Sunrise at Haleakala: How to Get Reservations, What to Wear, What to Expect, Etc.

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If there’s a “don’t miss” experience on Maui, it has to be watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala. Haleakala (meaning “House of clouds”) is Maui’s dormant volcano and it’s one of the most unique National Parks in the US. The summit has an elevation of 10,000 feet and watching the sunrise through the clouds is something you’ll never forget! 

Sunrise at Haleakala

This experience takes some planning though! It can take up to two hours to reach the summit of Haleakala from some of Maui’s resort areas so showing up well before sunrise usually means a 2AM-3AM wake up call. Factor in the SUPER cold temperatures and needing a reservation to get into the park at that hour and you’re going to need some tips.

So I’ll start with my best tip…plan to see sunrise at Haleakala on your first full day on Maui. Because of the time change (assuming you’re coming from the mainland US), you’ll naturally wake up pretty early. If you’re traveling from the east coast, the time difference is 5-6 hours (depending on Daylight Savings Time) so a 2AM wake up call would be 7-8AM back home. Very doable. If you’re coming from the west coast, the time change obviously isn’t as much, but that first morning will still be the easiest day to acclimate to an early wake up. 

The trickiest part about doing sunrise at Haleakala is figuring out exactly what time you need to leave your hotel. It’s tricky because it’s going to vary based on not only where you’re staying but also the time of year (time of sunrise). 

First, find out exactly what time sunrise will be (this site has accurate times) and then plan to be at the summit AT LEAST 30 minutes before that. That’s if you’re ok with getting there once it’s already started to lighten up a bit but before the whole shebang.

BUT part of the drama of seeing sunrise at Haleakala is arriving when the sky is completely black and seeing first light before sunrise. So if you’re fully committed and this is a big deal for you, then plan to arrive an hour or more before the official sunrise time. 

The line to pay at the park gates often gets backed up a little bit plus there’s quite a crowd once you get to the summit…the early bird gets the best spot! So build in a buffer to allow for delays and if it’s important to you to get a prime spot at the rail to set up a camera then plan accordingly. 

Once you have your target time for arrival, you just need to figure out how long it will take to get to the summit from your hotel. It’s a solid 1.5-2 hours to reach the summit parking lot from most resort areas on Maui (use Google maps to find the exact time from your hotel). And then figure out what time you need to wake up! Tip: There’s probably not going to be anything open food wise when you leave your hotel so have a plan for any snacks/coffee you’ll need the night before. 

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Reservations for Sunrise at Haleakala

If you’re feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed about getting up to Haleakala for sunrise, know that it used to be FIRST COME FIRST SERVE. That’s right. You could get up in the middle of the night and drive 2 hours and get turned away because the parking lot was FULL. Thankfully, the National Park Service has now instituted an online reservation system that takes the chance out of the process. So here are the details on snagging a reservation: 

Reservations are REQUIRED to enter the National Park during the sunrise hours (3AM-7AM) which ensures that you’ll have a parking spot at the summit. Reservations can be made 7 days in advance at this website

Bookings open up at exactly 7AM (HST) 60 days out. There is a $1 online service charge paid upon booking (separate from the $30/vehicle park admission paid upon arrival). There are a limited number of reservations available every day and sometimes they sell out pretty fast so you definitely want to track the day you’re shooting for and get it booked as soon as the window opens.

What to Wear at Haleakala

Pack super warm clothes! It gets COLD at the summit. And I don’t mean cold for Hawaii. It’s not uncommon for it to be in the 20s and 30s at that elevation (Fahrenheit).  and is pretty windy so it feels even colder. 

Wear long pants for sure and layer up on top (you’ll want a fleece jacket at LEAST). I always pack a hat and gloves and warm socks plus take a beach blanket to wrap around myself to cut the wind. I know this probably sounds overly dramatic, but here’s the deal: 1) when you get in your car at your resort it’ll be in the 80s and when you get out of your car at the summit it’ll be in the 30s. Yikes. 2) It’s usually pretty windy so it feels much colder than the actual air temperature. 3) You’re not in and out of the car quickly. You’ll arrive at the summit when it’s still dark and you’ll have to wait 30-60 minutes for sunrise to start. 4) You’re not moving around-no hiking required-you’re just standing still. 

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

Tips for Haleakala Sunrise

Here are some extra tips:

Pack motion sickness medications if you’re prone to it. The drive up is very curvy.

Take snacks and drink plenty of water. You’ll be driving from sea level to 10,000 feet in about 25 miles. The change in altitude is no joke! I myself have passed out before in the visitors center shortly after sunrise ; )

Take your National Park Passport. If you have a National Parks Passport, you’ll definitely want to get it stamped at the visitors center.

 Sunrise vs Sunset at Haleakala

Going up for sunset is a good alternative for those not wanting to do sunrise at Haleakala. It’s a bit warmer, you don’t need reservations, and you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night. If you go with this option, I would plan to spend some time upcountry in the afternoon before you drive up for sunset. Drive up to Ulupalakua to the winery. You’ll have amazing views of Wailea down below. The winery has a tasting room and tours where you can learn more about the historic property.  Also check out the ranch store across the street (you could even pick up a picnic here to take up to the summit). Also the Ali’i Lavender Farm is in the area and it’s one of my favorite spots on Maui. 

On Another Note: If you’re looking for a condo or vacation rental for your trip, I’ve put together a post about where to find condos on Maui. It breaks down different areas to look for condos depending on your budget and what you’re looking for. Seriously, don’t miss this post

Set Your Expectations

This seems silly to have to say (hey, I’ve read plenty of experiences in Facebook groups), but sunrise and sunsets are NATURAL PHENOMENA so while they always occur, conditions aren’t always good for seeing them. It’s not uncommon for the weather to be so poor at the summit that you don’t get to see sunrise. Especially in the winter months. And unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell until you get up there (the summit is often obscured by clouds from below but once you get up there you’re above the clouds). 

I’ve personally been up to Haleakala for sunrise three times and I’ve only seen it once : ) 

January – Saw the sunrise A+ BEAUTIFUL

February – Conditions looked perfect until about 30 minutes before official sunrise time (we had already started seeing good color) and then clouds blew in and it was completely gray. We got treated to great color and a full moon on the other side though

September – 100% cloudy, gray, very low visibility

So it’s really pretty random. But statistically, you have a VERY good chance of seeing a beautiful sunrise anytime of the year. 

Haleakala Sunrise Tours

If you’d rather be picked up at your resort, shuttled to the top of the mountain, and have a full tour with breakfast, there are plenty of tours to choose from. 

Pros: You don’t have to drive, don’t have to worry about getting a reservation, and you’ll get commentary from a tour guide. 

Con: You don’t get your money back if visibility is poor and you don’t get to see sunrise. 

Given my personal track record for actually seeing a sunrise, I just can’t fathom paying $150/person for a tour and taking the big risk of not getting to see anything. 

I 100% recommend doing Haleakala sunrise on your own. It’s a bummer to get up early and drive all that way to get rained/clouded out, BUT $31 (reservation fee plus park entrance) is a lot easier to stomach than $150/person. 

What to Do After Sunrise

After sunrise, many people head back down the mountain but you may want to stick around for a bit and do a little hiking in the crater. It’s a phenomenal sight (it looks like Mars-or so they say!).  Sliding Sands is the most popular trail. It’s 11-miles (a full day) and ends at Halemau‘u. The park doesn’t offer shuttles, but hitchhiking back to the visitors center is recommended by the park so unless the weather is bad (or it’s really late) it’s pretty easy to get a ride. 

If you’re not up for a full day hike (it’s obviously not a hike to be taken lightly), at least hike the first half mile down into the crater which is where you’ll get to the first overlook. Pack in your own food (not sold in the park) and plenty of water.

After your experience at Haleakala, you’ve got to partake in one of Maui’s best traditions…stopping at Komoda Bakery in Makawao for their famous stick donuts. Makawao is a charming cowboy town located in the upcountry (on your way down from Haleakala). Komoda has been around for decades and their donuts (and other baked goods are legendary). They sell out early and it’s a popular spot for sunrise watchers. 

If you’re looking for a more substantial breakfast spot, my personal favorite place to go post sunrise (anytime really) is Grandma’s in Keokea. It’s popular with the locals, right around the corner from Oprah’s house, and has THE BEST FOOD. 

Their kalua pork eggs benedict is INCREDIBLE. Seriously, like one of my favorite meals anywhere. They use corn waffles instead of english muffins and it’s just…sigh. 

Also anything in the pastry/bakery case is 100% worth the calories.

Want to read more posts about Maui? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Maui // 4 Day Maui Itinerary // My Favorite Road to Hana Itinerary // Things to Do Upcountry // Tips for Sunrise at Haleakala National Park // Snorkeling Molokini Crater // Whale Watching

My Favorite Hotels on Maui // Where to Find Condos on Maui // Wailea vs Kaanapali // Every Resort in Wailea Ranked // Four Seasons Maui Review // Andaz Maui Review // Fairmont Kea Lani Review // Wailea Beach Resort Review // Four Seasons vs Andaz Maui // Andaz Maui vs Wailea Beach Resort

Best Restaurants in Wailea // Best Breakfast in Wailea & Kihei // Mama’s Fish House // Best Luaus in Wailea

My Favorite Things to Do in South Maui // Best Beaches in Wailea & Kihei // Road to Hana Tips // Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana // Where to See Turtles on Maui

Maui vs Kauai // Everything You Need to Know BEFORE you go to Maui

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.

P.S. Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! If you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m there answering questions every day and there are 7500+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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