Time: 5-6 HOURS to Kapalaoa Cabin
Distance: 11.2 MILES
Elevation Gain: 2600 FEET
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Shadeless, Dusty, Cold, Altitude
Sights: Sunrise!!! Crater
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Water, Snack/Lunch, Jacket
Otherworldly-- that is the best word to describe the Sliding Sand trail. As you descend this trail to the base of Haleakala Crater, you will feel as though you have been transported from Hawaii to another planet, surrounded by the red volcanic landscape. The crater silences the world around you and it will just be you, the sound of your footsteps, and the view of your exotic surroundings. It is one of those places that will forever be imprinted in your memory.
It was my first interisland trip after living on Oahu for about 5 months. I had tried to plan trips with friends prior, but work always seemed to get in the way. I finally decided if I wanted to see the other islands, I would have to do it alone. I was going to start with Maui.
I had landed at the Kahului Airport the night of the 10th so I could get to my AirBnB in Paia. Paia is an awesome town, not overly touristy, with laid back Aloha vibes and a solid food scene. It also served as a perfect jumping off point for my first two adventures: The Haleakala Crater and the Road to Hana. Day 1 I planned to watch the sunrise at the Haleakala Crater followed by a hike into the crater via the Sliding Sands Trail.
I woke up around 4am so I could make some coffee and start my drive to the top of the Crater. Even with my good location in Paia, it was still about an hour and a half drive to the top. Once you get inside the park, it's a long and winding road with lots of hairpin turns to gain elevation. It was quite the exciting albeit length drive.
I was stopped by park rangers before I could reach the summit. The parking lot at the top was already full. They made me park along the road at around 9,000 feet where I could find a side trail to watch the sunrise. I've heard that they now require reservations for sunrises in order to remedy this parking problem. However, when I went, it was first come first serve.
My not being at the summit did not take away from the experience in the least. In fact, it may have been better because I was able to find a place where I was somewhat alone. As the sun started to rise, the cloud colors became more and more vibrant. This picture does not capture the beauty of these magnificent colors.
And then the sun began to emerge from the clouds. You could actually see the orange orb without all the typical glare. I've never seen anything like it. It was like the clouds were giving birth to a sea of colors.
And as the sun continued to rise above the clouds, it continued to get more beautiful. The silhouettes of the mountains in the front and the clouds underneath were unbelievable. This was the prettiest sunrise I have ever seen and I wonder if I will ever experience something like it again. I could have stayed in that moment for hours.
But unfortunately, I didn't have hours, I had more exploring to do. I walked back to my car so I could continue up the crater. I took a quick stop at the 10000 foot summit (no great pictures here since you are above the clouds) before descending a short ways to the Sliding Sands Trailhead.
I started my descent on the Sliding Sands trail into the crater. My goal was the Kapalaoa Cabin which would make it about a 11 mile round trip. If you're just doing a day hike, you don't really need a destination on this trail. Simply hiking into the crater will allow you to fully experience it. However, this NPS map has some good info about all the trails at Haleakala.
It wasn't too long before I had reached the base of the crater. Since it was still early, it wasn't too hot which. There is zero shade this entire hike, so several liters of water is a necessity. Here's a shot looking back at where I started. Most people who have done this hike talk about feeling like they are on another planet. It's an accurate description. The combination of colors is incredibly unique. Another thing I noticed was the silence. The only thing I could hear was the crunching of my shoes on the rocks. All the noise and chaos of the world doesn't reach inside the crater.
A very rare occasion when I let someone else take my picture. Thankfully, the picture is not of high enough quality for you to see my horrible mustache. But hey, it was Movember after all.
At long last, I had made it to the Kapalaoa Cabin. There are 3 of these cabins throughout the Crater that you can reserve and stay in overnight. I've heard the star gazing here is amazing. It is something I definitely plan on coming back to do. This time however, it was going to serve as my lunch spot and turn around point.
It was finally time to venture back the way I came. The walk back up the crater was far less enjoyable than the walk down. It was starting to get hot and a 2400 foot elevation gain after already hiking 7ish miles was not easy. But, whenever I needed I break I could simply turn around and look at this incredible landscape. I half expected to run into Matt Damon here, biding his time before someone came to take him back to earth. Unfortunately, I never saw him.
As I neared the end of my hike, I passed a group of people riding horses down into the crater. I found a link that might help those who are interested in that approach to enjoying this crater. This guy clearly was having a good time as he threw up a shaka for me to take a picture.
The Haleakala Crater and Sliding Sands Trail are awesome spots. Regardless of whether you just see the sunrise or only hike a portion of the trail, it will be worth the entry fee. It's one of those unique places that I doubt you can find anywhere else in the world (well on this planet 😉).
Have you ventured into Haleakala Crater? Leave a comment below!
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