Haleakala National Park

Hawaii is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, but quite honestly didn’t know if I’d ever have the chance to visit.  Fast forward many years, and my dream became a reality when I booked a trip to Maui for my 30th birthday!!  This was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. If I had known this was going to be my only vacation of 2020, or what the status of the world would be not even 2 months later, I may have extended my vacation by a few weeks… or forever 😉

My mom and two of her best friends joined my best friend and I on this trip, making it an official girl’s trip.  We rented a condo in South Kihei, and it was absolutely perfect.  Our condo was within walking distance of the beach, local coffee shops, and restaurants.  We saw whales from our lanai (porch) while drinking our morning coffee, and had beautiful views of the sunset in the evenings.  The snorkeling was magical- I swam with sea turtles, tropical fish, and even an octopus!! Ever since I moved to the mountains a few years ago, I’ve become very fond of them, but my heart will always lie within the ocean. It’s my happy place for sure.  I’d love to write more about what we did on Maui aside from the National Parks, but for now the rest of this post will focus on Haleakala National Park.

Summit District

Halealaka National Park is divided into two different areas, the Summit District and the Kipahulu District.  We ventured to the Summit District first.  The summit of Haleakala volcano stands at 10,023 ft of elevation, and draws hundreds of people for sunrise and sunset.  Viewing the sunrise is so popular, it’s now required to obtain a permit to try to control the crowds.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a morning person, and I’m even less fond of crowds.  Our plan was to attempt viewing the sunset from the summit instead.  Unfortunately for us, the day we chose to explore this part of the park, the summit and surrounding area was nearly completely cloud covered.  We weren’t able to see much of anything on our drive up, which consisted of many switchbacks and tight turns.  Once we entered the park, we stopped at the visitor’s center, walked around, looked for some Nene’s (birds), and then ate lunch.  We then continued our climb (drive) to the summit and observatory area.  Even though it was still mostly cloud covered, it was still a really cool area with a few trails to different viewpoints.  The summit area can be 20-30 degrees cooler than the base, so it’s important to pack layers, or at least a jacket!  We hiked the Pa Ka`oao trail, which offered views down into the crater.  Unfortunately, the clouds continued to stick around, and our plan to view the sunset wasn’t looking great.  We eventually relented and made our way back down the mountain.  We would soon explore the Kipahulu District later on!

Kipahulu District

The Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park is located 12 miles past Hana.  Hana town is 52 miles from Kahului (northeast Maui), and the road consists of 620 hair-pin turns and 59 one-way bridges.  Looking back, it was probably good we prepped with the drive to the Summit District earlier in the trip, because the Road to Hana was a whole different beast.  I can get extremely car sick, so I volunteered to be the driver.  Prior to leaving, we did some research to make sure we stopped at the “must-sees,” while still maximizing our time knowing the end goal was to make it to Kipahulu and back before dark.

Throughout the drive we were blessed with breathtaking views of rugged coastlines, lush vegetation, incredible waterfalls, sea turtles, a black sand beach, and so much more.  We already had ourselves a full day before we even made it to the park entrance.  The Pipiwai trail was at the top of my list in Kipahulu because not only did the trail lead you to a gorgeous waterfall, but you got to hike through a bamboo forest to get there.  It’s a moderate, 4-mile RT hike, and I totally recommend it!  Another noteworthy hike in this district is the Pools of ‘Ohe’o, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools.  After spending a few hours in the Kipahulu District, we made it back down to Kihei a little after dark, success!!

The different districts of Haleakala are vastly different, and I highly recommend checking them both out if your time allows. 

Below are a few of my Road to Hana favorites:

  1. Ho’okipa beach.  Full of sea turtles and surfers, what’s better??  Located at the beginning of your journey, just past the town of Pa’ia. 
  2. Ke’anae Aboretum.  Botanical garden that is free of charge- has incredible rainbow eucalyptus trees that are out of this world!
  3. Ke’anae Peninsula.  Had some of the most scenic views in my opinion.  Also, in close proximity to Aunty Sandy’s food stand with some of the best banana bread and fruit smoothies.
  4. Waianapanapa State Park.  Black sand beach- one of a kind.  Must see!!
  5. Kipahulu District.  Haleakala National Park, 12 miles past Hana Town.

There are obviously many, many more stops you can make along the way.  However, limited parking makes stopping at all the viewpoints a bit problematic.  Be sure to start your day a little earlier than you can tolerate, and try to make the drive on a week day versus weekend.  I would also recommend packing some food if you plan to make it a full day like we did.  While there are various food stands along the road, we found they closed a lot earlier than anticipated.  Per recommendation, we also downloaded the GyPSy app prior to our departure, which acted as a tour guide along the way. 

Hope these tips are helpful & you enjoy exploring Maui as much as we did! ❤

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