Haleakala National Park has the largest concentration of endangered species of any National Park. highway climbs to 10,000’ from sea level, attaining this height in a shorter distance than any other road in the world. was named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980.
The Historical Beginnings & Uses Of Mount Haleakala
The history of the National Park starts with its rise from the ocean approximately 1 million years ago. Successive lava flows continuously built up the land. As the height increased the mountain began to create it’s own weather from the moisture laden sea breezes and trade winds. Gulches and valleys were formed by erosion from the rains captured by the mountain slopes. By the time the first wave of polynesian settlers arrived between 100 and 600 A.D. the landscape of the park was sparse with upland forests taking hold at the highest level up the mountain and mature. The first polynesian settlers surely declared it sacred, as was common with large mountains in ancient times. In the Hawaiian language Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and legend tells of the demi-god Maui (a powerful and super-natural god known throughout polynesia) who lassoed the sun to slow its progress across the sky. This enabled his mother (and consequently the Hawaiian people) to live more comfortably on the land.
Found within Haleakala National Park boundaries;
- Numerous archaeological sites including heiau, platforms, pictographs.
- Slingstones have been found, used to hunt birds for their feathers used in art and clothing
- Sacred places in the crater where ceremonies were to be performed
- Dead were buried in remote, isolated places making the crater a favorite burial spot
- Transportation route – emergency access to east Maui
Haleakala National Park’s Weather & Environments
The weather along the slopes of of the mountain and within the valley vary widely, as most alpine regions of the planet do. Of the 20 recognized climate zones on earth Maui has 17 of them. Many of these “microclimates” are scattered throughout The Park at both the Crater and Kipahulu districts of the park. Experience many of them on the well-maintained hiking trails within the park.
Visitors are often surprised at how cold it can be at 10,000 ft…even though the tropical climate at beach averages around 75 to 85 degrees year round. At the summit the weather can be highly unpredictable and can change fast. Freezing wind chill temperatures can happen at any time but for the most part summers are dry and warm. Winter months can be wet, windy and cold and there is usually at least one day per year that the summit gets a dusting of snow!
The summit area rises 10,023 feet above the ocean looks down into a massive crater some 7 miles across, 2 miles wide and close to 3000 ft deep. At the summit the expansive views take in four islands on a clear day making it one of the most impressive experiences in all of Hawaii. Well over half of all Maui visitors visit Haleakala Crater. They make the arduous journey up the switchback road rising from sea level to 10,000 ft in only 38 miles…one of the shortest ascending roads to this elevation in the world.
The inside of Haleakala crater is actually not a crater at all. What you’re looking at from the summit is two separate parts of the volcano that collapsed into each other creating a valley. Subsequent eruptions formed the cinder cones you see on the crater floor. Erosion over thousands of years formed the flowing colors of that seem to have been poured down the crater rim. There is camping and rustic cabins within the crater for the brave and adventurous types as well as ranger guided day hikes from the summit.
The earliest radiocarbon dating of human activity can be found on the Hana side of Haleakala National Park (Kipahulu and the Pools of Oheo area). Early polynesians arrived here around 1100 to 1300 A.D. It is estimated that the mountain may have been active during this time (erupting 10 times in the last 1000 years) which may be why it took hundreds of years before evidence of Hawaiians venturing into the summit regions appeared. Mostly Hawaiians entered the park’s wilderness and crater for ceremonial purposes and for religious instruction and training. Today the Pools of Oheo in the Kipahulu district of the park is one of the most popular areas for visitors in this part of the park.
What To Expect At The Summit Of Haleakala
The weather at the summit is constantly changing and pretty tough to accurately forecast. This is because the mountain creates it’s own weather every day. Light rains and winds at sea level create scenes of rainbows and softly waving palm trees, but at 10,000 ft these become driving rain and winds that can reach 70 to 80 miles an hour! Always check the National Weather Service for the summit forecast or you can get up to the minute conditions from the observatories of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy’s website.
By sunset (which are also spectacular from up here) the summit is cooling quickly back down to the mid 50’s to low 60’s depending on the elevation. Two or so hours after sunset you’ll be scrambling for a jacket as the 50’s turn to 40’s rather quickly. However full moons are amazing from the summit (with guided ranger hikes too!) and if you time it right you can watch the sunset and the full moonrise at the same time!
At sunrise the temperature averages in the high 30’s to low 40’s but it rises quickly after sun up. By noon on a clear day the crater can be a balmy 65 to 75 degrees. The sun’s radiation is intense at this elevation so be sure to use sunscreen.. Average temperatures during the day can range wildly at the summit and are mostly influenced by the clouds. The radiation from the sun is intense up at the top of the mountain and a cool 70 degrees in bright sun can feel like 80. If it’s cloudy it can be cold and damp and that 60 or 70 degrees can feel like 40.
As the day progresses on the upper slopes and summit of Haleakala the mountain begins to create her own weather. If you’re up here during the day you can see the clouds floating into the slopes and moving up the mountains as an intermittent fog bank. It’s as if the island is actually breathing in and out. It’s an inspiring and peaceful event to witness!
The park headquarters and entrance are located at around the 7000 ft elevation. Exhibits and displays here are very informative and you may even see the resident Nene Goose (Hawaii’s state bird) roaming around the grounds. Temperatures here are around 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the summit with several day hiking trails nearby at Hosmer Grove Campground.
Most of Maui at sea level is a steady 75 to 85 degrees year around. This is not the case at the summit or in the crater. In the winter months it can be cold enough to snow with winds reaching 50 to 80 miles per hour in which case the park can close. Keep an eye on the weather before heading up the mountain through the National Weather Services summit forecast page.
If you live in Maui or have visited at different times of the year you know it’s pretty consistently beautiful weather. In the summer months the weather is a bit warmer (upper 80’s) than the winter months (mid 70’s) at sea level. However the farther upcountry you travel the more Maui starts to show a real transition into seasons.
For instance Kula (the area you’ll pass through on the way up to Haleakala) can have misty rains every afternoon year round and winter mornings can start in the 40 degree range and be in the 70’s by noon. Summers upcountry are a favorite with the locals as the cool weather can be a nice relief from the hot humid beaches at sea level. Kula’s elevations range from about 2000 to 4000 ft so the change in weather from here to the summit at 10,000 ft can be huge! Expect wind, rain and snow in the winter months and high winds and misty clouds on the slopes and inside the crater even in the summer months.
Hawaii is full of stunning natural wonders but one of the most impressive of all in the islands is Haleakala National Park. Split into two distinct areas this Haleakala National Park covers more than 27 square miles at the summit and 19 square miles at Kipahulu Valley which runs from the top of the volcano’s eastern slope down to the ocean at the Pools of Oheo. Of this 46 square miles approximately 38 square miles of the park is wilderness area.