Camping and Backpacking Haleakala National Park

"What goes down must come up"

Duration: 2 days, 1 night

Route: Sliding Sands Trail (3.9 miles) & Halemau'u trail (7.3 miles)

Day 1: Sliding Sands Trail (Elevation 9740') 

Distance estimated: 7.5 miles

Distance traveled: 8.97 miles

Steps: 23,010

Descent: 2,840'

It was about an hour drive to Haleakala National Park from Kahului. The first stop was to pay the entrance fee. Its $15 for a 3 day pass or $25 for a year pass. Then on to the visitor’s center to register and watch an informational video about Haleakala delicate ecosystem. We brought two cars and dropped one car at hikers point. We then drove the second car to the uppermost Visitor's Center (there are two). The Visitor Center is both a lookout and the trail head. Then the real journey began. 

I'm one of those fortunate people that aren’t bothered by high altitude, but it should be emphasized that Haleakala has a peak elevation of 10,023.' Dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath can make the already strenuous 13 mile hike excruciating. 

It's hard to image the scale and variety of microclimates until you’re physically inside the crater. 2 days and 13 miles left us with just a taste of what can be seen inside the 24,719 square mile park. Maui in the summer is hot and humid in the extreme. There have been no trades winds blowing, and hurricanes looming offshore. We were looking forward to the cooler mountain air. The temperature was not quite 70, but the sun was blazing hot on our hike.

There was a full moon and super moon the weekend we went. We had stuff to do in the morning so we didn't start our hike until 4pm and reached the junction of the Sliding Sands/ Halemau'u trail at sunset. We ate dinner and drank hot chocolate, while enjoying the rose colored sky that lit up the valley floor. At dusk we began the 3.6 mile hike on Halemau'u trail to Hōlua camp.

Night falls quickly in the crater. Fortunately, the full moon was so bright we only used a head torch a handful of times to check our way. It was a spectacular hike. I felt like I was walking on Mars. Haleakala creator is said to be the quietest place on earth. It's certainly a lonely hike. We didn't encounter another soul till we reached camp. The stars were amazing. I even spotted a meteor shooting across the sky. 

We didn't reach Hōlua until 10:30pm. When we arrived at the cabin it took us a few minutes to locate the camping area and find a place to pitch the tent. The moon was so bright it felt like the sun. We could see the other campers clear as day. It was so quiet we could hear someone unzip their tent from 100' away. There is no water at the camping site. Water must be walked in the short distance from the cabin. At the cabin there is a rain catchment system. I brought a UV purify with me, since it needs to be treated.

I didn't realize how hard an almost 3,000 foot descent is on your toes. Most of the almost 9 mile hike is downhill. My toes were constantly straining against the front of my shoes. Especially since my feet are accustomed to rubber slippers.

I want to note that while the trail map reads a 7.5 miles hike, my GPS read in at 8.97 miles. Other blogs and reviews I researched also commented on this same discrepancy. The trail seems much farther than 7.5 miles, which lends me to trust the GPS over the trail map. 

Day 2: Halemauʻu Trail (8000’)

Distance estimated: 3.7 miles

Distance traveled 4.21 miles

Steps: 10,591

Ascent: 1,050'

I woke with the first rays of the sun after only 4 hours of sleep to soft ruffling sounds outside our tent. I was excited to see two nēnē geese, which are both endemic to Hawaii and an endangered species. My friend heard the soft honks the geese were making and thought I exited the tent to pass gas.

Haleakala collects a heavy due at night. The nēnē collect the moisture from the blades of grass as there are no other sources of water available. We took our time packing up and let the sun dry our gear. I think we got under way around 9:30. We were expecting a less strenuous 3.7 mile hike back to hiker’s pickup. The first mile was leisurely. Offering breathtaking views of the valleys, mountains, and scrubland, but we were up for a surprise. 

The title of this narrative is meant as a warning. What goes down must come up. 2 miles of the Halemau'u trail is a series of narrow winding switchbacks along the cliff face that ascends over 1,000 feet on unhewn stone trails. My feet and calf’s were burning by the time we reached the car a grueling 6 hours later. The trail is definitely an intermediate to advanced hike. I would classify myself as being in intermediate shape. So I was dying on the ascent. That being said, it was also one of the most spectacular, and breathtaking hikes I have ever completed. 

I read one review of a family that said they completed the 11 mile hike in just 3 hours. I have no idea how that's possible, and would like to meet those ninja warrior's. Most people complete the hike in the parks recommend 6-8 hours. It took us much longer to complete with heavy packs on our backs. We also started after work, since we live here, and aren't on vacation. 

I agree with the parks recommendation to do this as a day hike after watching the sunrise. That way you don't have to carry the extra weight of a pack. Or next time I would spend the money to rent one of the cabins. The cabins have cots, and cookware, and you can leave refuse behind. The downside is that the cabins need to be booked at least 6 months out. I think they cost 70.00 a night and can hold 6 people. 

Temperatures vary from 70 to nearly freezing so layering is crucial to survival. We were so worried about getting rained out and freezing in our tent that mild sunburn seemed like a pleasant alternative. I have been on the summit during an ice storm. The conditions were brutal. My face was blasted red and raw for a couple days after.

Packing Lists

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Crash pad
  • Jet boil
  • Light my fire mess kit
  • Water Purifying UV light
  • 2 liter hydration pack
  • First aid kit
  • Camp suds
  • Body wipes
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Toilet paper
  • Camp shovel
  • Sunscreen
  • Trekking pole

Clothes

  • Full rain gear
  • Fleece jacket
  • Long sleeve shirt with collar x 2
  • Base layer x 2
  • One change of underwear 
  • Wool socks x 2
  • Quick Dry trekking pants ( I wash mine overnight)
  • Warm fleece pants
  • Scarf 
  • Gloves
  • Hiking shoes with ankle support
  • Camp shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses 

Food for 2 people

  • Dehydrated meals x 2 
  • Tuna packets x 2
  • Snickers x 2
  • Protein bars x 2
  • Hot chocolate x 4
  • Coffee 
  • Trail mix: walnuts and dried pineapple
  • Meat sticks 

Our food fit in 1 gallon bag. I packed an extra 1 gallon bag for food refuse. No fires are allowed so a camp stove is necessary. All refuse needs to be carried out, including toilet paper. I packed 2 extra 1 quart Ziploc bags for this purpose. I wouldn't skimp on bargain brands in this area. There are no restrooms on the trail and very little covering so plane your fluid intake accordingly.  There is a pit toilet at Hōlua campsite and restrooms at the visitor centers.


Amanda from Gallivant Society: Traveler, photographer, volunteer, fluent in ASL. Lived in Belize for 4 years, 2 of which were spent in a remote Mayan village teaching deaf children and their families sign language. Advocate for cultural awareness and responsible travel. Currently enjoying Maui. Visit our blog!

@Gallivant_SOC