Haleakala National Park: 10 Unique Facts About Hawaii's 'House of the Sun'

Haleakala National Park on Maui, Hawaii

Frank J Wicker / Getty Images 

Haleakalā National Park on the Hawaiian island of Maui protects one of the state’s six active volcanoes. The last time the volcano here erupted was between 600 and 400 years ago, though it has witnessed at least 10 eruptions over the past 1,000 years.

Designated as a national park in 1961 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980, Haleakalā translates into "house of the sun" in Hawaiian. The legend goes that the ancient demigod Maui stood on the volcano's summit to lasso the sun and create the seasons with shorter days in the winter and longer days in the summer.

The national park helps preserve native Hawaiian ecosystems and Maui’s rich volcanic landscape, home to a diverse collection of plants and animals—some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Of its over 30,000 acres, more than 24,000 are designated wilderness.

From endangered species to sacred sites, these are 10 unique facts about Hawaii’s Haleakalā National Park.

There Are More Endangered Species at Haleakala National Park Than at Any Other US National Park

Thanks to the isolated environments that island habitats provide, more endangered species live in Haleakalā National Park than any other national park in the United States.

Hawaii in general holds a high percentage of endemic plants and animals, so it comes as no surprise that the protected nature of Haleakalā hosts an impressive total of 103 endangered species. By comparison, the United States mainland park with the highest number of endangered species, Everglades National Park in Florida, has just 44.

Hawaii’s First Astronomical Observatory Is Located on the Summit of Haleakala National Park

Haleakala Observatory,Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
Peter Unger / Getty Images 

Thanks to the remarkably dark skies and still air found on the summit of Haleakalā, an observatory was opened in the 1960s for the purpose of astrophysical research. Today, it’s used by the University of Hawaii, United States Air Force, LCOGT, and other organizations. The altitude at the summit is just over 10,000 feet, so there is certainly much to see from the top.

It’s Home to an Endangered, Endemic Plant

Haleakalā silversword grove
Photograph by Michael Schwab / Getty Images 

ʻAhinahina, or the Haleakalā silversword, is an endangered plant found only in the alpine regions of the park. These delicate plants are known for their silvery hairs and flowering stalks that shoot up during full bloom, living to anywhere from three to 90 years old.

While ʻahinahina were originally threatened by invasive ungulates and tourists (who would routinely rip them out to take home as souvenirs), they are currently facing additional danger from hotter temperatures and low rainfall due to climate change.

It Gets Very Cold

Hawaii isn’t the first place you think of when you think of frigid weather—unless you’re on the summit of Haleakalā in the winter. The temperature drops an average of 3 F for every 1,000-foot rise in elevation, so temperatures in the park can range from as high as 80 F in the lower rainforest sections to as low as 30 F at the summit. This comes as a surprise to many visitors who come to the summit visitors center for sunrise or sunset, so it's advisable to pack extra warm clothes to prepare for wind chill and overcast conditions.

Haleakala Is Technically Taller Than Mount Everest

Depending on who you ask, Haleakalā volcano is actually taller than the famed Mount Everest, known for being the tallest mountain in the world at 29,031 feet. The highest point in the national park is at the Pu‘u‘ula‘ula summit on top of the volcano, an elevation of 10,023 feet. However, when you consider that a large portion—about 19,680 feet—of the mountain is hidden underwater (since it's located on an island), Maui’s Haleakalā is taller than Everest by 672 feet.

The Park Provides an Important Habitat for Hawaii’s State Bird

Hawaiian Nene goose in Haleakala NP
Christian Kober/robertharding / Getty Images 

The Nēnē goose, one of Hawaii’s most beloved and threatened birds, was completely extinct from the island of Maui by the 1890s. To protect the species, individual Nēnē birds were taken from the Big Island of Hawaii and reintroduced to Haleakalā National Park between 1962 and 1978. During that time, groups of park rangers, naturalists, and Maui Boy Scouts hiked into the park with birds strapped in boxes, and today there are about 250 to 350 thriving in the park. 

The Oldest Rocks in the Park Are Over 1 Million Years Old

According to the National Parks Service, the volcano at Haleakalā erupted in 1600 CE, about 400 years ago, though the date is often incorrectly cited as 1790. The oldest rock units of the volcano—known as the Honomanū Basalt—are relatively young in geologic terms, between 0.97 million and 1.1 million years old. The volcano intermittently erupts every 200 to 500 years.  

There’s an Entirely Separate Section to the Park

Waimoku falls at the end of the Pipiwai Trail in the Kipahulu District
GarySandyWales / Getty Images 

It’s not all volcanic rock and barren landscape, Haleakalā also has an entirely separate section that isn’t accessible from the summit called the Kīpahulu District. While the two sections are connected, there are no roads open to the public in between them, so visitors must head to the northeast coast along the Hāna Highway to get there (the trip on the winding, notoriously dangerous road takes a minimum of 2.5 hours). Unlike the summit, Kīpahulu is lush, full of waterfalls, and characterized by verdant rainforest.

It’s Also Home to a Rare Songbird Found Only in Hawaii

Ākohekohe, or the crested honeycreeper, is a critically endangered bird that only lives inside Haleakalā National Park. It's known for its red-tipped feathers that contrast against their black bodies, along with throat and breast features tipped with white.

Forest songbirds were historically abundant in Hawaii, the state once having over 50 endemic bird species; today, there are only 17 species remaining, many with less than 500 individuals left.

The Summit Area Is Sacred to Native Hawaiians

The area around the crater and the summit area of the park have been cared for by native Hawaiians for over 1,000 years, and many of the cultural sites and areas spoken about in traditional songs, chants, and legends can be found there.

The Kīpahulu District also protects an ahupua'a—a traditional Hawaiian land division protecting resources from sea to the summit.

View Article Sources
  1. "Haleakalā." United States Geological Survey.

  2. "The National Park with the Most Endangered Species." National Parks Conservation Association.

  3. "Haleakala Silverswords." National Park Service.

  4. "Haleakala National Park Geologic Resources Inventory Report." National Park Service.