Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui: reservation tips, what to bring and what to expect

Things to do in Maui. Watch the Sunrise over Haleakala

Seeing the sunrise at Haleakala volcano is one of the most sought-after experiences on the Hawaiian island of Maui for a reason. It’s not something that you’ll forget in a hurry, not only because it is freezing up there before daybreak at any time of year.

Haleakala is a dormant volcano on the island of Maui that rises 3,058 metres (10,032 feet) above sea level. It’s one of the islands most prominent features, and so it draws the crowd that its stature demands. Standing at the summit and watching the sky slowly turn a golden pink before a sliver of the golden orb peaks out from behind fluffy clouds and the volcano’s crater.

Be ready to be awed by the surrounding landscape as well. You’ll be staring down at rich, dark soil that hugs the volcano’s craters and dips. I can only compare it to feeling as though you’re standing on the surface of the moon.

Haleakala volcano, Maui
Haleakala volcano looks a lot different in the afternoon.

As Mr M and I were working out exactly what time we’d need to be up the next morning to catch the sunrise at Haleakala, I started having second thoughts. Was it really going to be as good as a 3.30AM wake-up would require? Did I want to deal with being tired and crabby for the rest of that Wednesday?

If you’re having those same thoughts, stop right there. It was worth the annoying alarm clock, driving for an hour in the rain (don’t worry, it was clear at the top), sitting in traffic on the way up the volcano, and finally, cramming in with lots of other eager sunrise-watchers draped in towels and blankets.

Don’t give it a second thought, or try to talk yourself out of it. Seeing sunrise at Haleakala is a beautiful experience that you’ll regret missing!

SUNRISE AT HALEAKALA

The most important thing to know about seeing the sunrise at Haleakala is that you’re going to have to plan in advance. You can’t just decide to show up on the day and get into the National Park. It’s a very popular activity and as such, there are restrictions on how many cars can enter the park between 3.00AM and 7.00AM each day. With that being said, you don’t need a parking or entry permit if you plan to visit after 7.00AM.

RELATED: Our guide for the Maui adventurer and those who just want to sit back and relax

This post aims to prepare you for every eventuality so that you can enjoy the sunrise over the volcano and live in the moment without having to worry about anything.

Haleakala Reservations

Making a reservation for your group to enter the National Park for the sunrise is simple and quick but it will take a little forethought.

Once you’ve worked out exactly which morning you want to be hauling yourself out of bed early and driving over to the volcano, head to the Summit Sunrise Reservations website. Plug in the date you want to visit and the number of tickets you need. Remember that each car requires one ticket, it’s not based on the amount of people in the car.

Haleakala sunrise reservation form
Triple check that you’ve got the right date before paying for your car’s reservation. Picture: Haleakala Reservation Website

Pay your $1.50 reservation fee and print out the confirmation email. You’ll have to show it at the National Park entry gate and you don’t want to be relying on your phone at that time of the morning.

Haleakala volcano crater

Depending on the time of year you’re vising, you’ll want to get your booking done early. We managed to find a spot two weeks in advance, but checking the bookings for May today, it’s booked out at least a month in advance, so be prepared early.

Learn from my mistakes: Don’t do what I did and pick your date, press enter and print your confirmation without triple checking the date you booked for. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to book for the day after I thought I had. I think the booking site skipped to the next day because the Wednesday had sold out. The lovely park attendant in the booth saw the horror on my face when she told me what I’d done and kindly let us in anyway. But I wouldn’t count on that happening every time.

Baby, it’s Cold Outside

Do not underestimate how cold it can get atop Haleakala before and during the sunrise. Mr M and I showed up at about 5.00AM on a mid-April morning to a chilly 42°F (5°C). That doesn’t sound so bad to my Celsius-loving ears, but trust me, the wind chill is killer.

Wear warm clothes to Haleakala volcano
We were (or at least I was) rugged up and I was still freezing up there in mid-April.

I was wearing the same down jacket that kept me warm in Canada during February, but for some reason, I was still bouncing around to keep warm as we waited for the sun to peek out over the clouds. Mr M, being the All-American, no-cold feeling, strapping gentleman that he is, wore a hoodie. I think he may have been a little chilled as well.

Haleakala volcano is cold in the morning
I took a picture to show that I wasn’t even exaggerating. It was cold.

Keep this in mind as you’re packing. Sure, Maui is balmy and you’re going to feel stupid shoving a winter coat into your bag, but you’ll thank me as you’re shivering atop a volcano. Here’s what I would bring:

  • A warm winter jacket with a hood
  • If you don’t have a hood, bring a beanie
  • Gloves or mittens
  • A scarf
  • Double layers of socks
  • Long pants
  • A long sleeved shirt

If you’ve arrived on the island already without thinking this part through, don’t fret. The amount of people we saw up on Haleakala wrapped in hotel towels, blankets and beach towels was pretty high. You’re not going to look out of place if you make-do with what you’ve got. The last thing you want to have to do is scurry back to your car and miss the fun just because you couldn’t feel your hands and your eyeballs froze over.

What Else Should You Bring? 

There are bits and bobs that you might not think of until you’re way up in the sky, nestled above the clouds, so let me help you out here.

Firstly, and most importantly, Haleakala is a long way from just about everywhere on the island. Maybe not in distance, but certainly in time spent winding your way up and down switchbacks. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive there from Kihei, and an hour and 50 minutes from Kaanapali. That’s not taking traffic into account, and trust me, there will be traffic the closer you get to the volcano. I’m telling you this so that you don’t set off with half a tank of gas in the car. Fill up the night before to be safe.

Learn from my mistakes: We thought we could fill up on the way to the volcano that morning. Surprise, surprise, the gas station was closed at 4:00AM on a Wednesday. We made it up the volcano but couldn’t use the heater and we spent most of the drive back down coasting, not touching the accelerator for fear that we’d putter to a stop. It wasn’t pleasant, so don’t do it to yourself.

Remember how I said that it’s cold up on Haleakala? Well I don’t think there’s any tea or coffee amenities up there either. So think ahead and bring your own thermos of tea, coffee or hot chocolate to sip while you wait. This is also a great idea if you’ve got kids and need to keep them busy while you’re waiting for the sun to come up.

Sunrise at Haleakala Volcano

Do not forget your camera. Be it a camera phone or one of those proper point-and-shoot things that I hear people still own nowadays. Make sure they’re charged to the hilt as well, you don’t want that flashing “no battery” warning coming up as you’re videoing the volcano-scape. Make some room on your memory card as well. But don’t get too caught up in documenting the whole thing for later. You’ll get a lot more out of it if you experience it through your own eyes and not constantly through the lense of a camera.

There are no lights in the Haleakala car park, so arriving before dawn and making your way to the paths and down steps can be a little tricky in the dark. Bring a flashlight to make sure you don’t stumble or fall along the way. Also, if you’re an avid star gazer, maybe think about bringing a pair of binoculars so that you can enjoy the star-spangled sky before the main event. The lack of light pollution up there means that you’ll get to see a lot of stars if it’s not overcast.

Get Up & Go

I highly recommend planning your route at least the night before and working out how long it’ll take you to get there. Don’t forget to factor in the traffic winding up the volcano and stopping at the gates to pay the entry fee. Look up the sunrise time and then plan to be there at least half an hour before that.

Crowds at Haleakala volcano
Get in early to nab a good spot because it will be crowded!

It’s popular and there will be lots of people lined up to watch the sunrise at Haleakala, so if you want a good spot you’ll have to be a little early. Plus, you don’t want to put in all of that planning effort only to arrive a little late because of traffic and miss the best part. It’ll mean setting your alarm a little earlier, but it’ll be worth it!

National Park Fees

That $1.50 reservation fee you paid online does not cover your entry to the National Park. It just reserves your car a spot in the parking lot. About halfway up the volcano, you’ll stop at a little toll booth where the attendant will check your reservation and ask for the park entry fee.

Fog at Haleakala National Park
The weather on the way up the volcano isn’t always the same as it is at the top.

At the time of writing, you’ll spend $25 per vehicle to get into the National Park and $12 for pedestrians and cyclists. Unlike the reservation fee, this one stands whenever you visit the park, and isn’t just for the 3.00AM to 7.00AM time slot.

If you’re paying cash, make sure you have the right change. The National Park prefers that you pay with a credit card to keep the line moving smoothly though. If you spend a few extra dollars, you can get the Tri-Park Pass which is valid for a year and allows you entry to Volcanoes National Park, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Haleakalā National Park. It’s great value if you think you’re going to be too tired or cold to stick around and explore the volcano that morning.

National Park Rules

Remember that even though it’s a volcano and has sparse vegetation, this is still a National Park and the same rules still apply. Stick to the designated pathways so as not to damage native vegetation or erode the soil.  Take your rubbish out with you and be mindful of everyone having a good sunrise at Haleakala experience.

Watching the sun rise at Haleakala

Don’t go off climbing rocks or off the path to try to get a better view if you arrive late. You’ll just get yelled at by the staff, who I’m sure don’t enjoy having to repeat the same thing every morning. Arrive early and you’ll get a good vantage point.

What to Expect

As you can imagine, the sun bleeding over the top of the volcano, surrounded by mist and clouds is beautiful. What you might not know is that the colours of the sky before the sun even makes its appearance are gorgeous, and somewhat heightened by the presence of clouds, so don’t be disappointed if you see some cloud cover on the horizon.

Sunrise over Haleakala

We were lucky enough to have two people singing in the sunrise, as is tradition for the native people of Maui. I couldn’t see if they were Park Rangers, but their singing really added to the awe and hush that fell over the crowd as the sun began to rise. The chant is called the Mele Oli, and it goes like this:

 

E ala e Ka la i kahikina
I ka moana
Ka moana hohonu
Pi’i ka lewa
Ka lewa nu’u
I kahikina
Aia ka la.
E ala e!

For those who’d like the English translation:

Awaken/Arise
The sun in the east
From the ocean
The ocean deep
Climbing (to) the heaven
The heaven highest
In the east
There is the sun
Awake

I wished that sunrise would have taken hours, it was such a  beautiful experience to share with a crowd of people who seemed to be just as awed as we were by the experience. I’ve never been in such a large crowd who were at once so silent without having something prolonged to listen to. The sunrise at Haleakala made as all fall silent. It was truly beautiful.

Maui's Haleakala volcano is beautiful at #sunrise. Here are all the tips you need to see the sunrise at #HaleakalaNationalPark.  Don't miss the sunrise in Maui, expecially at Haleakala volcano. Here are all the tips you need to see the sunrise at #HaleakalaNationalPark.

54 thoughts on “Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui: reservation tips, what to bring and what to expect

  1. What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing these photos. A side of Hawaii I had never known about prior to reading this post.

    SSG xxx

  2. Wow. That WAS an amazing experience and read too. I went to the Big Island and booked a helicopter ride to fly over the volcanos there…set off confidently IN the DARK in my rental car and even though I was given directions…and it was dark…I ended up BACK where I came from and missed the trip!! The guys were very understanding and sent me the video from the day and it had rained for most of it so I missed little. You did not!!

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek 18/52. Next week’s optional prompt is “The A-L of Me”. Denyse

  3. I think you’ve written all information needed on how to watch a sunrise at Haleakala. Thank you very much! Good thing you can drive all the way up, not like when we watched sunrise at Mt. Kelimutu in Flores, Indonesia. We had to hike after leaving the hotel around 2 a.m.

    1. Oh wow, I can’t imagine hiking at that time of day. You’d need a tonne of determination to get to that sunrise viewing spot! Well done for making it 🙂

  4. We’ve been to Maui twice and have still yet to see the sunrise at Haleakala. It’s always on our must-see list, but we’ve always traveled with very young children, and with the time change and jet lag…we just never seem to wake up in time. Would you suggest this for small children? We’ve always just said we’ll go when the kiddos get a little older. Your pictures are gorgeous!!!

    1. I think I’d probably wait till the kids were a little older, if only because it’s so crowded and unless they get a front row spot or you hoist them on your shoulders, they might not see much. But it’s defintely a must-see!

  5. Oh yes, I’d definitely say that it was worth getting up at 3:30am!! Absolutely stunning! Definitely want to do this! #FarawayFiles

  6. There is a reason why I have seen far more sunsets than sunrises, but this one seem like one not to miss! Thank you for the stunning photos and the great explanations, it is always good to know all these small things you might not even think of.

    1. Bahahaha, I’m with you Linn! More of a sunset than a sunrise woman since I moved here. But it’s a gorgeous sunrise!

  7. I love the shot of the foggy road on the way up the volcano – hiking always reminds me of how changeable the weather can be from one minute, or one place, to the next. And even if you have to pass through sun, wind, rain (and snow!) it’s always worth it when you get to the top!

    1. Ooh I think Mr M took that shot on our way back down the volcano. It was so amazing how the weather could be clear and sunny at the top and then just foggy and rainy a little further down!

  8. Such great tips! Haleakala def looks like a place you need to visit during sunrise because the photos are breathtaking! I love sunrise photography!

  9. Haleakala looks beautiful at sunrise! Nature is so incredible. What a fabulous guide – I think we may go to Hawaii later in the year so I’m bookmarking for later. PS – I hear there is a volcano just about to explode! Eek #FarawayFiles

    1. What awful timing of me! In my defense, I posted it a few days before there was even news about the Hawaii volcano. I feel so bad for everyone losing their homes and property.

  10. That’s amazing!! I can never get over the incredible vastness of Hawaii’s landscape. There really is no limit to its beauty. And thanks for all the tips on seeing this sunrise! Never in my life would I have thought to bring a scarf to Hawaii otherwise. 😉

    1. Exactly! I’m so glad that I read up on Haleakala before I visited so that I knew to bring warm clothes with me. And I was still freezing! 😀

  11. Wow, I love that picture just rising through the clouds. I honestly haven’t heard of Haleakala but now it is on my bucket list. I am a sucker for sunrises, but lazy to get up at 3:30AM, but for a sunrise like, I would happily do so 😀 Thank you for introducing me to yet another amazing place 🙂

    1. I haven’t gotten up specifically for the sunrise in years, but this felt like an opportunity that I couldn’t miss. I hope you get to experience it for yourself as well Shivani.

  12. I remember doing this when I went to Hawaii as a kid. We went the morning after we arrived since we would be jetlagged and up early anyway. It’s definitely one of those things I want to do again as an adult. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Very smart Anisa! I didn’t even think about doing that. But it’s a great way to fit in the early morning without too much sleepiness!

  13. Its was a great adventure in Haleakala, Maui. The best moment of the day is experiencing the sunrise in the early morning, That time the environment and weather condition is pretty quiet and healthy. When the sun rising, weather becomes more impressive. I am a traveler when I go for a trip, I don’t miss this moment, but All of your pictures and information are makes me inspire to go in Haleakala. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  14. I absolutely love Maui! I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many times in my lifetime with family. However, I’ve only done Haleakala once due to the drive (it can be a little scary on those curves if you’re not used to mountain driving)! We went for sunset instead of sunrise, and it was just as amazing. But yes, the cold is incredible, and we were some of the unprepared tourists wrapping up in towels haha. Great guide, thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I’m sure sunset was amazing as well! I wasn’t that worried by the drive. I did it this time, and I think the last time we visited Maui, Mr M did it. Although, I might be comparing it to the Road to Hana, which is a total nightmare.

  15. Looks like such a “once in a lifetime” experience! I’ve only been to the Big Island so far… Thanks for the useful tips – pinned for the future! I would definitely bring a thermo of hot chocolate to sip while waiting! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I haven’t been to the Big Island yet and I feel so bad for them at the moment, dealing with that volcano eruption. Definitely making me think twice about Haleakala.

  16. Wow, that is really neat. I guess I shouldn’t be but I am surprised that this books up a month in advance and gets crowded! That’s awesome though, I had no idea that this existed.

    1. I was kind of surprised. And we were so lucky that Mr M’s mum found out about the parking reservation because I had no clue and we wouldn’t have been able to go if we hadn’t booked so early.

  17. Great advice. Hawaii is on my travel radar, so I took some notes to keep in mind when I finally get there because this is something I’d definitely like to do. It’s wild to think that one would have to wear a jacket/coat while in Hawaii, isn’t it?

    Visting from The Weekly Postcard

    1. I hope you get to plan that trip soon Ericka! I actually wore my jacket on the plane home from Maui and it was great to snuggle in and fall asleep. So it had two great purposes!

  18. I am speechless, what a great trip. I love sunrises but this one… It goes to my travel bucket list, pinned for later. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  19. I’ve seen both the sunset and the sunrise at Haleakala and I have to say the latter is more spectacular. Although, at sunset the crowds were more manageable. #TheWeeklPostcard

  20. Great post – we are actually going there next week. I got the last available reservation spot! Good tip on printing out the tickets – i am going to do that straight away.

  21. Wow! I didn’t know it was that popular. Thanks for all the useful tips. I didn’t imagine you could get that cold in Hawaii.
    I always find it hard to wake up and hike for sunrise, but then the sun appears and the beauty makes me forget I ever had to make all these efforts. I’d love to hike this volcano. Hawaii has been on my dream list for a little while (I also love diving!). I wonder when we’ll finally make it there!! 🙂

  22. Wow, that’s probably the first report I’ve read that’s made me really want to go to Hawaii. Thanks. It’s now seriously on my list of places to visit. Although, yeah, I reckon I’d feel silly taking my winter coat – especially going from my home in Mexico where it’s generally 40 celcius too!

  23. Wow, this looks so epic!! I haven’t been to Hawaii, but my parents actually road bikes down Haleakala a few years ago. Sunrise sounds a little less terrifying though 😂 Great guide!

  24. Wow, seeing those crowds I’m glad I didn’t go for sunrise! I opted for an all-day tour of the island instead, which included the summit, but there were far fewer people. Good info, though, as I would have never thought to make a reservation to drive myself to the top!

  25. Photos are awesome and thanks for the post. I had no idea it was so crowded/so many people did this! I’ve never been to this spot, but would love to come back to Hawaii some day. I think I actually prefer the view in the afternoon!

  26. This is something we have yet to do. Definitely high on our Bucket List for our next visit, though! I love the Na Mele Oli from the sunrise – that’s a beautiful chant. But then, I think just about anything in the Hawaiian language sounds beautiful. 😉 Mahalo aku oe no ka kaʻana like – Thank you for sharing, cousin! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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