Should You Do Haleakala Sunrise and Road to Hana in the Same Day?


Visiting Haleakala and Hana on the Same Day


While it is technically possible to visit both Haleakala National Park and drive the road to Hana on the same day, it means you will be spending a lot of time in the car and missing out on some of the more interesting experiences that would be available to those who can spend more time on each activity.

However, there is plenty to see from the car as you drive to the summit of Haleakala and through the lush rainforest on the road to Hana, so if a day in the car (and out of the sun) to see some jaw-dropping sights is what you’re looking for, or you just want to cross as much as you can off your Maui to-do list in one day, you will not be disappointed. You may be a bit rushed, though.

A GPS Tip for the Trip

Whether you plan to tackle both in the same day or prefer to dedicate more time to each, I highly recommend downloading a GPS-based app to accompany you for the drive. We downloaded the GyPSy app (it was $9.99 at the time) and were pleased with the commentary and tips. There were a few turn-offs we otherwise would have missed, and some we skipped thanks to the suggestions. We also appreciated having GPS and commentary in areas where we didn’t have cell service — you download the content to your phone, and if you keep your phone plugged in and charging, you’ll have no problems.

I’ve heard the Shaka app (“made by locals”) is also great, but we haven’t used it; we were thinking that the locals might not want tourists finding the best spots, so we chose the GyPSy app instead, ha.

Whichever one you choose, keep in mind that the apps provide helpful navigation tips and interesting background information and are significantly cheaper than a bus tour. 

Below are some itinerary options for your marathon day in the car (likely a rental jeep, because everybody wants a jeep).

If You Want to Do the Haleakala Sunrise Before Road to Hana

If you want to cross as much off your Maui to-do list in one day, you’re going to have to start early.  Sixty days early, to be exact. Vehicle passes for sunrise at Haleakala are available on recreation.gov beginning at 7am HAWAII TIME, 60 days before your visit. So grab a calendar, count the days and time difference, and set a reminder on your phone.

There’s a nominal fee for the sunrise pass (it was $1 when we went), which does not include park entrance fees.

On the day of your visit, bring your national parks annual pass or a credit card to pay the park entrance fee at the gate and confirm your sunrise reservation. You won’t be admitted to the park for sunrise (3am-7am) without it. The gate ranger will ask for your name and cross it off the list, and away you go up the mountain. If you do not have an annual parks pass (we had one, woohoo), when you pay admission to the park, your pass is valid for three days and unlimited park entries during that time. So if you decide to drive beyond the road to Hana and hike the Pipiwai trail, you’ll have “free” access to the Haleakala National Park from the other side of the island.

For additional information about Haleakala, including entry fees, visit https://www.nps.gov/hale/index.htm

Start Driving at 3am

THREE AM??  Yes, because there’s also stargazing at Haleakala. And you should plan to arrive at the summit well before sunrise, so might as well catch some stars while you’re there. 

Haleakala Sunrise & Sunset Times

January 1: 6:56am/6:00pm
January 15: 6:58am/6:10pm
July 1: 5:41am/7:16pm
July 15: 5:46am/7:15pm
Feb. 1: 6:55am/6:21pm
Feb 15: 6:48am/6:29pm
Aug. 1: 5:52am/7:09pm
Aug. 15: 5:57am/7:01pm
March 1: 6:39am/6:35pm
March 15: 6:27am/6:40pm
Sept. 1: 6:02am/6:49pm
Sept. 15: 6:06am/6:33pm
April 1: 6:12am/6:49pm
April 15: 6:00am/6:49pm
Oct. 1: 6:10am/6:19pm
Oct. 15: 6:14am/6:06pm
May 1: 5:50am/6:55pm
May 15: 5:42am/7:01pm
Nov. 1: 6:20am/5:55pm
Nov. 15: 6:28am/5:49pm
June 1: 5:38am/7:08pm
June 15: 5:38am/7:12pm
Dec. 1: 6:38am/5:47pm
Dec. 15: 6:47am/5:50pm

Allow at least 40 minutes to drive from the park entrance to the summit and expect some traffic at the park entrance as everyone stops to pay and confirm their reservation. (We left Kula at 4:45am, and just barely made it to the summit for the sunrise.) Once you’re in the park, there’s a lot of driving, including many switchbacks and a lot of elevation gain before you arrive at the top.  Once you’ve arrived, wear all your layers (brrr, it’s cold up there…) and enjoy the sunrise!

Note: The temperature drops 3º for every 1000 feet of elevation gain, so at the Haleakala Visitor Center’s 9,740-foot elevation (where most people watch the sunrise) it’s about 30º colder than at sea level. Be sure to bring pants, shoes, layers of clothing, and blankets to insulate yourself from the likely 40-degree temperatures.

Starting the Drive to Hana from Haleakala

But don’t enjoy it for too long, you signed up for a busy day.  When leaving the summit, plan for an hour and fifteen minute drive to get to Paia, a great starting point for the road to Hana. 

Paia is also a great place to grab food (recommend Mana Foods — they have the best price for Whole30 mayo!) and gas before heading east to Hana. It’s best to plan out the must-stop places ahead of time and use your GPS-based app to navigate.  Starting later in the morning after sunrise (anytime after 6:30am) means you’ll be starting with the crowd. Because everybody thinks 6:30am is a good time to leave. Expect traffic and limited parking at the stops along the way, plus if you leave on a weekday, prepare to meet locals commuting along the road to Hana.

Even if you drive to Hana without making any stops, plan for at least two hours each way (from Paia) to make the trip with your rental car and relationship intact (the road to Hana is sometimes called the road to divorce).  The road is incredibly curvy with many one lane bridges handling two-way traffic, so there really is no rushing the drive. Alternatively, some folks may decide they get the gist of the road to Hana by driving half way and coming back, which certainly saves time.

Other Pro Tips for Squeezing it All In

  • Take advantage of any jet lag if you’re visiting from an earlier time zone and plan to visit the Haleakala sunrise the first or second day of your trip. 
  • Stay in Kula the night before your sunrise summit day to reduce your driving time to the Haleakala summit (compared to starting from other places around Maui).
  • Don’t forget to bring a phone charger for the car so you’ll never be without GPS.

Summary of Your Sample Itinerary

  • Arrive at the Haleakala National Park entrance 1.5 hours before sunrise
  • Drive to the summit (45ish minutes)
  • Enjoy the sunrise until 8am, depart for Paia
  • 9:30am-ish arrive in Paia, grab gas, food at Mana Foods, etc.
  • 10:30am start driving the road to Hana
  • 1:30pm turn around and drive back

Itinerary Variations

Option #1: Skip the Sunrise but See the Haleakala Summit Before Driving the Road to Hana


Not a morning person?  You can enter Haleakala National Park after 7am without a reservation.  Arrive at the entrance at 7am, allow 45 minutes for the drive to/from the summit and enjoy the views!  This would put you about an hour behind the sunrise crew, but it’s still manageable, especially if you drive less of the road to Hana, if you plan to stay out later, or if you’re staying somewhere closer to the road to Hana (e.g., Haiku, Paia, or Hana).

Option #2: Drive the Road to Hana Before Catching a Haleakala Sunset

Alternatively, you could start your road to Hana adventure at sunrise and reverse-engineer your day to end up at the Haleakala summit for sunset and subsequent stargazing.  Unlike sunrise at Haleakala — which is better viewed from the crater overlook at almost 10,000 feet— the sunset is best from the lava rock ridge right next to the summit parking lot, where the view looks west toward the island of Lanai and Pacific Ocean below. Choose your own adventure!

One of the main benefits is that sunset doesn’t require a permit. One drawback, however, is that you may feel rushed on the road to Hana if you want to make it to the Haleakala summit for sunset. 

To make this option work, plan your stops ahead of time and commit to your schedule.

Option #3: Want More Outside Time? Spend One Hour at the Haleakala Summit Area of Haleakala National Park

Aside from time spent watching the sunrise (or sunset) from the summit, you could supplement your visit with a short out and back hike on the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) trail to briefly immerse yourself in the otherworldly landscape.  This trail starts near the summit parking lot.

Alternatively, you could stop (on the way up or down) at the Leleiwi Overlook for another spectacular view of the crater.  There’s a short, rocky hike from the Leleiwi Overlook parking area to the overlook.

Finally, you could stop in at Hosmer Grove near the park entrance for a short, partially shaded hike through non-native trees.

Road to Hana Stops: Some Initial Thoughts

Parking at some of the stops will be tight, especially at the beginning when everyone is Captain Ambitious and wanting to make all the stops. 

If you’re planning to drive to Hana (or halfway) and back, you can always stop on the way back.

Mile Markers – Some Popular Stops on the Road to Hana Include:

  • (mile marker 7) the painted forest, where you can see rainbow eucalyptus trees;
  • (mile marker 9.5) Waikamoi Ridge Trail, where you can do a short hike and have a picnic;
  • (mile marker 11.5) Haipuaena Falls, where you can see… <drumroll>…a waterfall;
  • (mile marker 12) Kaumahina State Wayside, where you can park easily, use the restroom, and get a decent ocean view;
  • (mile marker 16.8) Keanae Arboretum, for a short walk and more rainbow eucalyptus trees;
  • (mile marker 16.9, very close to the arboretum) Keanae Peninsula for great ocean views and a historic church;
  • (mile marker 19.5) Waikani Falls, for waterfalls!
  • (mile marker 42) Pipiwai Trail! (And Ohe’o Gulch aka Seven Sacred Pools) – great 4 mile RT hike up the back of Haleakala through Makahiku Falls and a bamboo forest, to view the breathtaking Waimoku Falls.

Additional Questions

Do You Recommend Doing the Road to Hana and Haleakala Summit in the Same Day?

Generally, no. If you have two days to fully explore Haleakala and make a few stops along the Road to Hana, then I suggest you do so. Otherwise, if you have just a day to pack in as much as you can, you’ll miss out on some great hiking and exploring in Haleakala National Park — you could easily spend a few days there if you’re into hiking and beautiful sights. You’ll also miss out on hiking and exploring all the waterfall stops on the road to Hana, which could extend your drive by hours (or days, because you can stay overnight in Hana, you know).

Road to Hana VS Haleakala: If You Have One Day and Can Choose Only One

The Sophie’s Choice question for all travelers short on time: which to choose? I know which one I would choose, but that doesn’t help you. I’ll outline some considerations to make your decision a bit simpler (or unbearably difficult):

Road to Hana:

  • lots of driving
  • jungle and bugs and nature
  • secret hikes
  • more rain, usually at night
  • see the “real” Maui before development removed all personality
  • Haleakala National Park is accessible from the other side of Hana, beyond Kaupo

Haleakala

  • Sunrise Maui Haleakala at altitude: amazing views (check the weather and crater cam first)
  • hiking, either through a seemingly Martian or Lunar-like landscape that is the crater; or, checking out the more accessible Hosmer Grove and its alien tree species
  • some free camping at Hosmer Grove
  • star-gazing
  • it’s a volcano that last erupted around 200 years ago

Best Day to Drive Road to Hana

I’d suggest avoiding the weekend crowd and heading east on the road (drive clockwise around the island) to Hana on a weekday morning. Let’s say, on a Wednesday.

What Things To Do at Haleakala National Park?

If you want to beat the rush for the sunrise, do some stargazing at 10,000ft on the summit of Haleakala. There are a few world-renown observatories on Haleakala: “Because of the remarkable clarity, dryness, and stillness of the air, and its location above one-third of Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the limited light pollution, the summit of Haleakala is one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes.”

Rent a pair of 10×50 or 7×50 binoculars at one of the island dive shops, pick up a star map at the Park Headquarters Visitor Center or the Haleakala Visitor Center, and see if you can find the moons of Jupiter.

https://www.nps.gov/hale/planyourvisit/skywatching.htm

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I like to share my travel experiences and save others some time, money, and effort in planning their own adventures.

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