Being Prepared In The National Park
If you’re planning on hiking or camping within the crater there will be quite a bit of preparation and gear you will need depending on the amount of time of your stay. Below is a list of gear and preparations that the park services recommends for overnight camping in Haleakala crater’s wilderness areas and cabins:
The Wilderness Area is remote and experiences unpredictable weather. Temperatures vary from 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Plan for rain at all times of year. If it is stormy, winds can exceed 80 miles per hour with temperatures dropping well below freezing.
Hiking trails may be steep. Terrain may include loose cinders and/or rocks. Change in altitude can be from a high of 9,780ft to a low of 6,380ft.
Allow for adequate travel time. Keep in mind that it can take twice as long going up the steeper trails as it does to hike down due to the altitude.
At just over 10,000 ft elevation Haleakala (which in Hawaiian means “House of the Sun”) National Park is one of the top 5 things to do in Maui. It is one of the few places in the world where you can drive from sea level to 10,000 ft in less than 40 miles. The switchback road up the mountain is a spectacular drive. Drive carefully up this winding, hairpin turning road especially in the winter as it can get cold enough to snow and the wind can be vicious at the higher elevations. Winter months are also the Nene geese’s nesting season (the Nene is Hawaii’s state bird and a relative of the Canadian geese) so watch for them along the road above the Park Headquarters. This bird is just one of several native and non-native plants and animals you may encounter traveling up the slopes of Haleakala volcano.
Haleakala National Park overnight facilities include a drive in campground at Hosmer Grove which is pretty basic. One of the great things about camping at Hosmer Grove Campground is the park rangers do a night skywatching tour. It’s a short walk after sunset from the campground to an open field where everyone lays down on their backs and the rangers point out many constellations including the stars that guided the original Hawaiians to the islands from ancient Polynesia.
It was amazing to learn how far the Polynesians ventured into the pacific and it is speculated they may have gone as far as South America and the Northwest Coast of America. Very cool information.
The drive-in campground is located at around 6800 feet elevation near the Park Headquarters. This means the nights are chilly so bring a jacket, warm hat and even gloves if you plan on staying overnight. The parking lot at the summit is about a 20 minute drive and the stars, especially the milky way, shine incredibly bright at this altitude. If you’re into night photography be sure to bring extra batteries as the cold drains them fast.
The crater itself has two main trails down into it from the summit. Halemu’u trail is a steep switchback trail down a rocky cliff and the other, called Sliding Sands Trail, is longer but fairly smooth going. The parks service often does a full moon hike down the switchback trail which is an amazing night hike down and back.
Aside from these great day and night hikes you can also camp within the crater where there are several wilderness campgrounds with wilderness cabins available at each. The cabins are open all year and are available for use by advanced reservation lottery. The summer months are best for backpacking and camping inside the crater as winter storms can be so cold at this elevation that snow can appear at any time. There are a total of 3 cabins inside the crater and to reach these cabins you must hike a minimum of 4 miles to Holua or 10 miles to Paliku.
For an extended stay of several days it is possible to hike down sliding sands trail to the Paliku Cabin then the next day to the Holua Cabin and back out the next day up the switchback Halemau’u Trail to the parking lot. Each cabin is allocated to one party as a unit, with a capacity of up to 12 people per night. Unreal Hawaiʻi published a great article about a 3 day backpacking trip into the crater. You can read about that journey HERE.
Campers should have provisions and equipment appropriate for cold, wet weather. There are no open fires allowed in the Wilderness areas, so portable camp stoves and a fuel supply are recommended. These campgrounds require a permit, available at Park Headquarters between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm daily. There are no additional fees for these camping permits. Space at both campgrounds is limited, and no advance reservations are taken for wilderness camping.
So there you have it. Even though this is a lot of information, it’s really just the basics of where to hike within Haleakala National Park. Just remember to always be respectful of no trespassing signs (they’re there for good reasons you may not be aware of) and stay on the paths in the national park. Above all else, enjoy yourself and be safe!