Haleakala

Haleakala Volcano Facts

Country:United States
State:Hawaii
Coordinates:20°42'35"N 156°15'12"W
Elevation: 3,055 m / 10,023 ft
Volcano type: Shield volcano
Typical eruption type: Hawaiian
Recent eruptions:17th or 18th century
Activity status:dormant

Haleakala Volcano ("House of the Sun"), also known as the East Maui Volcano, is a massive shield volcano that forms most of the eastern part of the Hawaiian island of Maui. Haleakala, just like other Hawaiian Volcanoes, was built over the Hawaiian hot spot from the ocean floor, gradually growing over millions of years. It is estimated that it emerged from the sea about 1.25 million years ago creating an island just next to the older West Maui Volcano. Over time the two islands have merged thanks to the lava flows from Haleakala.

The last eruption of Haleakala Volcano is thought to have occurred in 17th or 18th century (there are no written records of it) and now scientists believe that since then the island of Maui has shifted away from the Hawaiian hot spot meaning that Haleakala may not erupt again. Despite being a dormant volcano, Haleakala is the major tourist attraction of Maui (except for the beaches, of course...). Its vast summit crater attracts visitors with breathtaking views and it's relatively easy to reach.

Haleakala Crater

Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater. Photograph by Brian Snelson

Haleakala crater is really spectacular - it is 12 km (7.5 mi) long, 4 km (2.5 mi) wide and about 800 m (2,600 ft) deep with steep walls. Some compare the views to those from the Grand Canyon. In fact, the Haleakala crater is not volcanic in origin - similar to the Grand Canyon it was shaped by erosion that enlarged the original summit crater and also created giant valleys down the flanks of the volcano. The floor of the crater amazes with its eerie, moon-like, barren landscape with scattered steep cinder cones and filled with lava flows and colorful ash deposits. High above the crater floor is the highest point of Haleakala (and Maui) - Pu'u 'Ula'ula (Red Hill), at 3,055 m (10,023 ft).

The crater and its surrounding areas are within the Haleakala National Park. Most visitors stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center that is located near the rim of the crater at the elevation of 2,969 m (9,740 ft). The Visitor Center offers great views of the crater and it's also the favorite point to watch the unforgettable spectacle of sunrise from the summit of Haleakala Volcano. Seeing the sunrise from Haleakala's summit is considered a 'must-do' by many tourists as well as locals. To witness the sunrise you either need to wake up really early and drive the pretty slow Haleakala Crater Road right to the summit, or stay overnight in one of three cabins located in the crater (Holua, Paliku and Kapalaoa). Note that to stay in one of the cabins you need a permit from the Park. Driving from Kahului takes about two hours and there is a small $4 fee per car collected by Park Authorities when entering the area.

Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater. Photograph by Aaron Logan

Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater. Photograph by cyrusbulsara

Sliding Sands Trail

This is a famous trail that takes you to the spectacular, alien-looking, surreal world on the floor of the Haleakala crater. It starts at the Visitor Center and leads downhill with the elevation change of about 850 m (2,790 ft). The hike down the crater is relatively easy, but the way back is more strenuous. There is an option to follow the trail to the Holua cabin and then finish the hike at the Halemau'u trailhead near the Haleakal Highway. This is easier, but you'd need to arrange for transportation. This route takes about 7 to 8 hours and it's about 21 km (13 mi) hike, if you allow some time for exploring side-trails in the crater. The first option, with retracing your steps to the starting point, can be made as a half-day hike or a full-day hike, depending how much exploration of the side-trails you do. Remember that air at this altitude is thinner and very dry, making the hike much more strenuous than at lower elevations.

The trail will lead you through an extremely photogenic area, a mostly barren, but colorful landscape with cinder cones, lava flows and bombs, and ash deposits. You will see the famed silverswords - a rare plant that can only be found on Haleakala Volcano.

Haleakala Volcano Tours

There are several tour companies in Maui that organize guided Haleakala Volcano tours, if you prefer not to do it on your own. They usually pick you up from the hotel where you stay, so you don't have to worry about renting a car. Examples of some of the most interesting volcano tours include: a bus tour to watch the sunrise on top of Haleakala volcano, a volcano sunrise tour combined with a scenic bike ride down the slopes of Haleakala ending at the beach(!), Haleakala crater hiking tours, crater horse riding tours along the Sliding Sands Trail, combination of crater and Maui rain forest hikes, various Maui helicopter tours (some routes include flying over the Haleakala Volcano crater) and many, many more...

Other Hawaiian Volcanoes: Kilauea Volcano  •  Mauna Loa Volcano