Hiking into the Wilderness Area: Sliding Sands & Halemauu Trails
Hiking into Maui’s dormant volcano is the best way to see it. The terrain inside the wilderness area of the volcano, which ranges from burnt-red cinder cones to ebony-black lava flows, is astonishing. There are some 27 miles of hiking trails, two camping sites, and three cabins.
Entrance to Haleakala National Park is $10 per car. The rangers offer free guided hikes (usually Mon and Thurs), a great way to learn about the unusual flora and geological formations here. Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for wind, rain, and intense sun. Bring water, snacks, and a hat. Additional options include full-moon hikes and star-program hikes. The hikes and briefing sessions may be canceled, so check first. Call [tel] 808/572-4400 or visit www.nps.gov/hale.
Try to arrange to stay at least 1 night in the park; 2 or 3 nights will allow you more time to explore the fascinating interior of the volcano (for details on the cabins and campgrounds in the wilderness area of the valley). If you want to venture out on your own, the best route takes in two trails: into the crater along Sliding Sands Trail, which begins on the rim at 9,800 feet and descends to the valley floor at 6,600 feet, and back out along Halemauu Trail. Before you set out, stop at park headquarters to get trail updates.
The trail head for Sliding Sands is well marked and the trail easy to follow over lava flows and cinders. As you descend, look around: The view is breathtaking. In the afternoon, waves of clouds flow into the Kaupo and Koolau gaps. Vegetation is spare to nonexistent at the top, but the closer you get to the valley floor, the more growth you’ll see: bracken ferns, pili grass, shrubs, even flowers. On the floor, the trail travels across rough lava flows, passing by rare silversword plants, volcanic vents, and multicolored cinder cones.
The Halemauu Trail goes over red and black lava and past native ohelo berries and ohia trees as it ascends up the valley wall. Occasionally, riders on horseback use this trail. The proper etiquette is to step aside and stand quietly next to the trail as the horses pass.
Some shorter and easier hiking options include the .5-mile walk down the Hosmer Grove Nature Trail, or just the first mile or two down Sliding Sands Trail. (Even this short hike is exhausting at the high altitude.) A good day hike is Halemauu Trail to Holua Cabin and back, an 8-mile, half-day trip.
One section of Haleakala National Park is not accessible from the summit: Lush and rainy Kipahulu is all the way out in Hana. From the ranger station just off of Hana Highway, it’s a short hike above the famous Oheo Gulch (aka the Seven Sacred Pools) to two spectacular waterfalls. The first, Makahiku Falls, is easily reached from the central parking area; the trail head begins near the ranger station. Pipiwai Trail leads you up to the road and beyond for .5 miles to the overlook. Continue on another 1.5 miles across two bridges and through a magical bamboo forest to Waimoku Falls. It’s a challenging uphill hike, but mostly shaded and sweetened by the sounds of clattering bamboo canes. In times of hard rain, streams swell quickly. Never attempt to cross flooding waters.