Maui is known for incredible hiking but one trail that stands out above others is the Halemau’u Trail at Haleakalā National Park. From all the day hikes that we did during our 10-day trip in Maui, the Halemau’u Trail was by far my favorite, but it was also the most difficult one!
The Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail is an 11.2 mile-long hike that starts at the Haleakalā Visitor Center, descends around 2400 feet in elevation to the volcanic crater floor where it flattens out before climbing 1400 feet back up. This trail is long and hard but you will be rewarded with some of the best views of red cinder cones, lush alpine landscapes, and ancient black volcanic lava rocks.
This is an all-day-long trail and will require some planning but our guide covers all you need to know so you can be prepared for a hike of a lifetime!
Quick Trail Facts
Before we dive into the details, here are a few Halemau’u Trail facts to give you an overall idea of the hike:
- Length: 11.2 miles
- Starting point: Keonehe’ehe’e Trailhead (Sliding Sands Trail)
- Ending point: Halemau’u Trailhead
- Elevation change: Around 3000 feet
- Trail difficulty: Hard
- Time needed: Around 6 hours
- Dogs allowed? No, this trail is located within a National Park
Location & Parking
Due to its length and difficulty, it’s not recommended to hike the Halemau’u Trail out and back as a day hike. Instead, most people park their car at the ending point and catch a ride to the starting point so you only have to hike one way – from the top of the volcano down into the crater floor and then to your car. This way you’re mostly hiking downhill avoiding some of the most strenuous sections.
There is a designated visitor parking lot at 8000 feet in elevation by the Halemau’u Trailhead where hikers can leave their car.
At this trailhead, there is also a basic restroom if you need to use it before or after the hike. There will be no restrooms along this long hike so it’s best to use it before you head into the trail.
After parking, follow signs for the Hitchiker Pullout Trail that will cross the main road and travel down a narrow, rocky path.
Here you will find a large area next to the road where you can safely wait for a car to give you a ride. Be sure to extend your arm with a thumbs up as a universal signal that you need a ride!
When we arrived at the hitchhiker pullout only two other people were waiting there and we all got a ride within 5 minutes. This may not always be the case but Haleakalā National Park is a very popular attraction so plenty of cars pass through this road all day long.
Once we got picked up it’s only a 15-minute drive to the Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) Trailhead.
The Sliding Sands Trailhead is located by the visitor center next to the parking lot.
This entire hike is 11.2 miles long and ends at the parking lot where you left your car. This way you can conveniently get to your car after the hike is over and head out.
Starting point: Keonehe’ehe’e Trailhead, Kula, HI 96790
Ending point/where to park your car: Halemauu Trail, Kula, HI 96790
Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail is one of the longest but most rewarding hikes that we did on our trip to Maui. While the Pīpīwai Trail and the Waihe’e Ridge Trail usually get most of the attention, this trek was such a hidden gem.
Due to the Halemau’u Trail’s length and difficulty, not many people attempt it or even know about it.
We only saw a handful of people on this hike which to me was an added bonus. The only other hikers we ran into were the same people we caught a ride with and a few overnight backpackers.
The majority of Haleakalā National Park visitors just head to the drive-up viewpoints or do a portion of the Sliding Sands Trail from the visitor center. But if you have the extra time and energy, this will be an experience of a lifetime!
Most of the Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail is well marked but there are a couple of turns that you will need to make which can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the trail names.
This hike is already very long so avoid getting lost by checking the route frequently. For this trip we used Maps.Me offline hiking app but you can also find this hike listed on AllTrails as Haleakala Crater Trail.
The entire hike took us around 6 hours so plan accordingly and arrive early enough to finish the trail before sunset.
The earlier you start, the better chance you will also have at catching a ride to the starting point.
Keep in mind that it can get extremely hot at Haleakalā National Park so be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks to give you energy to power through the hikes.
While you don’t need any special gear to do this trail, you will need good hiking shoes.
The Haleakala Crater Trail travels across rough terrain and your feet will get very tired from trekking on soft sand and hard volcanic rocks. Good hiking shoes will make this hike so much more enjoyable and help avoid getting blisters or twisting your ankles.
Know Before You Go
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you head out on the trail:
- Sliding Sands & Halemau’u Trails are located within Haleakalā National Park so there is a fee to enter and hike this trail. The current fee is $30 per vehicle for a 3-day pass. Or you can purchase an Interagency Annual Pass for $80 which will grant you unlimited entry into any US National Park for a year. This is what I have and it’s already paid itself off within a couple of trips.
- There is limited to no reception at the park so I recommend familiarizing yourself with the trail and downloading a map before you set out on your hike.
- Maui weather can get very hot and humid. Be sure to bring several water bottles per person, wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and bring a lip balm. We found a water fountain at the visitor center where we filled up on water before the hike but saw no other water sources once we headed into the trail.
- There are no gas stations inside the Haleakalā National Park so be sure to fill up on gas before entering the park.
- The Haleakalā volcano is located high in altitude so you may feel altitude sickness. Hiking in altitude and can lead to exhaustion, dizziness, vomiting, or worse. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If that happens hike slowly, drink plenty of water, take frequent breaks and try to get off the mountain as soon as possible.
- When hiking, please stay on designated trails. You will see areas where previous hikers have created shortcuts by going off-trail destroying the terrain and plants. Many of the plants and animals here are endangered so it’s important to stick to established trails, watch for signs and avoid disturbing wildlife and birds if you see any during your visit.
- If you’re tempted to take any volcanic rocks as a souvenir, please don’t. It is illegal to remove anything from this park and can lead to hefty fines for those who try. Thousands of dollars are spent every year to return displaced rocks, sand, and coral reef to their original location in Maui. Just don’t be that person.
- When hiking and camping at a National Park follow Leave No Trace principles. You can read more about Leave No Trace here but essentially that means leave the place better than you found it. Take out any trash, food, or toilet paper instead of burying it in the ground.
- Haleakalā Volcano is considered to be sacred land. Please be mindful and respectful of the local rules.
What To Bring
The weather in Maui for the most part is very hot but it can change drastically especially at high altitudes. During our hike, it was hot and dry one minute and then extremely windy and rainy the next.
Here are some items that we packed for the Haleakalā Crater Trail:
- Merrell Trail Running Shoes that are perfect for long day hikes
- Stretchy Nike leggings that allow for lots of movement
- Comfortable shirt and plenty of layers
- Polarized Sunglasses & a hiking hat to help with harsh sunlight
- A jacket or a sweater because it does get windy and cold along sections of this trail
- Mineral Sunscreen & lip balm which is essential for hiking in Maui
- Reusable water bottle with a filter, plus extra water for longer day hikes like this one
- Headlamp in case you get lost and a first aid kit for emergencies
- Portable phone charger in case your phone runs out of battery
- A small backpack that fits everything you may need for a day hike
- Trekking poles can help with steep inclines and climbs
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Hiking The Halemau’u Trail
Here is the detailed breakdown of the Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail for those wondering what the hike is like & a few of the “must-see” stops along the trail.
The starting point for this trail is at the summit of the Haleakalā volcano near the visitor center. From there it travels for 3.9 miles along the Sliding Sands Trail into a former volcano eruption zone.
The Sliding Sands Trail portion consists of long switchbacks along the crater walls that descend around 2400 feet.
In this section you will see amazing views of the bare volcanic landscape, red hills, and volcanic cinder cones that look so unique and out of this planet.
Going down these switchbacks is fast and easy, but they can be quite misleading. If at any point you decide to turn around, the climb back up is slow and difficult and can make you feel winded from the altitude. We did the Sliding Sands section with our family on another day and we all had a hard time coming back up.
If you make it to the bottom of the crater, you are pretty much committed to hiking the entire 11.2 miles. It’s much easier to continue on and finish the hike than turn around and climb nearly 3000 feet back in elevation.
At the bottom of the crater floor, you will need to make a left at the 3.9-mile mark and turn off from the Sliding Sands Trail to continue along a rocky path.
The landscape here turns into otherworldly looking volcanic rock and black sand that is slow going because you have to watch every step that you take.
Although the alpine desert landscape looks bare and unlivable, there are many plants, birds, and insects that reside here. During our hike, we even heard nēnē goose calls echoing through the valley.
Along the crater floor, there will be a smaller climb up a hill which will give you great views of the crater from the opposite end. Then you will need to make another left into the official Halemau’u Trail.
At the 6.3-mile mark, there is an option to head into a short side trail called the Silversword Loop Trail. At the time we didn’t know how long this side trail was so we decided to skip it and stay on the main path.
Before making the final climb back up you will pass the Hōlua cabin and campground that are used for overnight backpackers.
In the printed pamphlet that was given to us at the park entrance, it says that wilderness permits are given out at the park headquarters on a first-come-first-serve basis up to one day before the trip. However, on the park website, it says that wilderness campsites must be reserved online ahead of time.
It’s possible that the printed pamphlets are outdated and now all reservations must be made online. If this is something that interests you, read more about Hōlua campsite reservations here.
In the next part, the landscape changes from an alpine desert into cloud-covered shrubland full of lush jungle plants and red fern. This trail is long so you get to experience many unique and interesting ecosystems.
Around 8.5 miles in you will start the last stretch of the hike that consists of nonstop switchbacks that go directly up the mountain.
This will be the hardest part of the entire trail but also one of the most scenic sections with panoramic views overlooking the volcanic valley.
There is a permanent cloud that hovers above the Haleakalā Volcano providing water to the surrounding rainforests, streams, and waterfalls. Thankfully for hikers, these clouds also provided much-needed shade and slight mist during the hottest part of the day.
The trail ends at the 11.2-mile mark back in the parking lot where we left our car. We were able to rest for a bit, use the bathroom, and stretch before making the long drive down the mountain.
Overall, the hike took us around 6 hours, starting at 10:30 am and ending at 4:30 pm.
Where To Stay
The two main hotel areas in Maui are called Kihei and Lahaina. If you plan to visit the Haleakalā National Park I recommend staying in Kihei which is a 1.5-hour drive from the volcano summit. We stayed at a Koa Resort rental apartment in Kihei which was conveniently located near restaurants and breakfast places. This made our trip and hike planning super easy because all the food spots were within a 5-minute drive.
Many visitors also stay in Lahaina which has bigger chain resorts and hotels. Lahaina is a bit further from the Haleakalā Volcano but only adds 20 minutes to the drive. Either way, it’s a long drive to the volcano summit no matter where you’re staying so plan accordingly and leave early.
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