the summit (which is pretty rare), we'd say go! More often than not the clouds will part before you get to the summit. Haleakala is definitely one of those places where if you wait for perfect conditions, you'll be waiting for a long time.
Bring snacks for sunset
There are no vendors available at the national park so it's always helpful to pack some snacks and water. After all, the sunset is a long show, and you don't want to experience it with an empty stomach. We also recommended bringing hot beverages if you're planning to stay after the sun goes down since the temperatures can get even cooler. Do keep in mind that alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the park.
Safety tips for sunset at the summit
While the sunset at Haleakala is a safe experience, like all places in nature, certain precautions should be taken to keep you and the park safe.
We strongly recommend visitors stick to the marked trails, especially if you're planning to hike around the summit. Going on trail cannot only be dangerous to you, but it also damages the landscape.
Keep in mind that the summit is at an elevation of 10,000 feet, so the air is thinner, and hiking can be challenging. Give yourself time and more breaks than you usually would.
If you plan to hike on some of the trails before sunset at Haleakala, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks.
Be aware of your surroundings! The Haleakala Summit gets busy with pedestrians, cars, and bikes, so be extra aware when crossing streets and when taking photos. And please please please don't do anything risky for a good Instagram photo!
How early to arrive at Haleakala for sunset
Getting to Haleakala early for sunset is essential. Don't think that you can roll up and grab a spot because it's always busy at the summit. We recommend getting there no less than an hour before sunset, but really two hours will give you enough time to grab a seat, take some pictures, and maybe even enjoy a picnic dinner if you plan ahead and pack one. If you have the afternoon off before sunset, we'd recommend getting ot Haleakala earlier than just before sunset to enjoy the trails around the summit. Not only will that give you the chance to snag the best parking spot and viewing spot, but you'll get to experience more of this incredible park!
Keep in mind that the sunset changes throughout the year. Here is the breakdown by every 3 months:
January 1: 5:55 pm
April 1: 6:40 pm
July 1: 7:10 pm
October 1: 6:12 pm
Do note that while Hawaii is always a popular destination, peak seasons including the winter holidays (December), spring break, and summer have the heaviest crowds. During the off-seasons you could risk arriving 30 minutes before sunset and try to grab a spot, but you risk completely missing it if you have to park far away to walk to the summit.
Best places to watch the sunset at Haleakala
The most popular (and admittedly the best) spot for sunset at Haleakala is at the summit. The view is incredible and you'll get 360 degree views, but it is very busy. You'll be surrounded by other groups, many who are talking, laughing, have children running around, etc. While I love seeing families and friends have fun together, personally I enjoy sunset as a relaxing experience.
We went up to the summit for golden hour, then about 15 minutes before sunset we hopped in the car and drove to a spot we scouted out on the way up that was about a mile down the road. That's where we enjoyed watching the sun dip below the crowds in silence and enjoyed the blue hour after the sun disappeared, too.
You can also cross the street from the Summit Visitors Center and watch there, but even that gets pretty crowded. Bottomline, there are plenty of places to watch an incredible sunset at Haleakala. It's personal preference what sort of experience you're looking for!
Parking at Haleakala
Parking for sunset at Haleakala fills up fast. The earlier you arrive, the closer to the summit you can park. We arrived about an hour and a half before sunset in mid December and snagged one of the last good spots towards the summit. Once the summit lot fills up, parking attends will be along the road pointing guests to parking. The busier it gets, the further down the summit you'll park which means the further you'll have to walk. Many people will need to park at the Haleakala Summit Visitors Center which is .6 miles from the actual summit where you get the best views. The walk is a pretty big hill, so be prepared with comfortable shoes and allow plenty of time.
If you're running really late for sunset at Haleakala, or you really don't want to be around other people for the experience, there are a few pull-offs along the road up to the park that offer the chance to point your car west and enjoy the view. Never pull off on the side of the road except in the designated pull-offs. I know I said this earlier, but stay out of the road and stick to the well worn paths.
Sunset at the Haleakala National Park is a breathtaking experience that you shouldn't miss while visiting Hawaii. With proper planning and preparation, you can have an unforgettable experience that you will remember for a lifetime. Just make sure you make reservations in advance, dress appropriately, bring enough snacks and water, stay safe, and arrive early to catch the show. Take in the scene, capture memories with your camera, and leave with a heart full of gratitude for one of the most beautiful places on earth.
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!