Romantic sunsets from the Pu’u Ka’eo Lookout and the shimmering beaches of the Wailea-Makena strip have already been established as something of a must-do on the Valley Isle of the Aloha State. But the morning light show can be just as impressive if you’re willing to rise early enough to get it, so where are the best places in Maui to watch sunrise?
We’ll just go right ahead and say it – they are pretty darn awesome! Yep, this guide reveals just five options, and that’s replete with dusty shield volcanos some 3,000 meters above sea level and tropical beaches hemmed in by palm trees.
Some of the best places in Maui to watch sunrise will require a bit more effort than others. You’ll need to check if you need to book ahead and plan accordingly with special gear and precautions if you want to hit the mountains of west or east Maui, for example. Others are easier affairs, reachable by car and a short stroll through the coconut trees.
Haleakala, the East Maui Volcano – call it what you like, this 3,055-meter-high monster is unquestionably one of the best places in Maui to watch sunrise. Scratch that, it’s actually the best place to watch sunrise anywhere in the state! It’s so popular, in fact, that you’ll need to pre-book to secure your spot on the colossal peak. Reservations can be made up to two months prior to travel and allow for special early entries into the national park that surrounds the volcano from about 3am onwards.
All that hassle is more than balanced out by what’s nothing short of a bucket-list-busting experience. Rising above the jagged ridges that halo this corner of the Valley Isle, the pinnacle of Maui’s highest peak is perfect for gazing eastwards across the Pacific to where the sun shows its first rays. You can drive the whole way up on a snaking highway known as the Skyline Trail. You’ll probably be doing that in the dark, though, so be wary of the twists and bend, and cautious of any wildlife that might stray onto the asphalt.
There’s a small carpark and lookout point right on top of Haleakala that offers prime shows of the morning light. It also happens to be a pretty darn great spot for sunset, which you can watch gleaming across the West Maui Mountains. The other bonus you get by opting for the evening hour is that you don’t need to pre-book, though the crowds for the end of the day can be bigger and there are often queues of traffic to get out of the park once you’re done.
Mauna Kahalawai is also known as the West Maui Mountain. It dominates the northwestern portion of the island directly opposite the central valleys from aforementioned Haleakala. It’s also an altogether more rugged part of the highlands here, formed by sinewy ridges that have been whittled away by the wind and tectonic movements over the centuries. It’s lush from tip to toe, too, coming draped in verdant vegetation and carved through by ribbon-like waterfalls.
Unlike its more famous compadre to the east, there’s no road that can transport you to the top of Mauna Kahalawai for the early hours show. Instead, you’ll be relying on the trails. There are a few that are short enough to get you nice and high in time to watch the sunrise but without having to stay up all night. They include the Waihe’e Ridge Trail (about 90 minutes each way), a zigzagging route that scuttles over the peaks over Kahului town, and the Lahaina Pali Trail (about three hours in total), a path that climbs up the south side of Mauna Kahalawai with sunrise views to its back.
Basically, there are multiple options for seeing the sunrise in this corner of the Aloha State, but virtually all of them require a bit of hoofing it on pretty steep paths. Always be sure to take extra precautions if you do decide that this is the spot for you. Clambering up for the first light will inevitably involve hiking for long periods in almost complete darkness, which means you’ll need your own light source and a whole host of other gear. Also don’t underestimate the steepness of the trail and the amount of water you’ll need despite not hiking in the heat of the day.
Koki Beach Park
Any fans of geography shouldn’t be surprised to see much-loved Koki Beach Park on this list of the best places in Maui to watch sunrise. It’s essentially the easternmost part of the island, perched right out on the rugged lava headlands south of Hana. There is nothing between this open bay and the vast Pacific blue that extends for more than 2,400 miles before meeting the West Coast of the USA, which is why there’s also nothing to interrupt a fantastic sunrise show.
The other bonus here is that there’s no hefty climb to do or long drive up the side of a potentially active shield volcano. You just park up in the lot along the Haneoo Road and make your way through the coastal groves of eucalyptuses, ironwoods, and palms to the beachfront. You might not be able to see it as soon as you arrive since it’s likely to be dark, but said beachfront is something of a stunner – think cinnamon-tinged sands framed by high buttresses of stone that have clumps of jungle attached to the top.
Pick a spot and then look straight east over the ocean. The light will start to shimmer behind the arrowhead-shaped mass of rock just out at sea and then suddenly flood the whole bay with pinks and purples, coloring the water and the waves in a mix of blue and red. You might spot some early-bird surfers paddling out to catch the swells without the crowds. You might even get to spot rare creatures like the iwa bird and the Hawaiian monk seal that are known to frequent this length of sand.
Makena Cove might not immediately seem like a top spot to witness the sunrise on Kaui. It faces due southwest, after all, peeking over the strait towards the pint-sized isle of Kahoolawe, the smallest of the major islets in the Aloha chain. There’s no head-on show to be had that lets you spy that great orb peeking over the horizon for the first moment of the day. However, there’s certainly something to be said for looking in the other direction…
Wait a little for the sun to make it over the hump of massive Haleakala Mountain and you’ll see the black-rock cliffs of Kahoolawe Island instantly come to light. It’s as if someone turns the lights on and there’s suddenly a distant dash of gleaming earth poking its head out of the Pacific Ocean. In the cove itself, the lanky coconut trees cast a long shadow and mark the yellowy sands with silhouettes of dancing fronds and fauna. Eventually, the light refracts through the sea grapes and shimmers over the golden sand and lava rocks.
Of course, Makena Cove – west-facing and uber-romantic – has really cut its teeth as one of the best places to watch the sunset on Kauai. If you do decide to return to the compact beachfront for the later hour, we’d recommend getting in as early as possible as it can get very busy, and parking can be tricky. Access is via a short pedestrian path that runs alongside Makena Road about 10 minutes’ drive south of the resorts in Wailea-Makena.
Hana Bay Beach Park
The front of Hana town opens onto the big scythe of brownish powder that makes up Hana Bay Beach Park. It’s a lovely little reserve with a dual-aspect view of both the Pacific out east and the looming outline of Haleakala volcano as it lurches up above to the west. Together, those two panoramas help to make this one of the best places in Maui to watch sunrise.
The first vision of the town itself gazes slightly northwest over Hana Bay. If you get there early enough then you can grab yourself a place on the medium-length concrete pier and watch the light start creeping over the rows of palm trees and the tin-roofed cottages by the shore. It’s also fun to watch the waves lashing into the little patches of rock reef that divide up the bay.
The other, more dramatic, views that are on offer here come courtesy of a series of lookout points that await up Lyon Hill just to the west of the town center. It’s not a long walk to get there and the path is 100% paved from start to finish – just be sure to watch out for the herds of cows that sometimes clump together and black the way. At the top, you can see a Celtic cross called Fagan’s Cross that opens to offer sweeping 180-degree panoramas of the whole Hana shoreline. That’s the perfect place to wait for the light show to begin in the early hours!
The best places in Maui to watch the sunrise – our conclusion
There are plenty of pretty awesome spots that could easily be named among the best places in Maui to watch the sunrise. However, we’d say there’s no doubt that the soaring height of Haleakala trumps the whole lot of them. It’s the tallest peak on the island and offers sweeping 360-degree panoramas across the east coast. You will have to book a place to get up there for the sunrise, though. Alternatives include the lovely beaches at Koki and Hana on the east coast, or the rugged West Maui Mountain and its daring hiking trails.