8.7 Miles Strenuous
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 hikers 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. 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.
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.
UV / Sunlight / No shade: At 9,700 feet the atmosphere is very thin, so UV radiation is intense. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your face and bring plenty of sunscreen to reapply frequently. Wearing lightweight pants and a long-sleeve shirt will also help keep the sun off. Also be aware that there is almost no shade in the crater - there's one rock outcropping that can be used for shade only at certain times of the day, about 2 miles into the hike. Plan to be in direct sunlight for your entire hike.
No Water: There is no water in the crater, so you have to pack in everything. We packed in 4 liters and had about 0.7 liters left over by the time we made it back to parking. You can refill your water at the visitors center by the trailhead.
Camping: While there are no campsites along this trail, this is just one of two trails that leads to the crater floor and backpacking is allowed in the crater. Camping is only allowed in the wilderness at Holua and Paliku. Required permits are free at a first-come first-serve basis at the park HQ - it's required to get your permit at least 1 day before the trip. No open fires.