Haleakala in the Hawaiian language means "House of the Sun." And although it can be a great place to watch the sunrise, it does not feel like a house of the sun! The average high temperature at the summit is only around 55°. And that's pretty chilly, no matter how you look at it.
Haleakala National Park
Part of the National Park system, you can expect to pay an entrance fee to Haleakala National Park, but it is a modest fee and is per car. Once you buy, it is good for a week, or if you have the national park pass you can use that. If the pay station is not manned, there is a pay box to leave your money and get your parking pass. A flashlight may come in handy here to read the instructions(we had to use our headlights). (Update 2015, there is now a manned gate to pay your entrance fee. We missed the sunrise because some jackass in front of us didn’t want to pay and wouldn’t get out of the way and held the line up)
There is a visitor center at the summit where you can pick up some souvenirs. It has large windows, so you can get a good view of the crater and the sunrise while keeping somewhat warm, and of course it has the all-important bathrooms.
You can expect it to take a couple of hours to get to Haleakala from the Kihei area, which is why Haleakala tours pick you up at your hotel at 2 AM.
Seeing the sunrise over Haleakala crater is one of those must-do activities that most people have on their "to do" list. We did not make the trip to Haleakala until our third trip to Maui, because it is not a lot of fun to get up before 2 AM. After all, you are on vacation, you want to sleep in, not get up super early!
One of the tactics you can use to make this easier it is to go on the first or second day of your vacation, when you haven't yet adjusted to the time change and you will be up early anyway. That may make it slightly easier and may even justify going to bed at 8 PM on your first night.
You may have heard this already, but in case not, make sure you dress warmly! We have been to Haleakala twice, once for sunrise and once for sunset, and both times we froze! Even the second time when we knew what it was like it's hard to pack a parka for a Hawaiian vacation, but if you are planning a trip to Haleakala throw in some gloves and a stocking hat. They don't take up much room and you'll be glad to have them. For the rest take a couple of extra layers, or grab a blanket off the bed.
Get to the summit early, it would be the pits to get up at 2 AM and still miss the sunrise. Not only that, but you will get a better parking spot! It'll also allow you some time to visit the visitor center. And you won't want to miss the park ranger coming out to give them rising Sun chant.
After the sunrise
After the sunrise, many people just climb back into their cars and head down the mountain. I suggest that you take the time to look around. Even though it is desolate and cold at the summit of Haleakala there are still some great things to see. For instance, if you look to the west you will see the shadow of Mount Haleakala being cast out to the valley floor below.
See if you can spot a silver sword. These plants do not grow anywhere else, so here's your chance to see a one-of-a-kind plant. They can live for up to 50 years, but when they bloom it is doom for them, as they die afterwards.
You can walk, mountain bike or take a horseback ride on some of the trails of Haleakala or even down into Haleakala crater. There are cabins in the crater you can rent, though they are booked far in advance.
You can drive to Haleakala on your own to take in the sunrise, or you can take a tour. The good thing about the tour is that you can sleep the 2 Hour drive there. You can combine your sunrise tour with a biking down the Haleakala tour afterwards. Your bike ride not will start at the summit, but a little lower down. No worries though, it is the longest downhill bike ride you can find. No pedaling!
Once you check out things on the mountain you can head back down. On the way out you can see what you missed on the way up because it was too dark to see. Careful on the way down, usually lower gears and don't ride the brakes.
Once you get back to town and grab some breakfast, it will be the perfect time to catch a nap on the beach.