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Want to know how to catch the Haleakala sunset?
Watching the sunset from Haleakala is not only scenic and relaxing but also unique—not many people can say they’ve watched the sunset from the top of a volcano.
Read on for the best viewing spots, when to get there, what to bring, and other Haleakala sunset tips to make the most of your visit.
Where to Watch the Haleakala Sunset
After driving the long, winding road to the top of the volcano, you can view the sunset right from the visitor center. It’s only half a mile from the summit, so the views are just as spectacular. There’s a big parking lot here, and it rarely gets filled up, so you don’t have to worry about arriving ridiculously early to snag a spot.
If you do get here early, the perk of viewing the Haleakala sunset from the visitor center is that there’s a restroom across the parking lot. So no matter how long you wait, you can hit the restroom without losing your parking spot.
Another perk: The visitor center is near the trailheads for the Sliding Sands and Pā Ka’oao hiking trails. If you plan to explore the park on foot earlier in the day, you can return in time for sunset without moving your car or driving through traffic to claim a parking spot.
However, the view from the visitor center is somewhat obscured by a chain fence, power lines, and the hill to the summit—as well as the sheer number of people who gather here each night.
Read on to find even better places for snapping those Instagram-worthy Haleakala sunset pictures.
Summit (Red Hill)
The most popular spot for watching the Haleakala sunset is the volcano’s summit, also known as Red Hill.
At over ten thousand feet above sea level, this is the highest place on the entire island of Maui. From here, you’ll get unobstructed views of the sun sinking below the horizon, as well as jagged mountain peaks piercing a sun-kissed blanket of clouds.
As a result, this spot gets even more sunset tourists than the visitor center. Because its parking lot is smaller (it holds only about 40 cars), it fills up fast, and the National Park Service will gate it off when it’s full. Plan to arrive at least half an hour early or an hour in peak season.
If the gate is closed when you arrive, no worries—you can park at the visitor center and make the trek half a mile up to the summit. Just make sure to bring flashlights or headlamps for the journey back after dark!
The Pā Ka’oao Trail
If you want to minimize the crowds during your Haleakala sunset experience, a quieter option is to hike the Pā Ka’oao trail. It’s an easy half-mile hike, and you’ll still get a gorgeous view of the sunset from the trail.
You’ll also be able to watch the colors change in Haleakala’s otherworldly crater as the setting sun pours pink and orange light into it, which isn’t visible from the summit.
The best part is that you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. After all, watching the sunset is supposed to be relaxing, right?
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This spot may be Haleakala’s best-kept secret. Along the main road, about 3 miles downhill from the summit, there’s a small pocket of parking space and a hidden entrance to a trail. It’s easily missed, so keep your eyes peeled.
The short hike leads to Kalahaku Overlook. This spot gets few visitors but offers views of the crater and is still above the clouds—a perfect place for watching the sunset.
This is arguably the best spot for Haleakala sunset pictures because so few visitors stumble upon this hidden gem. You and your group can strike poses and snap epic photos to your heart’s content while the rest of the tourists jostle with each other three miles uphill.
And because you’re already farther down the slope, you can beat the traffic after the sun sets. Again, be sure to bring enough light to find your way back along the hiking trail to your car.
How to Watch the Haleakala Sunset
When to Go
The sun sets on Maui between 5:45 and 7:15 p.m., depending on the time of year. While planning your Haleakala sunset excursion, be sure to check the day’s sunset time here.
It never hurts to check the forecast before you leave your hotel, but you don’t have to worry too much about the weather on Haleakala. The summit is so high above the clouds it doesn’t get much rain, even when it’s cloudy and drizzling elsewhere on Maui.
There are no reservations required for viewing the Haleakala sunset (unlike at sunrise when you need a permit to enter the park and only 50 permits are given per day).
All you have to do is stop at the entrance station to pay the $30 entry fee or show your national parks pass. (Don’t do what we did and bring your pass all the way to Maui, only to leave it in the hotel before driving to Haleakala!)
What to Pack
Haleakala’s high elevation makes the summit much colder than the beaches at sea level, and it often gets windy and damp at the top. Bring warm layers, a raincoat, a hat, and gloves to stay toasty while you watch the sunset. A warming tropical beverage like a Mai tai is recommended but not required.
Also, bring something to sit on. If you don’t have fold-up chairs, something as simple as a blanket or beach towel can make your experience far more comfortable than sitting on bare pavement, especially as the temperature drops.
Haleakala Sunset Tips
I’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating: plan to arrive early to get the best Haleakala sunset view. While there’s no limit to the number of cars that can enter the park, there is a finite number of parking spots. Most of the time, arriving 30-60 minutes early is sufficient.
In case the crowds are extra thick that night or it takes you longer than expected to reach the park, it’s a good idea to have more than one viewing spot in mind. That way, if your top choice is full, you’ll have a backup plan.
Pack Everything You Need
There are restrooms and drinking fountains at the summit, but that’s all—there’s no food, drinks, or gas in Haleakala National Park. Make sure your rental car is fueled up for the return journey, and bring snacks, drinks, and anything else you’ll need for a relaxing Haleakala sunset.
The road up and through the park is winding, with no lights or guardrails. Be sure to watch out for wildlife—like the endearing nene (pronounced “nay-nay”), Hawaii’s state bird.
Did you know the nene was driven to extinction on Maui by human activity in the late 1800s?
A dedicated captive breeding and reintroduction program, which involved Boy Scouts carrying nene up the slopes of Haleakala in cardboard boxes in the 1960s, brought them back from the brink. Do your part by looking out for these goose-like birds.
Protect the Park
Despite its rugged appearance, Haleakala’s landscape is extremely fragile. Always stay on paths and paved areas because a single step onto the volcanic soil can upset the ecosystem’s delicate balance.
Practice Leave No Trace by tossing your trash in the bins at the visitor center or taking it out of the park with you—this includes biodegradable or compostable items like apple cores. Never remove any rocks, cinder, or plants, and never approach or touch animals.
Stick Around to Stargaze
It’s high elevation, and low light pollution makes Haleakala a prime spot for stargazing. In fact, the University of Hawaii runs a high-altitude observatory here!
Watching the sunset from the volcanic slopes of Haleakala is a relaxing way to spend an evening on your Maui trip—especially if you know where to get the best views and the smallest crowds.
Follow these Haleakala sunset tips to plan your visit to this awe-inspiring national park. Then sit back, sip your Mai tai, get your camera ready, and enjoy the view.
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