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{USA} Is the Sunrise at Haleakala Worth the Effort of Getting There?

“Oohs” and “aahs” echoed through the air as the sun peeked through the horizon. The question we had in our minds has just been answered.

Is the view worth driving 1.5 hours in the wee hours of the morning,  just to catch the sunrise at the summit of Haleakalā (Maui)? The East Maui volcano was not named Haleakalā aka “House of the Sun” for no reason! See for yourself. You be the judge…

House of the sun

Haleakala Visitor Center. We parked and watched the sunrise from the outlook next to the visitor center.

Before sunrise

Remember to arrive early so that you can admire the beauty of night sky. Notice the moon up in the sky.


The colors of the sky started changing as the sun peeked through the horizon.


Remember not to use your flash when taking pictures aimed directly at the sun. It likely won’t turn out. You’d get better results by taking the picture without flash and increase your exposure. You’ll still not be able to capture all the details in the foreground though. To do that, HDR is your best choice.

Sunrise at Haleakala

The sky turned a beautiful shade of blue as the sun continued to rise.


Notice the right side of the picture – you’ll see people standing at the edges of the outlook, taking pictures of the sunrise.


Shortly after sunrise.

Sunrise on the other side of the visitor center

Go to the left of the visitor center. There’s a small lookout point where you can also get beautiful shots of the sunrise and the surroundings.


It is about 11 miles from the entrance (where you pay your $10 per car fee) of Haleakalā National Park to the top. The road is a little winding with no street light. However, it is well paved and marked. On the day we went, there were a few cars ahead of us, so it was not entirely pitch black. We’d advise you to plan for the drive to be 2 hours or more (in case there are a lot of cars) from Lahaina.

Drive up Haleakala

Winding road, no streetlight but roads are well paved and marked.

Drive up Halekala

Plan for 2 hours drive or more if leaving from Lahaina. It took us 1.5 hours but you want to plan in some buffer time in case there are many cars. It can slow to a crawl up the mountain at times due to the number of cars.

It is also said that Haleakala is perfect for star gazing. So arriving early gives you time to admire the night sky and the stars. It’ll also give you time to secure best viewing spots and so you can take pictures of the sunrise without people blocking your view.

When we got up to the top, we parked at the Haleakala Visitor Center. That’s where most of the crowd is. Turns out the parking lot at the summit was full, so the road leading up there was closed. We pretty much just joined the rest of the crowd catching the sunrise at the visitor center. After sunrise, we drove up to the summit (it was open shortly after sunrise at 5:30am) to enjoy the view from there.


We parked and watched the sunrise from the visitor center outlook. We drove up to the summit shortly after sunrise.


It’s 10,023ft at the summit.

View from the summit

Looking down at the visitor center (where we watched the sunrise from) from the Red Hill summit.

View from the summit

The road leading up to the summit from the visitor center. We drove up to the summit shortly after sunrise.

View from summit

Another beautiful view from the summit.


Shot of the observatory at the summit.


Another unique feature of Haleakalā is the Ahinahina (aka Silversword) — A subspecies of a kind of tarweed that grows on the slopes of Haleakalā and nowhere else in the world!


Ahinahina (Silversword) grows on the slopes of Haelakala and nowhere else in the world

silver hairs

The silver hairs surrounding the Ahinahina helps it to conserve moisture and protect it from the sun’s rays.

Ahinahina's stalk

Ahinahina’s stalk that blooms only once for about two months before the plant dies.

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purple flowers

Ahinahina’s blossoms are purple flowers that resemble sunflowers because they’re members of the sunflower family. They rely on insects for cross-pollination.


Take your time and explore the area around the summit. You’ll notice the Ahinahina growing in that area.


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  1. Budget about 2 hours travel time to the top of Haleakalā from Lahaina. Budget more if you want to get there before the summit’s parking lot fills up. For more directions, see here.
  2. Cell coverage is spotty and so is GPS. I’d recommend having a written or printed copy of the maps and directions before you head to Haleakalā.
  3. The weather can change at ANY time and your chances of seeing the sunrise may be interrupted by heavy fog, clouds or even rain. So check the weather forecast and sunrise times before you go.
  4. An alternative to seeing the sunrise is viewing the sunset from the summit instead.
  5. Not everyone thinks the view is worth driving up the mountain for. We think it was beautiful but we were looking at it from a photography point of view. Others may find it to be just like any other sunrise/sunset they’ve seen with the exception that you see the cloudline below you. So, is it worth it? It all depends on your own preferences and priorities of what you want to do and see when in Maui.
  6. Wear your thermals if you brought them. Also, dress in layers and warm clothing. The weather will be warmer after the sun rises but until then, it’s freezing!
  7. Wear covered and protective shoes (sneakers, hiking boots etc…). You don’t want to be standing there in sandals. Bring scarves and gloves if you have them too.
  8. Bring your blanket from the hotel as well as towels to keep you warm if you did not pack warm clothing. I am not kidding, it is COLD!
  9. Be respectful to the place and keep your voice down. To some, it is a special moment. Also make sure you don’t step where you are not allowed to. The eco-system there is very delicate. You can damage the root system of the Ahinahina if you step on it, for example.
  10. The roads up the mountain is well paved and marked. So it’s rather safe to drive even though there’s no streetlight.
  11. Arrive early to enjoy the night sky as well as to get a good viewing spot.
  12. The entrance fee to the park is $10 per car, valid for 3 days. For more fee structures, see here.
  13. Since it is high elevation, people with respiratory issues may want to proceed with caution (thanks Nathalie for the suggestion to include this!)



  1. Walk to the left of the visitor center for a slightly different view of the sunrise/scenery.
  2. Don’t use your camera’s flash when taking scenery pictures directly aimed at the sun. If you have a person or a subject in the foreground that can be enveloped/reached by the flash, then by all means, you should use your flash. However if it is a scenery view such as this where the mountains and the skies are too far away to be reached by the flash, then don’t use the flash.
  3. Your best bet is to take multiple exposures of the scene and then process them into an HDR image. This will ensure that you’re able to capture details of the foreground as well as the sun.
  4. Bring your tripod for the multiple exposure shots you’ll need for your HDR photos.
  5. Use HDR processing software such as Photomatix Pro and Lightroom to process your photos.
  6. Most of our photos were taken using a Nikon D700 DSLR along with a Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 Wide Angle lens.
  7. Some of the photos above were also taken using our Leica D-Lux5 point & shoot. A comparable point & shoot to the Leica D-Lux5 is the Panasonic LX-5 and Canon S95.

Have you seen the sunrise from Haleakala? Do you think seeing the sunrise is worth the effort of getting there? 

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  1. Gerard ~ GQtrippin
    November 8, 2011 Reply

    Based off the pictures, I’d have to say yes. 🙂
    Gerard ~ GQtrippin recently posted..Tech Trippin | Essential Travel GadgetsMy Profile

  2. I have been to Maui a few times but have not made it for sunrise at Haleakala. I’ve been there just not quite so early. Your pictures are amazingly beautiful but I still don’t know if I’ll every make it.
    Debbie Beardsley recently posted..Innsbruck You Captivated Me!My Profile

  3. Jarmo @ Arctic Nomad
    November 8, 2011 Reply

    Stunning photos, and does seem like it was worth it; it’s just the getting up really early why I always fail to see sunrises!
    Jarmo recently posted..Breaking News: Central Bangkok not floodedMy Profile

  4. Gladys |
    November 7, 2011 Reply

    great sunrise shots! yes, any effort to watch such a glorious sunrise is worth it 🙂 thanks for the photography tips!
    Gladys recently posted..Seeing Samal Island in New LightMy Profile

  5. Kris Koeller
    November 7, 2011 Reply

    Great writeup. I did this years ago and also found it to be totally worthwhile. It was tough getting up that early and making the trek up, and I was woefully unprepared for how cold it would be. But once the sun broke, I’m glad I made the trip. The bike down was fun, too. Great pictures.
    Kris Koeller recently posted..Mendocino at SunsetMy Profile

  6. robin
    November 7, 2011 Reply

    Wow – I was expecting to see good photos here but those are amazing!
    robin recently posted..La TorreMy Profile

  7. jenjenk
    November 6, 2011 Reply

    i’m trying not to be bitter/jealous but the last time i went, i patiently waited, freezing my butt off [even with a thick jacket] only to have the clouds come up & obscure the sunrise. I was traumatized ever since. 😉
    jenjenk recently posted..30 Days of Indie Travel: Day 1, GoalsMy Profile

  8. like the others have said, definitely looks worth it to me! a little bit of effort always makes me appreciate things more anyway. love the photos (as always) and the photography tips as well.
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..Border Crossing: Guatemala to HondurasMy Profile

  9. adventureswithben
    November 6, 2011 Reply

    adventureswithben recently posted..Sign Spotting: New Urban Male LogoMy Profile

  10. Looks worth it to me!

  11. Kali and I are not morning people (even when we’re determined to get up to see the sunrise, it rarely happens)…. but I might make an exception for this. It seems well worth the effort!
    Christy recently posted..Photo of the Week: Night View of Prague’s Most Famous BridgeMy Profile

    • Author

      We’re not morning people too. That’s why it took us two tries to finally get our butts up the mountain! When we were in Maui in 2004, we overslept 🙂 Couldn’t get ourselves to wake up at 3am. This time, we made it and we’re glad we did!
      Idelish (Jeremy & Shirlene) recently posted..{Thailand} Wat Arun in BangkokMy Profile

  12. Nancy November 6, 2011 Reply

    Oh, yeah, we thought it was definitely worth the drive! I remember leaving our hotel at 3:30AM and stopping at a gas station to ask for directions. Before we’d even gotten out of our car, the owner was standing in the doorway and said, “Going to Haleakala?” Our rental car sputtered up the last few hundred feet to the top, but we made it for the sunrise. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up with the gorgeous photos you did, so it’s nice to see what we might have seen had the fog bank not obscured our view!
    Nancy recently posted..3 Easy Ways to Keep Wanderlust AliveMy Profile

    • Author

      It’s such a hit and miss isn’t it, to be able to see the sunrise. We’ve heard countless stories from people who made it all the way up there only to have the fog obscure their view! Well, there’s always sunset as your backup 🙂 Glad you like the photos! Thanks for the compliment 🙂
      Idelish (Jeremy & Shirlene) recently posted..{USA} Whale Watching at San Juan IslandsMy Profile

  13. Yvonne
    November 6, 2011 Reply

    Gorgeous Pics and great tips!
    Yvonne recently posted..5 Travelous Winter City TripsMy Profile

  14. Kent
    November 6, 2011 Reply

    Seriously. This is amazing (and right up our alley). We did not do this when we were on Maui. What were we thinking? Next time for sure!
    Kent recently posted..Don’t Let Debbie Get You Down – Stand for SomethingMy Profile

  15. 50+ and on the Run
    November 6, 2011 Reply

    The sunrise is absolutely worth the effort. I am definitely not a scaredy-cat, but the drive up the crater was actually nerve-wracking for me, as it was foggy as well as narrow and wind-y. Next time, I’m letting someone else drive!
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Sunday Haiku VIMy Profile

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