Haleakala’s Halemau’u Trail

Haleakala Clouds

lehia apanaBy Lehia Apana
(Lehia is the chief blogger at Everyday Maui, a new and very cool new blog sharing our amazing island.)

By far, the most popular question I get from people who have never been to Maui: What’s the best hike? It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

Are you a wandering hiker who walks at a snails’ pace and clogs the trail flow? Or do you dash through like someone’s chasing after you? Do you prefer loop trails or point-to-point? Bird watching or coastal views?

hiking groupWhile no hike is a one-size-fits-all, there is one place on Maui that I keep going back to year after year: Haleakala National Park‘s Halemau’u Trail to Holua Cabin. Besides the hike, you have the option to camp at Holua overnight. (In the last month alone, I’ve hiked and camped here twice.) Besides being a stellar walk with postcard worthy views, you can also tell your friends and family you camped inside the world’s largest dormant volcano. Or better yet, bring them along!

If you plan to camp overnight, be sure to check-in at the Visitor Center beforehand, where you’ll watch a mandatory video on campaign etiquette (it’s short — about 8 minutes long), then get your permits. The Visitor Center is on the right side of the road just past the park entrance. There is a $10 per car fee to get into the park, whether you’re camping or not.

trail signIf you drive to the very top of Haleakala, you’ll be at 10,023 feet elevation. The Haleamau’u Trail parking lot and trail head begins at around 8,000 feet, and the walk to Holua Cabin is just under four miles.

The hike begins gently, with a slightly downhill walk through wide paths and native scrub.  It’s a nice way to get your legs warmed up for the real test: the switchbacks, which descend about 1,000 feet until leveling off at the valley floor.

switchbacks haleakala

Maui is even more gorgeous from this dramatic vantage point, and you’ll get some awesome bird-eye-views of remote Keanae Valley. The view is sometimes blocked by clouds, which can be pretty cool in itself — like stepping outside of an airplane mid-flight!

walking in clouds

camping stylesThe weather at this elevation is a crap shoot. It can change suddenly and without any warning whatsoever. That said, prepare for EVERYTHING. It’s not common, but it has even snowed way up there! Layering is your best defense, as is a waterproof jacket. And sunscreen is a must, even when it’s really cold. Comfort is key, even if it means looking like you got dressed in the dark…umm, like my friends and I. 

Once at the bottom of the switchbacks, there’s a nice flat resting place to catch your breath. But the work isn’t over yet. There’s another mile or so walk to the cabins and campsites. If you want a cabin, you’ll have to reserve in advance through the Haleakala National Park website. Be warned, though, these fill up fast.

camping spotAnother option is to call on Mother Nature’s accommodations and pitch a tent. If you walk past Holua Cabin, you’ll find an uphill path leading to the camping area that offers somewhat sheltered camping spots. Some are covered in grass, others in dirt like the one pictured.

Hawaii’s beloved state bird, the nene, calls Haleakala home. I’ve been told by a park ranger that the nene can be found exclusively within Haleakala and some parts of the Big Island, although I have seen them cruising around golf courses in Central Maui on occasion. Either way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see nene near Holua Cabin.

silversword and nene

As for the silversword (ahinahina in Hawaiian), Haleakala National Park’s other unofficial mascot besides the nene, this rare and finicky plant is only found in the park boundaries. Here’s some young silversword that are found just outside the Visitors Center, and here’s a mature flowering version. Looks like something from a sci-fi movie, huh?

In fact, this entire hike is more like something out of National Geographic. It’s not for the faint of heart (probably best for intermediate to advanced hikers), but the reward is a getting to see Maui’s rugged beauty firsthand. Standing on the crater floor, everywhere you look is stunning. No cars, no buildings, no distractions — Haleakala is truly an escape from everyday stresses. Do yourself a favor and lace up those hiking boots. Maybe I’ll see you on the trail!

Camping under the stars

If you go, remember…


… to pack your own water or bring a water filter. There is running water inside the cabin and another faucet just outside the cabin, but it must be treated before drinking. 


… if you’re camping, check-in at the Visitors Center just inside the entrance gate. The fee to enter the park is $10 per car. If you’re caught without a permit, you’re in trouble. 


… Haleakala National Park follows leave-no-trace principles, which means that if you pack it in, expect to pack it out. Yep, even those extra banana peels or apple cores. 


… something for blisters, just in case. Duct tape works really well. Rather than packing an entire roll, simply wrap some tape around a bottle to save space.

Haleakala Sunset


Alternately, if you’re looking for a way to experience the ‘House of the Sun’ without a hike, a guided sunrise tour of Haleakala with the experienced guides at Valley Isle Excursions is an excellent, stress-free option. You’ll be picked up directly from your hotel or condo, served a light breakfast of fresh fruits and pastries, and driven through Upcountry to the Summit Visitor Center and viewing area in time to witness a gorgeous Maui sunrise (with a warm beverage in hand!). Afterward, you’ll journey back down the volcano for a full breakfast buffet, all while learning Haleakala historical information and more insight about Hawaiian culture, before finally arriving back at your accommodation with plenty of time to explore or relax. Call (808) 661-8687 to reserve your spot or read more about the Haleakala Sunrise Tour for more information.

valley isle excursions haleakala sunrise tour

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  • Great post. I did the hike all the way out Kaupo Gap in 1997 when I was 42. Down sliding sands, 6 miles to the first cabin, then 1.2 I think to Pali Ku (the second cabin)… It’s so awesome. Tip: we learned that wkibg out backwards was best for your knees…

  • Awesome post! Thanks for sharing, Lehia and Chris! This hike is definitely on my Rediscovering-Maui-Must-Dos list. 🙂 P.S. I LOVE looks-like-you-got-dressed-in-the-dark-comfort-first fashion! As a matter of fact, I’m sporting that look right now!

  • Hi, Lehia…

    I hiked Halemau’u trail to Holua cabin a few days ago, and I got lucky: the weather was exceedingly clear, I could even see the Hana airport and the east coastline. It was surreal like stepping into Jurassic Park, and walking the land bridge was akin to being inside a video game only better! Absolutely one of the best hikes on Maui! Heading back up the trail, misty clouds soaked my gear, however, it was very ethereal and refreshing.

    Mahalo for your great blog.


    • Love that land bridge. We always stop there for a break and to take it all in! And I’m glad you had nice weather. After all, Haleakala is like a box of chocolates…

      • Following the Halemau’u to Holua hike, I hiked up from the Supply Trail and had lunch just past the land bridge to the outcropping before the switch backs. Good workout and an awesome place to just soak it all in!

  • you can wrap duct tape around an old plastic gift card. just remember to fold the end of the duct tape back alittle so you can grab it easier and put in a small pocket on your pack. (son learn this during orientation for USAF ROTC)

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