Sunset at Haleakala better than sunrise

Sunset at Haleakala – and why it is better than sunrise! (2024)

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Wondering whether you should go for sunset at Haleakala instead of sunrise and what to expect at Haleakala sunset?

Visiting the Haleakala National Park summit to experience the sunrise or sunset over the Haleakala volcano crater is one of the most popular things to do on Maui island of Hawaii.

Haleakala Summit is the best place to watch the famous Maui sunset and should not be missed while in Maui.

The summit at Haleakala is at a towering elevation of 10,023 Feet, and it is a very unique experience to see either the sunset or sunrise from a vantage point this high!

I recently visited Maui with my family, and I did a lot of research on whether we should plan for the Haleakala sunset or sunrise. For a lot of reasons listed in this post later, I chose Sunset and was so glad about my choice!

I felt fortunate to witness the beautiful skies at sunset on Haleakala summit, with color hues ranging from oranges, pinks, and reds. It is truly a spectacular and otherworldly experience.

We had an amazing time watching the sunset on Haleakala! Read on to find out more about our sunset experience!

In a hurry and looking for a Haleakala summit tour instead of driving yourself?

Below are the best Haleakala summit tours:

Top 5 reasons why Haleakala Sunset is better than Sunrise

Going to Haleakala for sunset viewing is a very different experience than going for sunrise!

Sunrise requires a lot more planning for reservations, waking up at ungodly hours on vacation, and facing extreme cold and crowds! Parking at the summit is another issue!

That is not what I want to deal with on a vacation. Period.

Couple posing in front of sunset at Haleakala summit
Me and hubby enjoying sunset views at Haleakala Summit on Maui

Below are the top 5 reasons why Haleakala sunset is better than sunrise, in my opinion.

1. Reservations for Haleakala sunrise vs sunset

Reservations are needed for Haleakala sunrise but not for Haleakala sunset. Sunrise reservations are very hard to get.

As there is limited parking at the Haleakala summit and a lot more people want to see the sunrise at Haleakala, you now need a reservation to enter the Haleakala National Park between 3 AM and 7 AM.

Reservations for Haleakala sunrise need to be made at the website, and it opens 60 days in advance at 7 AM Hawaii time. Keep in mind that the sunrise reservations are gone within a few minutes of opening!

In contrast, there is no pre-planning or reservations needed to see the Haleakala sunset. You do not have to keep a reminder to be logged on to your computer to snag a reservation 60 days before your trip to Maui!

You can go for sunset at Haleakala any day you wish in your Maui itinerary. That gives you the flexibility to squeeze it in a day of your choice, depending on your other activity bookings in Maui.

2. Start time for Haleakala sunrise vs sunset

Depending on the season, you might need to start between 3 and 4 AM for the Haleakala sunrise viewing. Sunset at Haleakala is typically between 6 and 7 PM, so you can start around 4 PM at the latest from West or South Maui.

During the summer months, sunrise in Maui can vary between 5:30 and 6:30 AM. If you are visiting Hawaii during the winter months, sunrise times can be anytime between 6 and 7 AM.

It typically takes 2 hours of drive to reach Haleakala summit from West Maui or South Maui, where most of the resorts are.

Plus, you need to arrive at least an hour before sunrise to get a parking at the summit; otherwise, you will have to park at the Visitor Center and walk up half a mile to the summit.

So, for the Haleakala sunrise experience, you would typically need to start from your resort in West or South Maui between 3 and 4 AM. That’s very early for me!!

Haleakala crater views at sunset
Haleakala crater views at sunset

For the Haleakala sunset viewing, you can start as late as 4 PM and still be there by 6 PM.

You can even combine the Haleakala sunset with other activities in the morning, like a Maui whale watching tour!

Or you can start a little early for the Haleakala summit around noon and explore upcountry Maui and the beautiful town of Makawao.

3. Weather at Haleakala sunset vs sunrise

The sunset at Haleakala is typically a little warmer than the sunrise.

Don’t be fooled; the Haleakala Summit is definitely much colder than the rest of Maui, and temperatures at sunrise can range from below-freezing to 40-degree range.

Sunrise time is much colder and chilly than sunset, maybe because the sun’s warmth is still there during sunset. During sunset, temperatures can range from 45 to 55 degrees.

We were well equipped with jackets, beanies, and gloves at sunset time but just a light jacket and beanie were enough!

Haleakala summit is at a very high elevation, and weather conditions can change quickly, even within an hour. It can be raining, foggy, and windy at any time of the year.

Even if you manage to get a sunrise reservation 60 days in advance, there is no way of knowing what the weather will be like at the summit on the morning of your reservation.

Going to Haleakala for sunset gives you more flexibility because if the weather is not good on the day you plan to go, you can always go another day on your trip!

4. Parking at Haleakala sunset vs sunrise

The Haleakala Summit has parking for only around 40 cars. If that lot is full, you can park at the Haleakala Visitor Center half a mile down, which has a much bigger parking lot.

To be able to park at the Haleakala summit during sunrise, you need to enter the park entrance around 3 AM when it opens. The summit parking lot gets filled up very quickly. If parked at the visitor center, it is difficult to walk the half-mile in the freezing cold and dark,

For sunset viewing, as there is still daylight parking at the visitor center, it is not so bad. In fact, the best viewing spots for sunset are near the Visitor Center!

5. Crowds at Haleakala sunrise vs sunset

It is very crowded at Haleakala sunrise. If you are late, you might be watching the sunrise behind rows of people! Not very good for pictures. Also, people are cranky, I guess, due to waking up early and the cold and not-so-pleasant.

People waiting for sunset at viewpoint near Haleakala Visitors Center
People waiting for sunset at the viewpoint near Haleakala Visitors Center

We found sunset viewing relaxing, with fewer crowds and people scattered at different vantage points, and there was enough room for everyone!

Sunset at Haleakala experience

As going to Haleakala for sunset does not require any reservations we were able to easily fit it into our itinerary around our other reservations.

We did the Road to Hana drive the day before and came back late at night. We were so glad we did not book the sunrise reservations and were able to sleep in till 10 AM!

We decided to make a day trip out of upcountry Maui and started from our resort in Kannapali in West Maui around 11 AM.

Drive to Haleakala Summit

Below are the distances and travel times to Haleakala Summit from various cities in Maui:

  • West Maui (Kannapali, Lahiana) to Haleakala Summit – 64 miles, around 2-hour drive
  • South Maui (Kihei, Wailea) to Haleakala Summit – 50 miles, around 1.5 hour drive
  • Paia to Haleakala Summit – 35 miles, around 1 hour 15 minutes drive

Once you cross Kahului, you can see Haleakala mountain towering along the side of the road in the distance. It is so huge that it is hard to miss.

Depending on the weather that day, you might see the summit peak if it’s a clear day, or it might be lost in the clouds.

Upcountry Maui

You will first hit upcountry Maui in your drive an hour before you reach the summit. We found the drive to upcountry Maui to be really pleasant, with no sharp curves or cliff edges.

Art gallery in Makawao
Art gallery in Makawao

As we had time, we stopped in Makawao and explored some really cool businesses there.

Sherri Reeve Gallery and Gifts was a beautiful store with unique handmade gifts, paintings, and t-shirts with beautiful colors and prints on them.

Cookie shop in Makawao
Cute Cookie shop in Makawao

The Maui Cookie Lady is a great little bakery where you can pick up some snacks for your trip to the summit!

Kula Lodge is a nice restaurant on the way to the summit. You can stop here for lunch. It is also a hotel if you would like to stay till late for stargazing and would want to stay the night.

Kula Lodge in Haleakala upcountry
Kula Lodge in Haleakala upcountry

Drive from Upcountry to Haleakala Summit

Once we were past Kula, the switchbacks and curvy roads to the summit began.

Driving in the clouds on Haleakala summit drive
We were driving in the clouds on Haleakala Summit Drive

We hit clouds on our drive, and for a while, we were driving inside the clouds. It was so cool!

At first, we were bummed that it was a cloudy day and we might not see the sunset. But as we went further up, the sky cleared, and it was sunny!

Sunny weather once over the clouds on Haleakala summit drive
Sunny weather once over the clouds on Haleakala Summit Drive

Around 20 minutes before the summit, you will reach the Haleakala National Park entrance gate.

Haleakala National Park  summit entrance
Haleakala National Park summit entrance

You need to pay the National Park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle which is valid for 3 consecutive days.

You can use this same entrance permit for the Kipahulu entrance on the Road to Hana to access the Pipiwai trail hike in Haleakala and the Pools of Oheo. These are some of the best stops on the Road to Hana.

The Park Headquarters Visitor Center is right inside the entrance gate, and there are restrooms here. There is another Visitor Center near the summit, which also has restrooms.

The drive from Haleakala Park Entrance to the Summit is the most nerve-racking and not for the faint of heart! The mountain roads are extremely curvy, with no guard rails on the cliff side.

Hairpin turns on mountain roads on Haleakala summit drive
Hairpin turns on mountain roads on Haleakala Summit drive

We are used to mountain roads as we have driven several times on the Pacific Coast Highway, but this was the most extreme to date, and the elevation of 10,000 feet makes it feel worse! Well, we made it slowly to the top, just like everyone else!

If you are not used to mountain roads, I highly suggest you book a tour for the Haleakala summit experience!

Parking at Haleakala Summit

There are two parking lots at the Haleakala Summit.

First, on your way up you will reach the bigger parking lot at the Haleakala Visitor Center. This is where the restrooms are. There are several hiking trails here to explore like the Sliding Sands trail.

Haleakala visitor center parking lot
The Haleakala visitor center parking lot is huge

Next, just half a mile up, is the smaller Haleakala Summit parking. There are no restrooms here.

We had some time before sunset and it was not very cold, still sunny, so we hiked the Sliding Sands trail a bit.

Where to watch Sunset on Haleakala?

There are several places from where you can watch the beautiful Haleakala sunset:

  • From the Haleakala summit – If you have parked at the Visitor Center as we did, you can walk up half a mile to the summit and watch the sunset from there.
  • From the viewpoint on the right side of the Visitor Center parking lot – This was a great unobstructed place to watch the sunset and this is where we went. We even had space to put out beach chairs. Later on, a lot more people joined us to watch the sunset.
  • From the Pakaoao Trail – The Pakaoao trail is a short half-mile trail from the Visitor Center and takes you to Pakaoao Peak, which is a great, less crowded spot for viewing the sunset.
Pakaoao Trail near visitor center
Pakaoao Trail near the visitor center

Haleakala Sunset

The sunset time that day was 7 PM, as it was in winter.

We have seen hundreds of sunsets before, but seeing a sunset at 10,000 feet above a blanket of clouds was an extraordinary experience, something that words cannot describe, nor can pictures capture the beauty of it.

Sunset at Haleakala better than sunrise
Sunset at Haleakala

The crowd clapped and cheered as the sun finally set over the crater, leaving behind a sky with beautiful hues of oranges, reds, and pinks.

The crowd started dispersing right after sunset, but the best pictures come after the sunset as the sky colors are so pretty!

Haleakala sunset colors
Beautiful color hues past sunset

Haleakala Stargazing

If you are comfortable driving down mountain roads in the dark, consider staying for stargazing at the summit.

The Haleakala sunset is devoid of any light pollution because of its elevation and is a great place to see the stars and Milky Way galaxy at night.

Stargazing at Haleakala
Stargazing at Haleakala

7 Tips for watching the sunset on Haleakala

The below Haleakala Sunset tips will help you make the most of your visit to the Haleakala Summit for sunset viewing:

Tip #1 – Bring warm layers

Haleakala Summit has very different weather than the ocean level of Maui, and it can be cold, rainy, and foggy at any time. Pack a warm jacket, beanie, and gloves at a minimum.

Wondering if it snows on Haleakala Summit in Maui? Snow is rare on Haleakala Summit. We visited in winter, and there was no snow at the summit; it was cold, though.

Tip #2 – Arrive early to get parking at the summit

Plan to reach the summit an hour or two before sunset time to get parking and snag the best spot for sunset viewing. If the parking lot at the Haleakala Summit and Haleakala Visitor Center gets full, the cars are turned away.

If that happens to you, your next best option would be Kalahaku Overlook at 9,324 feet or Leleiwi Overlook at 8,840 feet.

Tip #3 – Don’t leave right after sunset

When we were there for sunset, the crowds started dispersing right after sunset. Some of our best pictures were taken after sunset as the sky turned into magnificent hues of oranges, reds, and pinks! There will also be fewer crowds, and you will have more room for some great photos!

Tip #4 – Stay for stargazing

Staying at the summit till dark will allow you to experience stargazing at the Haleakala summit. The night sky at the summit is miles away from Maui lights, and you can see really clear stars and galaxies if it’s a cloud-free night. Just be sure you are comfortable driving down the summit in the dark.

Tip #5 – Come even earlier and explore the hikes at the summit

Haleakala Summit has some great hikes to explore, ranging from easy strolls to strenuous wilderness hikes.

The Sliding Sands Trail (also called the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail) is an 11-mile wilderness hike near the Summit Visitor Center.

I highly recommend exploring just the first half to one mile of this trail to see the cinder cones and the vast panoramic Haleakala Crater views. Just come back the same way you went.

Sliding Sands trail on Haleakala summit
Sliding Sands trail on Haleakala summit

Tip #6 – Explore Upcountry Maui earlier in the day

Make a day trip out of your visit to Haleakala sunset. Upcountry Maui is really nice, and the towns of Makawao and Kula have some great small businesses to explore.

Surfing Goat Dairy and Kula Lavender Farm are fun places to explore. The Maui Cookie Lady in Makawao is a whimsical store where you can pick up some snacks for sunset viewing. We got some unique flavored cookies from here.

Tip #7 – Drive slowly up and down the mountain

The drive to the Haleakala summit is extremely curvy, with hairpin turns over mountain roads. It is very important to drive slowly and have your eyes on the road at all times.

Also, watch out for the endangered bird species ‘nene’ (Hawaiian goose) as they can often be wandering along the side of the road, please make sure you don’t hit them!

Haleakala Summit tours

If the drive up to Haleakala summit on mountain roads with hairpin turns sounds daunting to you, I highly recommend going with a tour for either sunset or sunrise.

Haleakala Sunset tours

Many tours also combine the stargazing experience, and you won’t have to worry about driving down the super curvy cliff roads in the dark.

Below are the best Haleakala sunset tours:

Haleakala Maui Sunset Tour – Enjoy the magnificent sunset at Haleakala and leave the driving to someone else. This tour includes transportation from most hotels in Maui and a stop at the upcountry Kula marketplace to purchase snacks and drinks. Includes tour narration by a professional guide.

Maui Sunset & Stargazing at Haleakala Audio Driving Tour – If you plan on driving to the summit yourself, I highly recommend this Shaka guide audio tour, which will give you information about the history and viewpoints as you drive up Haleakala. We used this and learned so much about upcountry Maui and Haleakala.

Alternatively, you can also get this Maui full island audio tour value bundle by Shaka guide, which includes 6 epic audio driving tours in Maui including Haleakala and Road to Hana!

Haleakala Sunrise Tours

If you still can’t decide between Haleakala sunset or sunrise or want to go for sunrise but are unable to get reservations, you can book a sunrise tour. The tour operators take care of the reservations as the entrance is per vehicle, and the tour vehicles have entrance permits.

Haleakala Sunrise tour with breakfast – This highly-rated tour includes transportation from Maui hotels and takes you to the Haleakala summit for sunrise viewing with narration by a professional guide. Later, the tour stops at the upcountry Kula Lodge restaurant for breakfast. Enjoy the sunrise and leave the planning for reservations and driving to experts!

Haleakala Sunrise and bike down Haleakala tour – Biking down the Haleakala mountain is a very popular thing to do on Maui. This tour includes the Haleakala sunrise viewing and then a self-paced 23-mile downhill bike excursion starting at 6,500 feet. On the way, you can explore Kula and Makawao on your bike. A custom Kona bike, helmets, and gear are included.

Other Haleakala Summit Excursions

Haleakala Downhill Self-Guided Bike Tour – This Haleakala self-guided bike tour meeting point is around 9 AM in Paia town from where they take you in a van to the Haleakala volcano at 6,500 feet. From there, you enjoy a downhill bike excursion at your own pace. Bike, helmet, and gear included.

Haleakala-Hana helicopter tour with Cliffside landing – This highly rated helicopter tour from Kahului Heliport includes a 75-minute flight over Haleakala volcano and Hana rainforests and waterfalls with a private cliffside landing for some amazing photo ops! Check out other best helicopter tours in Maui.

Haleakala summit sunset views
Haleakala Summit Sunset views

Haleakala Sunset and Sunrise FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about a visit to Haleakala National Park for sunset or sunrise.

Do you need reservations for Haleakala sunset?

No, you do not need reservations for the Haleakala sunset. After 7 AM, you can enter the Haleakala National Park summit entrance without any reservation.

Do you need to pay for Haleakala sunset?

Yes, you will need to pay the National Park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle to drive to the Haleakala summit which is where you can view the sunset.

This entrance ticket is valid for 3 consecutive days and can be used at the Kipahulu entrance on the Road to Hana to access the Pipiwai Trail and Oheo Gulch.

How to get a Haleakala sunrise reservation?

Haleakala sunrise reservations open 60 days in advance at 7 AM Hawaii local time and can be purchased online at website. They get sold out within a couple of minutes of opening.

A limited number of reservations (around 50) are opened again 2 days before at 7 AM Hawaii local time, but they are sold out within the first minute during busy tourist season.

Are there restrooms at Haleakala Summit?

Yes, there are restrooms at Haleakala Visitor Center, which is only a half mile downhill from the Haleakala Summit.

What time should I arrive at Haleakala for sunset?

The exact sunset time varies each day depending on the season, but you should plan to arrive at least an hour before sunset to get parking and grab a cool spot to watch the sunset.

You can even come earlier to explore the summit area and the nearby trails. Keep in mind, that if the parking lots at the summit and the visitor center get full, the vehicles are turned away, so it’s better to arrive an hour prior to sunset time to ensure you get parking.

People waiting to watch the Haleakala sunset
People waiting to watch the Haleakala sunset

Where can I watch the sunset in Haleakala?

You can watch the Haleakala sunset from the summit, from the Pakaoao trail near the visitor center, or from the viewpoint to the right side of the Visitor Center parking lot.

Is sunset at Haleakala worth it?

With no reservations needed, warmer temperatures, fewer crowds, not waking up at 3 AM, and flexibility to visit any day, sunset at Haleakala is definitely worth it and a better option than trying to go at sunrise.

Is it worth going to Haleakalā during the day?

Haleakala National Park is so much better during the day when flora and fauna come to life, and the sun warms up the summit, making it easier to explore the hiking trails.

The upcountry region has many unique small towns to explore, like Makawao and Kula. Later you can stay for sunset and then stargazing and enjoy everything Haleakala National Park has to offer!

Is Haleakala better at sunrise or sunset?

Between Haleakala sunrise or sunset, sunset is much better with no reservations needed, warmer weather, less crowded, and more flexibility to visit any day of your stay, unlike sunrise, where you have to go the day you get a reservation.

For sunset, you do not have to wake up at 3 AM, and you can explore upcountry during the day. You can stay later to stargaze after sunset and enjoy the light pollution-free sky.

Where to stay for Haleakala National Park

You can do a day trip to Haleakala summit from your resort in West or South Maui or stay in Paia town or upcountry Maui for closer proximity to Haleakala.

Stay in West or South Maui

Usually, most visitors do a day trip to Haleakala Summit from West Maui and South Maui. We stayed in Kannapali and drove to the summit. It usually takes around 2 hours from Lahaina or Kihei to reach the Haleakala summit.

Check rates and availability for your stay in Maui

If you are deciding between West or South Maui, check out my articles about what to do in Kihei and the best breakfast places in Kihei.

Tip: West Maui has Old Lahaina Luau which is one of the most popular luaus. Check out my Old Lahaina Luau review from our visit.

Stay in upcountry Maui

If you want to explore more of the Haleakala summit or upcountry Maui, then staying a night or two in upcountry Maui is a great idea.

Kula Lodge in upcountry Maui is a great base for exploring Haleakala National Park and the upcountry towns of Kula and Makawao. If you plan on hiking or cycling on Haleakala, this is a great place to stay and has a restaurant.

Stay in Paia

Paia town is also a great base for exploring Haleakala and the Road to Hana. You reduce an hour of drive each way if staying in Paia.

Paia Inn is a great, convenient hotel in Paia with beach access and within walking distance of shops and restaurants in this cute coastal town. Plus, enjoy close proximity to Haleakala, Road to Hana, and Hookipa Beach.

Camping at Haleakala Summit

Hosmer Grove Campground offers drive-up camping in the Haleakala National Park summit region.

There are primitive wilderness tent camping sites within Haleakala that are accessible only by hiking trails.

Final takeaways: Sunset at Haleakala and how it compares to sunrise

Sunset at Haleakala is a much more relaxed, warmer, and less crowded experience than sunrise, and you do not have to plan ahead for reservations for Haleakala sunset.

Go early in the day to get parking at the summit, explore upcountry Maui on the way, and stay till dark for stargazing.

Haleakala Summit, at more than 10,000 feet, is also called the ‘House of the Sun’ and is a must-see on your trip to Maui, whether for sunset or sunrise.

Book a tour if you are not comfortable driving on mountain roads with hairpin turns.

Below are the best Haleakala summit tours:

Up next, if you are visiting during the whale season of December to April, make sure to book a whale-watching tour on Maui!

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Check out my other posts about our trip to Maui!