National Parks are always a hit with me and Tyler. We worked near Denali National Park back in 2012, and ever since then we’ve been determined to not only visit a National Park whenever possible, but eventually work with the organization again in some way.
After passing out at 8:30PM from the previous day’s Road to Hana adventure, waking up at 3AM wasn’t too awful a task. In order to see the 5:45AM sunrise at Haleakala National Park in the Summit District, we needed to go from sea level to 10,000ft in less than 2.5 hours. We filled our bellies with gas station muffins and coffee before heading out of a sleepy Paia.
Driving to the entrance of the park from Paia was easy enough. The $15 entrance fee from the Kipahulu district was still valid for the south side of the park, so we assumed actual entry would be a breeze. Nope. About ¾ of a mile from the entrance we hit the end of a huge line of cars carrying visitors with the same idea as us. I started to get nervous that we’d miss the sunrise as twilight began to color our surroundings in its blue tinge.
Once we made it past the park entrance, we looked up at the volcano and saw the tiny white lights of cars creeping up dozens of Haleakala’s switchbacks. We knew immediately that we wouldn’t make it up in time, so our best hope was to find somewhere to pull off on the eastern side. But Ty, who drives with the crazed intent of every Jersey-born driver, missed what could’ve been a few choice pull off areas for the first couple of switchbacks.
Soon enough we found a small parking lot right before the bend of another turn. Had it not been for another parked Jeep, we might’ve missed it. We were already starting to see orange in the sky, so we jumped out of the car and scurried down what seemed to be a path in the mountain. We ran. A thinning oxygen supply didn’t help, but we ran.
Just as we rounded the corner to the east face of Haleakala, our view opened up to the massive crater below. The sun was hidden just beyond a mountain ridge shrouded in clouds. I giggled excitedly at the sight (and possibly from the lack of oxygen). What were the odds that we found such a perfectly hidden spot to take in all of Haleakala’s splendor?
We were joined by two Swiss hikers, Manuela and Pascal, just before the brink of sunrise. We held our breath (what little of it remained from the running and, you know, lack of oxygen) as the light of day broke through the clouds and saturated every feature of the rocky terrain in a splash of gold.
The four of us stood in wonder. Well, three out of four. Pascal was down on one knee proposing to a delighted Manuela. I couldn’t help but sneak a few photos as I held back my squealing.
We stayed for as long as our numbing fingers would allow and trekked back to the Jeep. Though the sun was warming up the landscape, we kept our layers on thanks to an absolutely biting wind. Our journey to the top continued.
Although the view was no less brilliant from the top, there’s something far more special about sharing these vistas with just a few people. For me, the quiet power of the National Parks is best enjoyed in areas that I can find solitude, so getting away from the crowds makes the experience much more meaningful...even if that solitude is found by sheer dumb luck.
Note: If you’re heading to Haleakala National Park and want to find this view, park in the lot at mile 17.5 and cross the road to find the trail to Leleiwi Overlook. The walk takes less than five minutes.
UPDATE: It is now required to reserve your view to the Haleakala sunrise before you go. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. Reserve here.