Haleakala Summit at Sunrise or Sunset: Which One Should You Do?

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If you’re heading to the beautiful island of Maui and trying to decide whether or not it’s worth planning a visit for a Haleakala Summit sunrise or sunset, the answer is yes!

Either time you decide to go, it’s definitely worth it. 

Actually, if I had to rank it, I would say it was in the top three things we did on our vacation in Maui, and I loved just about everything we did there!

9 Important Things to Know Before You Go

The sunset at Haleakala is one of the best things to do in Maui!
Haleakala Summit at Sunset

There are several things that will make your experience better if when you go and just the fact that you’re searching means you’re ahead of the game already.

Whether you decide to do a Haleakala Summit sunrise or sunset, most of these tips will apply to both.

Haleakala Summit Sunrise or Sunset

1. Bring Snacks to See Haleakala at Sunset

There’s no place to get them in the park. If you’re like us and get the munchies whenever you’re on a road trip, you’ll need to plan ahead and bring your own.  

A little pre-planning takes care of that, though. We stopped at Walmart in Kahului and grabbed some snacks and drinks, which is also great because it’ll be late by the time you get back down, and you’re going to want something to hold you over until dinner.

Tip: The National Park Service doesn’t provide gas stations. Be sure to fill up before you start up!

2. Bring Warm Clothes

Cold weather clothing is not something you normally think of when packing for Hawaii, but once the sun goes down at the summit, it is coooold. It can also be pretty windy up there.

You don’t need to pack a parka, but you do want to plan ahead. I tend to get chilly on airplanes, so I wore pants and a hoodie that I was easily able to remove and stuff in my backpack once we landed. (The hoodie, not the pants…that would definitely be awkward.) 

I wore those for our trip up the mountain and also packed a super lightweight down vest that rolls up so small it hardly takes up any space, as well as a travel scarf.

(These are great for any time you’re traveling and need an easy place to store things like a hotel key or credit cards.)

These were easy to pack and so worth it up on the summit! You could also pack gloves and a hat if you have extra room. If you’re flying Southwest Airlines, you can check two bags for free. (Pssst! Did you know you can fly to Hawaii for free?)

Tip: We even saw people wrapped in blankets that I’m fairly sure were from their hotel rooms and even some people using beach towels. (Whatever works as long as you return them, right?)

3. Watch for Animals on the Road

Especially cows! I’ll be you weren’t expecting that one, were you? There’s at least one (maybe more?) large cattle ranch in Haleakala National Park, and cows roam freely, including on the road.

There were several times we turned a corner and were surprised to see cows standing there. 

It's common to see cows on the road in the Haleakala National Park
It’s pretty common to see cows on the road on the drive there and back.

It’s especially important to be on the lookout on the way down because you’ll be driving in the dark. 

Haleakala summit sunrise or sunset cow on road
Well, hello there!

Cows weren’t the only wild animals we saw. A warthog ran right out in front of us on the way back down.

That was quite startling since it was so dark out, and we definitely weren’t expecting to meet Pumbaa there. (It did make me want to start singing songs from The Lion King, though.) 

We also saw several kinds of birds, including this pheasant. Keep your eyes open…you never know what you’ll see!

pheasant on the road in Maui heading to the summit

4. Bring Something to Sit On to Watch the Maui Sunset

This is another thing I wish I had known ahead of time. Since you’re going to be there for a while, you might as well try to get comfy.

Trust me on this: sitting on little chunks of volcanic rock is not comfy. Plus, it’s dirty. 

If you have access to a beach chair, you can bring that (just don’t plop it right in front of anyone.)

The condo we stayed in had some small chairs in the closet, but I didn’t know to bring them.

If you didn’t happen to pack one in your suitcase (just kidding, I didn’t either), here’s a tip for you: use your car floor mat to sit on!

It will definitely help make it easier to sit for a bit. (Just make sure you don’t forget it, especially if you’re driving a rental.)

Another option is to bring along an inflatable seat cushion. I purchased this one to use on overseas flights and wish I had thought to bring it here!


5. The Best View Is After Sunset

Watching the amazing Haleakala sunset is, of course, what you’re there for, and being above the clouds makes it strangely bright.

However, the real show starts when the sun is already down. It lights up the sky like it’s literally on fire and is stunningly gorgeous!

Haleakala summit sunrise or sunset is a spectacular view
Almost down. Beautiful, but the best is yet to come!

I was so surprised how many people packed up and left as soon as the sun was officially below the clouds.

Stick around for a bit because, honestly, the show is just getting started!

Haleakala Sunset after sun is below clouds
This was after the sun set below the clouds!

We weren’t there for the famous Haleakala sunrise, but if it’s anything like watching the sunrise at the Grand Canyon, get there early and stay late to see the whole show!

Tip: If you’re bundled up warm enough, stick around for some amazing star gazing at the Haleakala Summit!

6. Don’t Block Anyone’s View of the Sunset

You’re going to want to take pictures without someone else’s head smack dab in it the middle of it.

So does everyone else, so be sure not to plop down right in front of anybody.

The rocks are slippery, so be careful, but find a spot where there’s enough space around other people that you don’t make it hard for them to get good photos, too.

(This is definitely easier to do at sunset than sunrise.)

Visitors waiting for sunset at the summit
Try not to block anyone’s view with your phone while taking pictures!

The couple in front of us had that happen when a man with his big tripod took up a spot right in front of them, making it hard for them to see the view without him in it.

Not cool.

Photo tip: Sunset photos can be blurry if you’re using your phone, so you need to keep it as still as possible.

Try setting the three-second timer on your camera and holding your arms close to your body to stabilize them for the photo.

While you’re planning your trip to Hawaii, be sure to read my post on Best Places to Eat in Maui.

“Don’t even think about not eating here. It’s just got to be on your list of Maui food musts!


7. Get to the Haleakala Summit Early for a Parking Spot

We got to the Haleakala Summit an hour early, which, honestly, I thought was overkill and was kind of bummed we stopped snorkeling so we could get ready to go.

We stopped at the lower parking lot first to walk around a bit before heading to the top lot.

Imagine my surprise when we got to the upper parking area, and it was already full! We literally got the very last spot available.

View inside the volcanic crater at Haleakala Summit
View looking out across the crater, including a Hawaiian Dark-rumped Petrel

If you do get there too late to park, don’t despair. The lower parking lot should still have space and we even saw people parking along the side of the road.

From there, you can either walk 5-7 minutes up to the summit or just walk across the road from the lower lot and watch the sunset from there.

From where we were at the top looking down on them, our guess is their view was probably just as fantastic as it is from the very top lot.

Tip #1 There is a restroom at the lower parking lot, but don’t linger long if you want to park up top.

There’s also a visitors center with info about the crater itself at the summit, so plan to get there in time to have a good look around before you claim your viewing spot.

Tip #2 If you want to get there really early, check out these Hiking Trails you can do from the summit.

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8. It Costs to Get Into Haleakalā National Park

Haleakala National Park is one of the more expensive parks in the U.S. The park service has an entrance at the base of the mountain, and it’s a $30 entrance fee per car.

The good news is that your permit is valid for three days, so if you decide you’d like to come back for another visit, you won’t have to pay twice. 

There are some exceptions to this, including the annual park pass for all fourth graders and the annual pass for U.S. Military, but you’ll need to have the appropriate I.D. with you when you go.

Tip: If you are planning to drive the Road to Hana and enter the park from the other side, plan your agenda accordingly so you can use the same park pass.

9 No Reservation Needed to Visit Haleakala at Sunset

If you intend to see Haleakala at sunrise, you’ll need to make a sunrise reservation. (See #7 about lack of parking.)

You can even book a Haleakala sunrise tour to take you so you’ll have your own guide. However, it’s less crowded at sunset, so at the time of writing this, no reservations are needed.

I’m a sucker for sunsets, so I would choose this option over getting up at 3:00 in the morning to see the Haleakala sunrise any day of the week!

Of course, you can also book a Haleakala sunset tour if you’d like to sit back and let someone else do the driving.

View from the drive up overlooking Maui from the clouds
Another view from the drive up looking out over the clouds.

Whether you decide to visit Haleakala Summit at sunrise or sunset, here are a few other things that are helpful to know.

  • If you have them, bring binoculars to get a better view of all those tiny things far, far below.
  • Bring a flashlight (or remember to use your phone) to get safely back to your car after dark.
  • It’s about 2.5 hours from Lahaina, so be sure to get directions and plan your drive time accordingly.
View of the Haleakala Crater from the Summit

More Useful Information on Seeing the Mount Haleakala Sunrise

Wondering How to Get Haleakala Sunrise Tickets?

Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance, although they can be very difficult to get during peak season.

When Time Does the Sunrise in Maui?

You can find info on Maui sunrise and Maui sunset by either using your phone’s weather app or using a world clock site for up-to-the-minute details.

Read Next: Your Ultimate What to Pack for Hawaii Packing List


PS. Be sure to read how you can fly to Hawaii for free and the Best Places to Eat in Maui once you get there!

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Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.

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