When I visited Hawaii in May of 2016 one of the most popular suggestions was to watch the sunrise at the summit in Haleakala National Park.
We woke up at 1:45 AM, caught a cab to our rental car at the airport, and headed toward the park.
A number one concern for people is driving to the summit in the dark. The road is quite curvy, but far from the worse I have driven, especially in Hawaii. There is more than likely a line of cars going the same way as you are. Take your time, pay attention, and you should do just fine. There is no way that I would do this tour on a bus, on someone else’s schedule, and/or with a crowd of people.
Here is a view of the road going up to the summit, from our airplane.
We headed towards the park around 3:00 AM. You do want to check the sunrise time and make sure you arrive several hours early. Parking at the summit fills up very fast. I also checked the time that local tours were heading up, and stayed one step ahead of them.
We arrived about 4:00 AM and were able to park at the summit. In fact, we were one of the first few cars. It was only minutes later though before the lot was full and closed.
Once reaching the lot we parked on the right, on the opposite side of the lot from the visitor center and popular viewing area. There is a small trail that leads up and away from the parking lot. This was were we watched the sunrise. There was not a ton of people in this area and we could sit on the rocks and wait.
Dress warm, it is very cold up there!
Finally, the sunrise started to appear.
Then appear a bit more…
By now, I was yelling in my head for the sun to just hurry up and “wow” me already. I was cold. I was uncomfortable. My kids were whining.
Then right as the sun started to appear, this happened:
A random cloud decided the we would have to miss the supposed, “best part”.
I do not like to think I missed much, and was never “blown away”.
It was not long before it was over, and the entire time I kept thinking, “This can not be it!”. It was!
The only thing that I wanted to do when it was over was get into the car and crank up the heat!
People rant and rave about this sunrise. I wish we had attempted the sunset instead. The sunrise was nothing more spectacular than numerous sunrises and sunsets that I have seen. Sure, it was “above the clouds”, but there was nothing fancy to it.
Now we could have just caught the sun on a boring day. That is a risk you take when waking up for this sunrise. Every sunrise is different, the weather is unpredictable, and the clouds have a mind of their own. There is no way to know if you will, or will not, be blown away on this adventure.
My advice would be to go if your heart is set on it. However, do not set you expectations high, dress warmer than what you think warm is, and take along your patience. Read and compare reviews of the sunrise vs the sunset on those who have seen both and take them into consideration.
No, it was not horrible. Yes, it was pretty. Was it worth the cold, the getting up early and being tired during the rest of our days touring? Nope. However, if I had not gone, I would have always wondered!