Sliding Sands Trail is a 11.2 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Kula, Hawaii that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.
Directions from Highway 378: Follow Haleakala Crater Road to the Haleakala Visitor Center. Park in the visitor center parking lot. The trail leaves from the eastern side of the parking area.
Tried trail running it. Even though it was sunny, i was feeling an unusual cold breeze for hawaii the whole time. Ran down to the bottom of the crater ~4mi (the first junction) i decided to turn around since the i felt like i was already pretty much inside the crater. I was not ready for a high elevation climb like this! My heart rate monitor said i was fine, but i was breathing twice as hard regardless. Please respect the altitude and make conservative estimates regarding your abilities.
Really incredible trail. Definitely difficult and can get hot, but being at the base of the crater is other-worldly. Check out my full adventure on my blog:
Hiked this with my adventurous family: girls aged 14, 12 and 9. It's a unique landscape that they all thought looked like what Mars must look like. It's dry and windy and layers were appreciated as we descended from the cold of 10,000 feet to below 8,000 feet where it was hot. You lose a lot of traction in the sand so factor this into the distance and difficulty rating. Brings lots of water and sunblock and snacks for energy.
The drive up and back takes a long time and is challenging due to steep grades a switchbacks.
The scenery was unique and interesting, and we had a fun hike. Be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Including a stop for lunch at the cabin at the “end” of the trail (~5.7mi in) the out-and-back hike took us 4h 28m (including almost 20min for lunch and almost another 25min for pictures, water breaks, etc.). The outbound leg took about 1h 49m. After a 20m stop for lunch, we made it back to the trailhead in 2h 19m (~28% slower on the return … not too much of a slowdown vs the outbound leg which was primarily downhill). We probably saw fewer than 30 people during our time on the trail, and the vast majority we encountered just a mile or at most two from the trailhead. Most of our time on the trail was completely devoid of other human or animal life -- nothing in sight even though visibility was extremely good.
The trailhead is in the corner of the parking lot nearest to the road (uphill side) of the Haleakala Visitor Center near the summit (not at the Visitor Center near the park entrance). We picked up supplies (water, sandwiches, light trail snack) from the Kula Market Place on the way (look for the Kula Lodge sign).
We started our hike at 12:15pm, but it was still only in the high 50s up at the summit. We were very glad to have light jackets with us for the start, though they came off after a little less than a mile into the trail as we left the summit winds behind us. After a short jaunt from the trailhead to the start of the descent (less than a quarter mile), you can see the expanse of the desert-like valley/craters below. There’s almost 4 miles of switchbacks and downhill trails as you descend to the floor below; there’s only one meaningful reprieve from the descent (it flattens out for almost a third of a mile and the end of the third mile on the trail). It’s the steepest at the top, though never particularly steep. At points you’ll experience why it’s called the “Sliding Sands” trail, but it’s nothing too hard to navigate (at least on a dry day in sturdy hiking boots). The valley floor is like a desert, punctuated mostly by dried out old ferns, and punctuated by the occasional bright silver plant or the hopeful new green shoots of a new plant (mostly fern-like plants, though there are the occasional flowers too). It’s a nice stroll along the valley floor to the Kapalaoa cabin (and outhouse). The wind was infrequent throughout our journey, but refreshing (and strong) for the brief periods it did blow. This outbound leg took just under 1h 49m to complete from the trailhead.
We picnicked at the cabin (there’s a table outside) and listened to the mostly silent landscape. We didn’t see any wildlife during this entire hike, though we did hear a few birds while eating our lunch. It was a nice sunny spot to take in the scenery, eat, reapply sunscreen and put up our feet for a few (well, 20) minutes before starting the trek back up the trailhead.
The hike back up offered a chance to take in some more scenery … the desert below kind of looked like an infinity pool that dipped off into the clouds in the distance. The sliding sands were hardly noticeable, and it was a pleasant hike back up. We finished a little before 5pm (after a 2h 19m return hike), and the parking lot was still only sparsely populated (almost two hours until sunset, at which time the place will be jam packed and overfull). We popped into the restrooms at the visitor center, and then made our way down the mountain with plenty of good memories from the hike!
I drank about 3.1L of water, and my (smaller) partner drank a little over 2L. So we had over 3L of water leftover, though I could easily see us going through more of that if it had been hotter out. Despite the clear sunny mid-March day, the weather was pretty mild throughout (winter did just end though, so maybe it is far hotter in the summer). It’s well worth the time. If you have more time, you can detour to go towards the Halemau'u trail / the Halälii peak and then back to the Sliding Sands trail (you could do it out and back, but there’s two connections to Sliding Sands from it … forms a triangle with the route, so you can see some different areas); this probably adds about 5mi to the hike.
The first time I took this trail down, I just wanted to spend an hour due to time constraints, but ended up going longer; it is so cool as to what you'll see next that it draws you further down the trail until you've realized, I've got to go back up. Expect to take longer going back up and don't forget to take plenty of water. Think it would be awesome to hike all the way down to Ohe Gulch. The craters are amazing and the topography is like walking on the moon or Mars. The weather rolls through such it can be shrouded in clouds one minute and totally sunny fifteen minutes later. Great hike and I plan to keep coming back.
Pretty awesome hike and views. Hard to beat and wish I had more time. Watch for changing weather and be as prepared as possible. I went down the other day about 6.3miles in. Gorgeous, sunny and don't forget sun screen. About a mile back up got in a pretty windy rain storm (wind was expected). Pretty quick change to the day. But overall an incredible hike and amazing scenery. Can't imagine too many places on Earth that you can go and see these views.
Haleakala Crater is an amazing place that has a quiet, ethereal magnificence to it. One must be prepared for rapidly changing weather, raw, rugged terrain, and deceptively challenging hiking if you decide to make the journey down.
At the summit, the weather was awful when we first arrived; 40 mph winds, cold rain, and poor visibility. We had driven a long way, so we waited for almost an hour for it to clear. Once the sun started peaking out, we decided to risk it. Up top, naturally, it is cold, and you will certainly need a (waterproof) jacket. The first mile or so is quite an easy decline before the trail becomes a little steeper and on looser cinder. Gradually the landscape starts to transform from the greyish surface of the moon to the reddish/brown ruggedness of Mars.
The deeper down you go, the warmer it becomes, but DO NOT forget that you are still at almost 8,000' elevation; the UV can be intense without you even knowing you are being burned. Throughout the way down, there are many great views as the trail cuts back and forth. You genuinely will feel like you are on another planet.
As you go down, though, remember that you will have to go ALL THE WAY back up, so allot yourself ample time to do so. The trail is almost like loose sand through most of its length, so keep in mind that it can be very slow going. Pack at least a liter or even 2 for each person in your group.
Despite the challenges that hiking in this unique landscape poses, you will not regret it. Even an outsider can come to understand why this mountain is sacred to native Hawaiians.