Fast and fun downhill to start, with epic views the entire way down. Followed by more amazing views while crossing a vast lava field, and ending with a fantastic climb out of the crater.
Haleakala is a National Park, so you have to pay the usual NP entrance fee. Once inside, parking is free, and the Visitor Center has the usual information about the area, restrooms, etc.
There is no shade and very little water. Potable water is available only at the Visitor Center and non-potable water is available at Holua Cabin except during drought conditions.
It's a long way on road between the two trailheads so unless you want to make this a roundtrip journey, you can arrange for someone to pick you up at the Halemau'u Trail
, or if you've caravaned with friends, you can leave one car at each trailhead, or you can hitch a ride using the designated hiker-pickup zone just across the road from the trailhead parking.
For those wanting to take two days for the hike, there are tent sites and a cabin at Holua. Both require reservations in advance on recreation.gov; reservations for the campsite are easier to get and much cheaper but do often fill up well in advance.
Starting at Haleakala Visitor Center, follow signs to the Sliding Sands Trail. This is a fun downhill. With sand and gravel to cushion your footfalls, take the brakes off, and FLY down. Try to resist the urge to stop every quarter mile for neverending opportunities for the best panorama pic ever.
Continue for about 3.7 miles and take a left onto the Halemau'u Trail
. Feel the calf burn as you slog through the black sandy remnant of ancient lava flows. After another 1.6 miles, turn left to go around Halali'i cinder cone. Two miles farther puts you at another junction where you can earn some extra credit on the Silversword Loop
, after which you'll rejoin the Halemau'u Trail
Get ready for a pumice foot massage as you near Holua Cabin which would be a great place to stop and rest and stay the night if only you had remembered to make reservations. You forgot, too? Guess that means you'll be finishing the next 3.7 miles up and out of the crater.
As you climb, give in to your urge to stop and turn and behold the valley below. If you're lucky, you may also be well above the clouds that typically ring the top of Haleakala. It's okay to stop and stare. It's okay to stop hiking and take a break. It's okay to cry just a little over how beautiful it all is.
Don't stop too long though, because, if you've remembered to, you've arranged for someone to meet you at the Halemau'u Trail
, and you don't want to keep them waiting too long because, if they're as awesome as my wife, whom I arranged to have meet me at the trailhead, you'll find that they've set up lawn chairs and set out lunch and cold beers and are lonely and want some company.
Rare silverswords are the highlight here. Apparently they only grow here and on Mauna Kea.