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What is Haleakala National Park?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Haleakala National Park is a US designated National Park on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The park is a popular tourist attraction, drawing crowds each morning to the summit of Haleakala for the sunrise. The dormant volcano, which hasn’t erupted since the 18th century, is a major feature of the park.

Haleakala National Park was designated as a separate from Hawaii National Park in 1961. In 1980, it was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO.) As such, it conforms to the UNESCO guidelines of encompassing a variety of ecosystems and maintaining a high level of biodiversity.

Haleakala volcano has significance in the legends of Hawaii. According to myths, the god Maui captured the sun in the mountain, making the day longer. The volcano and the park are named after the story; Haleakala loosely translates as “house of the sun.”

The summit of the volcano in Haleakala National Park is one of the most popular locations for visitors. The mostly barren landscape features the Haleakala Crater, an enormous gouge in the landscape 2600 ft (800 m) deep and 7 miles (11.25 km) across. Hikes are available down into the crater and there are even several cabins available to rent, although these generally have long waiting lists. The summit area also offers several cinder cones and the nearby visitor’s center, which offers considerable information about the park.

The wilderness area of Haleakala National Park carries hikers through various areas of brush and groves of native and non-native plants. Camping is allowed at locations throughout the wilderness section, on a first come, first serve basis of availability. Camping in the wilderness area is a great way to give you time to explore the many sections of the park without having to worry about driving up or down the mountain several times.

The third section of Haleakala National Park is a coastal environment called Kipahulu. This area is easily accessed from the south side of Maui, with an entrance about ten miles west of the town of Hana. While the coastal area is freely accessed by the public, the upper southern slopes are reserved for permitted research teams only. Highlights of the Kipahulu section include the beautiful Pipiwai trail, which guides hikers past several stunning waterfalls and some swimming lagoons and streams.

If you plan to visit Haleakala National Park, take some basic precautions. Wear proper hiking shoes, and consider bringing a walking stick to aid you on uneven ground. Be sure to wear sunscreen, as the near-constant Maui sunshine has caused many a severe sunburn. As on any hike, carry plenty of water with you at all times. It is recommended that hikers study the route they are taking before embarking on any trip.

Haleakala National Park is one of the greatest attractions on the beautiful island of Maui. Its varied ecology allows visitors to understand the full spectrum of biodiversity on the island. Whether watching the sunrise at the summit, sleeping in the historic cabins of the wilderness area, or playing under the waterfalls of Kipahulu, a trip to the park is well worth at least one of your vacation days on Maui.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By minombre — On Jun 13, 2008

I have visited Haleakala two times now. The road takes you all the way to the summit at a little over 10,000 ft. It is a beautiful winding drive to the summit. You are driving through green pastures and green vegetation, but as you climb higher and higher, the landscape becomes more barren.

Windward slopes of Haleakala are covered by rain forest with a yearly rainfall of 120 to 400 inches. Leeward slopes are covered by dry forest with 20 to 60 inches of yearly rainfall.

What was impressive to me, especially on my first trip was, that as we climbed higher we left the clouds beneath us. Beautiful white clouds below, clear blue sky above, and the mostly brown mountain around you.

There was something special about it.

The weather on the summit can change very quickly. It can be very hot one minute and turn cold the next. Both times when I was there it was cold. It is a good idea to take a warm jacket, otherwise your whole experience might be lost.

The large basin on the top of the mountain was not created by volcanic activity, but by wind, water and possibly glaciers.

Many people ride bicycles down the Haleakala mountain. It must be a thrilling ride. Usually these are organized trips, and when driving it is important to watch for cyclists since the road is relatively narrow.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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