Watching the sunset on Haleakala was hands down the most memorable highlight of my recent trip to Maui. Standing at the top of a 10,000-foot tall mountain while watching the sun sink below the clouds is a sight I’ll never forget. It’s one of those bucket list moments that deserves a spot on everyone’s Maui itinerary!
Most tourists visiting Maui are eager to set their alarms for an ungodly hour to make their way to the summit for sunrise. However, there are several reasons why you may want to save yourself the hassle and watch the sunset at Haleakala instead.
Sunrise on Haleakala has become so popular that you need to either book a reservation with the National Park Service or join an organised tour. If you’re like me and still want to experience the magic of witnessing a vibrant sky light up over an ancient volcano without the crowds, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this detailed guide I will give you all of my top tips on how to watch the sunset on Haleakala including what you should pack, the best Haleakala sunset tour, and the reasons why I recommend choosing sunset over sunrise!
Table of Contents
How to Watch the Sunset on Haleakala – Complete Guide With Insider’s Tips
The Best Haleakala Sunset Tour
Duration: 7 hours
Included: Hotel pick-up/drop-off, transportation to and from Haleakala by air-conditioned vehicle, knowledgeable tour guide, National Park admission fee.
Experience the otherworldly landscapes of Haleakala by joining this highly reviewed Haleakala sunset tour. The tour begins with a pick up at your hotel before beginning the drive to the volcano’s summit.
Along the way, you will make a quick stop at the Kula Marketplace where you’ll have the option to buy a few snacks/drinks for the sunset. Before reaching the summit, the tour makes a brief stop at the Haleakala Park Visitor Center.
Take a walk around the crater viewpoint to marvel at the view and see the impressive cinder cones before setting in to enjoy a majestic sunset above the clouds. Throughout the tour, your experienced guide will share some fascinating facts about the history of the island and the volcano.
This sunset tour is ideal for those without a rental car or those who simply prefer the convenience of being led to the summit of Haleakala by a local guide.
How to Get to the Haleakala Summit + Driving Tips
No matter where you are staying on Maui, getting to the summit of Haleakala will be a fairly long drive. As an estimate, these are the driving times from the most popular locations around the island:
- Kahului – 2 hours
- Kihei – 2.5 hours
- Wailea – 2.75 hours
- Lahaina – 3 hours
Be aware that the driving times shown on Google maps may be slightly shorter but you also need to account for the steep winding road that leads to the summit. The bottom line is to allow plenty of extra time so that you can easily find parking before the sunset.
The Haleakala Highway may be long and full of switchbacks but the views that you will see on the way up are nothing short of spectacular. You’ll definitely want to pull over several times to jump out and take photos. Be sure to take that into consideration when planning your departure time!
On the way to the top, you may want to stop at the Kalahaku Overlook which offers an awesome view into Haleakala’s crater. This is an easy stop to make however it’s not the only chance you will get to see the crater so don’t stress if you miss it.
Haleakala driving tips – You will likely encounter all kinds of weather on this drive and if you’re lucky like me, you might even see a few rainbows! Along the drive up, you may pass through some foggy sections where visibility is low. In this case, the best thing you can do is drive slowly and keep your headlights on.
Another reason to drive cautiously on this twisting mountain road is to protect the local wildlife. You may be lucky enough to spot the Hawaiian Nene (an endangered goose) on your drive to the summit but the last place you want to see one is in the middle of the road.
Also, look out for cows on the road. When you’re driving back down in the dark, hitting a cow could be a disastrous way to end your magical sunset experience.
Is there any hiking involved? You may be wondering if there’s any hiking involved to reach the summit of Haleakala and the answer is no. You can drive yourself all the way to the top of the volcano, park your car and get out to walk around take in the scenery.
Sitting at 10,023 ft above sea level, you’re guaranteed to feel on top of the world once you reach the summit!
Do You Need a Reservation to Watch the Sunset on Haleakala?
One of the best things about watching the sunset on Haleakala is that you don’t need to book a reservation in advance. Due to limited parking spots at the summit, only 50 cars are allowed into Haleakala National Park every morning between the hours of 3am – 7am.
This means that during high season in Maui, you better believe these sunrise permits sell out very quickly. If you don’t book yourself onto a sunrise tour or reserve your spot in advance, you’re out of luck for sunrise!
On the other hand, going up for sunset gives you more flexibility and control over your day. Instead of being locked into a specific morning for sunrise, you can make the decision on the day.
This makes it much easier to plan your Haleakala sunset trip around your day’s activities and take the weather into consideration.
Entry to Haleakala National Park
Once you enter the park you will need to purchase an entrance pass at the gate. Although you do not need a reservation to enter the park for sunset, you are still required to pay the national park fee.
Entrance to the park costs $30 per vehicle and passes can be purchased online before you go or in person by credit card (cash not accepted) at the entrance station. It’s $25 per motorcycle and $15 per pedestrian or cyclist.
Once you buy your parks pass, it’s valid for 3 days. Keep in mind that lines can sometimes form at the entrance gate so you should allow enough time.
If you’re a holder of an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, your entrance to Haleakala is already covered.
*Tip* Buying a pass to enter the national park does not include the sunrise reservation. If you want to see the sunrise on Haleakala, you still need to pay $1 and reserve your sunrise permit online in advance.
Essential Haleakala Sunset Tips
Parking – Plan to arrive early to secure a parking spot. As there is no limit to the number of cars that can enter the park during sunset, parking spaces fill up very quickly. Plan to arrive at least one hour before sunset to secure your spot.
Weather – Be sure to take the weather into consideration before beginning the journey to the summit of Haleakala. Due to the high elevation of the summit, the weather changes rapidly and sun can quickly turn to rain/clouds. Check the conditions here before you go.
Sunset time – The sunset time changes throughout the year, check the national park website for the current Haleakala sunset time.
Food/Drinks – There are no shops selling food/drinks at the summit of Haleakala, bring some snacks and warm drinks with you in a backpack.
Gas – There are no gas stations in the national park so be sure to fill up your car before making the journey to the summit. The last stop for gas before you get to the national park is at the Texaco in the town of Pukalani.
Toilets – There are toilets open to the public at the visitor’s center at the summit.
Where to watch the sunset – While the very top of the summit is the most popular sunset viewing location, you can also climb to the top of the hill near the visitor center for an equally great view and even less people.
Why You Should Choose a Sunset on Haleakala Over Sunrise
Beat the crowds – It goes without saying that the sunrise on Haleakala is a spectacular thing to see, there is a reason why it has become such an iconic Maui experience! Due to its growing popularity, you can expect to see many tour busses and crowds during this time of day.
If you’re keen to beat the crowds and have a much more peaceful experience, sunset is just as beautiful with surprisingly few people compared to sunrise.
No reservation required – Not having to reserve a day/time to watch the sunset makes it so much easier to plan your trip to the summit according to the weather. If it happens to be a stormy and grey day, you aren’t locked into a reserved timeslot.
Sunset is open for everyone and you can decide on the day whether you will make the journey to the summit of Haleakala to watch it.
Avoid an early wake up – If you’re not a fan of waking up at 3am then this reason alone is enough to choose sunset over sunrise! Instead of rushing to the summit while you’re still in a sleepy daze, you can wake up when you please and spend a relaxed day at the beach.
You can then make your way up to the summit of Haleakala on your own time and perhaps go early to see the visitor’s center and explore the crater before sunset.
Stargazing – Another great thing about watching the sunset is that you can stay a little while longer to watch the stars. Due to the high elevation of Haleakala and minimal light pollution, the skies are pristine and clear making it the ideal place to stargaze.
You’ll notice that as soon as the sun sets, everyone else seems to be in a hurry to leave. If you stay a while longer, not only will you get the summit to yourself, but you’ll get to watch the sky turn all kinds of vibrant shades until it fades to black and the stars begin to appear.
The sunset on Haleakala is truly breathtaking but there’s really nothing that compares to seeing the night sky so clearly while standing atop a volcano. If you’re into astrophotography, you’re definitely in luck on the summit of Haleakala!
What to Pack for a Sunset on Haleakala
Whether you’re planning to watch the sunrise or sunset on Haleakala, it’s pretty much always going to be cold. The summit of the volcano sits at 10,023 ft which means that the weather is significantly different than the rest of the island.
The weather at this altitude can be quite unpredictable so it’s important to dress/pack accordingly! These are some of the essential items that will make your sunset on Haleakala a more enjoyable experience. You can also read a more detailed guide on what to pack for Maui here!
Winter jacket + warm layers – It may seem strange to be packing a heavy winter jacket when it’s hot and sunny and you’ve just come back from the beach but I promise that it is necessary once you reach the summit of the volcano. Add in a bit of wind and suddenly it feels like the temperature has gone below freezing!
You should wear long pants and several warm layers under your jacket. Consider also bringing a pair of gloves and a toque/beanie. The only part of my body that was cold during the sunset was my hands because I was busy taking photos without gloves on!
Waterproof jacket – Throw one of these into your bag just in case it starts raining when you’re at the summit.
Day pack – A good day pack is a necessity for your sunset adventure on Haleakala.
Hiking boots – You’ll be walking on loose volcanic rock so I would recommend wearing hiking boots or regular running shoes. Hiking boots is the best option if you’re planning to do any walks or hikes while you’re in the national park.
Camera – You are about to witness a once-in-a-lifetime sunset from the top of a volcano! A camera (or phone camera) is an absolutely essential item so you can remember this moment forever.
Portable phone charger – Ensure your phone stays charged throughout the evening and always be ready to capture the moment by bringing a portable charger.
Collapsible water bottle – Stay hydrated and bring a full bottle of water during your trip to Haleakala National Park, especially if you’re going to be hiking.
Food/Drinks – As previously mentioned, there are no shops on the mountain so I would highly recommend packing a few snacks/drinks. I was very thankful that I brought a warm thermos of coffee and a few protein bars with me to watch the sunset!
Where to Stay on Maui for a Haleakala Sunset
Most people visiting Maui choose to stay in Lahaina, Kihei or Kaanapali which offer easy access to the beach. These are beautiful spots to base yourself on the island but if you’d like to be closer to Haleakala and have quicker access to the Road to Hana, then Paia or Kula will be a great choice.
Where to Rent a Car on Maui
If you’re planning to drive to the summit of Haleakala, drive the Road to Hana, or do any other sightseeing on the island then you’ll need to rent a car. The most convenient place to rent a car on Maui is at the Kahului Airport when you arrive on the island.
Whenever I travel, I use Rentalcars.com to find the best deals on car rentals. This website is great because it offers a wide selection of car rental providers with no hidden fees. See the link below to arrange your rental car before you arrive on Maui.
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More Things to do in Haleakala National Park
Aside from watching the sunrise and sunset from the summit of Haleakala, there are many more things to see and do within the national park. This park covers a huge portion of the island and it can be accessed from two completely different locations.
The striking contrast between these two districts within the same national park shows you just how diverse the island of Maui is. The barren volcanic landscape of the Summit District is a completely different vibe from the lush rainforests and waterfalls of the Kīpahulu District.
If you’re planning to watch the sunset on Haleakala, I would advise leaving extra time to stop at the visitor center and go for a short walk into the crater.
There are several hiking trails to choose from in this area but the one I will recommend is the Sliding Sands Trail. Located near the visitor center at the summit, it’s a challenging 11.5 mile trail that descends from the rim of the crater and leads you through the base, passing by cinder cones along the way.
When I visited Haleakala, I only hiked a short section of this trail so I could get a better view of the crater before making my way back to the summit in time for sunset. If you want to complete the entire hike, you should start in the morning and allow up to 7 hours.
When it comes to camping near the Haleakala summit, it is possible in a designated area. See the official parks website for more details on booking an overnight stay.
The coastal Kīpahulu District can be included as one of your Road to Hana stops. About 12 miles past the town of Hana, this part of Haleakala National Park is known for its stunning waterfalls, beautiful bamboo forests and sweeping ocean vistas.
One of the most popular things to do here is hiking the Pipiwai Trail that takes you through the bamboo forest to the famous Waimoku Falls, one of the tallest and most impressive waterfalls on Maui.
The Kīpahulu District is also home to a beautiful campground with amazing coastal views for those who wish stay longer in the area. Find more info here about reserving your campsite in advance.
Although you cannot access the Summit District from this part of the national park, you are still required to pay a $30 fee to enter.
Final Thoughts on Watching the Sunset on the Summit of Haleakala
It’s hard to put into words how truly incredible it is to watch a sunset high above the clouds on the summit of a massive volcano.
I hope I have been able to capture the pure magic of Haleakala and that this blog post has inspired you to add this once-in-a-lifetime experience to your Maui bucket list!
If you have any questions about watching the sunset on Haleakala, don’t hesitate to shoot me a message or leave me a comment below:)
Read More Maui Travel Guides
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- 10 Top Places to See Turtles in Maui
- The Ultimate Maui Bucket List – 35 Iconic Things to do in Maui
- 25 Stunning Instagram Spots on Maui + Interactive Map
- 31 Best Road to Hana Stops – Ultimate Guide + Self-Drive Itinerary
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