It’s more than brisk on the top of Maui.

Even if you’re driving on a hot afternoon from one of the fabulous beaches, be prepared for the cold at the summit of the Haleakala volcano. It is a bone-chilling, Montana at -10F, kinda of cold. Hiking pants, a fleece, and a windbreaker weren’t enough to keep this wimp from shivering in the high winds. One more layer and a wool hat might have done the trick. That and had we remembered the gloves we purposefully packed for this trek. Ah, well.

Speaking of Montana, Route 378 felt similar to the lovely Beartooth Highway with its gentle winding turns and occasional tight hairpins. Back and forth you weave your way up to the 10,023-foot elevation.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll see a stunning rainbow—and a twin—the entire drive up and down. The road takes you partially through cattle land, so be observant. We were stopped in one place by a cow jam, but they politely decided to move aside for us.

The summit.

There is a visitor’s station before the top and a small information and shelter once you’re there. Even if you are a stout hiker, keep in mind the altitude and the distance from medical assistance. You’re on your own, so carry food and water.

The area is stunning in such a different way from The Kilauea Caldera at Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island. There, a vibrant orange center continually boils in a vast space of empty. But here, the “crater” is really formed by the convergence of two valleys and a glance around convinces you that you’ve landed on Mars.

The colors are striking in their depth from one hue to another. The blues seemed bluer, the red the color of a bright fire and the hidden glimpse of pink and green plants a treasure. Make sure you’re really seeing what’s in front of you…compartmentalize it then build it back together again into a panoramic that will stay with you long after you descend.

Sunrise.

There is a Haleakala Sunrise event that requires reservations. We’ve had some friends do this (and arrange to bicycle down), but arriving at the summit between 3:00a.m. and 7:00a.m. wasn’t on our list of fun things to do. The requirements to make this drive change on February 1st, so make sure to pop onto the website and read before making this a high point of your trip. Keep in mind that this cost is separate from the Park entrance fee—which is paid on site and only by credit card.

When walking in the area, make sure you stay on the path (as challenging as they are to follow in places) because the eco-system is quite fragile. One of the short strolls was comfortable enough going up, but at the top, the wind soared over and guess what? Right back to that biting cold.

The Haleakala Observatories are located here, in part because they sit one-third above the Earth’s atmosphere. Amazing, right?  Too bad they are not open to the public.

You can also stay up here after dark and see a vast span of starlit sky—sometimes from summit to ocean over a hundred miles away.

Places to stop.

Just before the turn into Haleakala National Park, you’ll find the Kula Lodge & Restaurant. We highly recommending stopping and admiring the views—especially if you luck into a day without rain. The terrace is an engineering feat with the table layouts and the pizza oven is huge.

A related drive had us staying on Route 37 instead of bearing left onto 377 toward the Park. Rounding one corner, we were assaulted with the heavenly aromas from the nearby Maui Lavender Farm, even with the windows closed.

On this stretch of highway, you’ll find a coffee shop, winery, and restaurant. We sampled fare at Grandma’s coffee, Ulupalakua Ranch Store (venison as well as beef) and Maui (Tedeschi) Wine.

Is the Haleakala Crater worth the drive and the frigid walk? You betcha’. Click To Tweet