Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail: Challenging Hike Along Haleakala’s Scenic Southwestern Ridgeline
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Skyline Trail offers a challenging but immensely rewarding hike along the southwestern ridge of Haleakala Volcano. This closed-off road links Haleakala National Park with the Kula Forest Reserve, offering a wealth of day hiking options. It provides dazzling vistas as a payoff for rubbly footing, exposure to the high-country elements, and the grueling effects of altitude.

- The Local Expert Team

When it comes to views, the well-named Skyline Trail holds its own with any hiking route on Maui. It’s also appealing because of the discretion a hiker has in choosing how far to go: You can do anything from a short taster of an out-and-back to a long shuttle hike incorporating the trails of the Kula Forest Reserve and Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area.

This review describes a long, 11-plus-mile out-and-back using the Skyline Trail’s intersection with the Mamane Trail as a turnaround point. (The full length of the Skyline Trail is about seven miles, with a southwestern terminus at Waipoli Road.) This is a demanding dayhike involving close to 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Because you start off at about 10,000 feet near the Haleakala summit and descend along a ridge spine, the toughest part is the climbing return leg. If you’re feeling fatigued or running low on water before reaching the Mamane Trail, definitely don’t hesitate to turn back early.

The Skyline Trail is actually the Skyline Road, an unpaved, gated-off maintenance road hugging the southwestern ridgeline of Haleakala Volcano. The trail begins on the border of Haleakala National Park among the off-limits telescopes and buildings of the Haleakala Observatories. This is just a stone’s throw southwest of the summit of Haleakala Volcano: 10,023-foot Puu Ulaula, or “Red Hill.” 

Because of the alpine elevation and the mostly shadeless ridgeline it follows, the Skyline Trail demands adequate preparation of the hiker. Make sure you bring lots of water, as there aren’t any sources along the way and this high-country air is particularly dehydrating. The sun’s extra intense up here, so sunscreen and a good hat are important. You also want layers on hand to deal with the cool to downright cold temperatures and stiff winds often experienced up near the Haleakala crown. And just generally expect to huff-and-puff a bit more than you’re used to, unless you regularly recreate at these kinds of altitudes.

Sturdy hiking boots are recommended for this hike, given the cindery nature of the Skyline Trail substrate and the elevation change involved. 

Proceed past the gate and begin following the Skyline Road south-southwest. You soon pass onto state lands: specifically, the Papaanui Tract of the Kukikinni Forest Reserve. This is a narrow sliver bordering the more extensive acreage of the Kuna Forest Reserve downslope to the north and southwest. 

The ridgeline you follow is a barren, rust-hued lineup of cinder cones and craters. The views up here on Haleakala’s southwestern shoulder extend (when conditions allow) all the way to the titanic shield volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea atop the Big Island. 

As you go along, be aware you may well encounter mountain bikers. The Skyline Trail is one of the most lauded mountain-biking routes on Maui. But the road allows plenty of room for trail-sharing. Generally, this is a quiet trail you’ll often have essentially to yourself. The roof-of-the-world views, spare terrain, and buffeting winds provide a rich sense of solitude.

After skirting the Puu Kanahau cinder cone, you’ll pass through a gate and continue descending below 8,000 feet. At about 7,200 feet, you’ll meet the Mamane Trail, which drops steeply into the Kuna Forest Reserve. This is your turnaround spot. Time to take a deep breath and ready yourself for the slog back up to the 10,000-foot level.

The Skyline Trail dazzles with its panoramic sightlines, cinder-cone ridge spine, and ample solitude. It gives those lungs, calves, and ankles a workout in the process. Hardy hikers are likely to relish this backcountry experience near the very top of the Valley Isle.

How To Get There:
At the end of the Haleakala Highway, there’s a parking area at Puu Ula Ula. You will need a permit in order to access this area.

Insider Tips:
Given the distance and difficulty, it’s not a bad idea to get an early start on the Skyline Trail. And if you’re going to do that, why not try for a permit to kick off your day with the famous Haleakala sunrise? After taking in that incredible show, you’ll be able to hit the trail with the full day still ahead of you.