• Andrew Fowers

Best Day Hikes on Haleakalā

Photo Courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority

Picture Maui and chances are you’ll think of its postcard-perfect beaches.

And while it’s true that the Valley Isle’s120 miles of coastline are nothing short of magic, its hiking trails are just as epic.

Just think: A bamboo path that leads to a 400-foot waterfall, a guava-filled route that provides stunning views of the coastline, and a steep climb that curves around a windmill farm.

Oh, and a dormant volcano—one of the world's largest—that contains over 30 miles of hiking.

Happen to be heading up the island’s biggest mountain on your trip? Lucky you, as four of Maui’s top hikes are found above the cloud line (no pun intended). Some require lungs of steel and shoes with serious tread. Some are a walk in the park. Others still are a moving meditation, bringing you closer to Haleakalā’s history as one of the most culturally-significant spots on the island. But all offer unforgettable views and an opportunity to see the “other side” of Hawaii.

So whether you’re traveling with Shaka Guide by your side or hitting the volcano solo, here are the best day hikes on Haleakalā—and why you should fit them into your schedule.

Halemau’u Trail

A number of visitors to Haleakalā make what we consider a mistake—they arrive for sunrise or sunset and then instantly head back down the mountain.

No doubt about it: dawn and dusk from Haleakalā’s summit are some of the greatest sights most experience in their life. But “the crater’s” basin offers more than what immediately meets the eye. With 19 square miles, and unparalleled views of the island, the national park is ripe for exploring.

Halemau’u Trail is a terrific place to start. True, the entire hike is a knee-aching 7.5 miles, ultimately reaching the Holua Cabin in the center of the volcano’s hollow. This, however, might be one of those rare times where it’s forgivable for not finishing what you started.

Located 7,990 feet above sea level, Halemau’u Trail starts out gently enough that you can hike in a mile, return to your car—and still have the time and energy to go snorkeling.

That first mile isn’t mediocre, either. Scrub brush might be a common enough sight, but where that mile ends—at a 1,000-foot cliff—is not. Peering down into the Ko’olau Gap, you’ll be granted with one of the most staggering views of the island. Bold hikers can keep going on what’s known as “Switchback Trail” to reach Holua Cabin, a historic cabin, roughly 1,000 feet below, that’s surrounded by federally-designated wilderness. Keep your eyes peeled, should you make it all the way down: The Hawaiian petrel, or ‘ua‘u, calls this part of the volcano home.

Sliding Sands Trail

In Hawaiian, Sliding Sands—one of the toughest hikes Haleakalā offers—is known as Keoneheehee.

Think that’s tricky to say? Consider the mind-boggling trail itself. Starting at an elevation of 9,800 feet, the trail descends 2,500 feet to Haleakalā’s giant basin below. Those are vertical feet, mind you. (Did someone say sliding?)

It might sound intimidating, but the pay-off is well-worth the courage, and fitness, it requires. Lunar beauty abounds. Silence is practically felt. The colors—gray, red, yellow, green—mesmerize. The ‘ahinahina, or Hawaiian silversword, can be seen on the slopes. And while the whole hike—11.2 miles—will probably demand your day, you can opt to hike the first 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone before trekking back to your car. Either way, prepare to be blown away. This is otherworldly country.

Pa Ka’oao Trail

Located right next to the visitor center, this trail is .2 miles (one way), with only a 100-foot change in elevation, Pa Ka’oao—also known as “White Hill”—is more stroll than hike.

But that doesn’t make it any less scenic, as “White Hill” goes down as one of the highest vantage points in the park.

Translation? Spectacular views. Ash, cinder cones, rolling volcanic slopes, and more of that rocky moonscape jungle—this is Haleakalā at its finest. But it’s the white clouds streaming below that’ll make you feel like you’re close to heaven.

Hosmer Grove Loop Trail

Barren terrain dominates most of Haleakalā’s landscape, but below the summit rests a trail that offers something else entirely.

Called Hosmer Grove, the area is located near mile marker 10.5 (just listen to Shaka Guide for directions). A mile and a half loop trail will take you through some of Hawaii’s first territorial forester's original plantings, including spruce, cedar, eucalyptus, and sugi pine. Simple and pretty, it’s the perfect contrast to the volcanic moonscape at Haleakalā’s summit. In other words? Hikers on Maui are downright spoiled.

Haleakalā Hiking Tips

Whether you decide to brave Sliding Sands or select a short walk, keep in mind that Haleakalā National Park holds a number of endangered species—some of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Walking off trails, littering, pulling up plant roots, camping in undesignated areas, fires—all can be a threat to Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem.

Also keep in mind that the weather on Haleakalā can be fierce and unpredictable. Given the elevation of these hikes, you can easily go from bright sun to heavy rain to sudden cold. Dress in layers, lather on sunscreen, bring lots of water (and hiking poles for the longer trails), and arrive rested and nourished. Then, enjoy. Mark Twain once wrote that Haleakalā has “healing solitudes,” and we’d agree that it soothes as much as it enthralls.