What You Need to Know Before Experiencing the Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

One activity you will see mentioned a lot when reading guidebooks while planning a trip to Maui is experiencing the sunrise or sunset on Haleakala, the most popular dormant volcano on Maui. I missed this activity during my first trip to Hawaii because I did a lot of scuba diving. Deep sea levels and mountaintops don’t mix well when a human wants to stay alive. I was finally able to carve time out for this experience during my second trip to Maui.

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala is known as the world’s largest dormant volcano. It stretches across Maui’s southern and eastern coastlines and is the main attraction in Haleakala National Park. It is Maui’s highest peak, rising 10,023 feet above sea level. There are 55 endangered species that call the area around Haleakala home, more than at any other U.S. national park.

Reservations Now Required for the Haleakala Sunrise

To experience the sunrise, we got up and drove an hour and a half from Maalaea to Haleakala National Park. We left around 3am and arrived at the park around 4:30am, about 2 hours before the sunrise. Because viewing the sunrise on Haleakala is so popular, getting there early was required. However, in February 2017, they started requiring reservations to view the sunrise on top of the volcano. The cost is $1.50 per vehicle ($1 + fee), a total steal! My assumption is that they did it for crowd control and I will give them kudos because it worked when we were there. The peak was not crowded which made the experience enjoyable (assuming you can call an experience that includes getting up at 2:30am enjoyable. Ha!).

You can book your reservation here.

What to Wear for the Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

Cold. Really, really cold. And windy.

If I had to describe my first impression from the volcano peak, these would be the words I would use.  It is definitely not what you expect when visiting Hawaii.

I knew it was going to be cold because I did a lot of research before we went but it was even colder than I thought it would be. I’m from the Midwest and currently live in Chicago. Therefore, I am used to chilly weather but that doesn’t mean I appreciate it while I am in Hawaii. We didn’t want to be outside anymore than necessary so we napped in the car while waiting for the sun to start making its ascent over the horizon.

I would recommend bringing warm clothing if you plan to view the sunrise, particularly if you are bringing kids with you. If you have a warm hat and mittens and can fit them in your suitcase, throw them in. You will not be sorry.

The Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

After the long drive in the dark up the side of a volcano and a couple hours of waiting, it was finally time for the main (and only) event: the sunrise.

Once the sun started coming up, I realized why people recommend this experience. It was pretty spectacular. We were above the clouds so we got to experience the sun coming up over the horizon and the clouds.

What a sight to behold!

The Beatles said it best…”Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo). Here comes the sun, and I say. It’s all right…

Haleakala Sunrise in Maui

Haleakala Sunrise in Maui
So amazing!
This group was singing as the sun came up. It made the experience even more special.
The telescope at the top of the volcano.

Experiencing the Haleakala Sunrise as a Solo Traveler

While I was not on this trip solo, I always try to look at these activities from the perspective of a solo female traveler because that is usually how I travel. I would not have wanted to complete the 1.5 hour drive in the dark to the top of the volcano on my own. However, I don’t like to drive and try to avoid it whenever possible. My friend did the driving when we went and she was fine. I think she would have been fine solo as well. If I wanted to do it solo, I would go as part of an organized Haleakala Sunrise tour, such as this one. Obviously organized tours have their pros and cons. Being on someone else’s time table can be annoying. In a case like this, it would be worth it for me.

My Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed our time experiencing the sunrise on Halekala. I am not sure where else I will have the chance to see the sun rise over the clouds so that alone made it worth our time.

However, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list of “things that I must do in Maui” if I had less than a week to explore the island. This is a weather dependent activity. If you choose it over another activity that you really want to do but the weather isn’t cooperative, that could be a bummer. Also, there was a lot of waiting around for a sunrise that was over in 20 minutes or so. You can go exploring and hiking around Haleakala National Park afterwards but we were cold and hungry so we chose not to.

If you want to check out other things to do while visiting Maui, you can read about our experience whale watching here and things you should know before traveling the Road to Hana here.

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Haleakala Sunrise in Maui