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Kula, Hawaii, United States

Crater Trail & Sliding Sands, Haleakala NP, Maui

Descend into the enormous and otherworldly crater of Maui's Haleakala National Park

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 (7 votes, 4 reviews)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 5.0 miles / 8.0 km
Duration: Half day
Overview: Maui's highest point is the summit of Haleakala, where you'll find the immense caldera of possibly the largest dormant volcano on the planet. This short hike descends into the crater to explore the dramatic history of the mountain with its many cinder cones and lava lava flows.

Elevation gain:
• 1,600ft (from 8,300 – 9,900ft)

• The fee to use this park is valid for several days and allows you to explore the remote Kipahulu coastal area of the park on the same pass - check out our Pipiwai Trail Guide for more details of a spectacular waterfall and bamboo forest hike.
• A surprisingly popular way to experience the mountain is to take a tour bus up the mountain in the dark, arriving in time to witness spectacular Hawaii sunrises. The additional novelty of this tour is the two-wheeled return journey .. a freewheeling bicycle kamikaze ride, snaking back down the mountain.

Alternate Routes:
• Haleakala's basin is so enormous that some folk hike in with a tent and spend days exploring the terrain. If you're in the mood for longer hike without an overnight bag, you might want to consider the 11 mile Sliding Sands to Halemau'u route. This one-way hike is best achieved by parking at the Halemau'u trailhead and hitching a ride up to the visitors center and the start of the hike. Now your 3,000ft of elevation change is purely downhill, and your ride awaits you at the end.

Points of Interest


Trailhead & Visitors Center

The trailhead for our short hike is located at the opposite end of the parking lot from the Haleakala Visitors Center.

We're heading for the Sliding Sands Trail, which contrary to it's name is comprised of well compacted cinder and soil, making for a relatively easy hike.

Into the Crater

Approaching the rim of the crater, it's sheer size immediately impresses. You can see why some hike in with their tents and choose to spend several days exploring the summit of Haleakala.

Despite Haleakala being a shield volcano, what you're seeing in front of you is not a single volcanic crater - known as a caldera, but instead the eroded remains of the mountain's summit which has been worn away by wind and water.

If you're looking for calderas you needn't be disappointed however, as all around you is cinder cone after cinder cone, each ringed with its own caldera. It's to one of these that we're now headed.

Life Among the Desolation

The desolation and the eerie red color of the landscape around you give this remote location an other-worldly appearance, which is only compounded by the strangeness of the plantlife.

Dotted around the landscape you'll find the silversword, a whitish-green plant unique to Hawaii. Please take great care not to disturb these shallow-rooted plants which are a threatened species.

[JCT] Trail to Ka Lu'u o ka O'o

Almost exactly 2 miles into the Sliding Sands Trail you'll happen across a well marked sign signalling our diversion towards the closest caldera.

Take the left turn and head towards the crater known as .. well, we'll let you decide out how to pronounce it's name.

Cinder Cone and Crater

Take a stroll around the dramatically red-rimmed crater of Ka Lu'u o ka O'o, while keeping a respectable distance from the edge (don't worry though .. there's no real danger here).

Pu'u Ulaula (Red Hill)

Be sure to take a quick side-trip in the car to Red Hill, which marks the very tallest peak on the island of Maui.

Cast your eyes in an Easterly direction past the domed observatories, and on a clear day you'll be able to spot the Big Island of Hawaii.
Pictures in this guide taken by: Trailspotting

Trailspotting content © Stuart Green 2010 including text, images, videos and route detail.
Unfortunately, the trail to Ka Lu'u o ka O'o off of the sliding sands trail is closed. Apparently it's been closed for a while, and it's not shown on the official park map. We went looking for it, and found the trail junction has been removed and a trail barrier established to make it look like there was no junction there. Beyond the old junction, there is a sign which says "trail closed due to emergency conditions"

Too bad, it would have been cool to walk around the rim of Ka Lu'u o ka O'o. But by the time you get to the junction, you're pretty close to it. The 2 miles to this point are pretty amazing to experience - going back up in the thin air..that was a different story :P

2 stars so people know what the situation is. But overall, it's a still a worthwhile hike.

Visited on Jun 05, 2015

by emobo on Jun 09, 2015
it was so great experience...i don call it Haleakala...i call it The Great Haleakala.. :)

by inqueba on Jul 17, 2014
i recommend this to everyone... great place

by hairtransplant on Jul 17, 2014
There is nowhere like Haleakala in the world. Absolute must if you are a hiker. Don't just stop at the summit for the sunrise, make it a day hike.
Personally, we booked a cabin and hiked both in and out of Halemau'u, and dropped our gear at the cabin (Holua), then dayhiked via Sliding Sands trail.

RECOMMENDATIONS: unless you REALLY feel like making a 2,250 ft climb in sand, don't plan your day thinking it's as easy to go UP Sliding Sands as it is down. If you can handle a 10-mile hike ending with a 2,000 ft climb out on switchbacks, go down Sliding Sands and cross the crater over to Halemau'u. EQUIP YOURSELF for any and all weather. Even in moderate November we experienced 40 degree temp differences in 10 hours, plus rain and wind. Saw a fair share of miserable ill-equipped day hikers. Layers are KEY.
You can park at Halemau'u and hitchhike up to the summit, and hike down in via Sliding Sands.

If you have a few days, book a campsite and a cabin, Poliku cabin is a breathtaking thing to wake up to. There is no potable water and I would advise against thinking a bottle filter will really take care of the Giardia in the water found by the cabins.
Again, as with all hikes on Maui, the earlier the better for your views from the crater. Fog will set in earlier than you think at that altitude.

Visited on Nov 10, 2013

by knucktatz on Mar 29, 2014

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