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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting to Know Hawaii: Haleakala National Park

The Need to Knows:
  • Haleakala National Park is located off State Highway 378 in Kula, HI on Maui.  The exact location of the park's summit visitor center is here:

  • The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The Visitor Center at the summit is open from 6AM to 3PM local time.
  • The cost to enter the park is $10 per vehicle and $5 per hiker and biker or free for military.
  • Folks with respiratory issues, heart conditions, or anything similar who cannot handle high altitudes should stay away from this activity.
  • Dressing warmly is an absolute necessity since you will be at 9,000 feet plus in elevation.  Do not try to come up here in shorts and slippers!  The temperature can easily reach below freezing at night depending on the time of year and in the 50s or so in the daytime.  Mr. L and I wore long socks, long pants, sneakers, gloves, a beanie, a long sleeve undershirt, a T-shirt over that, a lightweight jacket, and a hoodie for this trip in May.  As the summit got warmer, we would take off another layer of clothing and still be able to remain comfortable.  (Also keep in mind that Mr. L and I are FULLY adapted to a tropical climate, so it may seem much colder on the summit to us than it would to some of you snowbirds out there!)
  • Food and gas are not sold within the park itself, so plan accordingly.  Fill up and bring snacks!
  • You definitely need to stay hydrated at this altitude.  Altitude sickness is real and can be quickly brought on by dehydration, so bring plenty of water for everyone.  Sunblock is also absolutely a necessity here.
  • Make sure to be aware of any kinds of changes in your own body or your loved ones', especially if you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, or you get a headache.  Walk slowly and take it easy up here!
  • Please keep in mind that you are in a delicate environment.  Endangered species are quite prevalent here, so drive slowly, walk carefully, and never remove anything from the park you didn't put there yourself!
  • If you need more information on Haleakala, check out the NPS website for Haleakala National Park here.
I know my posts are normally photo-heavy, but be warned -- this one is even more so!

In my last GTKH post, I talked about watching the sunrise from Haleakala Crater and showed you all some pretty pictures.  Luckily for you, you get even more pretty pictures, but this time in daylight!  After the sunrise was over, Mr. L and I hung around and took advantage of exploring as much of Haleakala National Park as we feasibly could in the amount of time we had (read: the amount of time before we fell asleep on our feet!).  I knew there were some things we wanted to see and a few lookouts we wanted to visit, so we set off to check them out!

View of the crater from the visitor center

After the sunrise, Mr. L and I decided to check out the park's visitor center to take advantage of their heater!    The center was on the small side, but there were things available like sweatshirts and water bottles for people who had come up to the summit unprepared, like us.  Yes, we'd forgotten to take water which was not very smart of us at all (hydration is very important at high altitudes to help prevent altitude sickness), so we purchased a couple of water bottles along with some other souvenirs to take back with us.

3D map of Maui and Haleakala National Park
Next, we decided to see a couple of trails right off the visitor center parking lot -- the Pa Ka'oao Trail and the Sliding Sands Trail.  Thankfully, the Pa Ko'aoa Trail is just a quick 0.2 mile jaunt to the top of a cinder cone (and 0.2 miles back down), so even though I was definitely feeling the side effects of altitude sickness already (I was wobbly, my heart was racing, and I felt like I was drunk) I was comfortable making the short trek.

Looking back on the visitor center and parking lot (with the Maui coastline and Pacific Ocean down below)
Observatories at Haleakala's summit

View of Mauna Kea (left) and Mauna Loa (right), two of the Big Island's volcanoes (both around 14,000 feet tall)
The views of the crater from here were equally beautiful and would be another great place to watch the sun come up.  Mr. L and I actually almost accidentally walked up this trail in the dark, but stopped when we found the railings at the visitor center and decided to just set up there.

Massive crater walls -- wouldn't want to slide down that!
Great view of the Sliding Sands trail

Sliding Sands, however, was an entirely different story from Pa Ka'oao.  It's actually 11 miles long one way and is considered a moderate to strenuous day hike, but it is also one of the best trails in Haleakala National Park.  The majority of people just do the first few miles of the trail and come back up the way they came.  Just keep in mind that going up is a lot harder than going down if you plan on doing this, and if you'd like to know more about the trail, EveryTrail has a good guide here.

It's hard to really get a sense of the scale of things just from these pictures, but hopefully having these hikers in frame helps!
I'd read about how steep it was, but after seeing it in person, I knew that I was only going for a short walk and then I was making my way back up.  We were obviously woefully unprepared to actually do this trail as a hike, but we never actually planned on doing a lot of it anyways.  Just a small portion was good enough to wet our whistles!

If you squint, you can see a group of backpackers about to start the Sliding Sands trail and explore the crater
The same hikers in the other picture -- they walked a long way in the time I was snapping these pictures!
After checking out the two trails, Mr. L and I hopped in the car and made our way to the actual summit of Haleakala which sits at 10,023 feet high.  There's a building here with glass windows and signs explaining what you're looking at that can offer some shelter from the elements, especially if you choose to watch the sunrise from here.

Two chukar partridges hanging out at the summit
View looking back at the visitor center and parking lot

Inside the building at the summit with Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in the background
You may have noticed when you drove up the large plants in the parking lot.  These are a very endangered species known as 'Ahinahina, or Haleakala silverswords, and they are truly a testament to Mother Nature being able to adapt to even the harshest landscapes on earth.  They are coated in silver hairs that actually reflect sunlight back onto itself to raise their temperatures.  This type of silversword is only found here within the crater environment of Haleakala and can live up to 50 years or more.  They only flower once, near the time of their death, so it's actually rare to see one in full bloom.  Be sure to admire these plants, just from a distance.

When we were done taking pictures of the plants and the views, Mr. L and I said goodbye to Haleakala's summit and backtracked back down past the visitor center until we were at the Kalahaku Lookout.

Looking down on Kahului and the Maui coastline
Haleakala's many cinder cones

I had a panorama similar to this one turned into a canvas to hang in our living room :)
Long way down!
I think this lookout was the winner for my favorite view of the crater that day.  I couldn't stop walking back and forth along the fence and just saying, "Wow!" to myself over and over.  The sun was really starting to bring out the varied and vibrant colors of the crater and it was such a beautiful sight to see.  I don't think Mr. L or I will ever forget it for as long as we live and we truly hated to leave!

The Ko'olau Gap in the crater and the coastline beyond
Old lava flows layered in the crater

The Sliding Sands Trail and the Ka Lu'u o ka O'o cinder cone

Pu'u O Maui, the tallest cinder cone in the crater at 500 feet
Our final stop was again on the way back down Haleakala at another lookout -- this time the Leleiwi Lookout.  This stop offers a sweeping views of the Maui upcountry, Kahului, the West Maui volcano, and Pacific Ocean below you via a short trail and is simply gorgeous.

This is a nice area to do a little bit of on-the-trail exploring of the flora and fauna around you, and getting to watch the clouds roll in below you is kind of thrilling.  I enjoyed that Leleiwi offered great views from the elevation that you're at while the rest of the lookout areas were more crater-focused.  It puts into perspective just how high up you are!

Mr. L and I simply loved getting to experience such a wondrous and beautiful place while we were in Maui.  The landscapes are otherworldly, the views breathtaking, and the climate wondrously chilly and delightful (a novelty to someone like me who's been living on Oahu for nearly three years!).  Haleakala National Park has so much to offer, obviously even more than I could include in this blog post, and I will always highly recommend exploring it to anyone I know who plans on visiting Maui or the state of Hawaii.

What's your favorite national park?

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