The Keonehe'ehe'e (Sliding Sands) Trail at Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii is a strenuous 8.7 mile out-and-back hike from the visitors center down to the Haleakala Crater floor and is one of two trails that lead down to the crater floor. The trail gives you stunning views into the crater throughout the entire hike, so you don't need to hike down very far if you're only looking for views.
This trail technically runs almost to the other end of the crater (about 8 miles one-way), but we had just enough time on our day hike to complete this as an 8.7-mile out-and-back trek. Before beginning your hike, visitors must be aware of the hazards of hiking into the Haleakala Crater. The trailhead sits at about 9,700 feet and heads downhill for about 4 miles descending 2,500 feet to the crater floor. At these elevations, hikers need to acclimate to the thin atmosphere before doing any strenuous hikes. It's recommended to take short walks around the summit or visitors center before heading into the crater for at least 30 minute before your descent; however, everyone's different and elevation sickness is still a concern regardless. On this trip, elevation sickness was not an issue until we began our ascent out of the crater, so keep this in mind when planning how far you want to hike in.
The hike down into the crater is generally easy, with the exception of a few steeper hillsides you'll descend. One descent, alongside the cinder cone Pu'uopele, just before the crater floor, is especially steep, which makes heading downhill a bit more difficult. Trekking poles do come in handy on this hike.
Cinder Cones: Along the descent you'll see a multitude of cinder cones (steep hills of volcanic material built up around lava vents) including Ka Lu'u o ka 'O'o, Pu'u o Pele, Kama'oli'i, Pu'u o Maui, and Halali'i. Many of these are colored black, red, a mix of both, and can have a colorful mixture near the tops of the cones.
'Ahinahina (Silversword): The rare plant known as the Silversword is one of the only plants that grows in the Haleakala desert and nowhere else on the planet. They live up to about 50 years old, if not older, and only flower once in their lifetime. After flowering, they scatter up to 50,000 seeds and then die - turning into a reflective silver-like sword left over. These plants were believed to evolved from a California tarweed that arrived on the island millions of years ago - perhaps hitchhiking on a bird. Today, it's an endangered species and trampling on the roots can cause serious harm to the plants. Stay away from the plants and stay on the trail - despite seeing a lot of hikers getting too close to the plants for pictures.
Hiking Time: Hiking the crater is very strenuous - plan your ascent as twice the time it takes you to descend. So if it took you 2 hours to descend, plan for a 4 hour hike back up the 2,500 foot climb. This entire 8.7 mile hike took us 5 hours and 45 minutes, including a hike back with elevation sickness.
Elevation Sickness: The trailhead sits at about 9,700 feet and descends 2,500 feet to the crater floor. At these altitudes, about 40% of the people hiking this trail will get elevation sickness even if they acclimate 30 minutes or more before. Do not hike the crater if you have a heart condition or other serious health issues. You can get amazing views from the visitors center or just down the trail about 0.2 miles in before it heads downhill.
Symptoms of elevation sickness: