Haleakala National Park with Kids

Many people do the sunrise or sunset drive to Haleakala National Park also known in Hawaiian as “house of the sun” for the dramatic scenery.  With two kids in tow and not being morning people, we knew we weren’t going to do the 3 AM drive to watch the sunrise or stay later and drive down the winding road in the dark. We opted instead to do a day trip and still had a wonderful experience.

It was a day trip with stops at two other attractions along the way.  Driving through Maui’s “upcountry” offered a pleasant drive amidst ranches and farms.  It was a long and winding road to get to the top.  The roads were not for those prone to motion or altitude sickness but everyone in our group including the kids were all fine going up.  Going down though was a different matter as my husband drove a little faster downhill and made a couple of us car sick.

Haleakala sign

It costs $10 to enter the park but the pass was good for 7 days.  Our first stop was the park headquarter’s building for a restroom break and to get the Junior Rangers activity booklet. There were merchandise sold here too and some ranger talks.  It was absolutely amazing as we slowly ascended to 10,000 feet and suddenly found ourselves high above the clouds on a bright and clear day.

Haleakala clouds

At almost 10,000 feet above sea level on Halekala

My kids have always wanted to touch the clouds (as many of us probably did at one time or another) and were given the opportunity during the drive as we passed through them.  The 5 year old was a bit disappointed that it didn’t feel like the cotton ball he expected.   But, at least they can finally say they got to touch clouds.  There were plenty of overlooks for sky and cloud watching. For astronomy buffs, nighttime here would be an ideal location.

Haleakala clouds

The highlight of the park is the summit area which was the volcanic mountaintop and crater.   There was a visitor’s center with restrooms and more merchandise here.  There were also glass windows all around that offered panoramic views of the summit landscape. It was pretty cold and windy here despite the sun being out so the indoor observation deck was very much appreciated.

Maui Haleakala summit image

The view of the summit was simply breathtaking.  It looked like a colorful painting with a combination of a desert and another planet’s landscape.  There were no words to describe it and these pictures did not do them any justice.  There were plenty of lookouts to admire this surreal scenery.  We saw some hikers on the summit paved trail including some on horseback.

Haleakala crater

We also briefly explored the Haleakala Observatory where the satellites were located.  It was a drive up on a side road from the summit visitor’s center.  There were short paved trails and another indoor observation post to see a different angle of the summit and the clouds.    Beyond the summit was the coastal area of the park called Kipahulu that we didn’t get a chance to explore. This area was a contrast to the summit and consist of a rainforest, pools and streams.  This was closer to the town of Hana.

Haleakala summit road

Junior Ranger Program

I had always made sure my kids participated in the Junior Ranger programs at most of the national parks we visit.  It is a great way for them to learn about the parks they are visiting and the preservation of the environment.  The activities call for them to be interactive with their surroundings and at the end they come away with a sense of accomplishment for completing them.  It has surprised me how they’ve come to look forward to doing these activity booklets.

Haleakala Junior Ranger

Haleakala Junior Rangers

At Haleakala National Park, the activities were only for the 7-12 age groups so my 5 year old son felt a little left out.  The  kids needed to complete activities based on their ages and attend a ranger talk or hike. They were able to talk to a ranger about the silversword plant and how it deals with temperature at the visitor’s center near the entrance.  The silversword had silver-white hairs on long pointed leaves that could only be found here.

Halekala Silversword

Halekala Silversword

My daughter and god-daughter excitedly did the activities ranging from learning Hawaiian phrases, identifying native plants and animals around the park to studying a rock with an overall message of protecting native species and taking care of the land everywhere.  They learned about native Hawaiian flowers, animals and culture and earned a Junior Ranger badge.

Haleakala summit

This day trip was truly worth the long and twisty drive. The contrast of the volcanic rocks, the sight of flora and fauna only found in Haleakala and the view high above clouds were amazing and this park is not to be missed while in Maui.

Tips to Visiting Haleakala National Park with Kids

  • Visit the park’s website for all the details.
  • Gas up before heading up here. There are no gas stations within the park.
  • Bring snacks and water especially for the kids. There are no concessions up here.
  • The drive down is on a winding road. Adults or kids prone to motion sickness should come prepared.
  • Look into the sunrise and sunset tours.
  • Bring jackets and layer up. It got very windy and chilly up here.

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HALEAKALA National Park

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