Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Few places match the awe and grandeur of Haleakala on the island of Maui so here are my Haleakala photo tips.

You’ll definitely need a reliable car to drive up to the ‘crater’ itself. Get there long before sunrise and you’ll be rewarded with a heavenly view of the sun as it rises below you and paints the clouds orange with it’s glorious warmth. The inside of the crater then lights up to reveal amazing details like volcanic cinder cones, creeping clouds and craggy mountain rocks.

Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Getting There

It’s very easy to drive to the top of the mountain and experience the sunrise over Haleakala crater. As a visitor you’ll most likely drive through Kahului in order to get to the Hana Highway 36 and then within a few minutes turn on to the Haleakala Highway 37. This turns in to the Kula Highway and then you’ll be on the lookout for Waipoli road which is a very residential area. This is the road that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain via a series of super fun switchbacks.

My advice would be to not go to the very top car park where the observatory is but to stay in the lower car park which sits on the rim of the crater. There’s a short hike to the summit of the rim and this is the best place to view the crater as it lights up with the rising sun.

Haleakala Sunrise, Maui, Hawaii

Total time from Kahului takes about 45 mins so add another 20 mins or so if you’re driving from Kihei or the North West tip of the island.

Recommended Equipment

  • Polarizer – To minimize glare, boost colour saturation and improve could definition
  • Tripod
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Zoom lens
  • Sunscreen
  • Warm Clothes – it gets COLD up there before the sun rises. Bring layers you can peel off as ti warms up.
  • Plenty of water if you plan to hike.

Haleakala Crater Sunrise

Top Tips

  • Wrap up warm for the sunrise at Haleakala. It’s above 10,000 ft so it gets cold. There can also be a lot of wind so make sure you have a sturdy tripod.
  • I highly recommend a wide angle lens and advise you have a go at doing a panoramic stitch shot or two. This is an epic view and you’ll want to capture as much of it as possible. Conversely if you have a long zoom lens you’ll be able to zoom in on amazing scenes way off in the distance which give you a unique perspective.
  • High altitude is no joke. I’m pretty fit so I decided to hike down into the crater with only one bottle of water. What took me 1 hour of hiking down took me almost 3 hrs of hiking back up due to the altitude. There’s also nothing in the crater to give you any idea of scale so you think the distances are way smaller than they really are. Bring plenty of water and plan to take longer than you expected. Don’t forget the sun screen.
  • Finally and most importantly, rent your car from a REPUTABLE firm. We got ours from a local independent company because we were cheapskates. Lesson learned, after our epic hike back to the car park  in a severely dehydrated state our cheapo rental car would not start. We ditched it and hitched a ride back to town and let the rental company know that this ‘third’ replacement car they’d given us was the last. Hertz here we come.

While You’re There

Maui is a photographers playground. There are lava fields on the coast, spectacular waterfalls, rocky bluffs on the coast line and amazing beaches for surfers. One place we found by accident was a trail just up from the Seven Sisters Waterfall on the road to Hana. This trail leads to other waterfalls across the highway but on the trail you’ll come across the most spectacular tree in the forest. See below.

Seven Sisters Waterfall Trail

If you visit Lahaina go and check out the Peter Lik gallery. Love him or hate him you can’t deny the quality of his prints and I genuinely think that some of his images are excellent, not all but some.

For more information about the island of Maui and Haleakela go to http://www.mauiinformationguide.com/haleakala-national-park.php


Maui has endless options for accommodation depending on how much you want to spend. We rented a privately owned condo which was cheaper than the hotels but in hindsight we’d have been happier with a hotel.


As with the accommodation there are lots of eateries to cater for all tastes and budgets. We didn’t experience any memorable food but then we were mostly self catering. Feel free to post about your own experiences.

Published by Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at Fototripper.com.


  1. I did the 2:30 AM wake-up call to be at the crater in time for sunrise. From where I was staying near Lahaina it took just over two hours to get to the top. Although the road wasn’t horribly curvy, I was beginning to feel a bit queasy by the time we got to there; however, I was soon revived by the near freezing temperature and high winds (not joking). When my buddy took his wife’s stylish coat with fur-lined hood out of his trunk and offered it to me I squeezed myself into it without hesitation. To be clear, Haleakala is not a lush, tropical hill. It is a 10,000 foot Mordor-esque volcanic wasteland and it is bloody COLD up there. We stayed in the lower parking lot and watched from the front side of a small building where there was some shelter from the wind. At first I thought we got there too early but by the time the big show happened there were 100 people or more watching and the sheltered part only fit maybe 30 of us. One couple brought their kids who were under 5 years old. They were troopers but this is not something I would recommend – too cold and too boring. The sunrise was beautiful, and at the moment the sun came into view there was some beautiful singing. Unfortunately, some of the people around me didn’t stop talking which kind of spoiled the moment. Once the sun was fully up we realized that we could have gone further up to a 2nd building by turning right when you get to the parking lot. We had heard something about this but it is very dark up there and didn’t see the road. I don’t think it matters much, and we were grateful for the shelter from the wind. The drive down was uneventful and my buddy and I had time to go for breakfast before our families were really even up and about for the day. All in all it was a fun adventure and an opportunity to have some one on one time with a good friend. The sunrise was a bonus!

  2. I’m doing this trip on the 24th of March 2024 and it will be the highlight of my trip (19th to the 26th) Yes, getting up at 3am to drive and then freeze to death for what will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime photography opportunity will be the highlight for me :). I will have several lenses with me covering ultrawide to 400mm. If anyone reads this before I shoot, and has shot here, please chime in with advice on which lens you think will serve me best (wide or Zoom) as I would prefer to not have to swap out in the cold. Still looking forward to the experience. You now have to have a reservation to view the sunrise so hopefully the crowds will be smaller that early on a Sunday morning in March. 🙂


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