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Mauna Kea is one of two major volcanos on the Big Island of Hawaii. Standing 13,800 ft above sea level makes Mauna Kea the highest peak in all of Hawaii. The neighboring volcano, Mona Loa, is just south of Mauna Kea and can be seen from the peak. Mauna Kea hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated from many countries. The lack of light pollution on the Big Island makes this location ideal for observing the faintest galaxies at the edge of the observable universe. For casual star gazers like us, it is an awesome spot to try and find our favorite constellations. Summiting Mauna Kea is an experience you cannot pass up while in Hawaii.




Time Required:  5 Hours

Location: 63 miles inland from Kona

Distance: 8.7 miles from Visitor Station to the summit.

Highest Elevation: 13,800ft (4200m)

Elevation Gain: 4600ft from the Visitor Station

Difficulty: 1/10

Season: Year Round

Additional Requirements: 4WD Vehicle


Mauna Kea - Hawaii Big Island - Epic Trip Adventures
Image 1: Mauna Kea Summit



From Kailua-Kona: Take Highway 190 north from Kona.  At Mile Marker 14 turn east onto the new Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Hwy 200).  Follow this until Mile Marker 28 and then turn left onto Mauna Kea Access Road. The Visitor Station is about 6 miles up the road on the right side. From Kona, the drive to the Visitor Station takes about 1-1/2 hours.

From Hilo: Take the Puainako Extension (Hwy 2000) east and merge onto Saddle Road (Hwy 200).  At Mile Marker 8 Highway 200 transitions seamlessly into the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Hwy 200). Just before Mile Marker 28, turn right onto Mauna Kea Access Road. The Visitor Station is about 6 miles up the road on the right side. The drive from Hilo to the Visitor Station takes approximately 1 hour.



  • Comfortable Footwear:Bring runners so you can walk around once you reach the summit. There won’t be a lot of places to go, but it’s always nice to have comfy feet.
  • Water:Always important to bring water
  • Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy at the summit.  Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
  • Weather appropriate clothing:Bring warm clothes! Even though you can’t imagine being cold while in Hawaii it is usually only a few degrees above freezing at the summit. High winds are very common as well which makes it feel that much colder. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
  • Camera:There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
  • This Guide:Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike



Altitude: Be mindful that there is some serious elevation gain to reach the summit. At the top of Mauna Kea there is 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level. Even the smallest amount of physical exertion will leave you gasping for air and potentially feeling a little dizzy or nauseous. If you feel out of breath or dizzy, sit down and take a break.  Do not plan on summiting Mauna Kea within 24 hours after a scuba diving adventure.


Time of Day: We recommend arriving at the summit shortly before sunset.  It is very cold at the top so you will not want to spend too much time there.  Arriving just before sunset allows you to see the views during the day, enjoy the sunset and then check out the incredible stars from the Visitor Station after driving down from the summit.


Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
  • Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
  • Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
  • Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.

To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit



200 yards past the Visitor Station the paved road ends. From the end of the paved road follow the gravel road as it gains elevation. After 5 miles on the gravel road the final 3.5 miles of the road to the summit are paved.

Driving up Mauna Kea - Hawaii Big Island - Epic Trip Adventures
Image 2: Driving to the summit
Driving up Mauna Kea - Hawaii Big Island - Epic Trip Adventures
Image 3: Driving to the summit


If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, you should not attempt to drive to the top. If you do have a 4WD vehicle, be sure to use your low gears on the way down.

There are companies that will pick you up, drive you to the top for sunset, and then drive you back down. If you don’t want to pay for a ride up, and don’t have a 4WD vehicle there may be friendly people willing to let you hop in with them and hitchhike a ride to the top.

Once you arrive at the summit take some time to walk around before finding a good spot to watch the sunset.

After enjoying the sunset begin the drive back down to the Visitor Station. The Visitor Station is a great place to make a pit stop on the way down to check out the stars.  There is also a free star gazing program on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 6:00pm – 10:00pm.


Mauna Kea - Hawaii Big Island - Epic Trip Adventures
Image 4: Mauna Kea Summit



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We also want to hear about your Mauna Kea adventures.  If you have stories, pictures or even a link to your own adventure video please share them below!


Have fun out there!