A Haleakala sunrise is an epic Maui experience!

Haleakala Sunrise: The Ultimate 2024 Guide (What to Expect, Reservation Info, Tours!)

For many first-time travelers to Maui, a visit to the island is not complete without experiencing a Haleakala sunrise.

It’s one of those magical Maui bucket list experiences that you’ll remember long after your trip, especially if you are lucky and have great weather and visibility for your Haleakala sunrise.

Despite the need to wake up at an ungodly hour on vacation and the chance that the summit could be socked in, more than two million visitors to the Valley Isle make the journey to the top of the crater each year.

Sunrise at Haleakala summit in Maui, Hawaii
Sunrise at the summit of Haleakala

So high is this experience on travelers’ wish-lists for things to do in Maui that Haleakala National Park, within which the summit of Haleakala is located, has introduced a parking reservation system to manage visitation for sunrise.

We’ve visited Haleakala for sunrise twice so far, once with perfect conditions: colorful skies and a spectacular sunrise, and a second time with a great sunrise and perfect visibility but without the blaze of colors that makes a sunrise (or sunset) epic for us.

In this article, we tell you everything you need to know to plan a trip to the summit of Haleakala for sunrise, including what to expect, where to go, how to make parking reservations, tour information if you don’t want to drive, and more.

Excited? Let’s get started discovering how to visit Haleakala at sunrise!

Colorful skies at Haleakala in Maui at sunrise
Colorful skies just before a Haleakala sunrise!

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Sunrise at Haleakala: What to Expect

Sunrise at Haleakala is magical.

When the weather gods smile on you, the experience is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Haleakala National Park.

The summit of Haleakala, Maui’s dormant volcano, tops out at 10,023 feet, way above the clouds. Haleakala means “the house of the sun,” and the association between this Maui crater and the sun is in fact the subject of a famous Hawaiian legend.

But legends aside, a Haleakala sunrise is an almost religious experience.

Especially if you are lucky and have those colorful skies at dawn.

As you drive up in the dark, you will be treated to a night sky with millions of stars. Walk to the lookout, where you’ll be awed by the beauty of the still dawn as the sky gradually lightens and gets dressed in shades of pink and orange.

Then the sun emerges in all its brilliant glory, bathing the crater and its cinder cones in warm gold.

Colorful skies at Haleakala just before sunrise
The sun rises at Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii
Just after sunrise at Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii
A gorgeous sunrise at Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii

You may hear collective “oohs” and “aahs”, or a smattering of applause, as the waiting crowd takes in the mesmerizing sight.

And if you are very lucky, a ranger may perform the sunrise chant — E Ala Ē — to awaken the sun and imbue everyone present with energy for the new day.

It moved me almost to tears when we heard it, in conjunction with a great sunrise, our second time at Haleakala for sunrise.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Haleakala Sunrise Tours

Minivan Haleakala Sunrise Tour with Breakfast

If you’d rather not drive the winding road up Haleakala in the dark, consider a guided tour! You’ll also save yourself the hassle of getting parking reservations.

This highly-rated (and very popular!) Haleakala sunrise tour includes round-trip transport in an air-conditioned vehicle, with pick-ups and drop-offs at several Maui hotels.

The tour also includes insightful commentary, the Haleakala National Park admission fee, and breakfast at Mill House, set in an old sugar mill, in Waikapu.

The tour lasts 10 hours, and pick-ups begin in the very early morning.

Here’s what a recent traveler said about this tour:

Terrific tour guide! … The sunrise trip is a definite must! Breakfast was fabulous, too! Take warm clothes! Would highly recommend!!!!” — Jacqueline (read more reviews here)

>> Check pricing and availability for this popular Haleakala sunrise tour now!

Haleakala Sunrise Bike Tour

This highly-rated tour is for experienced downhill bicyclists that are seeking an adventure!

It combines a ride up Haleakala for sunrise in an air-conditioned vehicle, followed by a downhill self-guided bike ride from 6,500 feet.

You’ll stop on the way back for a casual breakfast (not included) and to explore the charming little town of Makawao.

Entrance to Haleakala National Park is included, as is all gear, along with a custom Kona bike.

Check out this recent tour review:

An amazing bike ride with beautiful views & a gorgeous sunrise! Our guide was so knowledgeable, friendly & kind! Made for a tremendous & unforgettable experience!” — Christine (read more reviews here)

>> Check pricing and availability for this Haleakala sunrise + downhill bike ride now!

The sun bathes the crater in gold at sunrise at the top of Haleakala in Maui, HI
The sun starts to bathe the crater in gold!

Haleakala Sunrise Reservation

A Haleakala sunrise reservation is required if you need a parking spot at the summit.

So if you plan to visit Haleakala for sunrise independently, you will need to make an advance reservation to be able to enter the park for sunrise (between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.).

Reservations can be made online at recreation.gov, up to 60 days in advance of the date you plan to visit.

Slots are released at 7 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time 60 days in advance, with a second batch being released 48 hours in advance of any given date, also at 7 a.m. HST.

There is a reservation fee of $1.00 per ticket and you only need one ticket per vehicle. The ticket is only valid for the day reserved, and you can only buy one sunrise reservation in any 3-day period.

Refunds or exchanges are not issued due to weather or for any other reason.

Once you’ve made your reservation, download the confirmation email or print it. You will need to show it, along with photo ID that matches the reservation, and a park entry pass, to be able to enter the park.

Note that tickets for sunrise viewing are not available at the park and you cannot obtain one in person. The reservation HAS to be made online in advance!

Sunrise at Haleakala is a very popular Maui activity and slots do sell out, especially in high season. To ensure your spot, make your Haleakala sunrise reservation as soon as your date becomes available.

If you wait for the 48-hour slots to verify weather conditions, make your reservation as soon as slots go available. These tickets tend to get snapped up very quickly.

As I write this, there are no tickets available for the near term dates, but there are tickets available for the further out dates.

The Haleakala crater glows at sunrise in Maui, Hawaii
Golden hour light at the Haleakala summit

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Getting to Haleakala for Sunrise

Sunrise time at Haleakala varies by time of year: it can be as early at 5.35 a.m. or so in the summer and as late as 7.00 a.m. in the depths of winter. If you visit Maui in winter, you can wake up a little later and still make it in time!

You can look up exact sunrise and sunset times for the date of your visit here.

You should plan to be at the summit at least 60 minutes before sunrise, so you can settle down at a good spot to watch the whole show, from dark sky to gold.

The colors in the sky, the pinks and oranges, appear before the sunrise, and they are an integral part of the show, making for the best photos.

Plus, the earlier you arrive, the higher the chance that you get your top choice of viewing spot at the summit (see more below about the various viewing areas at the Haleakala summit).

And there may be a line of cars at the entrance waiting to pay and get in, plus it takes time to park and walk to your viewing spot, so allow for possible delays and parking time.

If you want to arrive JUST to see the sunrise, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled sunrise time. It will already be light by then, but it’s still fabulous watching the golden ball peek out from the clouds and take over the skies.

Once you’ve figured out what time you need to arrive at Haleakala to be at your viewing spot at the time you want, you can use Google Maps to calculate when you need to depart from your hotel or vacation rental.

Note that it can take from an hour and 30 minutes to over 2 hours to get to the park entrance at the summit of Haleakala from resort areas in west Maui like Kihei, Wailea, or Kapalua.

From the park entrance to the summit, it is a drive of about 30 minutes. We suggest setting Google Maps to the Red Hill Summit when calculating drive times to decide when to leave.

If you’re based in Paia, or in upcountry Maui, your drive time will be less.

A view of the sun rising over the clouds at Haleakala in Maui
The sun rises over the clouds at Haleakala

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

What’s the drive up Haleakala like?

It’s a 37-mile drive (along Highways 377 and 378) from sea level to the top of the 10,023-foot volcanic crater. That’s the most elevation gain in the shortest distance on the planet.

Haleakala Highway (also called Crater Road) is paved and well-maintained.

Crater Road features lots of switchbacks along its 20-mile stretch to the very top of the crater (see map). Some of the bends are tight and steep, with drop-offs.

There are no guardrails, and the road is not lit, so be very cautious driving up in the dark!

Obey the speed limit signs, of course, but don’t be afraid to drive slower if weather conditions are unfavorable — you may encounter fog en route any time of the year, although the clouds usually roll in later in the day.

In winter, the road may be icy, so you may want to skip driving in favor of a guided tour if you are not experienced with driving in wintry conditions on icy roads.

Note that cows and nene (Hawaiian geese) can meander onto the road, so always be on the watch for animals and birds as you drive.

The road to the top of Haleakala can cause queasiness if you are prone to motion sickness, so bring some motion sickness medicine if you think you will need it.

Road going up the Haleakala crater in Maui, Hawaii
A view of Crater Road as it looks during daylight hours

Where to Go: Haleakala Sunrise Spots at the Summit

There are four sunrise parking areas at the summit of Haleakala, and, depending on when you arrive, park rangers will direct you to one of the parking areas.

Each parking area is close to a sunrise viewing area. And if the weather is good, any of the four Haleakala sunrise spots offers fabulous views of sunrise over the crater.

When a parking lot is full, it is closed for sunrise parking. It is imperative to arrive early if you have your heart set on the true summit!

From highest to lowest elevation, the four areas are:

  1. The Pu`u Ula ula or the Red Hill Summit (at 10,023 feet, the very top of the crater)
  2. The Haleakalā Visitor Center (at 9,740 feet)
  3. Kalahaku Overlook (at 9,324 feet)
  4. Leleiwi Overlook (at 8,840 feet)

Puʻuʻulaʻula, or Red Hill

Puʻuʻulaʻula, or Red Hill, is a popular spot for sunrise viewing at Haleakala.

You can walk up a few steps or a ramp to the small building at the top, which offers protection from the wind. It has large windows to allow for views in every direction, including over the crater.

Of course you can also stand just outside the cabin if you want photos without glass.

The Haleakala summit Viewing Cabin at sunrise
Watching the sunrise from the cabin at the Red Hill Summit at Haleakala

After you view the sunrise, you can catch the mellow golden light of golden hour on the rare and endangered Haleakala silversword plants that grow here.

Note, however, that you may not be able to see the full crater from the Red Hill Summit.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Haleakala Visitor Center

The Haleakala Visitor Center offers two locations for sunrise viewing.

Many visitors line up at the railing outside the visitor center building, from where you can get spectacular views of the sun rising over the crater. This is possibly the most popular (and crowded) sunrise viewing spot at Haleakala.

But you can also walk the small trail up to the Pā Kaʻoao viewing area, also known as White Hill. This hike is just 0.2 mile each way, but it is uphill.

This viewing area is a stunning spot for a Haleakala sunrise. It’s where we watched the sun rise on our second visit to the summit for sunrise. It’s also the spot where we heard a ranger chant the E Ala E, the sunrise chant, an experience I will never forget.

If you decide you want to walk up to the Pā Kaʻoao viewing area, and want to arrive while it’s still dark out, bring a headlamp or flashlight, because the ascent is rocky and you need to be able to see where you are stepping.

Kalahaku Overlook

The Kalahaku Overlook offers an expansive view of the crater valley and is an excellent spot for a Haleakala sunrise.

You’ll likely have fewer people here than at the Red Hill Summit or the Visitor Center railing, which makes for a more serene experience.

And sometimes, when the summit is socked in, you may still have good visibility at the the Kalahaku Overlook (or the Leleiwi Overlook).

The Haleakala Crater at sunrise
You can get great sunrise views from more than one location at the Haleakala summit!

Leleiwi Overlook

The Leleiwi Overlook provides excellent views into the crater and is a great lower-crowd option for Haleakala sunrise viewing.

But note that it’s a 0.15-mile walk from the parking lot to the actual overlook, over a series of steps. Bring a headlamp or flashlight to light your way if you arrive in the dark.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Tips for a Great Sunrise at Haleakala Experience

Plan your Haleakala sunrise experience for early in your Maui vacation

The day after you arrive from the mainland is an excellent time to plan to head up to the top of Haleakala for sunrise.

Because at that stage of your vacation, you are still likely to be on mainland time if you are visiting from other parts of the US, and waking up so early in the morning won’t seem quite as much of a hardship as later in your stay.

Fill up your gas tank before you head up the mountain

There is no gas available inside Haleakala National Park. Be sure to fill up your gas tank before you head up the mountain!

The nearest town to Haleakala National Park where you can get gas is Pukalani, and Ohana Fuels along the Haleakala Highway opens at 4 a.m.

Golden hour at the Haleakala summit in Maui, HI
The Haleakala Crater is bathed in gold, a little after sunrise!

Dress warmly

BUNDLE UP!!!

Temperatures at the summit of the Haleakala crater are MUCH colder than at sea level. Think 30 degrees colder. You may even see snow in the winter.

And the wind can make things substantially more miserable from a weather perspective if you are not dressed right.

We went up in December one year, and even though we had thermal underlayers, jackets, beanies, hats, and gloves, we were still glad to be back inside our heated vehicle.

Also remember to wear thick warm socks and closed-toed shoes to keep your feet and toes from freezing.

Bringing a warm blanket, on top of dressing warmly, would not be a bad idea, since the experience can mean being outdoors for up to an hour at the summit.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Bring a thermos of hot coffee or hot chocolate

A hot beverage will be welcome as you are sitting (or standing) at the summit, waiting for the skies to lighten, signaling the start of the show.

Know where to find restrooms

Public restrooms are located at the Haleakala Visitor Center at the summit.

Even though the visitor center may not be open at sunrise, restrooms can be accessed from the outside 24/7.

There is also a public bathroom at the Kalahaku Overlook.

Golden sunrise at Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii
A golden sunrise at Haleakala

Carry food and snacks

The Haleakala sunrise experience lasts several hours from the time you leave your accommodation to the time you return, and even more if you stay on to explore after sunrise.

Come prepared with food and snacks!

There is no food available for purchase at Haleakala National Park, and nothing will be open en route at that time of the morning.

Arrange whatever food and snacks you need the day before.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Bring drinking water

The Haleakala Visitor Center does have a drinking water fountain, but the park recommends you carry drinking water.

Do not drink water from the taps in the restrooms, since that’s recycled water.

Colorful sunrise skies Haleakala National Park in Maui
Colorful skies at sunrise at Haleakala

Don’t forget a camera or charged smartphone for photos

If you are a serious hobby photographer, a Haleakala sunrise is definitely a photo op for which it’s worth bringing your “gear.”

But for most visitors, a smartphone is perfectly fine for capturing photos and shooting video.

Don’t expect great cell service

The Summit District of Haleakala National Park is remote. Cell service can be spotty or non-existent.

Download or print whatever maps, documents, or brochures you need, prior to setting out for your Haleakala sunrise experience.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Manage expectations!

Weather conditions at the top of the Haleakala crater can be less than perfect any time of the year, and conditions can change rapidly as well.

Be sure to check the weather forecast the evening before, and drive up if it looks good, hoping that visibility is great when you arrive!

But be prepared for any type of weather and know that you may not have the best conditions at sunrise on the day you visit. The summit may even be completely socked in, with poor visibility.

Sometimes, it’s possible that the overlooks, which are at lower elevations, have clear skies or better visibility than at the summit, so you may want to try there if those parking lots are not full.

At the top of the Haleakala crater in Maui at sunrise
Sunrise at Haleakala

Plan to stay on to explore if you arrive independently

If you arrive on your own for sunrise at Haleakala, plan to stay on afterwards to hike or to see the views from the overlooks.

The Sliding Sands Trail into the crater is of course a several-hour undertaking, but you can always do a part of the trail if you are time-constrained.

And there are shorter hiking trails, like the Hosmer Grove Trail, that you can do as well.

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

Bring sunscreen and wear proper shoes if you plan to explore

The summit of Haleakala is exposed, so sunscreen is a must once it’s daylight, especially if you plan to stay on for a bit to explore.

And wear closed-toed walking or hiking shoes with good grip if you plan to hike.

Should you go for sunrise or sunset?

While the Haleakala sunrise experience is definitely epic and gets all the hype, sunset at Haleakala is also spectacular if you have good weather.

Plus, sunset doesn’t require an early wake-up call on vacation and you don’t have to worry about reservations either.

AND you can stay on for stargazing if you are so inclined!

In the end, whether you choose a Haleakala sunrise or a Haleakala sunset is based entirely on your personal preference!

Brilliant sky colors at a Haleakala sunrise in Maui, HI
You can get brilliant skies at Haleakala at sunrise or sunset!

Remember your National Parks Pass if you have one!

You have to pay the park entrance fee in order to be admitted for your Haleakala sunrise experience.

At the time of writing, the entrance fee is $30.00 per car, $25.00 per motorcycle, or $15.00 per person for walk-ins.

The entrance is valid for 3 days, and valid for both the Summit District and the Kipahulu District.

Bring your credit card to pay at the automated machine if you arrive outside of the hours when the station is staffed.

Haleakala National Park accepts the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, so be sure to bring yours if you have one!

>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!

The Best Maui Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Maui guided adventures yet?

Small-group Road to Hana tour so everyone in your group can sit back and enjoy the views without worrying about negotiating hairpin bends or finding parking at popular stops!

A Haleakala sunrise tour so you can experience the bucket-list sunrise atop the volcano without the need to reserve a parking spot or drive up in the dark!

A Maui whale watching raft tour, which will let you see the massive humpback whales at eye level! (You can also opt for a more sedate boat whale watching tour.) A MUST winter Maui activity!

A Maui snorkeling excursion that combines the Molokini Crater with Turtle Town, the two most epic snorkeling destinations on the island!

A 7-line Maui zipline experience where you can glide over the forests on the north shore of Maui. Enjoy ocean views and navigate obstacle course challenges!

An oceanfront luau in Wailea where you can enjoy a sunset buffet and traditional Polynesian entertainment. You can also opt for a Kaanapali oceanfront luau.

Renting a Car in Maui

The best things to do in Maui are located all over the island.

Public transport options on Maui are minimal to non-existent, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Maui trip.

We always use Discover Cars to book Maui car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Maui car rentals now!

Where to Stay in Maui

Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Maui you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.

By far the majority of visitors to Maui choose to base on the west side, where there is a large selection of accommodations available, from resorts and hotels to vacation rentals.

We suggest starting your search for Maui accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO. You can filter to choose a specific area, such as Kihei, Kapalua, or Wailea.

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Kihei and Kapalua and find that the choice and quality are generally great.

>> Look for a Maui vacation rental on VRBO now!

More Maui Travel Inspiration

If you are considering a trip to Maui, read some of our other comprehensive guides to craft the ultimate Maui itinerary!

If you are a first-time visitor to Maui, start by reading our article on the best things to do in Maui. From beautiful beaches and lush rainforest to Maui’s volcanic crater, our round-up captures the most iconic Maui experiences and activities.

If you are dreaming of a winter getaway to a tropical paradise, read our guide on why you should visit Maui in winter!

If you are planning a brief first visit to Maui, here’s our 3-day Maui itinerary to help you flesh out your own trip! And if you are considering a couples getaway to Maui, read about the top romantic things to do in Maui!

Driving the Road to Hana is one of Maui’s bucket-list experiences. We have a comprehensive guide to the best stops on the Road to Hana, including waterfalls and short hikes on the way.

One of the top stops on the route is Wai’anapanapa State Park, which requires reservations. Read our full guide to Maui’s black sand beach in this popular state park!

Maui boasts one of only two national parks in Hawaii. Read our round-up of the best things to do in Haleakala National Park. We also have the ultimate guide to sunrise at Haleakala.

We also have a guide to the best hikes in Haleakala National Park, and in-depth hiking guides to the two most epic hikes in the park: the Sliding Sands Trail and the Pipiwai Trail.

Speaking of hiking, also be sure to check out our round-up of the best Maui hikes, from easy to challenging. Plus, peruse our complete guides to hiking the popular Kapalua Coastal Trail in northwest Maui, and the Waihee Ridge Trail for astounding views!

We also have a round-up of the best waterfalls in Maui, from the 400-foot Waimoku Falls to Upper Waikani Falls near Hana. Some Maui waterfalls can be seen from viewpoints whereas others require hiking.

Water activities are plentiful in Maui! Check out our epic guide to whale watching in Maui, and our guide to the best Molokini snorkeling tours and the best Turtle Town snorkeling.

If you’d rather snorkel from shore, read our round-up of the best snorkel spots in West Maui.

Every Maui itinerary should have plenty of beach time: there are so many beautiful beaches in Maui that you are spoiled for choice. We have a round-up of the best beaches in South Maui, plus a detailed guide to Wailea Beach in southwest Maui, and one for Maluaka Beach along the Turtle Town stretch of coast.

We also have articles on the much-visited Kaanapali Beach, the popular Napili Beach and local favorite Keawakapu Beach. Along the northwest side, Honolua Bay is a famous surfing spot, and Ho’okipa Beach, near Paia, is a windsurfing mecca.

If you are looking to experience a different side of Maui, plan a visit to the Iao Valley State Monument. The lush landscapes and serene ambience will wow you! Also read our guide to Maui’s state parks, which include popular Makena State Park, home to Big Beach and Little Beach.

Spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui. Some of the best things to do in Upcountry Maui include touring farms and gardens. Help milk goats, tour a tea farm, go wine tasting and much more.

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Discover the ultimate guide for visiting the summit of Haleakala for sunrise, an epic Maui experience you won't forget!

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