The road to Haleakala National Park in Maui reopened today after being closed for most of this week due to snow and ice. Most of the snow has already melted, except for a few pockets. Conditions are still wintry: about 35-degrees F with driving wind and rain. The National Weather Service forecasts more freezing temperatures and another storm system on the way. The Park Service expects to reassess the conditions later this afternoon to determine if the road will remain open.
Summit Road is Open but Some Park Areas are Off-Limits
Even though the road up is open, some areas of the Park are closed. Several popular trails are closed due to dangerous, icy conditions. These include Sliding Sands, Switchbacks and O’heo stream trails. The trail from Paliku to Kaupo is permanently closed. Until the weather improves, no camping is allowed in the Park. Highway 31 from Ulupalakua to Kipahulu is also closed. This impacts those driving in from Hana. It’s no longer possible to avoid the “Road the Hana” (or Hana Highway, officially known as primary state route 36 and secondary state route 360) by going around Maui’s drier south side.
Never Judge the Penthouse from the Lobby
Would-be visitors to Haleakala National Park should expect very different conditions in the Park than at sea level. Keep mind that for every 1,000-feet of elevation gain, the temperature drops three degrees. So driving from Kihei or Lahaina to the summit means a difference of -30 degrees. Balmy 70-degree weather at the beach typically translates into frigid 40-degree weather at the summit. Shorts, a t-shirt and a light jacket won’t cut it. Mainland winter gear is more like it.
4WD Doesn’t Help
Black ice is the main reason why the Park Service closes the road to the summit. The winding hairpin road was not designed for chains, and chains are the only way to safely maneuver when the road is frozen. Having a 4WD vehicle doesn’t help because on black ice, the vehicle just rides higher as it slides around. The narrow road is flanked by unforgiving lava, and the Park service doesn’t have the manpower to clear the potential wreckage.
Save It for Summer
Many visitors decide to venture up anyway. The driving time from Kihei or Lahaina to the summit is about two hours. Add another two hours to return. So even if the road is open, making the four hour trip to snap a photo of the clouds while freezing in the current white out conditions may not be worth it.
It might be better to hit the hot tub and save the trek to Haleakala for next time–especially if it’s summer when conditions are generally spectacular. On a clear day when the weather is better and standing outside the car is not a form of waterboarding, it’s possible to see three islands from the summit. That’s also when the unqiue and endangered silversword plants bloom.
For additional weather details, contact the National Weather Service at (808) 877-5111.