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NPS Passport: Haleakala National Park

NPS Passport: Haleakala National Park

The United States has 63 national parks, which are congressionally designated protected areas operated by the National Park Service. National parks are renowned for their natural beauty, unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and recreational opportunities. Equity Estates residences enjoy close proximity to over a dozen national parks.


Spanning more than 30,000 acres of protected, public land, Haleakalā National Park encompasses a diverse variety of landscapes — from dry subalpine desert and rough volcanic terrain dotted with low brush and rust-colored cinder cones, to humid subtropical lowlands and rocky, winding coastline set against lush verdant meadows and rolling hills.

The wildlife at Haleakalā is equally diverse and includes unique species such as the nēnē (the world’s rarest goose and Hawaii’s state bird), the Hawaiian petrel (a migratory seabird that may be found nesting at the top of the park’s iconic crater), and the Hawaiian bat (Hawaii’s only endemic land animal), as well as a variety insects, reptiles and amphibians (both native and introduced). It’s an excellent place for birdwatching and nature photography.

The park is divided into two distinct districts separated by miles of dense forest, each with its own entrance and its own attractions. The Summit District side is where you’ll find the island’s famous dormant shield volcano, the Haleakalā Crater (which is not actually a crater, but a large geological depression carved out by centuries of erosion from wind, water, and landslides). Two visitor centers — one just past the entrance gate and another on the summit itself — welcome you to the park with cultural and geological exhibits, small gift shops, and knowledgeable park rangers available to answer questions, share hiking information, or provide guided tours.

In the remote Kīpahulu District, near the town of Hana on the southeastern coast, visitors enjoy warm ocean breezes and sweeping views, hiking trails that lead through green bamboo forests to bubbling streams and massive waterfalls, and noted ruins and archaeological sites. The visitor center at Kīpahulu features an information desk, exhibits, and a Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association bookstore, and is a great place to stop and get your bearings before heading deeper into the park.

Though a two-hour drive on the highway is required to get from one entrance of Haleakalā National Park to the other, it’s worth the extra time in the car (and an extra day set aside) to be able to explore the unique natural beauty of both areas.

What the park is best known for:

Best known for its dramatic volcanic landscape and the dormant Haleakalā Crater volcano rising 10,000 feet above sea level, Haleakalā offers miles of hiking trails through diverse terrain and unbelievable views of land and sky. The views from the crater’s summit are especially stunning at sunrise and sunset, and visitors make reservations well in advance so that they can be there at the right time to take part.

Top three things to do in the park:

Hike Volcanic or Rainforest Trails

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the park’s otherworldly landscapes than by getting out and exploring on foot. Fortunately, Haleakalā boasts over 30 miles of trails throughout its two districts, ranging from short walks to full-day treks.

In the Summit District, visitors can walk the half-mile Hosmer Grove loop trail through native shrubs and non-native trees in what was once local forest and ranchland. Or hike up the half-mile, out-and-back Pa Ka’oao Trail from the Haleakalā Visitor Center to see ancient rock wall shelters and more of the crater below. For a challenge, experienced hikers may want to consider the 11-mile Sliding Sands or the 14-mile Halalai’I and Pu’unaue Trails down into the crater for a closer look at the barren, cinder desert landscape.

On the Kīpahulu side, don’t miss the popular Pipiwai Trail that takes you 3.4 miles out and back through a gorgeous bamboo forest, along boardwalks and footbridges, to the spectacular Waimoku Falls viewing area, passing other waterfalls and freshwater streams along the way. Or walk the relatively easy Kūloa Point Trail (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools Trail) to the mouth of ‘Ohe’o Gulch, marveling at the picturesque ocean views, waterfalls, sacred pools, and interesting archaeological sites along the lovely 0.6-mile loop.

Watch the Sunrise

One of the most incredible experiences you can have at the park is getting there early enough to watch the sun rise above the clouds from the Haleakalā Visitor Center atop the famed crater. Reservations are required but are totally worth it for the stunning morning view. As the sky turns from dark to light, warm colors dancing through the clouds, illuminating the park below, you’ll understand why Mark Twain once called the sunrise from Haleakalā Crater “the most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed.”

Reservations can be made online up to 60 days in advance. But make sure to double check the sunrise time and weather prior to your visit, and dress appropriately. Weather at the crater’s summit is much cooler than ground level and can be particularly windy and freezing cold that early in the day.

Stargazing at Night

The nighttime sky at Haleakalā is just as impressive as its sunrise. Due to its high elevation (as well as its distance from the light pollution of nearby towns), the park’s summit offers ideal conditions for taking in the awe-inspiring, star-filled skies — clear atmosphere, low light, and vast, wide-open space.

Prepare by dressing warmly and bundling up with blankets if you plan to snuggle in for a night of stargazing. Bring something comfortable to sit on as well as snacks and warm drinks (food and drink are not available within the park). Then just sit back, let your eyes adjust, and enjoy the amazing spectacle of twinkling stars, constellations, and the Milky Way overhead.

About the Equity Estates home:

Our beautiful Maui residence is a spacious, oceanfront three-bedroom villa located in the prestigious enclave of Ho’olei, about an hour away from Haleakalā National Park. With seamless indoor/outdoor living space, luxurious décor, resort-style amenities, and panoramic ocean and garden views, it’s the ideal place to relax and unwind after a day out exploring the island.