Backpack the Haleakala Wilderness: Halemau'u to Sliding Sands Trail

Halemau'u Trailhead, Kula, Hawaii, United States

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Backpack the Haleakala Wilderness: Halemau'u to Sliding Sands Trail

Halemau'u Trailhead, Kula, Hawaii, United States

  • Activities:

    Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    19 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    3643 Feet

Picnic Area

This trip covers some of the most exotic and extreme terrain the islands have to offer.

Day 1, the trailhead begins just off the highway at 7,990 feet elevation and takes you to the north and east to an opening in the ridgeline. After 1.1 miles, you will begin your 2.6 mile descent from the crater ridge south, into the heart of the wilderness area and where you will arrive at Holua Cabin and campsites at 6940 feet elevation. From here you can set up camp and refill water. Note: There is very little shade during this trip and in the crater. Running out of water is a dangerous possibility. Take advantage of every opportunity to re-fill at each cabin site.

The early arrival at Holua allows you to offload your pack before continuing on the Halemau'u Trail, to Silversword loop (two miles round trip). This loop offers a great opportunity to get some terrific photographs of the highly endangered Silversword plants that thrive in the desert environment of the Haleakala. It will also give you an exciting glimpse of some of the moon-like terrain you will be traversing the next day.

The weather in the crater can be extreme at times - if the wind is bad, there is a cave just up the ridge about 200 feet northwest of the Holua Cabin. It can sleep two backpackers comfortably with enough room for a third if need be. This cave saved my trip when we arrived and the 70 mph winds would have destroyed my three season tent.

Day 2, catch the sunrise coming up from the Ko-olau Gap to the East and enjoy a nice breakfast. After breaking down camp, continue on the Halemau'u Trail for a total of 6.3 miles to reach the Paliku Cabin and campsite at 6340 feet. After the first mile, you will reach the lava fields that you glimpsed the day prior during your roundtrip of the Silversword Loop. After another mile to traverse the field, you will continue left around the Halali'i cinder cone. (There are plenty of signs, but when in doubt, keep left to stay on the Halemau'u.)

Between miles 4 and 5 today, you will be be able to peer through the Kaupo Gap to the south and identify Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa of the Big Island. Depending on the time of year, there may be snow at their peaks. If you've packed enough water, you may want to explore some of the arterial trails that branch off and photograph some of the beautiful cinder cones that dot the area. If not, don't worry. You will have the chance on Day 3.

Day 3 starts with an early (but hearty) breakfast to fuel the start of the 10 miles and 3,640 feet elevation gain to the top of the crater and the Haleakala Visitor Center (elev. 10,043 feet). After the first 3.3 miles, you will arrive at the Kapalaoa Cabin where you can re-fill water. From there, you have officially started your ascent of the Sliding Sands Trail. Another 1.7 miles down that trail and you will approach an intersection (keep left) with the only shade tree for the rest of the trip. This is a great spot to change socks, rest, and get a meal. From this point on, the hiking becomes an intensive ascent up 5 miles of relentless switchbacks.

After several false summits, you will arrive at the end of the trail. A short half mile up the highway will take you to the Visitor Center, where you can get water and find ride back down the mountain.

Afterwards, take a ride into Lahaina for the islands best food and some local brew. This sleepy island oasis is also a great place to take advantage of the opportunity to relax on the beach and enjoy some whale watching.

Pack List

  • Permit - must get in person, first come, first served
  • Backpack and food for 3 days
  • 64 oz water storage capability
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sun protection (hat, long sleeves, sunglasses, lip balm with SPF, etc)
  • Water filtration
  • Layers (temps range daily from 40-90)
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Do it! Take plenty of water and be prepared for serious fun

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

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