Visiting Haleakala National Park is a bucket list item for most visitors to Maui. There aren’t many places where you can get such an up close view to a dormant volcano. And visiting the volcano during sunrise or sunset is an incredible experience. Watching the sky light up as the sun rises or sets can be awe inspiring. 

But what’s better: going to sunrise or sunset? We’ll walk you through how to make that decision and some tips for going at either time. 

 

Where is Haleakala National Park located?

Haleakala volcano makes up more than 75% of the island of Maui. So there’s a good chance you’ll be driving on Haleakala at some point during your trip. But getting to Haleakala National Park is a journey from most of the resort areas on the island. While it’s not far from Wailea as the crow flies, you’ll still need to venture past Kahului into upcountry and then climb the mountain to the park. 

You can estimate that without traffic, it’ll take 1 hour and 15 minutes from Wailea to the Haleakala park entrance and two hours from Ka’anapali. 

 

Did you know that Maui was actually formed by two volcanoes? Read more about Maui volcanoes

 

Is Haleakala better at sunrise or sunset?

Visiting Haleakala is spectacular at any time of day. But when all the conditions are perfect, watching the sunrise can be a much more vivid and exciting experience. But that’s not to say that sunrise is always better than sunset. Sunrise reservations can be difficult to get, it is the most crowded time of the day, and the weather is unpredictable, meaning you might not actually get to see the sunrise through the clouds. Watching the sunset instead still provides an awe inspiring view, and you don’t have to wake up at 3 am to see it. 

So which one is right for your trip? Let’s go a little more in depth to help you make that decision. 

haleakala sunrise or sunset

 

Reasons to visit Haleakala at sunrise:

  • You’ve gotten a reservation: Going to Haleakala sunrise requires a reservation and these reservations can be difficult to get. If you’ve already gotten a reservation, one of the most difficult hurdles for getting to see the sunrise is done. 
  • You are jet lagged and up at 3 am anyway: Many visitors battle jet lag on their first few days to the island (especially if they’re coming from the east coast). If you think you’ll be up early with nothing to do, a trip up to Haleakala is a great way to make the most of your jet lagged days. 
  • It’s a bucket list item: A lot of people have Haleakala sunrise as a bucket list item for their Maui vacation. If seeing the sunrise is going to make your trip, plan ahead and just go for it. 

A note to anyone traveling to Haleakala sunrise: the weather doesn’t always cooperate and there is a chance that you plan your day perfectly and you watch a totally gray, cloudy sunrise. Be prepared for that and if it turns out beautifully, you’ll be that much more excited to witness it. 

Related read: How many days should you spend on Maui?

 

What time should you leave for Haleakala sunrise?

Depending on the time of year that you’re visiting and where you’re staying, you may need to leave very early. You can check sunrise times for Haleakala on this website, but take special note of the first light time. 

For example, in mid-June sunrise is at 5:44 but first light is at 5:20. That means you’ll want to get there well before 5:20 to make sure you find a good spot and are ready to see the first light breaking through. 

Depending on where you are staying, it might take 2 hours to reach the summit Visitor’s Center (one of the most popular spots for watching the sunrise). That means that if you’re visiting mid-June, you should leave by 3 am at the latest, to make sure you get there in time for the first light. 

 

How do you get Haleakala sunrise reservations?

There are three ways you can snag a Haleakala sunrise reservation: online 60 days in advance, online 2 days in advance, and through a guided tour. 

  1. 60 days in advance: Haleakala sunrise reservations are released 60 days in advance through their online booking system. These tickets are released at 7 am HST and are usually sold out quickly (within 15 minutes). So a lot of pre-planning goes into getting these tickets. 
  2. 2 days in advance: Another smaller group of tickets are released 2 days in advance through the online booking system. So if you missed your chance 60 days in advance, this is your chance to scoop up another ticket. 
  3. Guided tour: There are a lot of benefits booking a guided tour through a tour company. Two big ones are you don’t need to drive at 3 am and you don’t need to try to get a sunrise reservation. They handle that detail for you. If you want to go the guided tour route, we recommend this Haleakala Sunrise Tour

 

Is it worth going to Haleakala after sunrise?

If you can’t make it for sunrise, visiting Haleakala is still an amazing experience. There are plenty of hiking trails, views of the crater, and more endangered species than any other National Park. It’s a great place to spend a few hours or even a full day. Learn more about hiking, camping and exploring Haleakala National Park

But don’t just drive to Haleakala and then back home. In our Maui itinerary, we give you plenty of options for exploring upcountry and Haleakala together. 

If you’re not convinced that Haleakala is worth seeing in the daylight, check out our video of our family day trip up Haleakala:

Reasons to visit Haleakala at sunset:

  • You don’t need a reservation: If you weren’t able to grab a reservation or you prefer to just be a little more flexible with your vacation schedule, the benefit of going for sunset is that you don’t need a reservation. You still get to watch the sky light up as the sun goes down (rather than up) and get a spectacular view. But no reservations are needed. 
  • You can check weather conditions before going: Haleakala isn’t always sunny. In fact, there are many days that it’s covered in thick clouds and your view would be pretty terrible. When you go up at sunset, you get a chance to check the weather and cloud coverage before committing to make the journey up the mountain. 
  • You can make a day of it without being tired: Waking up at 3 am is tough for most people and there are a lot of tired travelers making their way down the hill back to their hotel after sunrise. When you go for sunset, you can enjoy a day in upcountry before heading to the park for sunset. And bonus: you’re not exhausted from a 3 am wakeup. 

 

What time should you leave for Haleakala sunset?

Just like with sunrise, it would be a bummer to miss the main event, the sunset. So you’re going to want to make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get up to the summit Visitor’s Center. That can take more than two hours if you’re heading from West Maui. And you’re going to want to add in a time buffer for getting tickets at the entrance (there can be a line sometimes) and making sure you scout out the best place to watch the sun go down. So if sunset is at 7 pm, the latest you will want to leave is 4 pm. 

But instead of stressing about timing, why not make a day of a trip up Haleakala? We have an excursion day in our Maui itinerary that takes you through upcountry sights and restaurants before ending your day at Haleakala for sunset. 

 

What should you wear for Haleakala sunrise or sunset?

One thing that you don’t want to come unprepared for is just how cold it is on the top of Haleakala. I know, you’re visiting from a cold climate. But the wind up on the volcano can be fierce and it can occasionally snow at the Haleakala summit in the winter

Bring layers: a warm jacket, pants, shoes, hats, and even gloves. Pack a blanket or two. It’s better to be over prepared than underprepared. 

 

Is the drive to Haleakala dangerous?

The drive to Haleakala isn’t very dangerous, but there are a few things that can make it uncomfortable for drivers. First, the road is very windy and at points you’ll be taking a switchback up the mountain. Second, there are often other things in the road that you’ll need to watch out for like cattle, bikers, or even skateboarders. And third, if you’re going up for sunrise or coming down after sunset you’ll want to take it slow because it is pitch black. 

 

Can you do Haleakala on your own?

You can definitely do Haleakala sunrise on your own. This is a cost-effective way to experience sunrise — on your own and at your own pace. But you’ll want to do your own research and planning before heading out on this adventure. Some tips if you’re visiting on your own:

  • Make sure you get that reservation ahead of time, so you’re not turned away at the park entrance after leaving your bed at 3 am. 
  • Fill up with gas the night before and bring plenty of snacks. There’s no place to stop for food or gas inside the park and you don’t want to have to worry about that when you’re catching the sunrise. 
  • Get there early so you can scope out the best spot. It does get very crowded. 
  • Plan a few more stops on your way back down the mountain after sunrise. Head out for a short hike, hit up a breakfast spot, and stop in Makawao. 

 

If you need help planning a trip to Haleakala on your own, our Maui itinerary gives you the details you need to make a fun day out of the excursion up the mountain.  And if you’d prefer to head out with a guide, check out this guided tour company who specializes in small group excursions.

Erica Gellerman

Erica Gellerman

I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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