“The outer world, and everyone in it, is just a mirror of our inner world…”
~ Dan Brul

Once upon a time I wandered through the crater of a volcano, and felt as though I’d discovered an entirely new world whose existence I could never have imagined in all of my dreaming…Swirls of color, shifting mountains of sand, wisps of clouds that came and went like ghosts, jagged lava teeth, shadows tracing patterns only to be erased by the wind — it was a reality painted by the absurd, exaggerated, magical stuff that dreams are made of. Except I was awake, with the destroyed toes to prove each step of the miles I covered.

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The start of the Sliding Sands trail through Haleakala Crater.

Maui is home to two massive shield volcanos:

  1. Mauna Kahalawai (on the west side,) which is more commonly known as the West Maui Mountains. The last eruption was about 320,000 years ago, and erosion over the centuries has caused it to shift and re-shape itself to look like several separate mountains.
  2. Haleakala (on the east side) makes up more than 75% of the entire island. Compared to Mauna Kahalawai, Haleakala’s last eruption  — in 1750 — was very recent. Still, it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon 😉 Actually, the volcano is dormant and on its way toward extinction (so if you want to see flowing lava — or perhaps an exploding lava lake — you’re gonna have to head over to the Big Island!)

Stunning, mysterious, and dramatically haunting, Haleakala is one of the most visited attractions on the island of Maui. With its peak towering above the clouds at 10,023 feet, it is the world’s largest dormant volcano.

Haleakala Hike-3I spend a lot of time admiring the volcano’s rugged slopes that provide such a brilliant contrast to the sea-level landscape of my sunny beach town in south Maui. From that vantage point, Haleakala stands silent guard — an ever-present, mystical monument that turns purple every sunset. It’s an entirely different world on those slopes, with cooler temps and pure, fresh air that reminds me of Switzerland, frequent rainstorms, even more frequent rainbows, winding mountain roads with horse, goat, and cow pastures at every turn, fragrant eucalyptus groves, rambling cabins, endless fields of lavender, and heaps of eccentric characters.

It’s beautiful. But nothing along the zig-zaggy drive up the mountain prepares you for what you see when you peek over the edge of the crater. There aren’t words large enough to paint it, or pictures brilliant enough to reflect it (but being me, I take them anyway — simply because it is impossible to see and not attempt to capture in whatever way I can.Haleakala Hike-4

Each year, over 1.3 million people fly over the pacific to the most geographically isolated group of islands in the world to peer over that edge, so obviously it’s a little bit extra magical. I just happen to get to live here, so I try to peek over the edge as often as possible.

Although I’ve spent countless hours exploring Halekala’s slopes and have even braved the frigid temps and skipped sleep for a night to witness the “sublime” (in Mark Twain’s words) experience of a Haleakala summit sunrise (and then biked down,) I’d never hiked through the crater itself until a few weeks ago.

Mind officially blown. Haleakala Hike-5

I’ve hiked a lot of miles since moving to Hawaii, and each one has absolutely captivated me to the point where it would be a complete impossibility to pick a favorite. But those twelve miles through the crater were different. Set apart… or above.It was, hands down, the most incredibly amazing hike of my entire life thus far. It was unreal. (Seriously. I’m already planing another hike to make sure that it was, actually, real…)Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” and according to Hawaiian folklore, the Mars-like crater was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. As legend has it, this most epically-housed grandmother of all time helped Maui capture the sun and force it to slow its trek across the sky to lengthen the days (an ancient form of Daylight Savings.)Haleakala Hike-26

With temperatures ranging from 30-60 degrees F (and an occasionally snowfall,) Haleakala’s crater is home to a dramatic landscape, with rugged sand dunes (in a variety of contrasting colors,) sharp peaks, craggy cliffs, stretches of black lava as far as the eye can see, grassy meadows, shrubland, desert, and many endangered plants and species, including a rare species of Silversword found nowhere else in the world and Nene, a species of goose endemic to Hawaii and found in the wild on only certain Hawaiian islandsHaleakala Hike-35

The summit has over 30 miles of hiking trails, ranging from short, easy “strolls” to strenuous, 2 (or more) day “backpacking” trips. I hiked the Halemau’u and Sliding Sands trails, and did them in one day because of the extreme night temps and my lack of appropriate (i.e. incredibly warm)camping gear, but most people who do that particular hike choose to split it up over two days. Permits for tent camping can be obtained from the Haleakala National Park office. There are three cabins in the crater that are also available for campers, although they typically book 2-3 months in advance.

Haleakala Hike-7**When hiking through the crater, keep in mind that the air is thinner at that elevation, the sun is intense, the wind/rain can be fierce, and dehydration can happen quickly — there is no water available, so be sure to take at least two liters with you (per day, per person.) If camping, know that with a windchill that frequently drops below freezing, hypothermia can happen at night as easily as dehydration in the day, so be sure you have appropriate gear! Be prepared for freezing temps, wind, rain… and the most incredible starry sky you’ve ever seen 🙂 Cell reception is sporadic (at best,) and it takes an ambulance almost an hour to reach the summit. Be smart, be safe, pack layers, and enjoy the magic of Haleakala!

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Don’t forget to stay to watch a Haleakala sunset!

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Clouds frequently drift through the valley housing the Holua Cabin in Haleakala’s crater.

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The Silversword, an extremely rare and endangered plant found only on Haleakala in Hawaii, can live up to 90 years and flowers just once.

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Zig-zaggy trails snake their way across a narrow, steep ridge line on the ascent out of the crater

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Climbing above the clouds provides a brilliant perspective!


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The nene, an endangered bird found only on certain Hawaiian islands

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A Haleakala sunset is almost as stunning as a Haleakala sunrise! Be prepared for a sharp (and quick) temperature drop!

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