Pa Ka’oao Trail (White Hill Trail) at Haleakala [Your Complete Guide]

The Pā Ka’oao Trail (or White Hill Trail) is a short 0.4-mile (0.2 miles one way) trail up a small hill next to the Haleakala Visitor Center that offers spectacular views of Haleakala crater. While this trail is short, it is uphill on the way out, so may be difficult for some people. 

In this complete guide, I will cover what to expect hiking the Pa Ka’oao Trail, quick tips, how to catch the best sunset views, and everything in between.

Haleakala Crater Views
Haleakala Crater. Photo Credit to my Cousin Andrea.

Pa Ka’oao Trail Snapshot

Distance 0.4 miles out and back (0.2 miles one way)
Difficulty 2.5 out of 5 (due to the incline)
Duration 15-30 minutes 
Trail Type Out-and-back 
Elevation Gain ~100’
SeasonsYear-round, but it is drier in the summer months (May – October)
BathroomsNear the trailhead at the Haleakala Visitor’s Center 
FeeAs of 2022, $30 per vehicle and $25 per motorcycle, valid for three days. Additionally, a National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass or a Hawaii National Parks Annual Pass will cover the fee.
Dogs Not allowed 
Activities Hiking, sunset/sunrise views, photography, bird-watching, star-gazing
Special Attributes Unique landscape, archeological features, endemic wildlife, volcanic views 
Hours Reservation is needed from 3 am to 7 am. Visitors without a reservation can enter the park at 7 am.

Pa Ka’oao Trail Location

The Pa Ka’oao Trail is in the summit area of Haleakala National Park in Kula, Maui. The trailhead is by the Haleakala Visitor Center parking lot, which is about 0.5 miles before the summit of Haleakala. It shares the parking area for the Sliding Sands Trail

Directions

Getting to the Pa Ka’oao Trailhead is pretty straightforward. There’s one main road to the park, so you can’t get lost. 

Once you enter Haleakala National Park on the summit side, you continue along Haleakala Highway to the Haleakala Visitor Center.

The entrance to the park is 7,000’ above sea level. The Haleakala Highway snakes up the volcano to the summit, which is at 10,023’. The Haleakala Visitor Center is about 0.5 miles before the summit, at around 9740’ elevation.

There is a big sign right before the Haleakala Visitor Center parking lot, so you can’t miss it!

Haleakala Highway
Haleakala Highway

Parking for Pa Ka’oao Trail 

There’s plenty of parking for the Pa Ka’oao Trail. The parking lot is at the Haleakala Visitor Center. 

If you get to the park between 3 am and 7 am, you will need a reservation. After 7 am, you can enter the park without a reservation. 

Tip: The park rangers at the visitors center are very insightful. Have a chat with them to find out historical significance, essential insights, and information about the plants and animals before beginning your hike.

Hiking the Pa Ka’oao 

The short Pa Ka’oao trail ascends the whole 0.2 miles to the top of a small hill overlooking the Haleakala crater. The trail is out-and-back so heading back is easier as you descend back down the hill. 

While the hill isn’t too steep, the total elevation change is 100’, it is a continual ascent the whole way out. Also, due to the altitude, it may be difficult for some.

The views are definitely worth the climb. On a clear day, you can catch some amazing views of the Haleakala crater, the summit and observatory, the West Maui Mountains, and Big Island. 

Pa Ka’oao Trailhead

The trailhead is located near the Haleakala Visitor Center, the same place you’d park for the Keonehe‘ehe‘e (Sliding Sands Trail)

From the visitor center parking lot, there are well-marked signs that guide you to either the Pa Ka’oao Trailhead or the Slidings Sands Trailhead, so it is easy to find!

Altitude Sickness

Because of the high altitude, you are at greater risk of Altitude Sickness.  Altitude sickness is caused by lower oxygen levels and reduced air pressure at higher elevations.

Symptoms of altitude sickness can include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and rapid heartbeat. Symptoms usually resolve after returning to lower altitudes. However, medical intervention may be necessary. 

Most cases of Altitude sickness are mild but can become life-threatening and can happen to anyone. If you are concerned about altitude sickness, speak with your doctor before going to Haleakala.  

Protecting the Trail

Haleakala is home to many plants and animals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Straying from the trail can disrupt the habitat and leave lasting damage for years to come. Haleakala is also home to many sacred Hawaiian cultural sites. Because of this, it is imperative to stay on the trail at all times. 

It is also important not to take anything out of the park, including the rocks. Rocks, or pohaku, are sacred to Hawaiians. Not only is it illegal to take rocks from Hawaii, but it’s also culturally inappropriate. 

According to Hawaiian legend, taking rocks or sand from the island subjects you to Pele’s Curse. Pele is the goddess of fire and volcano and considers the rocks and sand to be her children. She is protective of her children, so anyone who steals them is subjected to bad luck until the rocks are returned to their proper home. 

As always, follow the seven principles of Leave no Trace and learn how to apply them to your visit to Haleakala. 

Pa Ka’oao Historical Significance 

Pa Ka’oao translates to “fences of Ka’oao”.  There are over 100 pā (fences or enclosures) that were built between the mid-15th and 17th centuries on this small hill. 

It’s thought that Pa Ka’oao was named after Ka’oao, a former Hawaiian aliʻi (chief) of Kaupō.  Ka‘oao and his army built all these pā for shelter and protection as they were escaping their rivals. 

It is important to stay on the trail at all times to protect these important archeological structures. 

Pa Ka’oao Trail Quick Tips and Insights

No Gas Stations

There is no place to stop and get gas in Haleakala National Park, so fill up beforehand. It’s about 10 miles from the entrance to the Pā Ka’oao Trailhead and takes about 30 minutes to get there.

No Place to Get Food 

There is also no place to get a meal in the park, so make sure you eat a good meal first, especially if you’re going to do a lot of hiking. 

The Haleakala Visitor Center sells snacks like beef jerky and macadamia nuts. 

If you’re passing through the town of Paia, I highly recommend stopping at Choice Health Bar for an Acai Bowl with a scoop of protein. It’s the perfect combination of carbohydrates and protein to fuel your hike and tastes delicious!

Acai Bowl from Choice Health Bar
Acai Bowl from Choice Health Bar

Pa Ka’oao Trail Map

This trail is short and well-marked so you’re not going to need a trail map for directions. If you enjoy having a map, NPS has the trail map for Pa Ka’oao and other hikes on Haleakala.

Pa Ka’oao Trail Weather Insights 

While it’s a good idea to check the weather before you go, the weather at the summit of Haleakala is highly variable and unpredictable. It can go from sunny to rainy within minutes, and the weather doesn’t always match the predicted forecast. 

You can check out the conditions at the summit on the park’s live webcam

On the day that we went, we checked the forecast in the morning, and it called for clear skies the whole day on the summit. By the time we got there in the early afternoon, it was cloudy and raining. A few minutes later, it was sunny. The clouds rolled in and out all afternoon. Although the clouds obstructed the views at times, it was a nice break from the sun’s heat. 

Best Time to Hike Pa Ka’oao Trail 

Time of Year

While the weather doesn’t change drastically throughout the year, you’ll have less chance of rain in the summer months (May – October) since this is the dry season. 

Time of Day 

There is no wrong time to go! However, you will need a reservation if you’re there from 3 am to 7 am for the sunrise.

The park is most crowded at sunrise and sunset, but then the crowds tend to peter out. If you want to avoid crowds, you could go at mid-day. Although, sunset or sunrise are worth seeing in my opinion. 

Pa Ka’oao Trail Closures and Announcements

Before making the trip to Haleakala, it’s best to check for closures, announcements, alerts, and trail conditions

Haleakala Sunrise or Sunset at Pa Ka’oao Trail 

Many people come to Haleakala for sunrise or sunset. The visitor center and summit are the popular spots to watch sunrise and sunset, however, the top of Pa Ka’oao is just as spectacular and less busy. 

If you want to avoid the crowds, get there early to make the short hike up Pa Ka’oao. You will need a reservation to be at the park from 3 am to 7 am for the sunrise. 

Haleakala at Sunset
Haleakala at Sunset

Pa Ka’oao Trail vs Sliding Sands Trail 

Both the Pa Ka’oao and the Sliding Sands Trails start at the Haleakala Visitor Center. Since the Pa Ka’oao is a shorter trail, many choose this one over the Sliding Sands Trail. However, if you only have time for one, I would argue that the Sliding Sands Trail offers better views at roughly equal distance.  

You can turn around on the Sliding Sands Trail at any point, so if the distance is a concern, make it a shorter hike! You can read all about Haleakala and the Sliding Sands Trail here.

Sliding Sands Trail
Sliding Sands Trail

Other Hikes in Haleakala National Park 

Haleakala National Park consists of the Summit Area (where Sliding Sands Trail is located) and the Kīpahulu District. You can only access the Kīpahulu District from the Hana Highway. Because the Kīpahulu District cannot be accessed from the Summit Area, I will only include hikes in the Summit area in this post. 

Sliding Sands Trail

Distance: 11.2 miles out and back (5.6 miles one way)

Difficulty: 4 out of 5

Trail type: Out-and-back 

Elevation gain: 2,795’

Location in Park: Summit Area near Pa Ka’oao trail at the Haleakala Visitor Center

Halemau‘u Trail

Distance: 7.6 miles total (3.8 miles one-way)

Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5

Trail type: Out-and-back 

Elevation gain: 2,375’

Location in Park: Between mile markers 14 and 15 along the Haleakalā Highway.

Leleiwi Overlook

Distance: 0.3 miles total (0.15 miles one way)

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Trail type: Out-and-back 

Elevation gain: 108’

Location in Park: Between mile markers 17 and 18 along the Haleakalā Highway.

Hosmer Grove

Distance: 0.5 miles

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Trail type: Loop

Elevation gain: 175’

Location in Park: Between mile markers 10 and 11 along the Haleakalā Highway.

Supply Trail

Distance: 4.8 miles

Difficulty: 2.5 out of 5

Trail type: Out-and-back 

Elevation gain: 1,099’

Location in Park: Between mile markers 10 and 11 along the Haleakalā Highway.

Other Hiking Trails in Maui

Looking for some other hikes on Maui? There are a plethora of choices ranging from easy to difficult! Here are some of my favorite trails on Maui:

Waihe’e Ridge Trail

The Waihe’e Ridge Trail is a 5-mile out-and-back hike (2.5 miles one way) in Wailuku that follows along a ridgeline of the West Maui Mountains. This is a challenging hike, so it’s not for everyone.  It ascends the West Maui Mountains nearly the whole length of the trail, but the views are spectacular and make it well worth it!

Honolua Bay Access Trail

Honolua Bay Access Trail is an easy 0.6-mile out-and-back trail through a moss-covered enchanted forest on the northwestern coast of Maui that leads to the infamous Honolua Bay Beach.

This hike encapsulates the essence of Maui with lush rainforest greenery, lava rock cliffs, and sparkling ocean views.

‘Iao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethnobotanical Loop

The ‘Iao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethnobotanical Loop is a short, mostly paved 0.4-mile loop in the West Maui Mountains. This hike is suitable for nearly all fitness levels.

Kapalua Coastal Trail

The Kapalua Coastal Trail is a paved 3.2-mile out-and-back trail (1.6 miles one way) that follows along the coastline offering spectacular views the whole way. 

Dragon’s Teeth Trail 

Dragon’s Teeth Hike is a short 0.6-mile out-and-back hike (0.3 miles one way) on Maui’s northwestern shore at Makaluapuna Point in Kapalua. This trail leads to a lava rock point that resembles the mouth of a dragon. 

Pa Ka’oao Trail Review and Final Thoughts 

Pa Ka’oao is a short uphill hike that offers stunning views of Haleakala crater from above. This short hike is definitely worth the jaunt uphill. However, if you only have time to hike Pa Ka’oao or a small part of Sliding Sands Trail, I recommend opting for hiking into the crater on Sliding Sands Trail. 

If you are at Haleakala for sunrise or sunset, Pa Ka’oao is a great place to set up and watch the once-in-a-lifetime views. 

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