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Haleakala at Sunset: Ultimate Guide to Watching Pure Magic in Hawaii

Few things are more magical on this earth than Haleakala at sunset! The breathtaking views of watching the sun set above the clouds is a phenomenal experience you’ll remember forever. 

This is your guide to everything you need to know about watching the sunset at Haleakala National Park.

mountainside in dark with sunset in distance above the clouds
Haleakala at sunset views 😍

This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, see my disclosures.

Visitors come to Haleakala National Park and witness her beauty any time of day. With amazing hiking trails, waterfalls and out-of-this-world typography, it’s a unique place to visit. And sunset Haleakala is an amazing experience!

As someone who has witnessed both Haleakala sunrise and Haleakala at sunset, this post covers why sunset is a great time to go, Haleakala sunset tips and how to plan your perfect adventure in the park!

Haleakala National Park in Maui

crowd of people standing atop Haleakala watching the sunset orange and blue sky
Haleakala at sunset really knows how to draw a crowd!

Visitors flock to the summit of Haleakala for sunrise. And it’s truly an incredible experience! You can literally watch the sunrise above the crater.

As the sun peeks over the clouds, it will take your breath away!

But the Haleakala crater sunset is equally as beautiful, and with a fraction of the crowds!

Located on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Haleakala is situated on the eastern side and covers 30,183 acres. There are actually 2 main districts within the park.

The Summit District has excellent hiking opportunities and some of the best views of the island. The Kipahulu District is the coastal area that’s much more remote and offers hiking, waterfalls and coastal experiences.

Visiting Haleakala National Park is one of the best things to do in Maui on a budget!

Haleakala is a sacred place

sunset Haleakala volcanic rock above clouds with horizon in distance with blue sky
Just above the clouds in Haleakala National Park

Haleakala is special to native Hawaiians throughout history and to this day. In native Hawaiian language, “Haleakala” means “House of the Sun.” The demigod Maui seized the sun and created longer days, according to legend.

For centuries, only priests were allowed to walk on the summit because it was so sacred. These days native Hawaiians are allowed to conduct traditional Hawaiian cultural practices within the entire park. It’s important for visitors to respect this history and cultural significance.

Now, the summit and crater are a national park and an epicenter for astronomers. Visitors are only allowed on hiking trails, walking paths and other public areas.

photo of Haleakala national park sign on sunny day with blue sky and trees surrounding it
Arriving at the park, you know it’s going to be great!

Map of Haleakala at sunset

It’s a big place! Haleakala National Park covers a large portion of Maui, and the Kipahulu and Summit Districts are really far apart. If you’re a visual person like I am, here is a map to help you plan your time in the park.

The orange icons are the suggested Haleakala crater sunset locations (more on that in a bit). The blue icons are nearby landmarks. Zoom in to see more detail!

Haleakala sunrise vs sunset

sunrise above the clouds blue sky pink orange purple
Haleakala sunrise over the crater is magnificent! 😍

The first time I visited Haleakala National Park it was for a sunrise bike tour. We watched the sunrise then biked down Healeakala. I’d recommend it 10/10! Amazing.

You can also do a simple sunrise tour with breakfast or including the nearby towns. Based on your schedule, do what works best for you. Both are magical!

These days, since sunrise on Haleakala has become so popular, you’ll need a reservation with the National Park Service, or a paid tour to access the park for sunrise. And if you do that, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night to get there for sunrise.

Pro tip: if you choose to see Haleakala at sunrise, definitely sign up for a tour where you bike down the mountain once the sun is up. It’s one of my favorite memories of Maui!

Haleakala at sunset is way more low key

sunset Haleakala with people on side of mountain with clouds and orange sunset in distance
Sunset Haleakala – with a fraction of the people vs sunrise!

If you’re considering Haleakala sunrise or sunset, just know that the parking lots definitely fill up at sunset, but getting there an hour or so before sunset is sufficient. And bonus – you don’t need a Haleakala sunset reservation (at least at the time of this publication).

Watching the sun dip into the ocean with the rolling clouds below is so special!

With sunrise being the peak time to come, there’s way less people in the evening. So you won’t have busses full of tourists blocking your view.

If you like to plan adventures and be independent, Haleakala at sunset might be the way to go.

Before we get to Haleakala sunset tips, let’s talk a little about what to see and do while you’re in the national park.

Things to do in Haleakala National Park

view of path through large bamboo shoots all around it
Hiking the Pipiwai Trail in the Kipahulu District of the park

Haleakala is such an incredible destination in Hawaii. It reminds me of hiking the NaPali Coast in Kauai. It’s stunning and looks like it’s from another world!

Whether you’re staying in Kaanapali, Hana, Kihei or anywhere else, it’s a journey to get to the top of Haleakala. So make the most of your time and enjoy these other things in the park before watching the sunset!

  • Explore the bamboo forest via the Pipiwai Trail. At 3.8 miles, this moderate hike will take you through the lush bamboo forest, unlike any you’ve ever seen.
  • Check out the visitor center(s). Located near the summit and one near the ‘Ohe’o Gulch, they include basic amenities like restrooms, water and park maps.
  • Visit the ‘Ohe’o Gulch, or the 7 Sacred Pools of ‘Ohe’o. It’s about 35 minutes past Hana and about 15 minutes past Wailua Falls in the Kipahulu District of the park.
  • Hike into the crater, via the Sliding Sands Trail. It’s a difficult trail and is 11 miles in total – or you can hike down part of it and return back when you’re ready.
  • Catch views from the Pa Ka ‘oao or White Hill Trail. Located above the crater, this short but steep trail provides fantastic, 360 degree views of the volcano.

Allow plenty of time for activities in Haleakala, plus getting to your sunset watching location an hour or 2 early. You’ll want to explore this park to the fullest while you’re there!

How to plan your sunset Haleakala experience

view of maui from Haleakala national park field with trees and colorful land in distance
View of Maui on the way down from Haleakala on a sunny day

A few things should be taken into consideration when planning your sunset trip…

  • The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, or included in your America the Beautiful annual parks pass. If you plan to visit 3 or more national public lands over 12 months, it’s worth it to buy an annual pass. We’ve used it for Mt Rainier, Bryce Canyon, Glacier National Park and so many more!
  • You’ll have to drive down the mountain in the dark. There are no street lights, so relying on your headlights is key.
  • Consider staying for stargazing! More info on this below!
  • It’s cold. Really cold. Pack layers, then more layers as the wind on top of the summit is really cold. With the wind, it can feel below freezing! 
  • Consider how long you’ll stay. Are you planning to hike before? Are you coming after a long day on the Road to Hana? You won’t want to arrive late!

Also, even if it’s rainy and cloudy on Maui the day you plan to watch the sunset at Haleakala, it’s likely clear at the summit. It sits so far above the clouds it doesn’t get much rain so don’t worry about bad weather!

What to pack for Haleakala at sunset

two kids in blue coats hiking up rocky terrain
Hiking up the White Hill Trail before watching the sunset

This is truly an experience of a lifetime! Be prepared by packing the right gear.

Each time I’ve visited Haleakala, I’ve seen people wearing shorts and no coats because they didn’t plan properly and do their research. But you’re reading this, so you’ll know exactly what to bring!

  • Multiple layers. Jackets and long sleeve or medium coat. Gloves and hat too! Grab an extra blanket – or 2 from your hotel or condo to wrap around you. That’s been a lifesaver when I’ve been at the top!
  • Food or snacks and water. There are no services in Haleakala National Park so be prepared with dinner, snacks or at the very least, a full, reusable water bottle.
  • Good camera and tripod. You’re going to want to record this. If you don’t have a DSLR camera or aren’t a photographer, don’t fret! A simple GoPro or your cell phone on a tripod can record a time lapse of the event. And as a bonus – you can use a GoPro underwater for snorkeling with the sea turtles!
  • Hiking shoes. There are a few fun trails in the Summit District. Wear good hiking shoes for comfort – and they’ll be double warm! If you’re planning the Sliding Sands Trail, bring trekking poles too. These are my favorite hiking shoes that have worked perfectly for the Waihe’e Ridge Trail in Maui, Abrams Falls Trail in the Smoky Mountains and everything in between!
  • Beach chairs. These will be a lifesaver! They’re more comfortable plus it’s warmer than sitting on the cold ground. I love these folding beach chairs, and they come in so handy while traveling!
  • Sunblock. If you’re planning to be in the national park for more than an hour, the sun is powerful and you can really get sunburnt fast. Of course, make sure it’s mineral sunscreen so it’s earth-friendly and reef safe.

Where to watch the sunset Haleakala

mountainside in dark with sunset in distance above the clouds
Haleakala sunset at the summit

There are a few options on where to watch the sunset at Haleakala. Let’s go over each spot in detail to help you make your decision.

1. Sunset view at Haleakala summit

The first – and most popular spot to watch the sunset – is at the summit. Sitting at 10,023 feet above sea level, this is the highest place on Maui and in Haleakala National Park.

Here you’ll find the most people but also the best view. You’ll want to get there at least 30 minutes early to find a parking spot, and potentially up to 1.5 hours in peak season. (I arrived an hour early and took one of the last spots.)

2. Views from the Haleakala Visitor Center

last sliver of light on Haleakala at sunset black photo with red blue an white line across horizon
Catching the last glimpse of daylight during the Haleakala sunset

Another option to view the sunset is the Haleakala Visitor Center at the parking lot at the top of the crater. It’s about 0.5 miles down from the summit, and still offers spectacular views.

The benefit of watching the sunset at the Haleakala Visitor Center is that the restrooms are located here, so even if you park extra early, you don’t have to worry about losing your spot to hit the restroom.

This is also where the Sliding Sands and Pa Ka oao hiking trails are. So if you choose to hike earlier in the day and get back for sunset, you don’t have to move your vehicle.

Pro tip: there are just a few stalls that face east. If you get there plenty early – at least 1.5 to 2 hours, you’ll be able to back into those stalls and see the magical sunset from the warmth of your vehicle

3. Sunset from the Kalahaku Overlook

view of sun dipping into horizon orange with grey clouds and rocks in foreground
Amazing sunset Haleakala views💛

The Kalahaku Overlook is about 3 miles downhill from the summit. You’re still above the clouds and you’ll get uninterrupted views of the sunset.

Watching the sunset from the Kalahaku Overlook means there’s far less crowds. Plus since you’re already 3 miles lower, getting to the bottom of Haleakala will take less time and you’ll beat the traffic, if you choose to leave right after the sun dips below the horizon.

Regardless of where you park, you’ll catch a spectacular sunset! As long as you get there early enough, you can grab the spot you wish. 

What to expect: Haleakala at sunset

Haleakala sunrise vs sunset view of island of Maui looking down over clouds at night
View of the island lights after sunset

This is where the magic happens! Get to the summit at least an hour before sunset to ensure you get a parking space and seated space with a front row view.

Pack some beach chairs or a blanket and grab a seat. Get ready to watch a magnificent show!

The crowds will start filling in around you as everyone eagerly anticipates the gorgeous Maui sunset. Just be sure not to walk in front of anyone if you need to move around.

If you’ve packed dinner, a snack or even hot cocoa this is the time to enjoy it.

Pro tip: bring an extra camera, GoPro or cell phone and set up a tripod. Video the sunset or use the time lapse setting. It’s surreal to go back and watch it later! The clouds look so cool rolling all around the volcano.

Haleakala stargazing

stargazing on Haleakala view of milky way above crater with purple sky
Incredible night sky at the Haleakala summit

After the sun dips below the horizon and the glow in the sky disappears, there will be a new kind of show to see! You’ll want to wait at least an hour after the sun sets to see a fully dark sky.

With barely any light pollution from the rest of Maui and because you’re above 10,000′ up, the Milky Way can be crystal clear!

The best Haleakala stargazing views are on nearly moonless nights. Otherwise the moon can act like a street light and be pretty bright!

Be sure to turn off any lights (including interior and exterior car lights) for the best views. Sit back, relax and soak in the incredible view into our universe!

Stargazing at Haleakala reminds me of another dark sky park and it’s one of the top things to do in Glacier National Park! That too is an unforgettable experience.

Haleakala sunset tips

Using GPS navigation to view the roads while driving down in pitch black

Before ending this guide on watching a Haleakala sunset, here are a few final tips to make the most of your time.

  • Gas up before you go. There are no services in the park and limited gas stations once you get into Maui’s backcountry. Plan accordingly.
  • Layers, layers, layers. Did I mention before it’s going to be cold? 😉
  • Bring a credit card for your entrance fee (if you don’t have an America the Beautiful Pass)
  • Don’t touch or disturb nature. The ecosystem in Haleakala is super fragile. Stay on the trails and paths and if you see something cool, don’t touch it!
  • Practice leave no trace principles. Don’t litter, recycle and toss garbage in their proper place.
  • Slower drivers should use pullouts. Whether you’re going up or down, be courteous and mindful of others.

Haleakala at sunset – that’s a wrap!

Haleakala at sunset view of inside crater with multicolored dirt bright white clouds
One more view of this out-of-this-world scene at the Haleakala crater

Well, are you ready to see a spectacular show? It’s nature at its finest as the sun dips into the horizon.

With the right planning and gear, you’re in for a truly memorable experience. Visiting Haleakala is incredible no matter what time of day. But if you get to witness a sunset above the clouds in Hawaii, it’s a good day!

Related content you might like:
36 Incredible Things to Do with Kids in Maui
20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Maui on a Budget
What to Pack for Hawaii: Practical Things not to Forget

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must-see in Maui Hawaii Haleakala Sunset with photos of volcano crater and vivid sunset

Timpani

Monday 27th of June 2022

Wow! Your photos are beautiful. I'm actually headed to Oahu next week, but Maui is the next island I'd like to visit.

Nikki

Friday 22nd of July 2022

Ah thank you! I hope Oahu treated you well! All the Hawaiian islands are so stunning, you really can't go wrong💛

Denise

Friday 17th of June 2022

I love photoing sunsets! And sunrises. Can't wait to capture this one :)

Brittany

Wednesday 15th of June 2022

What a gorgeous sunset! Maui is on my list of places to visit in the near future, so I'll be saving this for when I visit. Thanks for sharing this detailed guide!

Chelsea

Wednesday 15th of June 2022

I love a beautiful sunset and this surely does not disappoint! I will definitely have to save this as inso for my upcoming trip to Hawaii. Thanks for including all the insider tips like fees and what to expect.