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. This prompted completion of wilderness suitability study for the roadless areas of Haleakalā National Park. The preliminary wilderness proposal included 17,750 acres of the park and encompassed most of the Haleakalā Crater and much of the Kīpahulu Valley. Overnight cabins already existing in the crater were excluded from the proposal as enclaves. Nine miles of surface telephone line connecting the overnight cabins in the crater to the headquarters building were also excluded with a 20-foot wide corridor along the length of the line.
Molten earth, erosional forces, and ocean have worked in concert over millennia to shape the land that is today Haleakalā National Park. 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. The park is an epicenter of biological diversity and evolution and was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1980. Over 90% of the native biota of Haleakalā National Park are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands with nearly 50% endemic to Maui. Haleakalā is also home to over 50 Federal Threatened and Endangered Species (TES) with several additional TES candidates and more than 50 Species of Concern.
Wilderness Character Narrative
Volcanic, geologic, and erosional forces have made the Haleakalā Wilderness what it is today, a place of extreme contrasts in terrain, ecology, climate, and scenery. In geologic terms, this rough and varied landscape is a relatively new landform. Over 81 million years ago molten lava began to ooze from beneath the ocean floor at what is called the “Hawaiian hot spot,” an area in the Pacific Plate where the Earth’s upper mantle melts to produce magma. As the hot spot changed location with the movement of the Pacific Plate, the Hawaiian Island Chain formed above the ocean surface along the northwest trajectory of plate movement as a series of shield volcanoes. In its entirety, the chain consists of 132 islands, reefs, and shoals stretching 1,500 miles from the youngest of the islands – the “Big Island” of Hawai’i in the southeast – to the oldest – Kure Atoll in the northwest. In some areas more than 30,000 feet of cooled lava rise from the ocean floor, with the majority of the chain’s landmass lying below sea level. As a whole, the Hawaiian Island Chain demonstrates nearly all life stages of a shield volcano, clearly demonstrating both the building and erosional processes that continue to transform these islands and their underwater counterparts. The island of Maui, as the second youngest island in the chain, is currently in the “renewed volcanism” stage as the Haleakalā Volcano returns to activity after over several hundred thousand years of dormancy and erosion. The Haleakalā Volcano is thought to have last erupted in the 18th century with at least ten eruptions occurring over the past 1,000 years.
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.
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.
Visitor use of 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.
Last updated: May 12, 2018