Hike from point to point in this stunning one way trail through the crater in Haleakala National Park. This gorgeous trail takes you through the heart of the crater which feels almost like you are traversing another planet. In this post we will share everything to help you plan this incredible hike including how to handle logistics, where to park, what to pack and of course a hiking guide of the Sliding Sands Trail and Halemau’u Trail Hike.
By doing this trail as a one way hike, you can combine two incredible trails into one hike.
We did this hiking in 2023 as a family of 5 and this post is loaded with photos of our visit. If you are looking for more information about planning an adventure trip to Hawaii, visit our Hawaii guide page. This trail was one of our highlights of visiting Hawaii.
Overview of the Sliding Sands Trail and Halemau’u Trail Hike
See a quick overview of the hike and then scroll down for complete information on this hike.
Sliding Sands Trail and Halemau'u Trail Distance: 11.5 miles Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet Elevation Loss: 3,600 feet Difficulty: Challenging Halemau'u Trail to Sliding Sands Trail Distance: 11.5 miles Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet Elevation Loss: 1,800 feet Difficulty: Challenging
To hike the Sliding Sands Trail to the Halemauu Trail you will need arrange transportation between the starting and ending trailhead. You can see more details on how to do this below, but in general the easiest ways to do this is to partner with other hikers or get a ride with other people visiting the park.
You will also need to decide which direction to do this hike. You can see from the hiking stats above that the starting on the Sliding Sands Trail involves significantly less elevation gain. Hiking the trail this direction is much easier although it still involves a steep section at the end of the hike.
To hike Sliding Sands Trail to Halemau’u Trail the easiest way, start in the Sliding Sands trail and descend the trail into the crater. This part of the trail is easy walking with a very steady elevation loss. You will finally reach the crater floor at the first trail junction. Turn left and continue to the Halemau’u Trail. You will reach several trail junctions and will always take the lefthand trail.
The trail follows the bottom of the crater and passes through lava fields and around cinder cones. Eventually you will pass a small cabin and shortly after with head straight to the crater wall. The final ascent up to the crater rim follows a series of switchbacks. You basically do most of the elevation gain over a short stretch. There are significant drop offs and cliffs on the side of this hiking trail so use caution and consider just doing the Sliding Sands Trail if you have a fear of heights. Once you reach the crater rim, you follow the trail continuing to gain elevation until you reach the Halemau’u Trial parking lot.
If you want more up to date information on the trail conditions on this trail, check out the reviews on All Trails.
If you are hiking the trail in the opposite direction, you should note that the descent down into the crater can be challenging. You will also gain significantly more elevation doing the hike in this direction.
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Halemau’u and Sliding Sands Trail Map
This trail map shows the hiking route on the Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail. The trail is very well marked and easy to follow. You can see from the map below that there are a few options if you want to add on additional mileage.
Things to Know about Hiking the Crater in Haleakala National Park
Which Direction to Hike the Trail
The first decision you will need to make is which way to hike the trail. Since the trail is a one way route (not a loop or an out and back) the trail offers different hiking conditions depending on the direction. We chose to do the hike starting on the Sliding Sands Trail. Hiking in this direction means you are gaining significantly less elevation (1800 ft versus 3,600 ft) and is the recommended hiking direction. The most challenging part of this hike is the last section where you will ascend back up to the crater rim. This part of the trail is steep with uneven footing and drop offs. Even though it’s steep we preferred to hike up this trail instead of down the trail.
If you are hiking in the other direction (starting on the Halemau’u Trail) you will descend this steep section and then ascend 3,600 feet back up to the crater rim on the Sliding Sands Trail. The ascent here is much easier with an open trail and switchbacks, but is still significantly higher.
Other Options: If you are looking for alternative routes, you can also hike either the Sliding Sands Trail or the Halemau’u Trail as out and back routes. Both offers tremendous views of the crater even if you don’t hike all the way down to the crater floor. If you are visiting on a cloudy day, note that the Sliding Sands Trail is on the dry side of the crater and offers your best chance for a view.
How to Handle the Logistics
The next part is figuring out how to handle the logistics. If you follow the directions for this hiking trail, you will start at the Sliding Sands trailhead and finish at the Halemau’u Trailhead. These two trailheads are about 6 miles apart and 2,000 feet of elevation difference (the drive takes about 15 minutes).
The best way to do this is to leave your car at the Halemau’u Trailhead and then walk out to the road to the hiker pick up area and get a ride up to the Sliding Sands Trailhead. This is the recommended way to manage this trail by the National Parks Service. If you are hiking with a family (like we were), you can drop people off and then shuffle the cars. This allows you to end at the hiking trail where your car is parked.
We were a little unsure of this, but there are clear signs about hiker pick up right on the road and it is a well established method for getting to the hiking trail. We talked to many other people who were doing the same thing.
If you aren’t comfortable with getting a ride (aka hitchhiking), the best method is to hike with several people and hike in opposite directions. This way you can pass keys to each other along the hike and pick each other up at the end of the hike. Note that there is very little cell phone service in this part of the park, so it’s best to be clear about the trail if you are planning to trade keys.
Sliding Sand Trailhead Parking
The trailhead for the Sliding Sands Trail, also known as the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail, can be found at the Haleakala Highway (Route 378) adjacent to the visitor center parking lot. When you arrive, you’ll notice a sign indicating the start of the trail. Before embarking on your hike, make use of the restrooms available here.
Halemau’u Trailheat Parking
The parking lot for the Halemau’u Trail is on Route 378 and is slightly smaller than the Sliding Sands Trailhead parking lot. There is a restroom in the parking lot.
When to Hike the Sliding Sands Trail to Halemau’u Trail
You can hike the Halemau’u Trail and Sliding Sands Trail any time of the year. In general the crater rarely gets rain although you will see from the vegetation that the Sliding Sands part of the crater is significantly dryer than the Halemau’u part of the trail.
When we arrived at Haleakala National Park, the entire craters was covered in clouds and it was cold and windy. We almost decided to skip the hike expecting to get wet, cold and get no views. As soon as we descended into the crater, the clouds parted and we got incredible views. Even if there are clouds at the rim, we highly recommend descending into the crater as conditions may be quite different.
What to Pack for Hiking the Sliding Sands Trail to Halemau’u Trail
When preparing for a hike on the Sliding Sands Trail, it’s important to pack the right gear and supplies since you will be far away from the trailhead without cell service. Here’s a list of essentials to consider:
- Backpack: A sturdy backpack to carry all your gear and supplies.
- Hiking Shoes/Boots: Choose comfortable, well-fitting footwear with good traction for traversing the rugged terrain. The trail is partly rocky and partly sand so having a good pair of hiking boots is very helpful. See our list of the best hiking boots under $100.
- Clothing: Dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions. Include moisture-wicking and breathable materials such as hiking pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a lightweight jacket, and a hat for sun protection. You might be in Hawaii, but the weather here is much cooler (around 30 degrees colder than at the coast). We hiked in raincoats and found them useful when we were in the clouds and as a wind protector.
- Water: Carry an ample supply of water, as the trail can be strenuous and dehydrating. Consider a hydration bladder or water bottles.
- Food/Snacks: Pack lightweight, high-energy snacks like trail mix, energy bars, and fresh fruits to keep you fueled throughout the hike.
- Sun Protection: Apply sunscreen before setting out and bring sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the intense sun.
- Trekking Poles: Optional but recommended for stability and balance, particularly during steep ascents or descents. We did not have hiking poles and wished we did.
- Camera/Binoculars: Capture the breathtaking views and wildlife sightings with a camera or binoculars.
- Hiking Essentials – also consider hiking with essential hiking items including a first aid kit and emergency supplies.
Remember to check the weather conditions and trail advisories before your hike and inform someone of your plans. Stay hydrated, take breaks as needed, and enjoy the incredible beauty of the hike.
See the best hiking gear for kids and our suggestion for the most important hiking essentials.
Complete Details of Hiking the Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trail Hike
Below we give complete details of the hike with photos.
We started the hike at about 9:30 in the morning after switching around the cars. When we arrived in the Sliding Sands Parking lot, the entire crater appeared covered in clouds. It was cold, windy and wet. We seriously considered skipping the hike expecting not to get any views. Ultimately we decided to give it a go and we ended up having an incredible hike.
Follow the trail signs from the parking lot and you will quickly begin descending into the crater. The trail is gradual and slowly descends over a series of switchbacks. This is very easy walking and you can make good time. This is one of the most impressive parts of the hike and the crater flood looks like you are walking across another planet. It is truly a one of a kind hiking trail.
After about 2 miles, the trail becomes more rocky, but is still easy walking. You will see Silverswords in this area. These amazing plants live to be 90 years and only bloom once – if you see one blooming consider yourself lucky! We also saw Chukar birds (don’t feed these are they become accustomed to this and it’s not safe or healthy for them).
After about 4 miles, you will reach the first trail junction. There are a few benches and this is a great place to enjoy a snack and water break. Turn left at this trail junction. The trail from here is mostly flat but the trail itself is through heavy sand and can take a while (and be tough on your legs). Don’t expect to breeze through this section!
The trail eventually goes up over a small hill and around several cinder cones including the Halali’i cinder cone.
As you continue hiking across the crater floor, the vegetation starts to change and you will see more and more plants. We also experienced more cloud cover throughout the second part of the hike. Continue to take a left at any trail junction. Eventually the trail also becomes less sandy and easier walking and you will go through sections of rock and mud. You will experience almost every type of footing on this hike (mud, sand, rocks, dirt, etc). If it’s clear you will see the rim of the crater rising up steeply from the crater bottom.
The trail passes a small Holua Cabin and continues a short mile or so to the base of the cliff up to the rim.
The last section up to the rim is truly the most challenging part of this hike. Over about 1 mile you will ascend steeply up 1300 feet. The trail here is steep, rocky, and exposed. Take you time and enjoy this section, especially if you are lucky to be here without the clouds. It felt a little like this section would never end since we were in the clouds for most of this part of the hike.
Once you reach the rim of the crater, you still have about 3/4 of a mile left. The trail is less steep here but still has some climbing. Don’t worry – you are almost done and after a few stairs and some flat sections you will reach the parking lot.
Tips for Hiking the Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trail
Here are seven top tips for the Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trail Hike in Haleakalā National Park:
- Start Early: Begin your hike early in the morning to avoid crowds, maximize daylight, and witness stunning sunrise views if you’re able to. Additionally, afternoon clouds can obscure visibility, so an early start is ideal.
- Plan for Weather Changes: The weather in Haleakalā National Park can be unpredictable. Prepare for varying conditions by dressing in layers and packing a rain jacket. Be ready for strong winds and potential temperature drops as you descend into the crater.
- Carry Sufficient Water and Snacks: The hike is strenuous, and the arid environment can dehydrate you quickly. Bring an adequate supply of water and pack energy-boosting snacks to maintain your energy levels throughout the hike.
- Know Your Limits: The Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trail Hike is a challenging and demanding trek, covering a significant distance and featuring steep ascents and descents. Assess your fitness level and hiking experience, and be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.
- Stay on the Trail: Stick to the designated paths and markers to protect the delicate ecosystem. Straying off the trail can damage fragile vegetation and disturb the natural balance of the environment.
- Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by carrying out all your trash and minimizing your impact on the surroundings. Respect the park’s regulations and avoid picking or disturbing any plants or wildlife you encounter.
- Obtain Trail Information: Check with park rangers or visitor center staff for up-to-date trail conditions, closures, and any safety warnings before starting your hike. They can provide valuable information to enhance your experience and ensure your safety.
Remember to hike responsibly, pace yourself, and savor the incredible beauty of Haleakalā National Park during your Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trail adventure.
Other Hikes in Haleakala National Park