With views of crater walls, lava tubes and cinder cones, the Halemauʻu Trail down to the Holua campground and back – 7.4 miles round-trip – can be a memorable day hike. Just be sure to start early before the afternoon clouds roll in and visibility vanishes. The first mile is fairly level and offers a fine view of the crater with Koʻolau Gap to the east.
The trail then descends 1400ft along 2 miles of switchbacks to the crater floor and on to the Holua campground (6940ft). You’ll see impressive views of the crater walls rising a few thousand feet to the west. Several lava tubes are visible from the trail, but since endangered species use them for shelter, the Park Service has made them off-limits.
If you have the energy, push on just another mile to reach some colorful cinder cones, being sure to make a short detour onto the Silversword Loop, where you’ll see these unique plants in various stages of growth. In summer, their tall stalks should be ablaze with hundreds of maroon and yellow blossoms. But be careful – half of all ʻahinahina today are trampled to death as seedlings, mostly by careless hikers who wander off trails and inadvertently crush the plants’ shallow, laterally growing roots. The trail continues another 6.3 miles to the Paliku cabin.
The trailhead to Halemauʻu is 3.5 miles above the Park Headquarters Visitor Center and about 6 miles below the Haleakalā Visitor Center. There’s a fair chance you’ll see nene in the parking lot.