There are many ways to enjoy Haleakala National Park. Many people get up before the sun rises to drive up to the summit and watch the sunrise. But if your idea of a good time is to hike down into the crater and watch the sunrise from the inside, then camping in Haleakala Crater is the best way to do it.
The summit area of Haleakala National Park consists primarily of a volcanic crater where you can hike and camp. It has approximately 30 miles of hiking trails that criss-cross around the crater. The length of the trails range from short jaunts to multi-day overnight trips.
Camping in Haleakala Crater is an authentic experience for backpackers of all skill levels. But there are some things that you need to know before going there for the first time. This guide will help you know how to be prepared, what to expect, and what to do while camping in Haleakala Crater.
Preparing to Hike and Camp Haleakala
Hiking and camping inside of Haleakala Crater can be very strenuous due to the weather and altitude. Temperatures in the crater usually range between 30 and 70 °F, and can change in a matter of minutes. The altitude inside the crater ranges between approximately 6000 and 7000 feet. The visitor center near the summit is about 9700 feet.
The weather inside of Haleakala Crater is very diverse. The leeward/west side of the crater is usually sunny and drier. The windward/east side of the crater usually gets some rain and is much greener. Due to its geographical location, the crater experiences different microclimates. This means the weather in one part of the crater can be completely different from the other part.
What to Pack
Because of the weather and altitude, it is important to pack correctly if you will be venturing inside the crater. First, be sure to bring proper clothing for hiking. Temperatures regularly dip below 40 °F, even during summertime. During the day, it is usually very sunny due to the crater’s elevation above the cloud line. So make sure to bring a sun hat, and wear a long shirt and long pants to stay out of the sun. It is also advised to bring sunglasses as well.
Sturdy footwear is a must for hiking in Haleakala Crater. You may be hiking over lava rock at some points, so it is wise to wear something that provides a little more protection such as hiking boots. Be sure to bring a patch of moleskin as well – an unexpected foot blister can ruin a hike. Bring slippers or camp shoes for when you will be lounging around camp and want something comfortable to wear.
The crater usually doesn’t see much rain. However, it does rain regularly in some places of the crater, so be sure to bring a rain jacket and rain pants if you have them.
If you are camping, then you will need to either reserve a cabin ahead of time, or bring a tent. There are no trees at the campsites in Haleakala Crater, so you should not bring a hammock.
There is no food for sale anywhere in Haleakala National Park, so be sure to pack in all the food you plan to eat. If you have a camping stove, there is an Ace Hardware in Kahului that sells camping stove fuel. If you are staying in a cabin, then there is a trash can that you can use to dispose of your waste. If you are tent camping, then you must pack out what you pack in.
Haleakala Camping Permit
If you are camping, the first thing you will need to do upon arriving is to get a camping permit. Camping permits are available at the Park Headquarters Visitor Center from 8 am to 3 pm. You can pick up the permit up to one day in advance. Camping permits are first-come-first-serve. One permit is good for your entire group, but you must specify how many people will be in your group.
The park has a total limit of 25 people that are allowed to camp at each campsite per night. But it is uncommon that this limit is reached, so you should be able to receive a permit as long as you aren’t with a very large group.
After getting your camping permit you will need to watch a short 12-minute video. This video explains the park’s Leave No Trace policy, some information about what to expect in the crater, and instructions on how to be a good steward of the park. Even if you are a veteran outdoorsman, it is important that you watch the video – it has information on many rules and procedures that are unique to Haleakala.
Getting Water in Haleakala
Clean water is available from the water fountain at the Haleakala Visitor Center. This is a good spot to fill up your water bottles and bladders before descending into the crater. If you need to refill water while in the crater, there are water catchment systems at each of the cabins. The water from the catchment systems is non-potable, so you must treat it before drinking it. If there is a drought, you must carry in all your water from outside the crater. So check with the park authorities beforehand.
The last thing you want to do before putting your backpack on and hiking into the crater are some stretches. Whether you are hiking from the Sliding Sands Trail or the Halemauʻu Trail, the first part of the hike is all downhill. Hiking downhill with the weight of your backpack can strain your knees if you don’t do the proper stretches ahead of time.
Hiking in Haleakala Crater
There are three trails that you can use to enter or exit to Haleakala Crater:
The Sliding Sands Trail descends into the crater from the Haleakala Visitor Center. This is the trail that most people use to descend into the crater. It spans across almost the entire crater, from west to east. The Sliding Sands Trail is known for its – you guessed it – sliding sands. The dry sands of the trail slide around as you walk over them.
The Halemauʻu Trail starts at a parking lot, a few miles before the Haleakala Visitor Center. This trail spans the northern part of the crater, and passes by the Holua Cabin and campsite. It extends east to about a mile from the Paliku campsite. This is a very scenic trail, that passes through lava fields, the Silversword Loop, and Pele’s Paint Pot – an area known for its vibrantly colored ground.
The Kaupo trail begins about 1 mile west of the Paliku campsite. It extends down the Kaupo Gap, out of the crater, and into the ranching town of Kaupo. Some backpackers will use the Kaupo Trail to exit the crater and continue onward to east Maui, towards the town of Hana.
Inside the crater, you can find many native species such as the Haleakala Silversword. The Silversword is a rare plant that is endemic to the crater and slopes of Haleakala. There are a few trails that go around the cinder cones in the center of the crater. You can take those trails as detours while hiking from one campsite to the next. Wherever you hike, be sure that you stay on official trails. Roaming off-trail can permanently damage the crater’s ecosystem, even if it is not visible.
Camping in Haleakala Crater
There are two campsites in Haleakala Crater: Holua and Paliku. Both of these campsites each have a cabin. If you want to stay in one of the cabins, then you must reserve it ahead of time at this website. Remember that these cabins fill up quickly. If you have a specific date in mind, then you will likely need to reserve the cabin right when it is released (180 days in advance).
Each cabin is equipped with a sink, tables and chairs, and a wood-burning stove. There are bunk beds inside of the cabin where you can sleep. The wood for the wood stove is provided in a locker. You will receive the combination to the wood locker when you receive your cabin permit.
The Holua Campsite is nestled at the bottom of the crater, on the west side below the Leleiwi Overlook. This campsite is known for its sweeping views of the west side of the crater. Sunrises and sunsets at Holua are breathtaking. The sun sets behind the crater rim and lights up the sky in many shades of color. At Holua, you can sometimes witness clouds rolling up the Koʻolau Gap, and into the crater from below.
The Paliku Campsite is located on the eastern side of the crater. The area around Paliku is much greener and moist compared to the rest of the crater. There are even some large trees near Paliku, something that you can’t find anywhere else in the crater. Paliku is also a great area for sightings of native birds. ʻApapane, ʻAmakihi, and ʻIʻiwi can be seen and heard amongst the landscape near Paliku Cabin.
The Kapalaoa Cabin is closed indefinitely and is now used primarily as a rest stop for hikers during the day. Nene Geese are known to hang out around the cabin.
There are outhouses at each campsite. Hikers and campers are urged to take care of their business in these outhouses. There is toilet paper in these outhouses but it is always a good idea to bring your own just in case.
Open fires are prohibited in Haleakala National Park. There are no fire pits at any of the campsites. The only fire that is allowed while in the crater is the fire from your stove when cooking.
After the sun sets in the crater, the temperatures begin to drop rapidly. Night time in the crater can be very quiet and dark. Because of the dark night sky, Haleakala Crater is an excellent place for stargazing. You can usually see the Milky Way with your naked eye from within the crater.
Getting Out of Haleakala Crater
There are a few ways to get out of Haleakala crater. One way is to go up the Sliding Sands Trail to the visitor center. This route is a long uphill trek with up to 2000-3000 feet of elevation gain, depending on where you are coming from.
A much easier way to get out of the crater is to hike up the Halemauʻu Trail to the Halemauʻu Trailhead. The elevation gain of this trail is only 1000 feet if you are coming from the Holua campsite. You will need to coordinate transportation if you leave the crater a different way that you went in. Some campers will leave their car at the Halemauʻu Trailhead and then hitchhike to the Haleakala Visitor Center. By doing this, they can enter the crater from the Sliding Sands Trail, and leave the crater from the Halemauʻu Trail.
Hiking Out of Haleakala via Kaupo Gap
Another exit point of the crater is the Kaupo Gap. The Kaupo Trail descends 6000 feet from the crater to the town of Kaupo on the south side of Maui. This is a long, exhausting hike that can be dangerous due to its length and downhill direction. This trail can give some hikers foot, leg, or knee injuries due to its distance and the fact that it is all downhill.
If you choose to descend down Kaupo Gap, it is wise to have a light pack to minimize strain on your lower body. Also remember that the lower half of the Kaupo trail is on private land. Access through this part of the trail is given to hikers as a courtesy by the landowners.
If you make it all the way down to the town of Kaupō, the first place you will want to go to is the Kaupō General Store. The Kaupō General Store has some snacks such as potato chips and cold drinks (beer!) that taste awesome after a long day of hiking.