Headed to Maui and looking for some of the best Haleakala sunrise tours? Or wanna learn how to go yourself for only a dollar? Here’s everything you need to know to watch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park — what to bring, how to snag a coveted reservation ticket, what to wear, and more!
Let’s face it — I’m no sunrise girl. Yes, I wake up early when absolutely necessary (say, to catch an early morning flight to Maui or Oahu), but I typically choose not to wake up at the crack of dawn. Sunsets are more my jam, unless it means watching the sun rise above the clouds from a volcano in Maui.
And yes, I just said VOLCANO.
Close your eyes and think of Maui. I’m sure palm trees swaying in the wind, juicy pineapples, and cute sea turtles come to mind. But a 10,023 foot volcano?! What the actual F?! Yup, that’s over here in Maui.
Haleakala is home to Maui’s highest peak; of course it’s the perfect place to watch the sunrise on the island! And plus, Haleakala literally means “House of the Sun”, so what better place to watch the sunrise than at Haleakala!
Just imagine that. Picture it in your mind. Sunrise above the clouds from an active volcano. In MAUI! Mystical. Intoxifying. Other-wordly. Exactly my point. Well worth the early morning wake up call.
And why’s it just so spectacular? A few things actually!
- 1. The summit’s high elevation (at a whopping 10,023 feet)!
- 2. The lack of light and environmental pollution.
- 3. The dynamic weather patterns.
- 4. The size of the crater; it’s massive — at 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and close to 3,000 feet deep!
- 5. It’s MAUI, baby (and everything just feels different on the islands).
These all make for perfect conditions to view the sky and sunrise! You can even see 4 islands from the summit on a clear day!
A Little Background on Haleakala National Park
Like I noted before, Haleakala is a VOLCANO on Maui! And more specifically, a shield volcano which rose from the ocean approximately 1 MILLION years ago. So yeah, it’s been around quite a while.
In terms of culture and history, natives believe Haleakala is the site where demigod Maui lassoed the sun, ultimately slowing its passage so people had more time to dry kapa (cloth) and grow food. Meaning they were able to live more comfortably on the land. This is all a legend of course, but it’s been a sacred spot to the Hawaiian people for generations and generations.
A few more interesting facts about Haleakala National Park:
- Haleakala National Park was named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. It also has the largest concentration of endangered species of any National Park.You may even see endangered Hawaiian geese here!
- It’s one of the three tallest mountains not only in Hawaii, but on Earth (along with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes on the Big Island).
- There’s almost 20,000 feet of mountain hidden below the ocean surface, meaning it’s roughly 30,000 feet tall (from the summit to its base on the ocean floor).
Not many people realize this, but there’s actually 2 completely separate sections of Haleakala National Park. One is where you marvel at the Haleakala sunrise from the summit, and the other is the coastal area of Kīpahulu (where you’ll find the freshwater Pools of Ohe’o, waterfalls, and a lush bamboo forest — typically visited while driving the Road to Hana).
Don’t try to visit on the same day — these two sections are at least a 2 ½ hour drive apart. But do keep the park’s entrance sticker — it’s valid for 7 days at both sections of the park, meaning you only have to pay once!
Is Haleakala Active?
Did you know that each Hawaiian island was created and formed by volcanic eruptions?! True story! So without these active volcanoes and lava flows, there’d be no Hawaii at all! Kinda crazy, right?! Haleakala erupted at least 10 times during the past 1,000 years, with the most recent eruption between about 600 and 400 years ago. So a long time ago, but not sooooo long ago.
But don’t fret — Haleakala is now considered to be dormant since it hasn’t erupted in a relatively long time. BUT it could (and probably will) erupt again sometime in the far off future (don’t worry, it’s on close watch).
Making a Reservation for Sunrise at Haleakala
The first (and most important) thing you need to know about sunrise at Haleakala is that you NEED to make a reservation in advance — and getting a ticket can be super competitive.
- Note: Haleakala Summit Sunrise tickets are NOT available at the park or entrance station. They MUST be bought in advance.
On our first trip to Maui back in 2013, there was no reservation system in place to see the sunrise at Haleakala. And OMFG it was crowded like no other. We were fighting people for the view, parking was an absolute nightmare, and the traffic, sheesh! Not the serene early morning experience we were hoping for. We still enjoyed it, but we left thinking it could have been way better (the organization of it, not the sunrise — that was outta this world).
Thankfully, since then, reservations for sunrise are now required. Yeah, yeah, yeah, this means you can’t decide the night before you wanna watch sunrise at Haleakala early the next morning, but I promise the planning ahead is worth it.
Since sunrise at Haleakala has become so incredibly popular, you now need to make reservations in advance. And there’s not tons of them. Only 150 on any given day! For all the people visiting Maui!
Individual spots can fill up quickly since there are only 150 parking spaces available per morning. Make reservations here or take the easy way out and book with a certified tour operator (who takes care of your transportation to and from the summit as well as any documentation/advanced reservation requirements).
Note that tickets are per vehicle, not per person (phew!). While tickets are limited to one per customer every three days, don’t be that douche who buys up as many tickets as possible if you’re not gonna use them. Let others take in the magic of Haleakala as well! I was at the beach one day and someone was able to get sunrise tickets for two different days and they weren’t even sure if they were gonna use them. UGH! Not cool, at all!
Psst: Don’t make the long drive to Haleakala (and then the summit) without a reservation if you’re hoping to catch sunrise! They won’t let you in. You’ll need to wait until 7am to enter, and sadly, sunrise will be completely over by then.
When to Book:
60 days in advance!!!! And not a day later. Inventory for Haleakala sunrise tickets are released on a 60-day rolling window prior to the date you wanna go. This means that tickets are released exactly 60 days beforehand, and they go fast! Do NOT wait to buy your ticket!
If you’re unable to snag a ticket 60 days in advance (or you booked your trip to Maui with less than 2 months to go), there’s thankfully another way! There’s a secondary inventory release 2-days prior to the date you wanna go! While there’s not as many tickets this close to the actual date, you should still go for it. And remember, they get released at 7am HST (Hawaii’s time zone) — know in advance what time this is near you if you’re not yet in Hawaii.
Note: If you are within the 60-day window but the day you choose says tickets are “not yet released,” that means all 60-day window tickets are gone. Yes, every single one of them. The “not yet released” tickets will be released 2-days prior to the start date at 7am HST.
How Much Does it Cost?!
And get this — reservations are only $1. ONE DOLLAR! By far one of the least expensive things you can do on your Maui itinerary! You will still need to pay the $30 park entry fee, so just keep that into account when planning (although Haleakala is a national park so it’s included on your America the Beautiful national parks pass should you already have that).
Are Reservations Always Required at Haleakala?
For sunrise — yes! Haleakala National Park now requires reservations for each vehicle entering the park before sunrise (3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.). But you can go other times of day without a reservation at all. And I promise you, the park is still spectacular whether you see the sunrise or not. But watching the sunrise is definitely a Hawaii bucket list item for sure.
Tips for Getting A Reservation for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park
It’s a competitive sport in and of itself getting that coveted reservation for sunrise at Haleakala. I’m part of numerous Hawaii Facebook groups and people are so surprised they’re not able to easily get a ticket a few days before! Thankfully I’ve got a whole bunch of tips for ya! Either write them down or save this post for later — I’m sharing my exact method here!
Tip #1: YOU NEED A RESERVATION FOR SUNRISE AT THE SUMMIT (entering between 3am – 7am). Yes, I know I keep saying this, but you NEED one. You’ll be denied entry without one. There’s literally no way around this. Figure out exactly when you want to see the sunrise at Haleakala, and mark your calendar NOW. Then figure out EXACTLY 60 days prior from that date, and mark that in your calendar too.
Tip #2: Create an account on Recreation.gov NOW, or at least before the dates of the Haleakala National Park Summit Sunrise tickets go on sale (60 days in advance). But just do it now so you don’t forget (it’s free!). You’ll need to log into your account before you can add a sunrise ticket to your cart and then purchase it. Don’t waste time the morning of creating an account — you’ll likely miss out on tickets before you even finish signing up!
Tip #3: Be ready the literal second reservations go on sale. Not 5 minutes later, not 2 minutes later, not even 1 minute later. Be ready and at your computer with the browser open to add the ticket to your cart at exactly 7am HST 60 days prior. I’m not kidding when I say it’s a competitive sport. The tickets sell out right away — you’ve gotta be one of the first! And unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of getting a ticket even if you attempt the second they become available. But hey, gotta up your chances as best you can!
Tip #4: I always recommend sunrise at Haleakala on the first morning of your trip (easier for jet lag this way). BUT, if you’re not able to do so/can’t get a reservation, you can keep checking every day to see if you’re able to secure a ticket for the following days. If you’ve got a few days in Maui you’ve got more chances to snag a ticket. 🙂
I couldn’t get a sunrise reservation. Now what?!
Thankfully, you’ve got a few options!
First option is to book yourself on a Haleakala sunrise tour. While these are obviously more costly than the $1 reservation fee, if you wanna see sunrise, there’s no other way. I’ve listed a few options below — go check those out!
Second option is to simply go after sunrise. As noted earlier, you’re allowed to enter the park without an advance reservation after 7am each day. The park is absolutely amazing during sunrise or after — I promise! Visiting after sunrise means you’ll get to see the crater all lit up, and it’ll already be quite warm out! Plus, you don’t need to skip/rush through breakfast, so you can hike as long as you want on the Sliding Sands Trail without anyone getting hangry (guilty!).
Third option is to watch the sunset at Haleakala, which more and more people have been doing if they’re unable to get a sunrise reservation. While I’ve never watched a Haleakala sunset, I’ve heard it’s absolutely spectacular. And you don’t need to bundle up in all your winter gear. Although if you wanna stay after sunset to do some star gazing (highly recommended), you’ll wanna bring along some warm clothes.
Haleakala Sunrise Tours
Can’t get a reservation? Don’t fret! You can take a tour instead, meaning they take care of your transportation to and from the summit as well as any documentation/advanced reservation requirements. This means you don’t need to struggle to get your own sunrise reservation. Phew!
Sunrise at Haleakala with Breakfast: This tour will pick you up at your hotel, drive through Maui’s upcountry Kula District, and experience the awe-inspiring sunrise at Haleakala National Park. All before breakfast, which is then served at a local restaurant afterwards. The guides know all about the one-of-a-kind landscape and terrain, meaning you’ll see rare silversword plants and maybe even catch a glimpse of the Nene goose!
Sunrise at Haleakala then Self-Guided Bike Ride down the Volcano: Want something a bit more active?! Watch the sunrise atop Haleakala, then bike down the mountain from 6,500 ft. (meaning you’ll glide on by for 23 miles!). And the best part — going at YOUR pace and not the pace of a group (how most guided sunrise bike tours are organized). Entrance to Haleakala for sunrise, transport to the top, and bike rental are all included!
Haleakala Sunrise then Guided Bike Down to the Beach: LIke the sound of that second tour but want some more instruction from a professional guide? You don’t bike down a volcano every weekend?! ? Then this is the Haleakala sunrise tour for you. Watch a magical Maui sunrise atop 10,023 foot Mt. Haleakala, view the spectacular crater, and then enjoy biking down 26 miles. All transport, safety, and bike gear provided. And the best part — you finish riding at the beach (unlike most other companies)!
Sunrise at Haleakala: Logistics
How to Get to Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park is kinda in the middle of nowhere on Maui. It’s not near any of the major tourist areas, meaning you’ll more than likely have a bit of a drive no matter where you’re staying. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s two parts to Haleakala National Park. Make sure you direct to the right one!
You’ll wanna input “Haleakala National Park Summit Entrance” right into your GPS (where you’ll show your reservation and park pass/pay to enter). Once you get there, you’ve still got another 30 minute (12 mile) drive to the actual summit and Visitor Center!
Times below are to the summit entrance station at 7,000 feet elevation. Regardless of where you’re coming from, tack on another 30 minutes or so to drive the remaining 3,000 feet of elevation to where you’ll watch the sunrise at Haleakala.
- From Kahului: 50 minutes (28 miles)
- From Paia: 50 minutes (23 miles)
- From Kihei: 1 hour (35 miles)
- From Wailea: 1 hour, 15 minutes (40 miles)
- From Lahaina: 1 ½ hours (50 miles)
- From Kaanapali/Kapalua: 2 hours (60 miles)
- From Hana: 2 ½ hours (60 miles)
But remember, there may be traffic and the roads are steep and windy (meaning you’ll need to go super slow). Take your time. You actually climb from sea level to above 10,000 ft in only 38 miles… It’s one of the shortest ascending roads to this elevation in the WORLD. Kinda crazy, right?
Note that there may be a line at the entrance to show your reservation, so plan to arrive extra early! You don’t wanna come all this way and then somehow miss sunrise! And plus, the Haleakala Highway (Route 378 — the road you’ll be taking) is super windy, so you can’t go fast.
If you wanna be the absolute closest on the island, plan to spend the night in Upcountry the night before. But honestly? Getting up super early is just part of the experience! And it’ll still be a long drive from Upcountry since the national park is so high up on super windy roads.
You’ll be driving up the mountain in the dark, so you won’t get the views on your way. But when you’re done with sunrise at Haleakala, make sure to stare out that window! The views are just remarkable — you’ll be driving above the clouds for a bit. It’s absolutely wild!
As you drive to the national park and within, please respect speed limits. The park road passes through endangered species habitats, so gotta be extra careful.
Psst — you’ll need to show your reservation confirmation email and a photo ID matching the name of the reservation-holder when you enter the park. Be prepared and have it ready!
Parking at Haleakala for Sunrise
Both times we went to Haleakala for sunrise, the lot for the actual summit (the Haleakala Observatory) was already full! And we got there way before sunrise! WHOA — told you this place is popular!
You can still walk up there if you really want, but the views we saw were absolutely spectacular where we were so I don’t see any reason to. We parked by the Visitor Center and watched the sunrise from the viewpoint over there.
You have to leave at what time?!
Way earlier than you probably thought. Yup — this will 1000% be a super early morning. But I promise you it’s well worth it! For sunrise at 5:38am in mid-June, we set our alarms to 3:30am (with back-up alarms every 5 minutes afterwards). And we almost didn’t make it, even by staying in Paia which is slightly closer to Haleakala than other popular tourist towns. So do me a favor and wake up an hour before you think you have to.
Of course the sun rose the absolute earliest out of the entire year in mid-June when we visited. The summer solstice — of course!
As we already established, sunrise at the Haleakala summit is super popular, so aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise. You’ll have to drive the winding 38 mile Crater Road in the dark, so plan to leave even earlier than you think.
- Check exact sunrise times here: The sun rises between 5:30am – 7am depending on the time of year, with summer being earliest and winter being the latest.
What to Bring and Wear
Word of advice: Bring Warm Clothes. Yes, it’s Maui, but the temperature drops about 3º for every 1,000 feet of elevation, meaning it’ll be about 30º colder at the summit than at sea level. Remember — you’re here to watch the sunrise, meaning it’ll be chilly regardless (there’s no sun to warm everything up just yet)! So if it’s 65° at sea level on the beach in the wee hours of the morning, it’ll be a cool 35° at Haleakala. I didn’t bundle up enough and I was freezing my butt off. The temps frequently drop to below freezing!
More advice: The summit is remote and as we already discussed, at a super high altitude. There’s not many facilities nearby, and emergency medical assistance is at least an hour away. I don’t say this to scare you, but to stress the importance of bringing everything you need — just in case.
All My Haleakala Must-Haves:
- Layers, layers, and layers. And then probably another layer. Take a scarf, alllll the sweatshirts you brought with you, your hotel blanket if you’re feeling a bit extra, and layer, layer, layer. You’ll thank me later when you’re standing there comfortably watching the sunrise at 10,000 feet without freezing your little toes off.
- Snacks if you think you’ll be hungry that early (my husband got super hungry so I’m glad I had some leftover muffin and trail mix in the car from the day before).
- Fill up your gas tank ahead of time, preferably the night before. There’s no gas stations in the park, so come prepared with what you’ll need for the day and then some.
- Sunscreen! Yes, sunscreen! The sun’s radiation is super intense at this super high elevation (hey, you’ll be 10,000 feet above sea level) so be sure to protect your skin and slather on that sunscreen. Sun burns aren’t sexy anyways, and they hurt! Don’t wanna be a lobster before you even hit the beach!
- Reusable water bottles, especially if you’ll be doing a bit of hiking after watching the sunrise at Haleakala.
- Sturdy hiking shoes if you plan to hang around a bit afterwards and explore. We walked a bit on the Sliding Sands trail and regular sneakers were sufficient (although the sand is dusty and red, meaning my light pink Nikes got kinda dirty).
- National Parks Pass. Of course I left mine at home and we had to pay the $30 fee to get in, whoops! I mean, you don’t typically think of Hawaii as a place you’d be going to National Parks! Don’t be me — pack your parks pass ASAP!
When to Go
During your trip: The first morning you have! Why see the Haleakala sunrise on the first day? Because depending on where you’re coming from, you’ll most likely have a case of major jet lag. And I mean MAJOR. Use this to your advantage! If you’re flying in from the East Coast USA, 2am will actually feel more like 8am. Not so terrible now, am I right?
Weather at Haleakala: Like Olympic National Park in Washington, the weather is pretty tough to accurately forecast. It’s highly unpredictable (especially at the summit), and can change super fast. Like I keep stressing, just come prepared for freezing wind chill temps just in case — you just never know!
Typically, summers are dry and warm (well, relatively), while winters can be wet, windy, and downright freezing. There’s even usually at least a few days per year that the summit gets a dusting of snow! How wild would it be to see snow in Hawaii?! If you want the best chance of near-perfect conditions, check sunrise at Haleakala off your Hawaii bucket list in the summer months.
On a normal day at sunrise, the temps are usually in the high 30’s to low 40’s. Brr…. but thankfully, the air heats up quickly once the sun is out. I had to take my fleece off within 20 minutes of sunrise! By noon it can be 65-75°F!
Other Tips for Visiting Haleakala at Sunrise
- As always, when hiking in national parks and elsewhere, Leave No Trace. Please leave natural resources and cultural artifacts, rocks, and structures alone. Dispose of your trash properly, never feed/chase/harass animals, and be a kind human being.
- The summit is a sacred place to Native Hawaiians. Please be quiet and respectful. This is not the place for your early morning dance party — leave your Moana singalongs to the privacy of your own car. ?
- On that note, local Hawaiians welcome the sunrise with an ole or Hawaiian chant. Listen to this as you gaze at the sunrise at Haleakala — it’s downright magical.
Things to do after watching a Haleakala Sunrise
Don’t leave so fast! Sure, sunrise at Haleakala is an early morning adventure, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave as soon as the sun breaks the horizon. Stay a while — the park and surroundings are awesome!
- Walk on the Sliding Sands Trail a bit. You don’t have to go far, but even walking 20 minutes down into the crater will feel otherworldly! The colors of the terrain are absolutely outstanding! Just remember you have to go back up the same way you walked down, so don’t go terribly far — and that elevation is difficult (there’s less oxygen in the air), especially on a hungry stomach.
- Check out some viewpoints. We randomly found a viewpoint with views of the 3 cinder cones, and I honestly thought I was staring right out onto Mars. Absolutely mindblowing. I still can’t believe what I saw. It’s called the Kalahaku Overlook — don’t miss it. Absolutely spectacular.
- And once hunger sets in, make a beeline straight to Kula Bistro. I had one of the best egg omelettes of my life here — that, or maybe I was just starving — but really though, it was SO good. We went to Kula Lodge last time we headed to Haleakala for sunrise, but I’ve heard the food and service have really gone downhill lately. What a shame — I remember the view being so gorgeous!
- Explore some of Upcountry Maui (which isn’t terribly far from Haleakala and Kula Bistro). Head to the Ali’i’ Kula Lavender Farm, Surfing Goat Dairy, and Alba’s Cuban Coladas. Unfortunately we visited on a day where much of what I wanted to see was closed, so we’ll have to continue exploring Upcountry another time!
I hope this helped you learn how to snag a reservation for sunrise at Haleakala! Fingers crossed you get one! When are you headed to Maui?!