Some of the best hiking with stunning panoramas can be found on this tropical paradise!
When my wife and I planned our honeymoon on Maui, we knew we would experience gorgeous sunsets, fun-filled beach days, and exciting luau festivities. We didn’t expect to find some of the most amazing hiking we’ve ever done on Maui too!
We spent one full day exploring Haleakala National Park, hiking into Haleakala Crater along the Halemau’u Trail. We chose this trail (as opposed to the more popular Keonehe’ehe’e Trail) since it includes a 1,000 ft. elevation drop as you hike down into the crater, so we knew it would be a challenging hike – and quite a good workout on the way back up!
Haleakala Crater is a spectacular place to visit and hike. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring to be in Maui’s famed volcano, Haleakala, which is at an elevation of about 10,000 ft. And while the beaches and sunsets on Maui are great, hiking in Haleakala is an experience you can’t get anywhere else!
So if you’re planning a trip to Maui and looking for inspiration for things to do, or you’re thinking about visiting Haleakala National Park and wondering what to expect, here is a guide to how we spent our day hiking the Halemau’u Trail. Hopefully it gives you some ideas and tips to help you have the best hiking experience!
Preparing for your visit
One of the most important things to consider is that, because of its high elevation, it takes a long time to drive to Haleakala Crater and the hiking trails. My wife and I stayed in South Maui – in Makena – and it takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Makena to the Haleakala Visitor Center. It can take close to 2 hours to drive to the Haleakala Visitor Center from parts of West Maui, such as Lahaina.
So that’s 3-4 hours of travel time – roundtrip – depending on where you’re staying on Maui. And if you plan to hike and explore Haleakala Crater for a few hours too, then you should plan on making your visit to Haleakala National Park a full day trip.
Also note that there is a $30 park entrance fee (per vehicle).
What to Wear and Bring
Definitely plan on wearing layers. The temperature at the top of Haleakala Crater is roughly 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit colder than down at the beach. It can be windy, too. You’ll want to start off in something warmer, and then as the day progresses (or as you hike back up the crater) shed a layer or two.
Bring snacks, water, and a good pair of hiking boots. And don’t forget your camera!
There are a number of trails you can use to hike and explore Haleakala Crater. The two most popular are the Halemau’u Trail, which we hiked. It is known for being a challenging trail since it includes a 1,000 ft. elevation drop as you hike down switchbacks carved into the crater wall. Another popular option is the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail, which is a flatter, easier trail to hike.
Parking and Bathrooms
The parking lot at the Halemau’u Trailhead is fairly small – it has space for about 26 vehicles. There is a bathroom facility at the trailhead (non-flush toilets).
Note that the Halemau’u Trailhead is not located at the Haleakala Visitor Center (where you can access the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail)! The Halemau’u Trailhead is on the same road (the Haleakala Highway), but it takes about an additional 15 minutes to drive to the Haleakala Visitor Center from the Halemau’u Trailhead.
Hiking the Halemau’u Trail really consists of three sections: getting to the edge of the crater (about 1 mile), descending into the crater (about 2 miles), and exploring the crater depression (1-3 miles depending on how much you want to hike). That mileage is one-way, so double everything to estimate your roundtrip mileage.
Halemau’u Trail – Section 1: Hiking to the edge of the crater
Heading away from the Halemau’u Trailhead, you hike about 1 mile along a mostly flat – but quite rocky – path to a very scenic crater viewpoint. The below picture from Google Maps shows the first section of the Halemau’u Trail hike, along with topography and elevation:
This is a really enjoyable portion of the hike! Just be sure to watch your footing – the path is really quite rocky! In the picture below, I added a red arrow to show the hiking path of this first section. Hopefully it illustrates the rough terrain:
Once you get to the crater viewpoint, you’ll have breathtaking panoramic views of two very different parts of Maui. If you turn northeast, you’ll overlook the Ko’olau Forest Reserve:
And if you turn east/southeast, you’ll overlook the Haleakala Crater depression and the Ko’olau Gap:
Halemau’u Trail – Section 2: Descending into the crater
Continuing onward, you hike down switchbacks carved into the crater walls. It’s a little under 2 miles to the crater floor, and you’ll descend about 1,000 ft. The descent is quite enjoyable, and the ascent on the way back is a really great workout! The below picture from Google Maps shows this section of the Halemau’u Trail hike, along with topography and elevation:
Along the descent, you’ll have great views of the crater walls and the Leleiwi Pali Cliffs:
The switchbacks are narrow, but not as rocky and rough as the earlier portion of the trail. I added a red arrow to the below picture to show the hiking path of this second section of the Halemau’u Trail:
There is a Supply Trail that connects with the Halemau’u Trail, and both trails use the same switchbacks to descend into the crater (the Supply Trail is used by pack animals – horses, mules, and donkeys – to bring supplies to campers in the crater). We just happened to descend into the crater as a string of mules were bringing supplies into the crater:
Halemau’u Trail – Section 3: Exploring the crater depression
It’s quite beautiful in this portion of the crater! The trail from here onward is a basic dirt path and is very easy to walk on. Here is a view of the Halemau’u Trail right after reaching the crater floor, with a red arrow highlighting the trail path:
After the Holua Cabin and Campground, you can continue another 2 miles to Halali’i. This is the portion of the Haleakala crater that looks much more volcanic, sparse, and Martian in appearance. You can also connect with a number of other trails here, such as the popular Keonehe’ehe’e Trail (Sliding Sands Trail).
Returning to the Halemau’u Trailhead
After we explored the crater floor for a bit, we began the trek back up the switchbacks to the trailhead. Along the way, something really incredible happened! Clouds began rolling into the crater from the north:
And by the time we ascended the switchbacks and were back at the initial crater viewpoint, you couldn’t even see the crater floor or the Ko’olau Forest Reserve anymore:
So we were fortunate to be able to enjoy the unforgettable scenery – just in time!
I used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera during the hike to take these photos. It’s a great camera and takes such high-quality photos!
Have you gone hiking in Hawaii? Have you been to Haleakala Crater or Haleakala National Park? Let me know in the comments below!
Discover more at ProjectsByPeter.com
Post content, images, and featured image © 2021 ProjectsByPeter.com – All rights reserved.