Haleakala, a huge and dormant shield volcano, forms more than 75 percent of Maui’s landmass. As such, it pretty much demands you ascend its slopes and peer into its crater—the island’s very soul. Legend claims the demigod Maui snared the sun here, freeing it only after it swore to inch more slowly across the sky.

The 38-mile, two-and-a-half-hour drive up Haleakala climbs from sea level to 10,023 feet through several different ecological zones. One of the most popular ways to experience the volcano remains cycling down from the summit at sunrise. Do it yourself if you’re confident, or join a guided tour (Skyline Eco-Adventures offers one that includes a zip-line ride). Once you’ve mastered the motion—and the 21 switchbacks along the road—effortless downhill freewheeling rewards you with unsurpassed views of the island. If you’d rather savor the vistas from a lofty perch, drive to the top for the sunset or book an overnight at one of the park’s wilderness cabins, accessible only by hiking trail.

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Where to Hike in Maui

Witnessing the sunrise from the summit of this otherworldly national park is on many a bucket list--and for good reason. At just over 10,000 feet, the volcanic Haleakalā resembles Mars. There are species of plants, including the spindly silverswords, that exist here and nowhere else in the world. Once in the park, visitors can explore 40 miles of trails of varying levels of difficulty. Dress warmly--as you ascend, the temperatures drop precipitously.

Bike Down Haleakala

What goes up must come down. And on the volcano Haleakala, that means cycling from summit to sea level. It can be challenging for novice riders; you’re on the same road as the cars winding their way up to take in the view. Go self-guided if you’re confident—or join an escorted tour. Once you’ve mastered the motion (and the 21 switchbacks along the road), effortless downhill freewheeling rewards you with unsurpassed views of almost every part of the island.

Maui Sunrise

The Moon & Venus during a sunrise atop Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui. This is an experience not to be missed. There are different tour companies that can take you to the top to see the sunrise. You can also drive yourself to the top, which takes about 90 minutes. Being at over 10,000 feet above sea level, it is extremely cold and windy when you arrive. But you will quickly find that the temperature will rise unbelievably fast once the sun appears. We chose to do a trip with Mountain Riders which included a bike trip down the mountain after sunrise. They picked us up at our hotel at 2:30am and gave us a snack for the trip to the top. After sunrise we biked down and made several stops along the way. The trip was over before it was even 10am so we still had an entire day to hit the beach! Truly a special experience!

People on top of the world

At 10,000 feet, Haleakala summit is a beautiful view from the top of the world. As we milled about on this dormant volcano, crunching the lava rocks under our feet, we watched the clouds roll over the ocean and stood steps away from a space observatory that was attempting views from a summit even higher than us.

The House of the Sun

Wahi Pana (Haleakala Crater) in Maui is truly a place of the gods. Standing at 10,000 feet and far above the scudding clouds, we could see the dots of the Hawaiian Islands--tiny blips in the vast ocean. You are level with a space observatory, walking in dried lava, and witnessing a sacred place for Hawaii’s indigenous people. If the view doesn’t do it, the altitude will take your breath away. Truly a must-see.

"The House of the Sun"

Wahi Pana (Haleakala Crater), or “The House of the Sun” in Maui is truly a place of the gods. Standing at 10,000 feet and far above the scudding clouds, we could see the dots of the Hawaiian Islands--tiny blips in the vast ocean. You are level with a space observatory, walking in dried lava, and witnessing a sacred place for Hawaii’s indigenous people. If the view doesn’t do it, the altitude will take your breath away. Truly a must-see.

Mount Haleakala - Crater Trail

Getting up at 2:30 AM to see the sunrise from the top of Mount Haleakala, Maui’s highest point, is the experience of a lifetime. The icing on the cake comes in the trails that you get to explore afterward. After reaching the summit, heading down into the crater of this dormant volcano is a must. You’ll feel as if you’ve landed on Mars with the miles and miles of rocky terrain and cinder cones scattered about. You can spend as much or as little time in the crater as you’d like - some people even bring tents for an overnight excursion. Hiking down to the actual cinder cones is fantastic, but make sure to bring water and a snack, as it can take awhile and be a bit physically demanding. If hiking is too physically demanding for you, there are horse rides that go on some of the trails as well. Definitely dress in layers, as the mornings are freezing, but after hiking for a few hours in the sun you’ll definitely be working up a sweat!

The Bamboo Forest, Maui – USA

On first appearances this is a bit of a tourist hub but if you can battle past the larger, slower groups it’s worth it for the trek. Heading up the river bed you are surrounded on each side by dense bamboo forests. The next stage involves a bit more muscle, climbing vertical mud slides with the help of an old rope and clambering up waterfalls on a questionable wooden ladder, less of a ladder in fact more rotten wooden steps and string. The reward is an impressive waterfall with a refreshing spring water pool.

Biking Down A Volcano in Haleakala National Park

New York isn’t the most bike-friendly city out there, although there have been some major improvements as of late. Regardless, whenever I travel to other destinations I always try to fit in a bike ride. Nothing quite prepared me for the three hour bike ride through Maui’s Haleakala National Park! In actuality, the self-guided bike tour (a driver takes you to the starting point) takes you down a volcano. It’s also downhill and extremely scenic. Make sure to pull over if you plan on taking photos of the view. Much of the trail is on a main road and while cars are far and few, you still need to watch out for them when they pull around the winding corners. I booked with Haleakala Bike Company and they were helpful in making sure we were all suited up - backpacks, jackets, helmets and bikes. More on Bohemian Trails.

Haleakala Sunrise Photography Tips

It’s one of the must-do things on Maui - and of course you want the perfect photo - so here’s a few tips that I used to get a great shot of the sunrise. • Get there early to get a spot. I recommend hiking up the short little trail to higher ground (to the right of the visitor center • Take a soft lens cloth to wipe off the foggy lens. When you get out of your warm car and step out into the cold Haleakala air – you’re lenses are going to need time to adjust to the climate change. A soft wipe is good for trying to speed up the process. • Bring a tripod. However know that it’s possible to get the shot without one. • Bring your big zoom lens. I did most of my most dramatic shooting this morning with my 300 mm lens – you will get amazing shots of the cloud details and the light bouncing off the clouds. • Shoot before the sun comes up – get the whole progression. Just remember to always be adjusting your settings – ISO and metering is changing constantly as the lighting is changing every minute. • Turn around and shoot the softly lit landscape behind you. • Stay after the sunrise. The sun continues to rise and light up the crater floor – it’s worth it to stay and get these shots with amazing lighting. • Use filters – I used my polarizing filter as well as my graduated neutral density filter so that hopefully I would have to do less post processing after the fact. • Finally – make sure that you take a few moments away from the viewfinder and just enjoy nature’s beauty.

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