Thursday, October 9, 2014

Best trails to see Haleakalā NP’s wonders

The Pīpīwai Trail heads through a bamboo forest.

World's most romantic sunrise awaits day hikers

Among the best ways to see Haleakalā National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – the rim and crater of a volcano, the world’s most romantic sunrise, a waterfall with scenic pools downstream, the rare Hawaiian goose, and a grove of alien trees.

Haleakalā volcano
Dormant for at least four centuries, the Haleakalā volcano is massive, soaring more than 10,000 feet in the sky, its crater almost 7 miles across, 2 miles wide, and half-a-mile deep. The Keonehe'ehe'e Trail (aka Sliding Sands Trail) heads through the multi-hued desert past cinder cones. It leaves from the Haleakalā Visitor Center parking lot; hike a 3.9-mile segment to the first trail intersection in the crater for a 7.8-mile round trip.

At 10,023 feet, Pu'u'ula'ula Summit offers what many consider the world’s most romantic sunrise. As the sun ascends over a blanket of clouds below the summit, it colors the crater from the inside out in an incredible light show. Bring a breakfast picnic and as the new day begins, propose marriage, for the sunrise symbolizes the dawning of your life together. Since you can drive to the summit, after she says “Yes,” together hike one of the trails into the crater (either the Keonehe'ehe'e Trail or the Halemau'u Trail).

Kīpahulu’s scenic pools and waterfall
The park’s Kīpahulu section, where a side of the volcano meets the ocean, features several scenic pools sporting rare, native freshwater fish, and the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. From the Hāna Highway, take the Pīpīwai Trail along Palikea Stream to the falls for a 4-mile round trip; on the return, follow the stream into the 'Ohe'o gulch for the pools, where you can cool off with a swim.

Endangered species
Haleakalā is home to more endangered species than any other national park; foremost among them is the nēnē or the native Hawaiian goose, whose natural habitat is the dormant volcano’s crater. Boy Scouts helped reintroduce the nēnē to the crater in 1946 by carrying young birds there in backpacks. To see the nēnē, take the Halemau'u Trail into the crater. Pick it up at Halemau'u Trailhead along Hwy. 378; hike a 3.7 mile-segment to Hölua Cabin and campsite in the crater for a 7.4-mile round trip.

The Alien Forest
The Alien Forest got its start more than a century ago when forester Ralph Hosmer experimented with 86 nonnative tree species to see which ones would survive in Hawaii. Twenty species prospered, and three in particular – eucalyptus, Mexican weeping pine, and Monterey pine – were so successful that they now threaten to outcompete native plants. The half-mile Hosmer Grove Loop Trail heads through what many have labeled “The Alien Forest”…not because it looks otherworldly but because most of the trees here aren’t native to the Hawaiian Islands.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.