This post was last updated on July 18th, 2017
When our alarm went off at 4:30am to make the drive up to Mount Haleakala, we nearly rolled over to pretend we couldn’t hear it. Dan had already seen the sunrise from the spectacular volcano on a family trip years and years ago (and admittedly didn’t remember much about it.) We had also been up late with wedding festivities the night before, and our glamping accommodation was enticingly comfortable. Luckily, we had promised a friend we would all go see the sunrise together, so we had just the push we needed to grab a cup of coffee and see what all the fuss was about. We’re so glad we did.
Mount Haleakala comes in at a dramatic 10,023 feet. From this staggering height, the sun rises above a layer of clouds before slowly illuminating the lunar-like landscape below. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, though not necessarily an off-the-beaten-track one.
Just about everyone claims you can’t visit Maui without seeing the Mount Haleakala sunrise. Now that we’ve done it for ourselves, we have to say that we completely agree. The early wake-up call is nothing when compared to the completely mesmerizing sunrise.
Perhaps the easiest way to view the sunrise over Mt. Haleakala is with a Haleakala Sunrise Tour. Starting January 1st, 2018, Valley Isle Excursions will lead small group tours of only 12 people to the National Park, offering a fascinating sunrise experience that includes breakfast in Upcountry (one of our favorites spots on Maui.)
No matter how you choose to visit Haleakala, here are a few extra tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
Top ten things you need to know before seeing the Mount Haleakala sunrise:
1. Be Ready To Share The View
With nearly half a million tourists visiting Mount Haleakala each year, you can pretty much guarantee there will be other people in your sunrise selfie. Plan to arrive extra early if you want a front-row view. Otherwise, make the most of it by chitchatting with new people while you wait for the show to begin.
2. You Will Be Freezing
Most people don’t pack a parka when they vacation to Maui—but that’s literally what you need at 5:30 in the morning when you’re 10,000 feet above sea level. (The temperature is typically somewhere around 40 degrees F.) If you’re traveling with a tour operator, they’ll usually provide jackets. We wrapped ourselves in towels, which didn’t really keep us warm, but was certainly better than nothing.
3. You Might Get Nauseous or Dizzy
Between the winding road up to the top of the crater to the extreme change in altitude, it’s not unusual to feel a bit off once you finally arrive. Take it slow, and if you need to, go back down until you are accustomed to the height.
4. Sunrise Isn’t The Only Time To Go
The Haleakala sunrise gets all the press, but of course that’s not the only time to have a fantastic experience. Sunset is also supposed to be magical, especially as you can then stay for some leisurely star gazing.
5. The Entrance Fee Is Valid For 3 Days
To enter Haleakala National Park, each car must pay a $10 entrance fee that is valid for three days. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time, but on our next trip to Maui, we would certainly like to explore more of the entire park. Haleakala is home to more endangered species than any other national park in the U.S., and boasts a wide array of local fauna and ecological zones amongst the unique volcanic landscape. It’s even possible to hike and camp within the crater’s rugged terrain!“It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times”Click To Tweet
6. You Can Choose Your Level Of Adventure
Haleakala is great because it’s accessible to all levels of adventurers. Hop in your car and drive to and from the summit. Join a bike tour and cycle back down the 37-mile road. Hike, horseback ride, or even paraglide…there are tons of options for the ultimate Maui escapade.
7. Mount Haleakala Is Sacred
Ancient Hawaiians considered Mount Haleakala to be a sacred site and a place where the gods live. The only people allowed into the space were the kahuna, who lived in the spiritual spot as part of their apprenticeship. Even today, many believe the volcano to be a powerful energy center. With throngs of tourists now visiting every day, it’s important to maintain a sense of reverence and respect.
8. Sunrises Aren’t Guaranteed
Okay so this shouldn’t be a shock, but you would be surprised how many people complain about Haleakala due to bad weather and other elements outside of their control. We get that it’s super annoying when the weather impedes your travel plans. In Indonesia, we took a two-day trip to go see the sunrise and crater at famed Mount Bromo. The weather was so bad we literally saw nothing. We say make the most of your trip no matter what :)
9. Don’t Rush Away
Once the sun has risen, most tourists hop back in their cars and quickly descend down the volcano. But one of the most beautiful parts of the entire experience is watching the colors and shadows dance across the landscape in the early morning light. On a clear day, there are also spectacular views all the way across the Alenuihaha Channel to Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
10. Stay In Upcountry The Night Before
Make the early-morning trek as easy on yourself as possible. Staying in Upcountry means you’ll be a little bit closer to Mount Haleakala. Plus, Upcountry is awesome, offering an experience that is completely unique from the more touristy areas along the coast. Read our full review of glamping in Upcountry here.
Witnessing the Mount Haleakala sunrise was easily one of the most memorable moments of our Maui trip—even though we didn’t know any of these tips before we arrived. :)
Have you seen the Mount Haleakala sunrise? What other tips should travelers know before they go?
Looking for more inspiration to head to Maui? You’ll love our blog post: 17 Incredible Images That Will Make You Wish You Were On Maui