Haleakala National Park
Nowhere else on Earth can you drive from sea level to 10,023 feet in only 38 miles. And what's more shocking—in that short vertical ascent to the summit of the volcano Haleakala you'll journey from lush, tropical-island landscape to the stark, moonlike basin of the volcano's enormous, otherworldly crater.
Established in 1916, Haleakala National Park covers an astonishing 27,284 acres, with the Haleakala Crater as the centerpiece of the park. The mountain has terrific camping and hiking, including one-hour, four-hour, eight-hour, and overnight trails, that take hikers through the Waikamoi Cloud Forest and the crater itself.
Before you head up Haleakala, call for the latest weather conditions. Extreme gusty winds, heavy rain, and even snow in winter are not uncommon. Because of the high altitude, the mountaintop temperature is often as much as 30°F cooler than that at sea level. Be sure to bring a jacket.
There's a $10-per-car fee to enter the park, good for three days. Hold on to your receipt—it can also be used at Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools). Once inside the park, stop at the Park Headquarters to learn about the volcano's history, and pick up trail maps and memorabilia at the gift shop. Campers and hikers should check in here.
At about the 8,800-foot level you'll come to Leleiwi Overlook, which offers your first awe-inspiring view of the crater. The small hills in the basin are cinder cones (called puu in Hawaiian). If you're here in the late afternoon, it's possible you'll see yourself reflected on the clouds and encircled by a rainbow—a phenomenon called the Brocken Specter. Don't wait long for this, because it's not a daily occurrence.
The famous silversword plant grows in the desertlike landscape at Kalahaku Overlook, at 9,000 feet. This endangered beauty grows only here and at the Big Island's two peaks. When it reaches maturity it sends forth a 3- to 8-foot-tall stalk with several hundred tiny sunflowers. It blooms once, then dies. Haleakala Visitor Center, at 9,740 feet, has exhibits inside and a trail that leads to White Hill—a short, easy walk with even better views of the valley.
The highest point on Maui is the Puu Ulaula Overlook, at the 10,023-foot summit. Here you can find a glass-enclosed lookout with a 360-degree view. The building is open 24 hours a day, and has the best sunrise view. The Maui News posts the hour of sunrise, which falls between 5:45 and 7 am, depending on the time of year. Bring blankets or hotel towels to stay warm on the cold and windy summit. On a clear day you can see the islands of Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and the Big Island. On a really clear day you can even spot Oahu glimmering in the distance.
The air is thin at 10,000 feet. Don't be surprised if you feel a little breathless while walking around the summit. Take it easy and drink lots of water. Anyone who has been scuba diving within the last 24 hours should not make the trip up Haleakala. www.nps.gov/hale. COST: $10 per car. OPEN: Park Headquarters daily 6:30--3:45; Haleakala Visitor Center daily sunrise--3:45.