Wilderness Area

Rainbow on Keonehe'ehe'e Trail.
Rainbow on Keonehe'ehe'e Trail.

James Petruzzi

Molten earth, erosional forces, and ocean have worked in concert over millennia to shape the land that is today Haleakalā National Park. Over 90% of the native biota of Haleakalā National Park are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands with nearly 50% endemic to Maui. The unique variety of terrain, vegetation, and scenery found here successfully capture the broad spectrum of ecology found across the Hawaiian Islands and specifically on the island of Maui.

Within this setting lies the Haleakalā Wilderness. Over 8,200 acres of this wilderness are additionally protected as a Biological Reserve. Two distinct areas make up the Haleakalā Wilderness: the Haleakalā Crater, and the upper portion of the Kīpahulu Valley above the level of Palikea Peak at 2,000 feet elevation. Other-worldly, moon-like features dominate the stark crater landscape while lush wet forest vegetation covers the rugged terrain of the Kīpahulu Valley. Palikū Ridge extends north-south along the eastern rim of the Crater and the western rim of the upper Kīpahulu Valley forming a natural barrier between these very distinct and unique areas of wilderness.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 directed federal land management agencies to assess roadless areas of 5,000 acres or more for suitability as wilderness as part of the initial establishment of a National Wilderness Preservation System. For more information on Wilderness Areas throughout public lands, visit the National Park Service’s Wilderness site.

Two hikers look back at the volcanic landscape they have covered on their wilderness hike.
Two hikers enjoy the visual contrast of the approaching clouds as they look back at the landscape they have travled during their wilderness hike.

Matt Wordeman, NPS Volunteer.

Visiting the Wilderness Area

An unexpected and dramatic landscape at the top of the world, the Wilderness Area encompasses 24,719 acres and countless microclimates. Elevation change from rim to the floor can be 3,000 feet (914m). You can day hike, spend the night in a tent at one of the two Wilderness campgrounds, or reserve one of the three historic cabins along the trail. Your steps will take you from brown and red cinder cones, towering hundreds of feet tall in dry, cold desert air to cloudforests dripping with red and green native ferns. Nēnē and endemic honeycreepers can be seen in the lower, wetter parts of the Wilderness area during the day. Seabirds can be heard (in season) at night, and stars saturate the sky. Photographers will quickly run out of superlatives.

The Wilderness Area of Haleakalā can be accessed by two mountaintop trailheads: Halemauʻu Trailhead at 8000 feet (2438m), and Keoneheʻeheʻe (or Sliding Sands) near the summit at 9740 feet (2969m). Both trails merge eventually and lead down the southeast side of the volcano to the relatively barren and unpopulated coast in the Kaupō district. Learn more about planning a trip into the Wilderness area by visiting the park's Hiking page.

Overnight camping requires a permit, cabins must be reserved, and it is always advisable to stop by a Visitor Center before a day hike to discuss your plans. Weather can be severe and is always changeable and unpredictable. Water is scarce, altitude can be a major factor, and certain seasonal restrictions may apply. Make sure your visit into the Wilderness is an enjoyable one and review the park's tips on Safety.


History of Wilderness at Haleakalā

On October 20, 1976, under Public Law 94-567, Congress designated all 19,270 recommended acres as the Haleakalā Wilderness, adding further protection to the unique landscapes and ecosystems found in the Haleakalā Crater and Kīpahulu Valley. On February 1, 2002, 5,449 acres of potential wilderness were converted to designated wilderness via the Federal Register (67 FR 6944) following acquisition of these lands by the federal government and verification that non-conforming uses had ceased. This addition brought the total acreage of the Haleakalā Wilderness to the present 24,719 acres – 74% of Haleakalā National Park. 51 acres, owned by East Maui Irrigation, Inc., remain in the potential wilderness category.

Defining Haleakalā’s Wilderness

Two distinct ecological environments comprise the Haleakalā Wilderness: the Haleakalā Crater and the upper Kīpahulu Valley. Although formed by the same volcanic forces and elemental cycles, slight differences in aspect, topography, volcanic history, and trade wind influence have resulted in drastic differences between these neighboring areas of wilderness.

A cinder cone rises from within the Haleakalā Crater.
A cinder cone rises from within the Haleakalā Crater.


The Haleakalā Crater

The Haleakalā Crater, unlike its name suggests, is not a true volcanic crater, but is actually a summit depression created by erosional forces during a long period of dormancy when streams in the Ko’olau and Kaupō valleys converged to create a large crater-like depression that was later partially filled by renewed volcanic activity. The crater itself drops 3,000 feet from an elevation of 10,023 feet at Puʻu ʻUlaʻula to the crater floor. The vast floor of the Haleakalā Crater spans approximately 7 ½ miles in length and 2 ½ miles in width at the top of an active volcano that, in its entirety, rises almost 28,000 feet from the ocean floor. Cinder cones stud the central crater amidst multi-hued variations of volcanic rock and soils while along the crater perimeter hearty vegetation reclaims this volcanic landscape. Wilderness in the crater area is open to the public but receives only a fraction of total park visitation.

View of the Upper Kīpahulu Valley.
View of the Upper Kīpahulu Valley.


The Kīpahulu Valley

The Kīpahulu Valley is a place of lush cloud forests broken by clear streams and cascading waterfalls that eventually terminate in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike the sometimes stark semi-arid environment of the crater, the rainforest of the Kīpahulu Valley is wet, densely vegetated, and abounds with diversity. The upper elevations of the Kīpahulu Valley contain near-pristine native cloud and rain forest habitats that are home to a wealth of native and highly specialized species. Due to the fragile nature of the unique and endemic biological resources found here, public entry is not allowed in this area of wilderness. A large portion of wilderness in the Kīpahulu Valley is additionally protected as a biological and scientific research reserve.

Last updated: August 17, 2020

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Mailing Address:

Haleakalā National Park
PO Box 369

Makawao, HI 96768


(808) 572-4400

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