This seems to be the inevitable way forward for those national parks being loved to death — permits. The latest to join the visitor limit ranks is Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. A popular place to drive to the summit to watch the sunrise, the crater views and ecosystem are being ruined by way too many people.
I have been to the top of Haleakala for sunrise numerous times — both when growing up and even after my college years. Almost always we were one of only a handful of cars up there — fellow people crazy enough to brave the cold and the dark for the sunrise reward. Even when I rode my bike to the top recently, I don’t remember huge crowds. Granted, I reached the top well after sunrise.
Last week, Haleakala National Park officials announced a permit system for sunrise viewing at the summit. An online reservation system is being implemented to ensure visitor and employee safety, protect natural and cultural resources, and provide a quality visitor experience at the summit during sunrise hours (3am to 7am).
“The four summit parking lots serving sunrise viewing hold approximately 150 vehicles,” states a news release from the park. “Vehicles regularly exceed 300 per sunrise. When vehicles outnumber parking spaces, visitors park on road shoulders or in the upbound lane of Crater Road. The cars block emergency vehicle access and damage park infrastructure, vegetation, and critical habitat for endangered species such as the Hawaiian petrel and Haleakala silversword. Crowds at sunrise viewpoints often number over 1,000, with accidents resulting from visitors moving off trail and climbing cliff sides in the dark.”
An information placard on the park website states that beginning February 1, 2017, sunrise viewing reservations are required and only available from the recreation.gov website. The costs is $1.50 per car and you can make reservations up to 60 days before your sunrise visit. To enter the Summit District between 3am and 7am, the reservation holder must be present and show both the one-day sunrise reservation receipt and a photo ID. The park entrance fee is separate and payable by credit card on the day of your visit.
The reservation system went live on December 1st. Before February 1, 2017, sunrise viewing parking spaces will continue to be available without advanced reservation, on a first-come, first-served basis — note you will be turned away when the lot is full.
Keep in mind that after February 1st, this new online reservation system is the only way to get a spot. And what if it is snowing at the summit the day you booked to see the sunrise? Too bad — there will be no refunds or exchanging reservations for a different day.