Pa Kaoao (White Hill Trail)

Pa Kaoa (White Hill) Trail: Half-Mile Round-Trip Hike to Whopping View of Haleakala Crater
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Major bang for your buck—that’s the long and the short of the Pa Kaoao Trail. Also known as the White Hill Trail, this short footpath takes you from the Haleakala Visitor Center to the summit of a cinder cone overlooking Haleakala “Crater.” Sightlines stretch from the gaping, barren basin all the way out to the volcanic summits of the Big Island.

- The Local Expert Team

The Pa Kaoao/White Hill Trail is only about a half-mile round-trip and involves a mere 100 feet or so of elevation gain. (Remember, though, to take in the effects of altitude: You’ll be huffing and puffing a little more on the account.) Its well-maintained dirt tread leads you from the visitor center up the western slopes of the cinder cone.

The remnants of ancient Hawaiian stone-walled structures lie along the switchbacks. But the eye will keep getting pulled to the long-range views.

The immensity of the Haleakala Crater is apparent from this vantage. Actually, “crater” is a bit of a misnomer. The huge and multicolored sink you see below you wasn’t opened as a crater by a volcanic eruption. It isn’t the collapsed volcanic roof known as a caldera, either.

Rather, it’s a crater-like valley formed mainly by stream erosion and other more garden-variety geologic processes. Back-cutting by the Koolau and Kaupo valleys set the stage for its formation. The Koolau and Kaupo gaps form great breaches in the walls of the Haleakala Crater.

Now 3,000 feet at its deepest, the Haleakala Crater was once perhaps twice as deep. After it was eroded out, though, lava flows and cinder cones heaped up within to raise and smooth its floor.

Cinder cones (called puu in Hawaiian) such as Pa Kaoao form when gas-rich lava erupts and spews out a pile of cinders. More than a dozen cinder cones stud the floor of Haleakala Crater.

The broken rim and cone-pocked summit basin of Haleakala provide a feast for the eyes from the White Hill perch. (Much of that part of the viewshed falls within the Haleakala Wilderness Area.) But your sightlines may stretch much, much farther out. Unless clouds obscure the horizon, you can see the heights of the Big Island from here: the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. 

Those great shield volcanoes are the two highest mountains on Earth, measured from their base well below sea level to their gentle crowns. Haleakala—the East Maui shield volcano—is the third-highest, with a base-to-summit elevation of some 28,000 feet.

While you won’t be far from your vehicle, it’s important to dress for the variable elements up near the top of Haleakala. Bring layers: It can be cold indeed up here, and often windy. Rain gear is also advisable, just in case.

Especially after taking in the informative exhibits within the Haleakala Visitor Center, it’s well worth taking a half-hour or so to climb Pa Kaoao. Its panoramic prospects from nearly the roof of Maui offer an incredible overview of Haleakala National Park.

Where Should I Park?
Feel free to park at the Haleakala Visitor Center which is only a minute away. You can also park at the Haleakala Summit Parking and walk about 20 minutes to the White Hill Trail.

Insider Tip:
Near or at the top of Pa Kaoao, you’ll find awesome vantages for taking in the famous sunrise from Haleakala. Remember, you’ll need a reservation for this—and you’ll definitely need to layer up for that predawn cold (and potentially biting wind)!