Haleakala on Maui – “What you see around you is a beautiful view of Haleakala, the House of the Sun,” said TJ, our viewing guide. He stood in front of the van and stretched out his huge arms as if to reveal the entirety of Maui’s 10,023-foot volcano in one fell swoop. “And unless you want to be a part of the scene, you will listen very carefully to my safety instructions.”
Cramming shoulder-to-shoulder into the red and yellow Mountain Rider van as it slowly climbs to the top of Haleakala on Maui, our group of about a dozen ascending cyclists let out a collective laugh. Then we started to study our way a little further and closer together. Behind us were 38 miles of bends, sudden switchbacks, and absolutely no guardrails. The morning clouds lay beneath us. At the time, at least some people jokingly suggested that biking down the side of a volcano suddenly seemed as nonsensical as the brochures made it out to be.
But at least, we console ourselves, we won’t be saving in the bank for a vacation that breaks our necks. Take a guided Haleakala bike ride offered by Mountain Riders and three other companies. You can register for only 84 USD per person. a very affordable adventure on an unknown island for a cheap price.
From the Top to the Sea
Mountain Riders are one of several local cycling companies that offer guided trips of the 38-mile route from the summit, in addition to guided and guided trips starting from the edge of Haleakala National Park, about 4,000 feet below the summit. Everyone who visits Maui will immediately hear about the famous sunrise tour. It starts with a pick-up at your hotel around 02:00 and ends in the morning after watching the sunrise above the clouds. What most brochures and guidebooks don’t mention is that there’s only about a 50 percent chance of actually seeing the sun.
There is debate about whether the sunrise tour is worth the extra cost (as much as 25 USD more depending on the operator). Not to mention the discomfort of interrupting a good night’s sleep and following it up with a two-hour trip in a van full of sleep-deprived strangers. We opted for the mid-morning tour, which meant a more reasonable 7.30 am pick up at our hotel in Lahaina and finish right after lunch. While past tours missed sunrise, this tour offers its own unique experience as it cruises down the mountain at 20 miles per hour as a walk before you slowly disappear into the white clouds.
Hikers descend one trail from the summit, about 15 feet apart, with a guide at the front and another guide trailing the group in a van. Anyone feeling nervous, dizzy, or tired simply has the option to step aside and hop in the van.
Planning your Trip to Haleakala on Maui
Four companies offer guided sunrise and afternoon tours of the volcano’s summit. Mountain Riders, Maui Downhill, Mountain Cruisers, and Phil’s Cruisers. You can also rent a bicycle and ride a bicycle independently. But you have to start at the edge of the national park entrance which is about 4,000 feet below the crater and miss the best part of the trip. Because no unsupervised riders are allowed into the park.
It’s important to book in advance, not only because space is limited on most tours. But also because you may pay more for the same tour once you are on the island. There are also at least two well-known presses (Barefoot Hawaii Discount Tours and Adventure Maui) that provide added savings without the drawbacks of Maui’s number one tourist trap: the infamous timeshare tours.
Of course, if you’re willing to spend an afternoon of your vacation listening to a sales pitch, you can take a Haleakala trip for half the price. Just stroll down Lahaina’s main street and you won’t find a shortage of activity booths luring travelers to timeshare properties with the promise of massive discounts on the activity of your choice.
Climbing, Horses, and Helicopters
Avid hikers shouldn’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to scramble inside a volcanic crater. An unforgettable experience like a trip downhill. The named Sliding Sands trail begins at the park’s headquarters and makes for a unique day hike. Start early in the day and make your way to the Ka Lua O Ka O’o crater about six miles from the summit. Give yourself a five to six-hour round trip to complete the hike. And remember that it will take twice as long to go back up as it does to go down.
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If you’re going to hike in the crater, plan ahead. Wear proper footwear, bring plenty of water, and protect yourself with sunscreen. We saw too many tourists who were too hot and unprepared to fight their way through the crater in sandals and desperately needed water. The parking fee is 5 USD per individual (or 10 USD per vehicle), and is valid for seven days. Camping and horseback riding inside the crater are also permitted.
For those who are less active, just driving to the top provides part of the adventure. The park’s headquarters is open daily and offers many visitor programs. Like stargazing, walking with a ranger, sunset views, and the chance to gaze out at a volcanic crater roughly the size of Manhattan. However, check your driving skills before leaving. The ride is steep, and the path is not protected by a safety fence.
Finally, for the most luxurious views, consider soaring over Haleakala on Maui by helicopter. Like riding a bike downhill, there is no shortage of helicopter companies on Maui. The top three are Blue Hawaiian, Sunshine Helicopters, and AlexAir. We chose the latter because of our 30 years of flying experience. There is also two-way communication between the pilot and the passenger. This was the only company on the island that offered this at the time. You can get discounts by ordering online or searching through local discounts. But we found the best price by mentioning our AAA membership.
Of all the Hawaiian islands, Maui is perhaps the most suitable for active travelers of all skill levels. Is it as simple as driving to the top of Haleakala on Maui, or as daring as cycling down the hill from above? This island has something for the adventurer in each of us.