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Haleakalā Crater

Clouds inside Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala Crater is a special place on Maui.

The Sliding Sands hiking trail inside Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

It’s at the top of the huge (and probably dormant) volcano that makes up the entire east side of Maui.

Cinder cones inside Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

They say it feels like you’re on Mars up here.

Science center at the top of Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Views from Haleakala Crater, a dormant volcano on Maui, Hawaii.

I think there’s some truth to that.

The last time I went to Maui, I went hunting for waterfalls. On this trip my main interest was Haleakala. I’ve seen countless pictures of this place but the view of inside the crater in person is totally different.

It takes some time to drive up to Haleakala. 1 to 2 hours depending on where you’re coming from. But, in my opinion, to spend just a few hours at the top is worth the drive. We picked up some snacks and water and drove up in the afternoon. The plan was to stay until sunset.

I flew in to Maui on a Friday. If you fly from Oahu to Maui, try to get a window seat on the right side of the plane. You’ll get better views that way.

As you approach OGG (Maui’s airport in Kahului, named after Jim Hogg) you’ll see Haleakala. The summit of Haleakala typically peaks out above the cloud line. The city lights there are Kihei and Wailea.

On Saturday we set out for Haleakala. We had lunch and picked up snacks at a little food stand at Kula County Farms then made our way up the mountain.

It’s a long drive up a very windy road. Make sure you’re car is reliable and has good breaks. The road is in excellent condition though. At about mile 17 you’ll want to make your first stop. This is Leleiwi Lookout.

There’s a parking lot right by this sign.

At first you might think the lookout is for this view of West Maui but it’s not.

Follow this path.

After just a few minutes of walking you’ll find Leleiwi Lookout. It’ll offer you your first views of Haleakala Crater.

There were clouds at first and only the peaks of the crater rim were visible.

It’s windy up here so the clouds blew away quickly and the bottom of the crater was revealed.

The inside of Haleakala Crater is filled with these cinder cones.

The cinder cones form what look like little mountain ranges inside the crater.

There’s a trail system inside Haleakala Crater used by backpackers and hikers. There are two campsites and three cabins inside the crater that can be reserved.

As we soaked in the view at Leleiwi Lookout more clouds came and went.

We found a place to perch.

The clouds would roll through the crater and then straight up to the lookout.

It does feel like a different planet up here.

Remember, if the view is cloudy. Give it 5 to 10 minutes as it may clear up.

After 20 minutes of geeking out over the view at Leleiwi Lookout you’ll want to make your way to the next lookout. It’s important to take your time at each lookout so that you can let your body acclimate to the elevation.

The next stop is Kalahaku Lookout. As you drive up the mountain look for a left turn. The sign is turned so that only driving coming downhill can read it. So, look for the back of the sign.

At this lookout you can learn more about the field of cinder cones inside Haleakala Crater.

The view you’ll see is similar to Leleiwi but at a different angle. But remember, take your time so your body can acclimate to the elevation.

Next stop, the summit.

At 10,000 feet, the air is thin. Walk slow when hiking up a hill or walking up steps.

And it’s really cold up here.

The fat chukar partridges didn’t seem to mind though.

The later it got the more layers we had to put on. I was wearing a thermal, a t-shirt, a fleece sweater, a shell and a beanie. So I was nice and toasty.

This is the view you can see from the summit.

At a point very close to the Haleakala Summit is an observatory. It’s not open to the public.

These are views I’m used to seeing from inside a plane.

At the tippity top, the elevation is 10,023 feet.

Silver sword plants are strewn about.

The main hike up here is the Sliding Sands trail. It’s 4 miles round trip but at this elevation you need to go slow so it might take a few hours to complete.

We went to check it out.

The trail is unlike anything I’ve ever been on in Hawaii.

It’s windy in the crater but slightly less cold so you can adjust your layers accordingly.

The Sliding Sands Trail is appropriately named. You are hiking on loose gravel so even if you weren’t at altitude, the going would be slow. We hiked just a short distance. Next time I think I’ll suck it up and hike the full 4 miles.

On a clear day, you’ll see the ocean where the clouds are.

The full path of cinder cones are visible from this angle.

Since this day was overcast, our sunset was a bit anticlimactic. But I still enjoyed it.

Looking south you can see Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island.

Looking west you can see the West Maui Mountains.

With the sun set, it was time to call it a day.

It helps to start your descent while there is still some light left. It’s a long drive down.

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This story was last modified on April 26, 2020. (Originally published in November 2012.)

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