This post is sponsored by TourMaui.com but all opinions are my own.
America’s national parks are one of my family’s favorite travel destinations. When a recent trip to Maui began to take shape, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to cross a new national park, Haleakala, off my bucket list. Haleakala National Park is one of two national parks located in the state of Hawaii and the only one on the island of Maui.
With over one million visitors a year, Haleakala is fairly well trafficked. Most of those visitors, however, come for a quick sunrise visit and leave. But Haleakala offers much more than a gorgeous sunrise! The park has challenging hikes, a wide variety of flora and fauna that you can see nowhere else in the world, and a cultural significance to the Hawaiian people worthy of exploring more deeply.
As with many national parks, a visit to Haleakala means travelers are mostly off the grid. Planning and preparation are essential. Here are 9 tips that all visitors to Haleakala National Park need to know for a successful and safe visit.
Tips for Visiting Haleakala National Park
Consider a Tour
A lot of travelers to Maui don’t have a rental car or would simply prefer not to drive. Luckily, there are tours that can take you from the resort areas into Haleakala and some of the nearby small towns of Maui without any driving necessary.
Valley Isle Excursions is one of the most trusted names in Maui tours and is one of only 4 companies permitted to conduct guided tours into Haleakala. Its Central Maui, Upcountry & Haleakala Park Tour includes a stops at the Haleakala Visitor Center, Haleakala Summit, and Red Hill Observatory. Groups are no bigger than 12 people and are transported in custom cruisers. Tours include a breakfast buffet, picnic lunches, and beverages.
A tour can really work well for travelers with younger kids like mine or for multigenerational groups – taking the grandparents to Hawaii is increasingly common for many family travelers as I know well. Valley Isle’s Haleakala excursions are fully ADA compliant, so strollers and wheelchairs are not an issue.
Expect a Long & Winding Drive
Whether you are on a tour or driving it on your own, be prepared for long trip to Haleakala. Maui isn’t that big of an island but the short distance is definitely deceiving. The main road to Haleakala to the summit is very winding. Slow going is a must. Plan for about a full hour from the airport area, 1.5 hours from hotels in Wailea, and about 2 hours from Ka’anapali and Lahaina without traffic or stops. And do plan to stop to take in the views at various elevations!
Know about the Two Park Entrances
Most visitors to Haleakala head up the summit area through the main entrance. If you plug the park into Google Maps, this is where most of the GPS directions will take you.
There is a second entrance on another side of the park, however, that offers totally different views and ecosystems to explore. The Kīpahulu Area includes waterfalls, ocean views, and a more humid coastal climate. You will have to brave the full Road to Hana to get into the park on this side, so pack the Dramamine!
Plan for Very Limited Services
If you are used to full service national parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon with nice restaurants and shopping, Haleakala might throw you for a major loop. There are almost no services in the park at all. There’s no place to buy any food or even bottled water. There are restrooms at the two visitors centers (one near the park entrance and one just below the summit) and water fountains to fill up a water bottle at both. But that is it – seriously. You need to pack all the food, water, and supplies you will need. Remember to double or triple up on water due to the high altitude if you plan on exerting yourself.
Save Money on Admission
The admission to Haleakala National Park is currently $25 per car as of fall 2017. If you are visiting on your own, I highly recommend that family travelers purchase an annual pass to America’s National Parks. At just $80, it’s one of the best deals in family travel if you plan to visit several NPS sites. My family has already visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Saguaro in the 7 months we’ve had the pass this year so it has paid for itself and then some. If you are on a tour, of course, park admission is covered in the tour fee.
Bring Sun Protection & Proper Gear
With an elevation of over 10,000 feet at the summit and no trees or shade, it’s easy to get a terrible sunburn on a visit to Haleakala. Sun protection is a must. Pack plenty of sunscreen as well as a hat to protect yourself from the intense rays.
If you plan to hike, good hiking boots are essential as well, along with first air supplies and perhaps even trekking poles for more intense excursions. Remember – national parks are not theme parks. People can and do get injured without treating nature with respect.
Plan for Cold and Wind
It might be 85 degrees down on the beaches of the island, but don’t expect the same tropical temperatures in Haleakala. The elevation change in the summit area means a major temperature drop. It also gets incredibly windy at the summit. My visit happened on an unseasonably warm day at the summit and even I wore a light hoodie for the entirety of my time outdoors, including while on a moderately strenuous hike. For most times of year, you likely need a fleece and hat. Plus, don’t forget blankets if you plan to be there before sunrise and sit outside in the cold.
Don’t Overdo It
If you plan to hike at elevation, it’s very important to know your limits. I found myself almost immediately huffing and puffing in the thin air of 10,000 feet as I started a hike on the Sliding Sands trail near the summit. The hike down the trail was easy and breathtakingly beautiful. But when I turned around to climb back up, I realized I was in for quite the challenge with the steep grade and thin air! If you are touring with kids or companions with respiratory limitations, plan to take it easy.
Know about Sunrise Restrictions
The most popular time for visitors to make the trek to Haleakala is to watch the sunrise. In fact, there are so many visitors certain times of year that the volume has caused traffic jams and even some damage to the natural environment.
About a year ago, the National Park Service instituted a permit system to limit access. If you plan to try to enter the park before 7:00 am, it’s absolutely necessary to reserve in advance. Reservations are only $1.50 per car and can be made 60 days in advance until 4:00 pm local time the day before (or until they sell out).