On a clear day, volcano hikers can see forever

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HALEAKALA, Hawaii -- A drive to the top of this 10,000-foot volcano and a hike into its barren crater offers a great reminder of just how diverse Maui is.

At the point of ascent on Haleakala Highway near Kahului, an hour-and-a-half from the summit, sprawls a lush tropical Pacific island. At the top, the rocky, red cinder-cone landscape sits a world away.

The only plant likely to be seen there is the hearty Silversword.

On a clear, sunny day at the summit, the visitor can see the Big Island and its five volcanos. At other times, Haleakala is windy, cold and rainy, and the sky is filled with clouds, limiting visibility.

According to the park service, on a clear day the visual horizon in many places on the volcano is up to 115 miles out to sea. And the park is never closed, not even at night, so Haleakala also is a good place to watch stars.

The view from Haleakala crater summit is like looking down at the rest of the world. For tourists, visiting Haleakala will take some planning before leaving home because of the wide range in temperatures.

At 10,000 feet, it can be warm, or it can be cold -- between 30 and 50 degrees, with winds up to 40 mph.

Visitors who want to go to Haleakala (whose name means House of Sun) should bring long pants and a jacket, especially if they are planning to be there for the sunrise.

Visitors can call (808) 871-5054 for a weather forecast.

There is no food or gasoline available in the park, so visitors should be sure to stock up on both.

Visiting the mountain can easily be done in a rental car or with one of the tour companies on Maui.

Many of the tour companies bring visitors to the summit for the sunrise.

They pick them up at their hotels as early as 3 a.m.

Those who visit on their own will have to pay a $10 per car admission.

For those who want to do more than drive to the top and take pictures, there are plenty of hiking opportunities.

About 10 miles before the crater summit on the slopes of the volcano and just before the park headquarters is Hosmer Grove.

From there, the free Waikamoi Cloud Forest Hike begins at 9 a.m., Mondays and Thursdays.

The Sliding Sands trail in Haleakala crater on Maui is a good place to spend a strenuous day of hiking. Led by park service guides, this three hour, three-mile hike wanders through the Nature Conservancy's Waikamoi Preserve.

Farther up the road about a mile is the park headquarters, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.

There is also a visitor's center at the summit.

From the summit, which is about nine miles from park headquarters, the Sliding Sands trail leads four miles into the crater, linking up with other trails that will keep even the most hardcore day-hiker satisfied.

Hikers should expect the walk back to the parking lot to take two times as long as the hike down. And at elevations of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, walking can be difficult.

In addition to self-guided hiking opportunities, the park offers visitor programs and guided hikes at the summit.

Also, 15- to 20-minute educational presentations are given daily in the summit building at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

There is a guided cinder-desert hike on Tuesdays and Fridays at 9 a.m.

This hike, which starts at the Sliding Sands trailhead at the end of the visitor center parking lot, is two miles long and takes about two hours.

A liter bottle of water per person is a must for any hike of more than an hour.

In the summit area, special evening star-watching programs are conducted in the summer months.

Occasionally, all-day and half-day hikes or full-moon hikes are offered.

Call (808) 572-9306 for current guided hike schedules.

Also, call (808) 572-4400 for visitor information or check the Web at www.nps.gov/hale.

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