Haleakala Sunrise vs Sunset: Which is the Best Time to Go?

sunrise at haleakala in hawaii
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Haleakala Sunrise vs Sunset: Which is the Best Time to Go?

If you’re planning a trip to Maui, seeing the Haleakala sunrise might top your must-do list. Here, day breaks at 10,000 feet above sea level, casting golden hues across layers of endless clouds. Then, as the clouds clear and the skies turn blue, you get to enjoy one of the most magnificent places in Hawaii. 

But seeing the sunrise at Haleakala can be a challenge. You must reserve your spot, wake up very early, and navigate your way up the mountain in the dark. 

This is why watching the sunset at Haleakala is becoming increasingly popular. 

Some well-meaning friends will be quick to recommend the sunset – after all, isn’t it just the sunrise but in reverse? Well, not exactly. 

Choosing between seeing the Haleakala sunrise or sunset requires some thought and expert advice, which we’re sharing ahead. 

Here is our full breakdown of sunrise vs. sunset at Haleakala. 

two people holding their arms up at the top of haleakala

Watch the Haleakala Sunrise If:

  • You expect you’ll be jetlagged anyway. Many visitors from the East are up at dawn the first few days, so it makes perfect sense to visit during sunrise. For those who are just “morning people,” the same rules apply.
  • You can plan ahead. You must make reservations to visit Haleakala National Park between 3 AM and 7 AM. 
  • You want to bike down the mountain. One of Maui’s top activities is biking down Haleakala. Guided tours will drive you to the summit to watch the sunrise, and then you can bike down once it’s daylight. 

Sunrise atop Haleakala is typically more crowded than sunset atop Haleakala.

  • You dream of watching the Haleakala sunrise. Maybe you want to be a part of a soul-stirring moment, or perhaps it’s always been on your travel bucket list. You want to join the crowds and witness the start of day from a place that feels on top of the world. If so, a Haleakala sunrise likely won’t disappoint. 

Watch the Haleakala Sunset If:

  • You don’t feel like rising early. I get it. You’re on vacation, and you probably want to relax. If you go at sunrise, you’ll need to plan on a 2 to 3-hour drive from your hotel, which means waking up at 3 AM or earlier.  However, if you plan your trip around sunset, you can leave around 2 p.m. and still get there in plenty of time to enjoy the sunset.
  • You want to take your time driving there. One of the best ways to enjoy your trip to Haleakala National Park is by making stops along the way. You’ll likely drive through Makawao town, go near the Kula Lavender Farm, and pass by many scenic overlooks. If you go at sunrise, you will be making a direct drive straight to the crater, since nothing will be open that early. 
  • You want a little more privacy. Sunrise crowds are typically much heavier than sunset crowds. So, if you want more privacy, waiting until sunrise is the way to go.
  • You can’t get a Haleakala sunrise reservation. You don’t need a reservation to visit after 7 AM, so you can go up to watch the sunset without any pre-planning. 
  • You want to stargaze. You could see some stars before sunrise if you get to the National Park early enough. But it’s much easier to explore the park in daylight, watch the sunset, and then stick around for stargazing. 
a couple watching the sunrise at haleakala national park

Tips for Watching the Sunrise and Sunset

No matter when you visit Haleakala, there are a few things to prepare for. First of all, make sure to bring warm layers. We like to pack blankets in our cars for when we sit down and watch the sun come up or go down. Also, make sure you have a tank full of gas, along with snacks and drinks. A full picnic dinner is perfect for sunset. 

Also, make sure to plan for time to explore the park during daylight. There’s way more to Haleakala than just the sunrise, and I like to meander around the different pathways and overlooks near the visitor’s center. 

The Story of Haleakala Sunrise

The sunrise at Haleakala is more than just a tourist activity – it’s a phenomenon that dates back to the earliest Hawaiian lore. 

Haleakala means “house of the sun,” and the name has to do with a Hawaiian legend. According to mo‘olelo, the demi-god Maui climbed to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, where the sun was asleep in the giant crater. 

He hid until morning and watched the sun begin his daily journey. As the first ray of sunshine appeared, Maui snared it with his lasso of twisted coconut fiber to make it slow down across the sky. 

The sun demanded to be released, but Maui would not let go. “Promise me that you will move more slowly across the sky,” he told the sun. Left with no choice, the sun struck a bargain and agreed to move more slowly across the sky. 

Your Trip to Haleakala

The jury is still out about which sight is more spectacular:  Sunrise or Sunset at Haleakala. You’ll find folks who say they’re equally beautiful. Others will say one or the other is more picturesque.

And, who says there’s anything wrong with a daytime trip to Haleakala on Maui? A daytime visit might afford you more time to explore the crater, without being overtired. At Hawaii Aloha Travel, we offer a Haleakala Crater Hike that showcases some of the park’s greatest beauty. 

No matter which time of day you visit the crater, expect to be amazed. Haleakala is one of the most culturally significant and beautiful places in Hawaii. As long as the weather cooperates, you really can’t go wrong!