5 Tips for Catching the Perfect Haleakalā Sunset on Maui

Bring a jacket, get there early and stay for the stars!
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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Of the premier attractions on Maui, catching a sunset at Haleakalā—which in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) means “house of the sun”—should be at the top of your list of things to do. From the summit, just over 10,000 feet in elevation, you can watch the sun gradually fall below the horizon as the clouds turn into shades of fiery colors and, after it’s all over, gaze down upon the island of Maui as it slowly fades away to darkness. It is a truly unforgettable memory. It can, however, also be frustrating to plan, as the mountain is almost always packed with residents and visitors all looking to catch the show. So, to make your life just a bit easier, we’ve compiled five tips on how to make sure your Haleakalā sunset experience is a pleasant one.

1. The Early Bird Gets the Really Nice Pictures

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

If you don’t mind the wait, getting up the summit early will net you a prime parking spot and a front-row seat to the sunset spectacle. Knowing when exactly the sun will set is also very important, as that can factor into your timing. As mentioned previously, the summit—and especially the ridgeline, where most take their pictures of the sunset—gets more and more crowded as sunset draws closer to the horizon, so if you want a really exceptional picture, be there early. (It’s not like sunrise, where you make a reservation online, which guarantees your spot. Sunset is open to everyone.)

2. Bring a Jacket

Who wants to see the sunset from the car? But if you don’t bring a jacket, the frisky climate of Haleakalā will make your viewing experience … unpleasant. And once the sun goes down, so do the temperatures. That coupled with a constant wind makes a jacket—the warmer, the better—vital.

3. Skip the Summit Parking Lot

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

If you don’t think you’re going to make it to the summit of Haleakalā with time to spare, it may be wise to skip the summit parking lot altogether. Not only will it almost assuredly be completely full, but there will be a long line of cars waiting just for the chance to turn around, which could cost you valuable minutes. Fortunately, there’s an additional parking lot down the road—it also has a bathroom!—that is rarely ever completely occupied. You will have to walk up the road to the summit, but the slightly uphill trek should only take five to 10 minutes.

4. Don’t Leave Immediately

Your first instinct may be to leave the moment the sun sets below the horizon, but don’t. You’d be missing out on half the show! After the sun has fully set, the clouds begin to take on truly wondrous colors, from pastel orange to shades of pink and red. This vibrant display of colors is great for any last-minute pics for the ’gram, and as your fellow spectators shuttle out, you will be given an opportunity to enjoy the mauna (mountain) with fewer people around.

5. Stay for the Stars

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Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

While the sunset is gorgeous, the night sky atop Haleakalā is just as breathtaking. With minimal city lights coming from Maui, our neighboring stars and galaxies dot the sky with a clarity and focus that is hard to find anywhere else. If you’re into photography, you’ll be able to nab some fantastic long-exposure shots during this time. (Of course, with the sun fully down, you’ll be cold up there, so be sure to heed tip No. 2.)

BONUS: Make a Reservation for Sunrise

OK, so this isn’t technically about sunset, but if you want to avoid the crowds that sunset tends to gather, make a reservation for sunrise at Haleakalā. Only allowing a limited number of entries into the park—all of which must have made a reservation—you’ll be able to find parking with ease, and you won’t have to share the summit with so many other viewers.

Categories: Environment, Family, First-Time, Maui, Maui/Moloka‘i/Lāna‘i What To Do