Visiting Haleakala National Park

March 29, 2021/Jonathan Rundle/2 Comments

Word has it that since COVID hit, visits to Haleakala National Park declined 70% in 2020. Today we’re doing our part to help those numbers for 2021.

As mentioned in my visiting Maui during COVID blog post, a road trip to a desolate area is the perfect way to get away from the crowds. Social distancing won’t be a problem here – the air is fresh, moving (and thin) at the top of Haleakala crater.

Haleakala Highway

The drive up the mountain is a ton of fun. Crater Road, aka Haleakala Highway, goes 37 miles up the back of Pu’u’ula’ula (Red Hill) to the summit at 10,023 ft. The road holds the world record for the largest elevation change in the shortest distance.

In all the high-elevation roads I’ve traveled, this is the first time I’ve seen a sign like this.

Haleakala Sign: Turn on headlights in the cloudsHaleakala National Park road

The elevation change means the temperature drops around 3 degrees for every 1,000 feet. Varying and unexpected weather can occur.

Driving Haleakala Road

The road is immaculate. The scenery, even at the low elevations is really beautiful. You pass through as many ecological zones on a two-hour drive to the summit of Haleakala as you would on a journey from Mexico to Canada. How about that?

About halfway up, you’ll get to the ranger station and Haleakala National Park sign. Selfie time.

Haleakalā National Park during COVID

Haleakalā National Park is pretty big – it’s 30,183 acres – mostly wilderness with very little in the way of amenities. The park includes the summit, Kipahulu Valley on the southeast, and ʻOheʻo Gulch (and pools) which are accessible from the Road to Hana.

When you start hitting those switchbacks and gain some ground it starts to get real. Very steep dropoffs could have you landing in West Maui if you’re not paying attention. 32 switchbacks in all might have your equilibrium shook up by the time you reach the end.

Haleakala turn above the clouds

The views above the clouds on a nice day can stretch across Maui all the way to Oahu.

Road to the summit Haleakala

Haleakala Summit

After about an hour and a half on the road, we reach the top. We’re greeted with a nearly empty COVID parking lot.

To the south and west are views of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai.

Haleakala summit panorama

To the north and east, views of the Haleakala Crater and the Big Island.

Haleakala National Park crater summit panorama

Haleakala Crater

Early Hawaiians applied the name Haleakalā (“house of the sun”) to the mountain. In Hawaiian folklore, the crater at the summit of Haleakalā was home to the grandmother of the demigod Māui. According to the legend, Māui’s grandmother helped him capture the sun and force it to slow its journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day.

Pictured below, Maui’s grandmama’s house.

Haleakala Crater

The crater at Haleakala National Park is 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and nearly 2,600 feet deep.

Haleakala crater summitHaleakala crater summit

Summit House

Puu Ulaula is Haleakala National Park’s highest point and offers extraordinary 360-degree views of the landscape. The Summit visitor center is probably really cool – but it was closed due to COVID.

Haleakala National Park Summit HouseHaleakala Summit HouseHaleakala Summit House

Haleakala summit views

Anyway, about those views! It is pretty clear over West Maui, so the views are awesome. In the distance, there’s Lanai and Molokai.

View from Haleakala summitMolokai from Haleakala summit

A little closer is West Maui, the area near the Maui Ocean Center and the beaches of Kihei.

West Maui from Haleakala

A closer look at the Kihei area from Haleakala National Park.

Kihei as seen from Haleakala

You can even peep at the Big Island, seen here through the clouds with snow on the summit.

Big island from Haleakala National Park

Haleakala Observatory

Because of its elevation, as well as the absence of the lights of major cities, the summit of Haleakalā is one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes behind Mauna Kea on the Big Island.

Haleakala National Park crater selfieHaleakala summit observatory

Part of the Observatory area is called “Science City”, an astrophysical complex operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, University of Hawaii, Smithsonian Institution, Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, and others.

Haleakala National Park Summit Observatory

It’s cold up here! The mask at least helps keep my face warm during the constant cold breeze here on the summit.

Haleakala National Park observatory

Back down the mountain

I hope your rental has a low gear and good brakes. It’s time to head back down the many mountain switchbacks of Haleakala National Park to sea level.

Road on Haleakala National Park

Visiting Haleakala National Park

You can do many things in the park. A popular event is the sunrise viewing, which requires some advance planning to get a permit and a  parking pass. You could also go the tour operator route and reserve your spot in a sprinter van. There are lots of hiking trails, some primitive camping, stargazing, etc. in the park.

For the most up-to-date information, visit the National Park Service official website.


Comments (2)

  • Joe . April 15, 2021 . Reply

    Great story. Was there on 3-29.We did the bike ride years ago.A must when in Maui.

    • (Author) Jonathan Rundle . April 17, 2021 . Reply

      Sounds like a good time! Thanks for visiting my blog and saying hello.

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