advertisement

"Maui High" means different things to different folks, no doubt, but for outdoor enthusiasts, it means hiking on Haleakala, the island's highest point, at 10,023 feet above sea level. You have to walk slowly here because the air is so thin, and footing not always secure, thanks to the number of volcanic rocks and other causes of uneven surfaces. Because of the thin air, visibility is excellent, and you can see Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii when the weather is good.

The summit is also one of the few easily accessible places in the state where its rare and endemic species survive and thrive, in fact. Native birds (such as the uau, the Hawaiian Duck, burrows in the summit area) and plants like the Hawaiian honeycreeper can be seen here, the latter in comparative abundance. Incidentally, the park says it has more endangered species than any other in the National Park Service listings.

You get to the park's summit area from Kahului on State 37 to 377 and 378, taking about 90 minutes. To reach the coastal area of the park around Kipahulu, take State 36 to 360 and 31, taking about three hours from Kahului.

Drop by a Visitor Center before moving around. Two centers of the three are open daily, year round: Park Headquarters, 7000 feet altitude (8am-4pm) and Kipahulu, sea level (9am-5pm). The Haleakala center, 9740 feet high (6:30am-3:30pm) is closed only on December 25 and January 1. Each has an information center, cultural and natural history exhibits, books, maps, etc.

The park is open year round, 24/7, except in case of severe weather closures. And it's fairly old, as parks, go, having been established in 1916 within one week of the creation of the National Park Service itself. And by the way, if you're referencing an old guidebook, don't bother to look for "the Seven Sacred Pools." They don't exist, and never did.

Highlights

You have a choice of enjoying hiking around the summit area, with its desert-like ambience and amazing variety of flora and fauna, or of making your way through lush tropical foliage down at sea level, or doing both. Camping out can be educational and inspiring, the hiking invigorating and healthy as all-get-out. You can camp in the summit area at cabins built back in the 1930s or outdoors in campgrounds in the Wilderness area (24,719 acres), so designated since 1976.

Twice a week, visitors to the summit area can join park staff on a guided hike to explore some of the hidden nooks in the park's ecosystem. At other times, staff are usually available during Visitor Center hours to answer any questions you may have. There are also daily talks here on summit topics.

Day hikes ranging from one-fourth of a mile to all-day experiences can be had in the summit area. In the lower area along the coast, you can take short walks to see lower pools and the coastline, or a half-day hike to the upper pools, waterfalls and the bamboo forest. You have to bring in anything you want, as there is no food, beverage, clothing or fuel for sale in the park. Remember to take along plenty of drinking water, especially if you visit the dry summit area. Note also that you should bring layers of clothing for all seasons, as on any given day, the temperature range in the park can be from freezing or below at the summit up to a high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit down in Kipahulu, and clouds and rain can quickly replace warm sunshine in either spot.

Finally, there are occasional Hawaiian cultural activities in both areas of the park--ask at the visitor centers for details and dates.

Admission Fees

A General Car Pass goes for $10 and is valid for three days, admitting one car and all occupants to the park. If you're hiking or on a bike or motorcycle, it's $5. You can get a Tri Parks Pass, good for Haleakala, Hawaii Volcanoes and Puuhonua o Honaunau national parks, costing $25 for a year for a car and all its occupants.

You could buy an Interagency Pass good for one year at $80, valid for your car and up to three joining adults to any Federal Recreational site in the nation that charges an entrance or amenity fee. Seniors can get an Interagency pass for $10, valid for life.

New in 2007

The commercially guided bike rides so popular on the mountain have been ordered to stop offering tours as of October 10, 2007, for safety reasons, park authorities said. This affects not only the downhill rides, but any rides within the park. According to Park Superintendent Marilyn H. Parris, the stoppage was ordered after three fatalities and several serious accidents within a year. "It's important to analyze this commercial activity in the park," she said. The stoppage will continue for 60 days or until such time as the park can analyze available data to make a determination whether or not the companies can safely operate in the future.

A Camper's Thoughts

"You haven't really seen the stars until you've seen them from atop Haleakala," said a park employee who asked to remain anonymous. "There's no light interference from anywhere, so the stars seems to be almost reachable, just beyond your fingertips."

Visitors

As of 2002, the last year for which figures are available, 1,521,080 people visited the park, making it the 13th most popular in the nation.

Lodgings

Aside from the campgrounds and cabins in the Wilderness Area, your best bet is Hana for the coastal parts of the park and Kula for the summit area. Ask the always-efficient Maui Visitors Bureau for details (www.visitmaui.com).

Websites

The official website of Haleakala National Park is www.nps.gov/hale. A good commercial site is www.haleakala.national-park.com.

Talk with other Frommers.com readers on our Hawaii Message Boards.