Haleakala National Park is home to so many incredible hikes, but this one takes the cake! Over 11 miles, this hike takes you from the top of the park into the volcanic crater before you climb back over the valley. The terrain changes throughout the hike, so every few miles you get a change of scenery. Here’s the ultimate trail guide to the Sliding Sands Trail.
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The Sliding Sands Trail in a Nutshell
Sliding Sands Trail Key Information
Sliding Sands Trailhead: Haleakalā Visitor Center Parking Lot (but don’t park here—more on this below)
Hike End: Halemau’u Parking Lot
Hike Type: Point-to-point
Length: 11 mi / 17.8 km round trip
Time: 6 hours
Ascent: 2,467 ft / 752 m (but even more descent!)
Difficulty: Intermediate—while not a very technical hike, the rocky crater floor can be tough on the ankles and the final few miles are all uphill with potentially dangerous drop-offs.
How to get to the Sliding Sands Trailhead
You’ll definitely need a car to get into Haleakala National Park. Drive along the main road up to Halemau’u Parking Lot and park there. Try to get there early as the lot only has around 30 parking spots and tends to fill up quickly. From the lot, you’ll want to walk across the road to the Hikers Pickup Point and hitchhike to the Haleakalā Visitor Center Parking Lot.
Haleakala National Park Entrance Fees
You’ll need to pay a national park entrance fee to visit Haleakala. It costs $30 per private vehicle to enter and the ticket is valid for three days. If you plan on visiting three or more national parks within the year, I highly recommend getting an America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80 and allows for unlimited entries into the national parks.
Sliding Sands Trail Guide: Everything you need to know!
We did the Sliding Sands Trail as a day trip from O’ahu, so our day started bright and early at Honolulu Airport. After landing in Maui, we rented a car and drove up to Haleakala National Park, stopping at a farmers market and Safeway to grab some lunch supplies. Definitely make sure to bring lunch, as there aren’t any places in the park to grab a quick packed lunch.
After we arrived at the park, we continued driving into the park up to Halemau’u Parking Lot. We circled around a few times and ended up waiting for a parking spot, so get there early! We planned on walking 5 minutes to the hiker pickup point just across the road but instead met Matt, a super friendly local who drove us to the top of the national park.
When we arrived at the visitor center, we said goodbye to Matt and started hiking towards the Keonehe’ehe’e Trailhead. We continued along the main trail, which starts by heading down to the crater floor. It starts out pretty gentle and you get insane views of the vast landscape ahead of you. I’d add about an hour to your expected hiking time to allocate time to take photos.
The trail is sturdy but made up of sand, so while sneakers will do the job, I’d recommend trail runners or hiking boots to make sure you don’t slide. I wish I had my hiking boots with me, as my ankles were pretty sore by the end of the day and I could’ve used the extra support.
Once you reach the bottom of the crater, you continue on a relatively flat trail for a few miles. While the view is pretty spectacular, it’s the same view for a few miles, so this felt like the longest section. We stopped for lunch about halfway through the hike.
You can also take a short detour to Pele’s Paint Pot, the most colorful section of crater floor!
Once you get to Hōlua Cabin and Campsite, you turn right and shortly start heading uphill. Earlier on the trail, we ran into a couple that had previously done this hike and the woman said she loved the Sliding Sands Trail because “the terrain changes and it feels like you’re in a rainforest.” We initially thought she did not know what a rainforest was, as the landscape is so dry and it’s hard to believe that things could grow nearby, but we were so wrong. This section gets a lot of fog and cloud cover and she was totally right—the plants in this section look like they belong in a rainforest and there’s so much greenery covering this section of the trail.
This section includes plenty of switchbacks back up to the parking lot. The trail is pretty exposed, so I’d recommend being cautious at this section. After a few false peaks and many, many switchbacks, you’ll get back to the parking lot.
We were exhausted by the end of this hike! The terrain was pretty brutal on our bodies (especially after lounging around in O’ahu for a few weeks!). I couldn’t recommend a celebratory dinner at Maui Brewing Company in Kihei more. The perfect way to end the hike.