The National Park’s most important attraction is the crater of the volcano, which actually is not a crater. From a geological standpoint, the crater is not of volcanic origin but grew when two valleys converged, caused by erosive forces. The scenery is coined by volcanic rock and various different ecosystems. The variety of the landscapes is derived from the facts that there are a number of different altitude levels within the National Park and furthermore, that there is one side which is facing the wind side and one averted from it. In the low-lying areas, there is the ecosystem on the banks of the Ohe’o river as well as a zone with comparatively dry forest of which there are only remnants existing. A little higher up, there is a rain forest section which sees up to six times more precipitation than the lower areas. Even further up in altitude, there are zones with subalpine vegetation and paltry growth in the highest areas.
The rain forest sections in the Upper Kipahulu area are being treated as a restricted scientific research area and as that, enjoy a special level of protection. There are no trails here which would allow visitors to explore the section. Fences erected by the Park Rangers make sure that the resident boars - which are actually not native to the region - cannot advance into the restricted area and thus cannot disturb the natural balance of the habitat, as they would when they were allowed to rummage in the soil and by that add to erosion effects. Despite these measures, Haleakala National Park still has a lot of nature experiences on offer to visitors. The plants thriving here, for example, demonstrate how they adapted to their habitat through mutations. There is also a grove of plant species not native to the area such as eucalyptus, called Hosmer’s Grove, which have been planted here in the course of a botanical experiment. Hosmer’s Grove can be accessed through a number of trails. With regard to animals, two species of waterbirds nesting in the National Park are of particular interest: the Hawaiian Goose (Nene) and the Hawaiian Petrel, both endangered species.
However, it can safely assumed that most visitors come to Haleakala because of the unique scenery. The volcano’s crater with its depth of almost 800 meters regularly lures the first visitors to its rim in the early morning hours, when beautiful sunrises can be witnessed from up there, while the viewer often stands above the clouds. The sunsets in the late afternoon also attracts a daily crowd to the rim. It is also popular to visit up here after dark, becausse the region is famous for having an extremely low level of light pollution, making it very suitable for stargazing. The rim’s highest point can easily be accessed via State Road 378, but visitors planning to go up should be prepared for much lower temperatures up there as compared to the foot of the mountain.
There are many miles of trails surrounding the peak area. allowing for short walks as well as for long excursions. Overnight trips are also possible, there are a few rustic cabins and two large campgrounds available for overnight stays. Camping is also possible outside of the designated areas, but requires a permit. Those are available in the Park’s visitor centers, of which there three. One is located near the peak, it is open daily from 6 am to 3 pm, while the headquarter is located on a lower level and is open daily from 7 am to 3:45 pm. The third center is located in the other section of the National Park, called Kipahulu, and is open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
The Kipahulu section showcases the ecosystem along the coastline. This area cannot be reached in direct connection to the other Park section, but instead requires the drive via the daunting Hana Highway. A number of hiking trails invite to exploration trips, for example the one following the course of the Palikea creek, which will cross the notable Waimoku waterfall. Also of interest are the many small water pools formed in the course, offering visitors a chance to take a swim. However, as spring floods may occur here, some caution should be applied. There is no beach or suitable spot for swimming at the coast, but it is a beautiful spot for wildlife viewing with a chance to see dolphins, whales and tortoises. For overnight stays, there is an additional campground in the Kipahulu section.