The Hawaiian island of Maui is beloved for many things, its wonderful climate, beautiful beaches and laid-back style of living are certainly among the most cited reasons to visit, but one thing that should never be left from the top of must-see lists is the multi-faceted Haleakala Crater. Haleakala is the name of the massive inactive volcano that rises as an incredible rocky giant over Upcountry Maui. The Haleakala Crater is what would otherwise be the summit of that dormant volcano. But instead of forming more of a cut-off peak in which fiery lava churns, Haleakala has a great depression, the wondrous and opportunity-rich Haleakala Crater.
Note, Maui guidebooks and official literature all refer to the Haleakala Crater as a proper noun, deserving of the capital letter “C” for its unique crater. This is because the formation of this summit is unique in that instead of forming a crater due to volcanic activity like other volcanoes, the Haleakala Crater was formed by the erosion of the volcano’s top over the course of eons. Smaller lava backflows, winds, and storms all contributed to creating the unique landscape of the Crater’s inner valley.
Haleakala makes up a significant portion of the island of Maui with all of its rising lands accounting for around three-quarters of the island’s 727 square miles. You will find the Crater an incredible 10,023 feet above sea level, and the experience of reaching that HaleakalaCrater is a big part of its appeal. You can drive, hike, or bike up to the Haleakala Crater, all of which will take you through six of the world’s fourteen climate zones — that’s more in one place than anywhere on the mainland.
Okay, so it’s big and it’s bold, but what do you do once you get to the Haleakala Crater? Well, it will depend upon just what type of adventure you are in the mood for.
Most who complete the long, winding trek up to the summit do so with the aim of enjoying an unparalleled sunrise or sunset view. Here, you stand atop a volcano and watch all the warm crepuscular colors light up Maui’s verdant valleys and rich blue waters. It truly is quite the experience. But you won’t be alone. Sunrises at the Haleakala Crater are so popular that you need to make a reservation with the state parks department in order to access the viewing area. Sunsets have not yet reached this level of gatekeeping and thus are the better choice for those who hate planning far ahead.
For those looking for a more intimate experience with the Haleakala Crater, consider following the tracks of writer and adventurer Jack London deep into those eroded valleys. The best way to access the otherworldly environment here is via the Sliding Sands, also known as the Keoneheehee Trail. This is a 13-mile round-trip trail that will take hikers across a 3,000-foot elevation gain. Those who want to extend their journey amidst the cinder cones and unique flora and fauna can request a camping pass.
Note that the Sliding Sands and all other Haleakala trails should only be taken by experienced hikers. These are difficult trails both in elevation changes and climate as the sun is often brutal, the temperature frigid, and the oxygen levels low. Prepare accordingly. Unfortunately, while horseback riding was once allowed via the concession outfit of Pony Express Tours, that permit has been rescinded and only hikers are allowed. So ignore any material that suggests horseback riding as a hiking alternative.
While visiting the Haleakala Crater is something you can do on a whim, we don’t recommend it. This is a place where the best experiences really are at sunrise and sunset, the former of which will require reservations and planning and the latter still planning. There is also so much more to learn about this geographical wonder that it might behoove you to join a tour outfit to reach the summit.