Situated at 9,740 feet, the Haleakalā Visitor Center is open every day of the week (except in severe weather conditions) from sunrise to 3 p.m., making it an excellent first stop on a visit to the incredible, 30,000-acre natural marvel that is the Haleakalā National Park.
The park is the only one in the country that is fully fenced and contains an entire lava flow within it—from the tip of the mountain to the shore, five different flows are visible or partially visible and are all purported to have occurred within the last century. So, you might not be surprised to find that the views along the long and winding road up to the visitor center are replete with cinder cones, massive craters, undulating fields of lava rock, and a general sparsity of plant life. What might surprise you, though, is the fact that this otherworldly-looking landscape is home to an incredible array of rare, protected species of plant and wildlife like the Haleakalā silversword, the Hawaiian hoary bat, the Haleakalā flightless moth, rare sandalwood trees, and colonies of nesting seabirds. If you visit in the summer or fall, expect to hear the hollow, moaning calls of Hawaiian petrels as they return to occupy the walls of the summit valley.
Haleakalā means “house of the sun” in native Hawaiian—it’s not hard to understand why. One of the most popular ways to visit the park is at sunrise. If you’re able to catch it on a clear day (the weather can be highly unpredictable), expect to see a lethargic, sherbet orange sun slowly emerge from a low-hanging cloud cover. It’s as amazing as it’s talked up to be. Because of incredible amounts of traffic, the park service is now requiring visitors to make sunrise reservations. You can reserve your spot online; tickets cost $1.50 per car. Arrive well before sunrise and bring just about every piece of warm clothing you have with you—temperatures hang about 20 degrees below that on the shoreline.
The visitor center also marks the trailhead for the easy 0.6-mile out-and-back Pa Ka’oao Trail (also known as White Hill Trail). If you’re starting your day at the visitor center, this is an excellent trail to use to get a first real look at the Haleakalā crater and peek at the Pu’u’ula’ula Summit and the observatory from below.