Make time for this stunner, which starts at the southern side of the Haleakalā Visitor Center at 9740ft and winds down to the crater floor. If you take this hike after catching the sunrise, you’ll walk directly into a gentle warmish wind and rays of sunshine. There is no shade, so bring water and a hat.
The path descends gently into an unearthly world of stark lava sights and ever-changing clouds. The first thing you’ll notice is how quiet everything is. The only sound is the crunching of volcanic cinders beneath your feet. If you’re pressed for time, just walking down 20 minutes will reward you with an into-the-crater experience and fabulous photo opportunities. Keep in mind that the climb out takes nearly twice as long.
The full trail leads 9.2 miles to the Paliku Cabin & Campground, passing the Kapalaoa cabin at 5.6 miles after roughly four hours. The first 6 miles follow the southern wall. There are great views, but virtually no vegetation. Four miles down, after an elevation drop of 2500ft, Keoneheʻeheʻe Trail intersects with a spur that leads north into the cinder desert, where it connects with the Halemauʻu Trail after 1.5 miles.
Continuing on Keoneheʻeheʻe, you head across the crater floor for 2 miles to Kapalaoa. Verdant ridges rise on your right, giving way to ropy pahoehoe (smooth-flowing lava). From Kapalaoa cabin to Paliku, the descent is gentle and the vegetation gradually increases. Paliku (6380ft) is beneath a sheer cliff at the eastern end of the crater. In contrast to the crater’s barren western end, this area receives heavy rainfall, with ohia forests climbing the slopes.