Want a monster hike in Maui?
I was fortunate to go visit Maui last week, and my auntie suggested this hike. Most people think of a Maui vacation as sitting around the beach drinking mojitos or mai tais. I was lucky enough to experience one of the most awe-inspiring hikes I have ever done. This hike is absolutely unbelievable. Any serious hiker should plan on doing this hike on their visit to Maui. I'm still in awe of the experience.
Shuttle Setup: This is a shuttle hike. You must first park a vehicle at the Halemauu trailhead parking lot which is roughly 3 miles above the park headquarters, or the 4th switchback. Then go to the visitor center near the top of the mountain. I don't know how far it is, but you won't miss it. 10-15 minutes tops. If it is clear you will have world-class views. However, it probably won't be clear, but you'll still have great views. Rapidly moving clouds continually provide both beauty and obstruction. It will be cool and (usually very) windy at the top so plan accordingly. One of the funniest sights I've seen are tourists wearing shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops shivering at the top of Haleakala. Don't worry about having to take layers because you'll probably need them during the hike. The trailhead is located at the southwest end of the parking lot, or near the road that continues to the telescopes & SDI laser at the top. You'll probably see some horses in the general vicinity.
Hike: The trail starts out to the southwest, and it is fairly typical of the route to the bottom of the crater. You figure out pretty quickly why the trail is called "Sliding Sands". However, it is a very easy downhill, and you can move quickly without straining your knees because it is a gentle slope with a nice cushion. You have views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island for the first few hundred yards, and they were still topped with snow last week. Continue down the gently-sloping switchbacks, and marvel at the colors in the ever-changing landscape. You will see spots that look like Mars interspersed with silverswords and proteas. The steep rim above you provides greenery because it catches the clouds blowing in, and the views towards the visitor center and the ridge below it are amazing. About halfway down to the bottom you'll come across a side trail to the Kama'oli'i crater, and it looks like a worthwhile time even though we didn't take it. Continue down the gentle switchbacks to the fork in the trail, and you lose roughly 1300 feet.
Take the trail to the left, and you soon enter an area that looks more like Mars than earth. An important note here is to not leave the trail because this area is very fragile, and a human footprint can last a lifetime. Another important note is that this trail is extremely easy to follow, and is marked by extensive signage. Continue across this landscape of rock, and climb the northwest slope of Pu'ukauaua, a red cinder cone that is prominent during your hike in this area, and then up to a saddle. Take the trail to the left, and enter another bench like the one above. This one has a decent amount of vegetation after a while, and is very reminiscent of chaparral, albeit a high altitude tropical variety.
Along this route you will see a signed alternate route called the Silversword Loop. Definitely take it, and you'll be back on the trail within minutes. You eventually make your way to a cabin that is available to rent by appointment. Follow the trail slightly downill along ever denser high altitude tropical chaparral until you reach a horse tether and a gate.
You'll stare up at the switchbacks winding their way up the steep mountain, and consider this a final challenge. It isn't too difficult, however, as this portion of the trail is also gently sloped like the beginning, but firmer. You only have about 1300 feet up to the top of the Halemauu trail. Beautiful tropical plants cling to the steep ridge, and the views are unbelievable. You eventually somewhat top out on the ridge, and follow it up to the Halemauu parking lot. Then you get to see tourists in shorts and t-shirts shivering while knowing that you just did a world-class hike.
*Do not feed the animals, especially the nene geese. They may beg, and they may be cute, but you still shouldn't feed them.
*Do not leave banana peels, apple cores, etc. behind. This fragile environment doesn't have the ability to process biodegradeable materails easily.
*Stay on the trail.
*Bring layers, especially rain gear because you'll go through warm moonscapes and blowing mist on this hike.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.