It’s an incredible experience if you know how to prepare.
Sure, setting your alarm to 2 a.m. while on vacation in Maui sounds a little crazy—but wait, hear me out. It’s all worth it to experience a sunrise on Haleakala, the massive dormant shield volcano that makes up much of the east side of the island.
Praised as an enchanting, spiritual experience, an early morning at Haleakala is a natural spectacle. The ancient Hawaiians knew this, too: The volcano’s name means “house of the sun.” Located in the Haleakala National Park atop an erosion crater, the summit and the surrounding areas feel otherworldly. Far away from the beaches and lush greenery, the surreal desert-like landscape of Maui's highest peak is absolutely worth the trek upcountry. While you watch the sun rise and paint unimaginably beautiful colors on the clouds below (yes—below!), you will be happy you conquered your sleepy self. To truly be able to enjoy this show, here are my five tips you should keep in mind when planning your visit.
1. Make a reservation and arrive on time.
Seeing the sunrise on Haleakala requires a reservation. You can purchase these through recreation.gov for a $1.50 fee per vehicle up to two months in advance. (Learn more about how to snag a sunrise-viewing spot here.)
Plan on getting to the summit at least one hour before sunrise. This way, you'll secure a proper parking spot (do not park in the dirt—the fee is astronomical), a good viewing point, and you’ll get a chance to see the Milky Way. If you arrive even one minute after the sun is up, you’ll have missed the main show. As soon as the sun is completely up, it’s just another sunny morning.
2. It’s (way) colder than you think.
You are far away from the beach, at an elevation of 10,023 feet, in the middle of the night. The temperature can drop to around 40 degrees with some gusty winds. Ditch the shorts and flip-flops and opt for long pants, a sweatshirt, and close-toed shoes with socks. Bring a beanie, scarf, and gloves if you packed them. It sounds strange but believe me, you will be thankful.
3. Be respectful of the silverswords . . . and your surroundings.
These rare plants are protected, so it’s forbidden to touch them. Visitors have almost wiped out the silversword in recent years. The unique plant blooms only once in its 50-year lifespan and dies shortly thereafter, spreading new seeds to grow. You might hear a group of native Hawaiian people or the park ranger chanting during the sunrise to honor this sacred place, so photographing or filming them for your Instagram Stories might not be appropriate. Put your phone or camera down and just enjoy it.
4. The bike tour back down is not as cool as it sounds.
This activity is really up to you, but you may regret getting on a bike and not opting for your warm car. Instead, pick out a trail in the park and spend some time hiking and soaking in the beauty of Haleakala on your own time, rather than waiting for others to catch up on a bike tour. Guided tours—and, frankly, other tourists—can be a tricky thing when you woke up at 2 a.m.
5. Don’t rush back to the beach.
Devote this day to exploring Maui’s amazing upcountry. There are few places to visit on your way back from Haleakala. The Kula Botanical Gardens are right on your route, and the Alii Kula Lavender Farm is just a short detour. Make a stop at the Surfing Goat Dairy—it’s perfect to stroll around, feed some goats (especially if you’re traveling with kids), and stock up on delicious goat cheese for your next beach picnic. See Maui’s “cowboy town,” Makawao. The old western buildings are now home to galleries, shops, and restaurants.