About the Site
Haleakala National Park  



The Mountain

The Crater

On the Mountain


Hosmer Grove





Haleakala is one of two national parks in the Hawaiian Islands. Located on the southern section of the island of Maui, the park's 28,655 acres contain one of the most spectacular volcanic craters in the world as well as a beautiful section of the Maui coastline. Land in the park lies at altitudes from sea level along the coast to over 10,000 feet at the summit of the mountain, supporting a range of habitats from subalpine to subtropical rain forests.

The park contains 32 miles of trails which allow the visitor to see the crater at close range, provide some spectacular overlooks with views of Maui and surrounding islands such as Hawaii, Molokai, and Lanai, and allow access to the beautiful Ohe'o Gulch and rain forests of the Kipahulu area of the southern coast. The park also contains a number of cultural, religious, and archaeological sites.



The Hawaiian Islands were first colonized by Polynesian seafarers in the 10th century. From this period on humans lived on Maui, but the heights of Haleakala itself were not inhabited. People visited the mountain, but the crater and its environs were considered sacred. The people did make use of the resources there, for example quarrying lava rock for use in creating tools and other objects.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

The first non-native Hawaiians to reach the summit of Haleakala were a group of missionaries in 1828. In 1841 Lt. Charles Mills explored and mapped the crater, fortunately recording many Hawaiian names for the features there which have persisted.

Increased visitation to and use of the mountain threatened many of its native life forms. Animal grazing and tourist visits destroyed many of the remarkable silversword plants, which were once so numerous sections of the crater appeared to be covered by snow.

The area which comprises Haleakala National Park was originally part of Hawaii National Park, which was later split to form Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Haleakala became a separate park in 1961, and the Kipahulu (south coast) section of the park was added in 1969.

The Mountain

The centerpiece of the national park is great volcanic mountain Haleakala. Its name meaning "house of the sun", the summit of the dormant volcano reaches an altitude of 10,023 feet. Because the volcano is classified as dormant, it is more than possible it will erupt again, possibly within the next 100 years. Although there have been approximately 20 eruptions in the last 2500 years, it is estimated that the mountain last erupted in 1790.

As with the other great Hawaiian mountains Haleakala is a shield volcano, formed by successive eruptions of lava which overflow down the sides of the mountain and are deposited, creating the distinctive "shield" profile. These volcanoes look gentle, but they are massive. Haleakala, at sea level, is 33 miles long and 24 miles wide. Measured from its actual base at the bottom of the ocean the mountain is an astounding 25,000 feet plus in height. It probably emerged from the sea about 1 million years ago.

The Crater

The most famous part of the park is the famous crater at the summit of the mountain. This crater, with its great volcanic vents, peaks, rim, multiple colors, and a remarkably "otherworldly appearance", is one of the most memorable places in any of America's national parks.

The view of the crater from the rim is often likened to the surface of the moon. Indeed, the scene is punctuated by small depressions and rocky peaks, and particularly from the west side, there is little vegetation.

The Haleakala crater is really quite large. It's 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide with a circumference of about 21 miles.

The summit crater was not, however, formed by the collapse of a volcanic peak, as with Crater Lake. Rather, it was formed by erosion. Almost 3000 feet from the summit of the mountain was worn away. Two gaps, or valleys on the side of the mountain created by erosive action, eventually connected with each other to form the great crater.

The creation of the great crater was complete when additional later eruptions covered much of the floor of the crater with lava.

Additional volcanic activity has also created a number of vents and craters within the main crater itself, adding to the exotic nature of the crater's appearance.

The view of the crater is not only astounding and memorable, but the experience of viewing it changes substantially depending on various conditions of light. One of the most interesting phenomena which changes its appearance is the presence of transitory clouds and mists which frequently move across the landscape, hiding and revealing the crater's features.

The clouds are formed from the moisture contained in the trade winds which blow across Maui. They enter through the Ko'olau Gap (in the upper left section of the picture below) and may cover large portions of the crater. The size of this gap is testament to the incredible power of the erosion which formed the Haleakala crater.

The clouds move quickly, and features disappear and reappear in rapid succession.

More clouds flow across the crater in the photograph below.

As with many mountains, Haleakala creates a "rain shadow" as the moisture laden trade winds blow across it in a westerly direction.

The northeastern part of the crater receives about 150 inches of rain per year while the opposite side may receive only 20.

The scale of the crater is difficult to appreciate, even when standing on the rim. It's actually about 2720 feet to the floor of the valley.

There are a number of wonderful vantage points from which to enjoy the views of the crater. Perhaps the most popular is the area adjacent to the House of the Sun Visitor Center on the west end of the crater at about 9600 feet. The highest peak visible on the east side of the crater is Hanakauhi at 8907 feet.

Clouds obscure the southern and eastern walls of the crater's rim.

In places clouds spill over the rim of the crater.

A very different perspective is obtained by a trip on one of the trails down into the crater. Below is a view looking up toward the northern rim.

One unexpected aspect of a trip into the crater is the many colors of the lava, ash, and rock which present themselves from almost every perspective.

The west walls of the crater are rocky and this portion of the crater is dry and desolate.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

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