Hawaii June 09, 2017
The Hiking Trail Hiding In Hawaii That Will Transport You To Another World
The Hawaiian Islands are easily one of the most diverse places on earth, and you will find everything from pristine, white sand beaches, cascading waterfalls and tropical rainforests to volcanic landscapes, snowy mountaintops, and vast deserts. There is no preparing yourself, however, for a trip to the summits of Hawaii’s tallest mountains, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Mount Haleakala. Located within Maui’s Haleakala National Park at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the Keoneheehee Trail, also known as Sliding Sands, is definitely not easy, but the landscapes you’ll find here will make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet.
Let’s talk about the trail first.
Just to be perfectly clear with you, we aren’t suggesting you tackle the entire 11 mile Slidiing Sands Trail, which begins at the Haleakala Visitor Center parking lot heads four miles into the valley floor before . It is an extremely difficult hike that should not be attempted by anyone who isn’t an extremely experienced hiker. For a moderate - but still extremely strenuous - day hike, we suggest hiking 2.5 miles to the Ka Lu’u o Ka O’o cinder cone before heading back the way you came. The round trip hike is approximately five miles, and features an elevation change of nearly 1,400 feet.
Now, for the fun details.
The crater is absolutely magical.
The photos of Mount Haleakala don’t do the landscape justice. The crater itself is a massive seven miles across, two miles wide, and more than 2,600 feet deep, and lights up in an array of colors: red, green, brown, gray, yellow, and orange. Cinder cones from past eruptions sprout from the ground like pyramids, each a different color, size and shape.
The trail is, quite simply, otherworldly.
The Sliding Sands trail begins at the parking lot and loops around the White Hill before heading down into the crater, where you’ll find absolutely unbelievable views. You’ll feel as though you are on the surface of the moon - or maybe even Mars - as you traverse this winding path around the vast red and orange hills and cinder cones.
The experience is unreal - and you will quickly forget you’re in Hawaii.
For one, it is extremely quiet here - the only sound you’ll hear is the crunching of volcanic cinders below your feet. Second, you will be hiking through the clouds, which, if you’ve yet to experience it, is an insane experience. Within the crater, you can literally watch the clouds as they sail by. Oh, and did we mention the crazy lava formations and vast, unearthly landscape?
You won’t find many plants can survive at this elevation - in this terrain.
Except for the silversword, that is. This stunning silvery green plant shimmers in the sunlight, and is, unfortunately, endangered. A concerted effort is being made to bring these stunning plants back from extinction, so be sure not to get too close: the roots are extremely shallow and even stepping too close to the plant can crush and damage them.
At approximately 2 miles in, you’ll find two towering rock structures.
We suggest, if you’re looking for a straightforward day hike, to turn around here. You’re nowhere near the crater floor here, but this mile round trip hike is the perfect for a half-day adventure, and will give you just enough of a glimpse of Haleakala to satisfy your desire to truly experience the landscape. If you want to continue, we should warn you that the last half mile to the crater’s floor is extremely steep and will undoubtedly be difficult to climb back up - after all, you will be hiking at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.
A friendly reminder: don’t hike unprepared.
If you plan to tackle any section of the Sliding Sands Trail, get a good night’s rest and eat a decent meal before heading out. Dress for cold weather, lather on the sunscreen, and pack bring plenty of water and snacks in addition to necessary hiking supplies. Also, a hiking pole will make your trek out of the crater much easier. Oh, and did I mention that you need to dress for cold weather? The summit generally features lows below freezing and highs of 50 degrees fahrenheit.
For more information about the full Sliding Sands trail, head to the National Park Service website, and for general information about Haleakala National Park, click here. If you choose to hike the entire trail, you might come across one of these charming cabins, which you can reserve in advance online.