A sunrise at the top of Haleakala is something to behold.

The National Park Service’s new permit system combats madding crowds, parking dramas, and other growing problems at the summit.

Editor’s Note (January 3, 2019): As the federal government enters its second full week of shutdown over the border wall dispute, access to national parks varies. Some national parks remain open to visitors, while other parks are completely closed. For most of the parks that remain open during this shutdown, no park rangers will be available to collect entrance fees. This also means that facilities including restrooms and campgrounds will also not be operational. For more information, visit individual park websites.

Both the Disney movie Moana and the creation myth of the Hawaiian island of Maui talk about a demigod named Maui who lassos the sun from atop Mount Haleakala. 

Metaphorically speaking, many visitors to the island try to do the same, waking up in the middle of the night and driving to the apex of Haleakala National Park to see the ball of fire in the sky as it crests the horizon to start the day. 

In recent years, however, increasing crowds and parking dramas have created huge problems at the summit. To combat overtourism to the area, the National Park Service responded in 2017 with a new reservation system and fee for sunrise viewing. The system requires that eager visitors between the peak hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. pay a reservation fee to receive a permit (and thereby a parking space) in the summit parking lots.

 
 
 
 
 
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A time lapse of today’s #sunrise from Haleakalā Visitor Center! NPS video/M. Kubojiri. #Haleakalā #nationalpark #Maui #Hawaii #findyourpark

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A post shared by Haleakalā National Park (@haleakalanps) on

How to make a sunrise-viewing reservation

In addition to the park’s entrance fee of $20 per car (which visitors pay with credit cards upon arrival at the summit or Kipahulu entrance stations), parking reservations for summit spots cost $1.50 per car during sunrise hours. The permits are sold online only (at Recreation.gov) and can be purchased up to 60 days in advance. During the aforementioned time of day, visitors with sunrise reservations must show a paper copy of their reservation as well as their photo ID. Reservations are not transferable and must be used on the date specified at purchase.

In an article on Maui Now, a local news site, park representatives said the online reservation system is being implemented to ensure visitor and employee safety, protect natural and cultural resources, and provide a quality visitor experience at the summit. 

The rules in fine print

A FAQ document released by the park service indicates that there are no refunds due to inclement weather or change of plans and that vehicles parked without a permit between 3 and 7 a.m. will be ticketed. It also notes that due to limited parking, visitors without sunrise-viewing reservations will have to wait until after 7 a.m., at which time they can visit the summit without paying the $1.50 fee.

What’s more, the FAQ indicates that all fees—including entrance fees—are waived for Native Hawaiians who wish to conduct traditional cultural practices at sunrise or any other time of day. This provision originally was protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. 

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5 Things to Know Before Seeing Sunrise on Haleakala

Predictably, reactions to the NPS’s Haleakala parking permit system were mixed. Locals generally seemed happy about the new policy, embracing the notion that limiting traffic at the summit can only help preserve and protect it for future generations. Among travelers and those in the tourism industry, however, there was more skepticism—while the notion of following in Maui’s footsteps and lassoing the sun atop Haleakala once was readily available to everyone, now it is conceivable some visitors could miss out. 

Our advice: As always, plan ahead. The $1.50 fee is negligible, and this experience definitely is worth the extra effort. A small batch of last-minute tickets are released on the booking website two days in advance of available reservations, so you can always check online beforehand (remaining tickets are released at 4 p.m. HST). Or you can head to the summit for sunset, which requires no reservation and is almost as amazing.

This article originally appeared online in November 2016; it was updated on January 3, 2019, to include current information.

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