☀️ Haleakalā Sunrise: Firsthand Review & Tips

A woman standing on a mountain with clouds and a sunrise in the background.
🍀 Lukiih’s Overall Rating7.4
🦄 UniquenessHigh
😊 EnjoymentModerate
💰 ValueAffordable
🎒 PreparationModerate
⭐️ Book a Tour View Price
Overall Rating is based on a weighted average of factors (learn more).

Watching the sunrise at the summit of Haleakalā Volcano is a bucket list item and Maui’s most famous attraction. Here’s my honest review and firsthand tips.

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🍀 Lukiih’s Overall Rating

7.4
I highly recommend catching the sunrise at Haleakalā – try to prioritize it.

My overall rating is based on a weighted average of four factors travelers consider important when assessing an experience.

Verdict

Catching the sunrise at Haleakalā was one of the highlights of my Hawaii trip. Standing 10,000 feet above sea level and watching the sun rise above the clouds feels unreal.

The experience is affordable if you drive with others or have a National Park Pass.

Moderate preparation is required, as you need to get competitive reservation tickets in advance and pack accordingly.

🏆 Where Does It Rank?

The Haleakalā sunrise ranks as my #2 thing to do in Hawaii. Here’s how it compares to other experiences on my trip:

#ExperienceLocationOverall Rating
1🌌 Mauna KeaBig Island8.3
2🌅 Haleakalā SunriseMaui7.4
3🏝️ Papakōlea Green Sand BeachBig Island7.4
4🤿 Captain Cook & Kealakekua BayBig Island7.2
5🌺 Road to HanaMaui6.8
6🤿 Manta Ray SnorkelingBig Island6.5
7🌋 Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkBig Island6.2
8🏝️ Punalu’u Black Sand BeachBig Island6.1
9🐠 Honolua BayMaui5.7
10🍍 Fruit Farm TourMaui5.5
11🐉 Dragon’s Teeth TrailMaui5.4
12🏖️ Kihei BeachMaui4.8
Overall Rating is calculated using Lukiih’s rating system.

My Maui and Big Island itineraries feature the above experiences.

✈️ About My Trip

For context on my review, here’s what to know about my trip:

  • 🍀 Self-funded – I finance my trips and don’t receive sponsorship, so this review reflects my honest opinions.
  • 🗓️ 2022 – This post has updated 2024 information, but I visited Haleakalā in 2022.
  • ☀️ Low season – My Hawaii trip was in September when it was less crowded and expensive.

🦄 Uniqueness: High

The Uniqueness Score is based on how rare and memorable an experience is.

Rarity: Rare

The Haleakalā sunrise is a rare experience, as less than 10 comparable experiences exist worldwide.

💎 What Makes It Rare?

  • The volcano’s summit is 10,000 feet above sea level, providing an unobstructed and often clear view of the sunrise above the clouds.
  • Unlike many other volcano sunrises (e.g., Mt. Fuji), the peak is reachable by car and doesn’t require a hike, so it’s very accessible.

Haleakalā is a dormant volcano. Although it can erupt again in the future, it hasn’t erupted in over 1,000 years, so it’s considered dormant. 

🌍 What Makes It Less Rare?

  • Other volcano sunrises that are reachable by vehicle exist around the world, including Spain’s Mount Teide, Indonesia’s Mount Bromo, and Italy’s Mount Vesuvius.

Memorability: High

The Haleakalā sunrise was one of my most memorable experiences in Hawaii.

📸 What Makes It Memorable?

  • The sunrise is incredibly vivid. The high elevation and atmospheric conditions lend to dramatic sunrises with beautiful colors ranging from deep purple to bright orange.
  • The contrast against the volcanic landscape makes the view more stunning and distinct.
A mountain with clouds rolling by and an orange sky right before sunrise.
Haleakalā sunrise against volcanic landscape

Catching the sunset is also popular but less famous.

💤 What Makes It Forgettable?

😊 Enjoyment: Moderate

The Enjoyment Score is based on how much happiness and reward an experience provides.

Happiness: Moderate

I found the Haleakalā sunrise somewhat enjoyable.

😃 What Makes It Enjoyable?

😥 What Makes It Less Enjoyable?

  • The drive up to the summit requires going through very winding roads, so if you’re prone to motion sickness like me, bring medication. I almost drew up on my way down.
A map showing a blue line that zig zags more than a dozen times.
Road to Haleakalã (map by Google)
  • The sunrise is an extremely popular activity, so if you arrive late or don’t know where to go, you’ll be standing behind many other visitors.

Read on for when to depart for the sunrise.

Reward: Very Low

The Haleakalā sunrise is not a very rewarding experience.

🌟 What Makes It Rewarding?

  • The name translates to “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, and the volcano is a sacred place for native Hawaiians. This can add to the awe, but most visitors don’t realize it’s a place with deep cultural meaning.

🤷🏻‍♀️ What Makes It Less Rewarding?

  • Compared to other volcano sunrises where hiking is required, you can drive to the summit, so the journey up is not physically rewarding.

💰 Value: Affordable

The Value Score is determined by the price divided by the duration of an experience. All prices mentioned here are in USD.

Price: $20 PP

The Haleakalā sunrise and sunset require entering Haleakalā National Park, which has an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle. Assuming you can split the cost with others in your car, I consider this experience affordable.

Due to its popularity, the sunrise also has a $1 reservation fee and requires advance reservation online.

If you want to plan less and not drive, you can also book a vehicle tour or cycling tour.

The National Park Service Pass will cover the entrance fee to Haleakalā National Park. Since I had the annual $80 park pass, I only had to pay the $1 reservation fee.

See my Hawaii trip expenses.

🎒 Preparation: Moderate

The Preparation Score is based on the required skills & fitness, transportation, and bookings & packing. The higher the score, the less preparation is needed.

Skills & Fitness: None

You don’t need any skills or fitness to visit Haleakalā at sunrise, but you will need someone willing to make the drive up.

Transportation: Significant

Haleakalā is part of the Haleakalā National Park on the southern side of Maui.

  • 🚙 Method – The primary way to get to the summit for sunrise is by renting a car. You can also book a vehicle tour or cycling tour.
  • ⏰ Duration – It’ll be at least an hour to two-hour drive to reach the summit, regardless of where you’re staying in Maui.

The road up the volcano will be dark, but there are plenty of reflective signs and lane markers to help with visibility in the dark.

A parking lot full with vehicles, on top of a mountain.
Haleakalā parking lot

Booking & Packing: Effort Required

To do the Haleakalā sunrise, you’ll need to book and pack accordingly:

  • 🎟️ Reservations – You must book an online reservation to see the sunrise. Reservations are limited and competitive.
  • 🎒 Packing – Due to the high elevation, the weather at the summit can change rapidly and be 30 °F colder than the temperature at sea level, so dress and pack accordingly.

How To Guide & Tips

Interested in seeing the Haleakalā sunrise after reading my review? Below is a practical how-to guide and firsthand tips.

Sunrise vs. Sunset

Watching the sunrise at Haleakalā’s summit is the more famous activity, but both the sunrise and sunset are stunning.

  • ☀️ Sunrise – The sunrise is considered the “bucket list” activity and showcases more vivid colors. However, it requires advance reservations and is more crowded. You have to wake up early, and the weather can be unpredictable.
  • 🌅 Sunset – The sunset is less iconic, so it’s much less crowded. You don’t have to wake up early; you can plan to do this at the last minute. However, the drive down from the summit will be dark, and the colors will be less vivid.

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How to Reserve

You must book an online reservation at recreation.gov to see the Haleakalā sunrise. There are only 150 tickets available daily, and each ticket costs $1 per vehicle. Tickets are released in two timeframes:

  • Two days ahead – A few tickets are released two days ahead. These last-minute tickets are highly competitive.
  • 60 days ahead – Book reservations about two months in advance to increase your chances of getting them.

I didn’t get a sunrise reservation the first day I tried, but I scored one on the second day at 7 am HST. Some of my friends traveling at other times were not able to get them.

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When To Depart

Generally, you should leave for the sunrise two to three hours beforehand. This will give you enough time to drive and find a good spot to watch the sunrise.

Here’s how to calculate a more precise departure time:

  • Step 1 – Check the sunrise time. Get to the summit 45 to 60 minutes before sunrise. It’ll start getting bright then; you’ll want to be there as the sky turns different shades of colors, a key part of this unique experience. Example: If the sunrise is at 6 am, aim to be at the summit by 5 am.

Sunrise can be as early as 5:30 am, so you’ll likely have to wake up before 3 am to drive over and catch it.

  • Step 2 – Add 30 minutes to your drive time. Check how long it’ll take to drive from your accommodation to the Haleakalā Summit Parking. Add an extra 30 minutes because that’s how long you could wait at the Summit Park Entrance, where they check everyone’s reservations and take payments. Example: If it takes an hour to get to the parking lot and you’re targeting a 5 am summit arrival time, be out the door by 3:30 am.

At certain Haleakalā outlooks (see best places to stand below), space in the “front row” is limited and will be occupied by visitors arriving early. Aim to arrive even earlier if you want to be in the front row

Many people lined up on the side of a mountain waiting for the sun to rise.
Crowded area for Haleakalā sunrise

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Where To View

There are four viewing locations on Haleakalā, each with its own parking lot:

Parking for each viewing location is on a first-come, first-served basis. Each parking lot will be closed when it’s full, which is another reason you don’t want to get to the summit too late.

My top insider’s tip is that if you’re at the Haleakalā Visitor Center, you should hike the short 0.2-mile Pa Ka’oao Trail (aka White Hill) to get the best view. There are significantly fewer people and no rails blocking your view.

A sign about a trail with the trail starting with some steps beside it.
White Hill trail sign

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What To Pack

Predicting whether you’ll have a clear day during your Haleakalā visit is nearly impossible. Since the weather can change rapidly, the best strategy is to pack for the worst and leave unnecessary items in your vehicle once you reach the summit.

  • Payment – Some way to pay or waive the park entrance fee (e.g., cash, credit card, a National Parks Pass)
  • Reservation confirmation email
  • Photo ID – The name must match the reservation holder
  • Puff and warm layers – I wore a puff jacket and saw others wearing multiple warm layers.
  • Warm hat or headband – I carried my North Face headband.
  • Warm inner layer – Wear warm clothes, such as a warm thermal base, if it’s cold at ground level. Otherwise, a long-sleeved shirt or hoodie should be sufficient.
  • Outer rain gear – This is in case it starts raining. I brought my rain jacket, but luckily I was able to leave it in the car. Rain ponchos also work well to save space and carry something lighter.
  • Warm gloves – Bring them in case it’s windy and cold and you want to take photos.
  • Long pants, ideally on the warmer side – You can get away with shorts if it’s warm, but wearing long pants is safer. I wore my light hiking pants with a thin thermal base underneath.
  • Sunscreen – If you spend more than an hour around the summit after sunrise or before sunset, wear face sunblock.
  • Closed-toe shoes – If you plan to hike after sunrise, bring hiking shoes. Otherwise, athletic closed-toe shoes will suffice.
  • Snacks – You’ll spend four to five hours transporting yourself, so bring food to sustain yourself. Some visitors like to bring hot coffee in a mug.

No vendors or stalls sell beverages, snacks, or souvenirs in the summit area. There are bathroom facilities.

  • A blanket if it’s extra cold – In wintertime, it’s a good idea to bring extra layers, such as a blanket to wrap around yourself.

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What To Do After

After the Haleakalā sunrise, you can leave right away or stay to do some hikes:

  • Sliding Sands Trail – one of the most popular hikes in the national park. It starts at the rim of the crater and ends at the bottom of it. My sister partially did this strenuous 11-mile hike and said it was very rewarding.
A volcanic scenery showing different colored mountains.
Haleakalā hike (photo by my sister, Kat)

If you’re departing Haleakalā right away, leave late enough to enjoy the summit but early enough to beat all the departing tour buses. The road down the mountain has only one lane.

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Maui Trip Planner 2024

To make your travel preparation easier, download the trip planner below. It has destination-specific travel information, itinerary, map, and packing list.

My trip planners are built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning. I genuinely love this tool and creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of the Maui trip planning template (built on Notion).

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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