Skip the Haleakala Valley Isle Excursions tour that costs $160+. It cost us just ONE DOLLAR to do this tour on our own and I’m going to tell you exactly how you can do your own self guided Haleakala sunrise tour!
A Haleakala sunrise tour is one of the Maui bucket list items that we checked off on our Hawaii trip. Waking up at 3am to drive to the top of Maui volcano probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I felt like it was such a fun adventure that made me feel alive and connected to Maui in a whole different way. There’s no need to book pricey $160+ guided Haleakalā sunrise tours – you can easily do this experience on your own. I’ll tell you how!
How To Do A Self Guided Haleakala Sunrise Tour in Maui
Napping on the trip up would be nice, but is it worth $160++? No thank you. You can 100% easily do this sunrise tour yourself! It’s easy, safe, cheap and FUN. Save that money for a snorkel cruise or a nice dinner.
Keep reading for my self-guided Haleakalā sunrise tour – when to leave, what to pack, the best place to watch the sunrise from (this may surprise you) and literally everything else you’ll need to know for a fantastic haleakalā national park sunrise. We spent exactly $1 on our sunrise tour and you can, too!
While researching fun things to do in Maui I came across some Haleakala sunrise tours and was shocked to see they were starting at $150!! That’s crazy as it’s just $1 to buy a Haleakala reservations sunrise ticket and National Park tickets are about $30 so that markup seems out of this world to me. We had rented a car and actually have an annual park pass, so this tour ended up costing us just $1.
As noted above, you have to buy your $1 sunrise ticket in advance (not at the gate) and there are only 80 tickets available for each day. As you can imagine, those go FAST so we bought ours a couple months before our trip.
Also, I want to make sure you know: Haleakala National Park is at about 9,400 elevation. This means it’s COLD at the top! There was frost on the ground when we arrived that morning and I was happy I packed a sweater, though I wish I packed a heavier one. I saw some people bring the blankets from their hotel room which was genius if you didn’t pack a sweater.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CAR BEFORE YOU GO
As I mentioned, we woke up at 3am so we made sure to pack our car with what we wanted to bring the night before so our sleep brains didn’t have to think too hard. Make sure to FILL UP YOUR GAS TANK prior to driving up. We didn’t do this and ended up having to quickly fill up halfway up the summit at the last gas station. It’s only about 18 miles from central Maui, but you climb 9000+ feet for two hours that sucks the gas out of your tank. Don’t make our mistake, fill up!
I also recommend grabbing a big jug of Starbucks ice coffee and a gallon of water to help you fuel up for the day. I’m a hot breakfast kind of gal, so we bought frozen burritos from a grocery store and heated those up in our hotel room microwave before heading out in the morning. We also brought some fruit to snack on. We woke up at 3am and didn’t get back to central Maui until about 8am, so you’ll want food. Trust me!
- Pre-purchased National Park sunrise ticket
- Credit card for National Park pass
- Full gas tank
- breakfast + snacks
- a sweater (or two)
- sturdy shoes
- Gloves if you have them
- Gypsy Maui app downloaded
- Maui playlist loaded on Spotify
- Buy sunrise tickets at the gate
- Go in shorts (you’ll freeze!)
- Bring cash for your pass
If you plan on staying at the summit to do some hiking, don’t forget to pack everything you need for that!
>> Want more island tips? Check out my Maui Island Travel Guide!
What Time To Get Up + Tips For Driving To Haleakala
Trying to figure out the best Maui hotels or resorts to stay at for a sunrise tour? The best ones are the hotels halfway up the summit so you can cut down on driving time, but I prefer the hotels near the beach, as most people do. I would recommend not launching from Wailea or anywhere north of Kaanapali, as that will add 20-30 more minutes to your early morning drive.
Kaanapali: Hyatt Maui (we stayed here!! Loved it! Find my full review here.)
Paia: Paia Inn
Kihei: Days Inn (budget on the beach!)
Mountainside: Kula Lodge
When you have to leave totally depends on when the sun is rising during your visit. I recommend planning on arriving at the summit parking lot 45 minutes PRIOR to sunrise, as you’ll need time to park and find your spot as it gets competitive. During this time, there will be a bit of morning glow happening around the skyline Hawaii has which is really beautiful to see.
The drive took us about 1.5 hours from Kihei so we left at 3:30am. If you are visiting in the winter, the sun may rise even earlier and you may need to plan on being there closer to 3am-4am. Google the sunrise times the night before when setting your alarm!
The drive up the summit is really windy and one lane. If you are driving slow PLEASE use one of the turnouts to let other people pass. Seriously, don’t be a dick. We got trapped with 7 other cars (7!) behind a slow car at the front who was going about 10 miles per hour the drive up and it caused us to be a bit late to the sunrise. So, don’t be that person, let the more awake people pass you.
I recommend downloading the Gypsy Maui app for your drive up and/or down! He’s known for his Road to Hana driving tour but also has ones for other parts of the island! Or, you can do what we did and download the Moana soundtrack for the drive up, which was extremely fun to listen to. Download my Maui playlist on Spotify here!
The Best Hidden Spot To Watch Sunrise At The Haleakala Summit Area
There are two parking lots that you can watch the sunrise on Haleakalā crater from, the upper and lower. The upper usually fills up first and they will block it off if it’s full. Don’t worry – my secret spot is accessed from the lower lot, so it doesn’t matter if you’re running a bit late and miss the upper lot!
How to find my secret amazing spot to watch the sunrise: most people will be lining up behind the railing to watch the sunrise. Walk past those people, past the park ranger manning the crowd, and up the path towards the small hill. It’s about a 5-minute hike and really easy, even when you are sleepy!
It curls back behind this small hill and at the top, you’ll find a flat summit and tons of big rocks to sit on! this is the perfect spot to watch the Maui sunrise as most people don’t hike up here! It’s not the highest peak so a lot of people don’t think to go there, but it’s a great spot.
I was really overwhelmed when we were standing in the crowd by the railing. I wasn’t thrilled about standing on rocks shoulder to shoulder with crowds and trying to watch the sunrise past railings and people’s heads. then I notice a guy sitting on top of a small hill up the way and realized there’s probably a better, less crowded place to watch the sunrise from! 5 minutes later, we were perched with about 10 other people and experienced a calm, magical morning.
The drive back down was pretty fun. It was so pretty seeing Maui from 9000 feet up! We were too tired to hike that morning, but I would love to come back and do some of the trails. This morning though, we were all about beelining to the nearest brunch spot we could find because at that point, we were already up for about 5 hours and really needed a hot meal! We grabbed loco moco and coffee at Kihei Cafe, one of the best Maui breakfasts we had, and late a tour at the tropical plantation. What a great day!
So there you have it: how to save $150 and do a self-guided haleakalā sunrise tour instead. Stop Googling for ” Haleakala sunrise tour cheap ” — there’s nothing cheaper than doing it yourself and spending just $1 (or $31 if you don’t have a park pass.) Start the new day 9000 feet up and only $1 poorer.
Looking for a Haleakala sunset tour? The same thing applies – do it yourself! No special tickets are needed to see the sunset. The crater is viewed more easily in the evening, so if that’s important for you, or if you can’t fathom the idea of waking up at 3am, then catch a sunset. Haleakala tours are best when you do them on your own time, whenever that may be.
I think it’s obvious. Maui Haleakala sunrise tour or on our own: go on your own! Just make sure to grab your Haleakala sunrise reservation early in planning!
I hope this helps you plan your Haleakalā sunrise tour!! My husband and I agreed it was such a fun thing to do in Maui and I would easily do it again (but with more sweaters this time.) If you have any questions about doing your own self-guided Haleakalā sunrise tour, leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul or @whimsysoul and I’ll be happy to answer them for you!
Looking for other fun sightseeing tours, additonal hiking tours Haleakala offers or Polynesian adventures in Maui? Check out some of my other Maui blog posts the learn about ideas of fun things to do on the island!
Thank you for this blog, it is so informative. I was wondering if you might be able to tell me what I’m doing wrong? I went to the link to make a reservation for the sunrise, I put in the date July 8, 2019 for 1 vehicle, the only time listed is 3:00 A.M. (80) but when I click on it is says “not yet released”. Again, thanks for your blog and for any help you can give me.
Ahh! I think the reservations only open up 30 days in advance! Set a reminder to go to the site on June 8th and that should solve the issue!!
Do you know if you’re guaranteed a parking spot if you snagged one of the car reservation passes? Where do they check your reservation? Thank you for all the info! :). Peggy
You should be! There are two lots and when we went, the top one was filled up but the bottom one still had spots. I would think they only sell enough tickets for parking spots because it would be chaos if they didn’t.
Hi there! Thanks again – this is really helpful :). Will be looking at your tips for other travels!!!! Cheers ?
I missed out on the opportunity to get the last 80 tickets. They were gone in under 30 seconds. Can I go up at 1AM, do stargazing and be there until sunrise? Would I get fined? How much would it be if I got fined?
It is a National Park so it’s gated to get in and I’m not sure if you can go at 1am or if you would get fined. I would reach out to the park to ask directly.
THAT BEING SAID, try getting tickets again day-of! A friend just went and told me she couldn’t buy tickets in advance, but they opened up a few last minute ones on her day and she was able to score two the evening before. I hope that helps!!
So $1 ticket is true except park pass which u mentioned. I bought my vehicle pass 2 months in advance any longer then that it will say unavailable. On the site it tells u the day of or 24 hours before (cant remember) they release couple extra tickets but why fight for it. I have family that lives there so they told me how to do this I go at end of feb.
I wish I had read your blog before our tour. We were tricked by the gps as it showed the entrance to the park as the destination!!! So we got late by 30 mins and by the time we reached the sun was already up.
Oh no!!!! That sucks, I’m sorry. They need to make it more clear that it’s like, an EXTRA 30+ minute drive after getting to the gate. Hope you still had a fun visit
I am going to visit Maui in a month with a friend and we don’t have a car (we can’t rent one as we are 19), we are also students so we are trying to stay on a budjet.
Do you think it would be feasible to take an uber to the sunrise so that we don’t have to pay for a tour ?
Thank you very much for your help
Hi! Please don’t try to take an uber up there!! If you do somehow get an uber at 3am (when you have to leave) it’ll cost you probably a few hundreds dollars (on top of the entry fee for all national parks.) and there’s no service up there, I highly doubt you’d be able to find a ride back down. If you can’t rent a car, go with a tour company this time to make sure you can do it safely.
It seems reservations open only about 2 months in advance – so for booking a slot for 24th April, I will have to wait until 24th February, right?
I believe that’s correct! BUT, make sure you book that ticket on the 24th because the slots fill up very fast. I’m told from a friend who went last-minute recently that the park will hold a few tickets for last-minute guests but I don’t suggest risking it.
You have a notation box referring to Haleakala sunrise bike tour companies; the note concludes with, “These re the best Haleakala sunrise tour companies that offer bike rides down the volcano.”
But what tour companies are you referring to, as there are no names or links after that?
Also, might you have a ‘full island tour’ of how to plan a visit to Maui? Something that could detail different activities each day and the preferred order in which to do them, from which someone could customize (pick and choose) which to include/exclude for their upcoming vacation to Maui?
Hey Andrew – good catch! The link wasn’t working but I’ve updated it now.
And I do have an island guide! You can find it here: https://teamsandthemes.com/maui-itinerary-7-days-maui-hawaii/
This was really helpful! What website did you use to get your $1 Hakeala Reservation sunrise ticket?
Just the National Park website! https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/253731
Thank you! I just purchased our $1 reservation ticket… but do I still need to purchase a $30 ticket for each person?
So you’ll pay at the gate when you get there. They take cash and cards and it’s just a $30 entry fee per car! Or, you can buy an annual national park pass to use for a year!
Loved reading this! Thanks for all the info! Do you think a van would be able to make it up the road to the top? Thanks 🙂
For sure!! They are 100% tour groups in large buses and vans that make it up there each day so you can too!
Would you recommend this as a must see trip if coming from America?
I’m not sure what you mean by “coming from America” since Hawaii is a state of the USA. Do you mean coming from the mainland? Regardless, yes I think this is a truly unique thing to do in Maui that you can’ find anywhere else so yes, please go 🙂
Looks like now you can only reserve your tickets 7 days in advance. That is so stressful for planning a huge vacation and having a risk of not getting tickets!! I bet that’s why there are so many tour companies that offer to take you, to guarantee your ticket.
I could reserve mine 30 days ahead I believe. They may have it 7 days ahead right now due to COVID times
Hello Kara, thanks for your info. Do you know what kind of car do I need to do it by myself?
Thank you in advance!
Hi Kara, Thanks for all of the great info. If we aren’t so hard core (3 teens with us) and don’t want to get up early, can you go up just during the day for the view? Also, can we pay the $30 park fee on site or is that something we also need to do in advance? Thanks