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Maui Hiking From Summit to Sea - Part 2

Rainbow Bridge
1-2 hours, easy
What you'll see: native alpine species, stunning views, rainbows
What to bring: sturdy hiking shoes, raingear, warm clothing, sun protection, binoculars, camera

Maui Family Vacations

A short but spectacular hike starts at the Halemauu trailhead, 3.5 miles up from the Park headquarters. Hike through alpine shrubland to "Rainbow Bridge" - so called because of the near-omnipresent rainbows that form in the swirling mists below. The best views, however, are caught before the mist rolls in. Come early to gaze across the lava plains as far as the Hana Airport. The slender rock bridge plummets down Koolau Gap on one side; the entire crater floor is visible on the other.

Sliding Sands
4-8 hours, moderate to challenging
What you'll see: lava in every shape, texture, and color, silverswords, nene geese, 360-degree vistas
What to bring: sturdy hiking shoes, warm clothing, binoculars, camera

Sliding Sands, or Keoneheehee, traverses a steep, colorful bowl of cinder coughed up by the barely dormant volcano. Volcanologists estimate that lava flows within Haleakala date from 2 million to just 400 years ago. Many say it will erupt again.

Incredibly, ancient Hawaiians once used Keoneheehee as a racetrack. Daredevil sportsmen flew face-forward down the slope at 70 mph, just inches above the lava. They rode 12 foot-long wooden sleds, for which Holua Cabin is named. For many modern visitors, the altitude is dizzying enough without contemplating a headfirst catapult down the mountain! Hiking down Sliding Sands and returning the same way takes 4 hours. You can also continue across the crater floor and head back up the Switchback (Halemauu) Trail. This takes 8 hours and you will need to shuttle between the hike's start and end points. Bring two cars, or easily catch a ride from one of the many passerbys.

Snow on Maui? It's true! The 10,023-foot summit of Haleakala can be downright frosty at times. Snow falls every 2-3 years (though, to the dismay of island youngsters, it rarely sticks long enough to build snowmen). Haleakala's bare, high-altitude landscape offers little protection from the sun, wind, and cold. The plants, insects, and birds that call this extreme climate home have developed clever protections. For instance, the tiny hairs that give the silversword its metallic color serve double duty: they reflect the relentless sun during hot midday hours and contain heat through the cold night.

Get there: Follow Haleakala (377) Hwy. to Crater (378) Rd. $10 park entrance fee. For more information, contact: (808) 572-4400

Iao Valley State Park

1-3 hours, easy
What you'll see: waterfalls, sheer green cliffs, Polynesian garden
What to bring: picnic lunch, swimsuit, shoes you don't mind getting muddy

Most visitors take a spin through Iao Valley, but few explore its verdant depths. The heart of the West Maui Mountains has a definite pulse; let it draw you in. The surrounding ridges are a moody bunch, often wrapped in a wet shawl of clouds - moments later splashed in gold, as if some deity suddenly grinned. Venture onto shaded paths that thread through ginger and guava - go on, try a strawberry guava fruit picked fresh from the tree. Wander through Polynesian gardens planted with ti, awa, and wauke (paper mulberry used to make kapa, felted cloth). Kalo loi (taro patches) are fed by the same stream that carved Iao Needle, a 2,250-foot basalt spire, over millions of years. Dip your toes in. Watch local daredevils hurl themselves from the bridge into the cold water with yelps of delight. Swimmers and hikers should be very aware of the weather, as flash floods occur regularly.

Before you head up to the valley itself, stop at Kepaniwai Park. Commemorative models of a Japanese tea house, Chinese moon gate, and Hawaiian hale (thatched-roof house) honor the island's diverse cultural landscape. This is a great picnic spot, but don't forget the mosquito spray!

Get there: Follow Main Street through Wailuku, veer left to Iao Valley.

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