Hawaii may not have many national parks, but the ones it does have are stunning. On the Big Island, there’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the most reliably active places to experience volcanic activity and see the scars and changes it leaves behind. Then there’s the only other national park in Hawaii, Haleakalā, on the island of Maui. This too is a volcano – but it is best known as one of the foremost astronomical observing sites in the world, and draws visitors every year for Haleakalā stargazing opportunities.
While I haven’t personally been stargazing on Haleakalā, I have had the opportunity for a similar experience on the slopes of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa volcano. I still want to visit Haleakalā on my next trip to Maui, whenever that happens!
That said, I do have a number of national park stargazing guides, and I’m confident this one will help you plan a trip even though I haven’t been there myself. If you want to visit Haleakalā National Park for stargazing, read on to learn everything you need to know for an incredible night under the stars – and great sunset or sunrise too!
This post was originally published in August 2021, and was updated in February 2022.
How to Get to Haleakalā National Park
An important part of planning yourHaleakalā stargazing trip is knowing how to get there.
Haleakalā National Park is located on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and extends from the 10,023-foot summit of Haleakalā down the southeast flank of the mountain to the Kīpahulu coast near Hāna. While these two sections of the park aren’t connected by a single road, both can be accessed from Kahului.
- If you want to reach the Summit Area (park headquarters and the 10,023-foot summit), take route 37 to 377 to 378. The estimated drive time can be 2.5 hours.
- If you want to access the park from the Kīpahulu Area (coastal), you have to drive via route 36 to 360 to 31; expect a driving time of approximately 4 hours from Kahului.
Since there is no public transportation available to or in the park, the only way to visit Haleakalā is by driving. Please, notice there are no gas stations within the park either, and the last place to get gas en route to the Summit Area is in the town of Pukalani. In case you are driving from the Kīpahulu Area, the last place to get gas along the Hāna Highway before Hāna is in Pāʻia.
Where to Go Stargazing in Haleakalā National Park
Unlike other parks that offer many places to gaze at the stars, in Haleakalā National Park, there’s just one: the Summit. But in all honesty, the Haleakalā Summit is home to the best seats in town when it comes to stargazing on Maui.
Thanks to its 10,000 feet in elevation, the Summit is free from light pollution and offers pitch-dark night skies to do a little star surfing. As soon as the night sets, visitors can see different constellations across the sky and even spot the Milky Way from the Summit!
However, what makes stargazing in Haleakalā Summit such a special experience goes beyond the beauty of the dark skies. The Summit itself and its surroundings, with rare native Hawaiian plants and animals, create a magical atmosphere to just sit and let your eyes wander through the cosmos. Perhaps, that’s why the Haleakalā’s Summit is a sacred area for Native Hawaiians, who believe it holds a lot of “mana,” or power.
Where to Stay Near Haleakalā National Park
Now that you know how to get to the Park, let’s check the accommodation options you can choose from to stay during your Haleakalā stargazing trip. (You can also refer to the Haleakalā National Park Service page for more info.)
Hotels near Haleakalā
There are no lodging or hotels in Haleakalā National Park, so most travelers who choose to stay in hotels will find the best options in Upcountry Maui (towns on the upper slopes of Haleakalā.) A good hotel option is The Kula Lodge, which is about as close to the summit road as you can get (about a 45 to 60-minute drive).
Another good hotel option is the Lumeria Maui. This educational retreat center offers an amazing portfolio of wellness activities to profit from the peaceful surroundings of Haleakalā. If you want to take a yoga session followed by a horticulture class, then Lumeria Maui is your best bet.
Camping in Haleakalā National Park
Cabin photo courtesy of Forest Starr and Kim Starr via Flickr
If you’re a camping lover, then Haleakalā National Park definitely is the place for you with three different options for staying overnight.
- Hosmer Grove campground – this is a paid campground located in the cloud belt of Haleakalā, at nearly 7,000 feet in elevation in the Summit District.
- Kīpahulu Campground – another paid campground, but remains closed due to covid restrictions.
- Kapalaoa – This cabin is perched near the Kaupo Gap at 7,250 ft high on the southern end of the wilderness valley. While the hike to get to Kapaloa is one of the most dramatic and challenging ones (5.5 miles), the views of the unspoiled nature when you arrive is worth the effort.
- Palikū – Set on the east end of the wilderness valley, Palikū is surrounded by the lush greenery of the forest. It offers impressive views of the distant clouds and fog that roll over the top of the cliffs behind Palikū. You’ll have to hike 9.3 miles to reach this place; this cabin remains closed due to water shortages.
- Hōlua– This cabin is reached by the shortest hike (3.7 miles). Its best feature is that visitors can enjoy day hikes further into the crater area from there. Staying here is also a great way to appreciate the shrubland, a native plant community of this park’s area.
The three cabins are primitive, featuring a propane stove, wood-burning stove, and 4 padded bunks; pit toilets and water are also available near the cabin.
Primitive Wilderness Tent Camping
- Palikū– One of the two backcountry campsites in Haleakala, Palikū lies along the eastern side of the crater and is home to native Hawaiian plants and animals and the most exotic bird species. Visitors can reach this campsite via a strenuous 9.3 mile one-way hike on the Keoneheʻeheʻe (sliding sands) Trail or 10.4 miles hike on Halemauʻu Trail.
- Hōlua – With its unpredictable weather and wide temperature range, Hōlua is for the true adventurers out there. You can access Hōlua by hiking 3.7 miles down the Halemau’u Trail or 7.4 miles from the Keoneheʻeheʻe Trailhead. A quick note: be prepared for rain at all times of the year.
All the options listed above require previous reservations through recreation.gov and paying entrance fees; you’ll also want to invest in a great stargazing tent. Also, keep in mind these camping options are recommended for experienced adventurers since they require a significant hike to reach.
What to See & Do During the Day at Haleakalā
While you may be all about the stars on your Haleakalā stargazing trip, the truth is this national park has a lot to offer during the day, too. Especially if you’re a nature lover, you’re in for a treat.
- Seeing the sunrise and sunset: Watching the sunrise is one of the most popular activities in the Park and a great complement to your Haleakalā National Park stargazing experience. To view the sunrise or sunset, you have to make a previous reservation and get the required permit.
- Hiking: There are many trails around the immense park, and all are classified based on the ecosystem you’d observe. Currently, there are three: Desert Hikes, Subalpine Shrubland Hikes, and Coastal District Hikes.
- Ranger programs: Throughout the year, park rangers offer many interpretive programs, including cultural demonstrations, informational talks, and guided walks.
- Scenic drives: This is another popular way to appreciate the breathtaking scenery of Haleakalā. The main scenic drive is the Haleakalā Highway, which goes up about ten miles from the main entrance to the summit and the main visitor center.
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Haleakalā National Park
Still, have questions about stargazing in Haleakalā? Hopefully, this FAQ will answer them!
When is the best time to go stargazing at Haleakalā?
The best time to go stargazing in Haleakalā is during the autumn, winter, and spring. If you have the chance to be more precise with the visiting dates, try to book a stargazing session either the days before, during, or soon after each new Moon (when there is no Moon in the sky.)
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing at Haleakalā? When?
As you can see from the photos in my post, the answer is a resounding yes! To catch a glimpse of the Milky Way, head to Haleakalā anytime from February to September. If you want the perfect view of this band of stars, it is ideal to catch it during the summer months. This is the time of year where it’s visible soon after sunset and out for many hours.
Can you see the northern lights from Haleakalā?
Unfortunately, no, you can’t spot the northern lights from Haleakalā. While there are many national parks in the U.S. where you can see them, most of these places tend to be located way up in the northern part of the continental U.S. (Here’s a good list of spots!)
Is Haleakalā National Park open at night?
Yes, Haleakalā National Park is open at night. The Park District is open 24 hours, all days of the year. So you can access the park without previous reservations. The Kīpahulu District, however, is open from 9:00am-5:00pm daily.
Are there guided night tours in Haleakalā?
Yes! There are many companies offering stargazing tours in the Haleakalā Summit. The most popular one is Maui Stargazing. They offer a sunset and stargazing tour that includes a 60-minute guided telescope tour of Haleakalā’s night sky through the largest portable telescope on the summit.
Is there a dark sky festival in Haleakalā?
Unfortunately, no, Haleakalā National Park doesn’t hold any dark sky festivals. But plenty of other national parks on the mainland that offer excellent dark sky programs and festivals throughout the year. (Try checking my list of the best national parks for stargazing to get some inspiration if you really want to attend a dark sky festival.)
Do you have other questions about planning a trip to go stargazing at Haleakalā National Park? Let me know in the comments!