A visit to Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, is an absolute must-do if you’re visiting the Big Island of Hawaii.
Mauna Kea is actually the largest mountain on earth (when measured from its base to the summit). For Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is a sacred place, where the heavens connect to the earth. From the top of the mountain, you’ll get a glimpse of the entire Big Island. If the sky is clear, you may also be able to see Maui off in the distance.
As you plan for your trip, use our tips below to make the most out of your visit to Mauna Kea.
Book a Hotel Nearby
If you’re planning on visiting Mauna Kea, it’s best to book a hotel in Kona on the west side of the mountain, or Hilo to the east. To reach the summit, it will take you about 2 hours to reach the summit from either Kona or Hilo.
Kona is known for its extensive collection of upscale hotels and resorts. If you’re looking for luxury, the Four Seasons, Sheraton, and Wyndham are excellent options. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of excellent hotels around Kona to suit your needs.
Hotels in Hilo aren’t quite so flashy. However, many are filled with charm and character. Several are located right on the bay front, offering great ocean views day and night.
At 14,000 feet, the summit of Mauna Kea towers over the rest of the Big Island. In winter, it’s not unusual to see the peak covered in snow from your chair on white sandy beach. Even in the summer, temperatures regularly dip below freezing once the sun sets.
If you’re planning on visiting Mauna Kea, be sure to dress warm. Long pants, sweaters, jackets, mittens, and hats are all regular attire up at the top. The wind can blow hard at the top and you don’t want your visit cut short because you’re too cold to enjoy the view.
Plan for the Mauna Kea Sunset
A visit to Mauna Kea is great any time of day, but it’s especially worth the trip at sunset. From the top, you can watch sun fall into the ocean as the sky turns shades of red, pink, orange, and purple.
The show is just getting started once the sun goes does. As the light fades, the sky above seems to explode with stars. The Big Dipper and Little Dipper are easy to spot. It’s not unusual to see the cloudy Milky Way stretch right above your head.
High above the clouds, Mauna Kea is one of the best spots in the world for stargazing. In fact, many countries around the world have giant telescopes at the summit. Some are even open to the public.
Bring Your Camera
There’s no bad day up on the mountain. Sure, the wind may be blowing and the temperatures may drop, but the view from the top of Mauna Kea is always worthy of a picture. Or two. Or three. Don’t forget to bring your camera.
Rent a 4-Wheel Drive
The road up to the summit of Mauna Kea is mostly gravel and quite steep. If your heart is set on visiting the summit, we recommend renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
There are numerous rental companies based out of Hilo and Kona. In the past, 4-wheel drive rentals has lots of restrictions on where you could and couldn’t go. Before you pay for your rental, ask if your vehicle has any restrictions that may void your contract.
While a number of companies offer great deals around the island, if you’re not able to get your hands on a 4-wheel drive a tour a tour to the summit is a great option.
Book a Tour to Mauna Kea
A number of great local companies offer tours to the summit of Mauna Kea. Many will pick you up from you hotel in Kona or Hilo. As the road to the top is steep and narrow, this is an excellent option if you don’t want the added stress of driving. On the way to top, you’ll learn about the island’s geography, culture, and natural history from expert local guides.
Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (http://www.maunakea.com/), is a great option if you want to catch the sunset and stargaze. Their full day tours take care of everything. You’ll ride in comfort up to the summit, stopping along the way for a warm meal. They even provide the super warm parkas and hot chocolate, so you won’t need to worry about freezing at the summit.
Get a Good Look at the Stars from Mauna Kea
On your way down from the summit, plan to stop at the Visitor Information Station. Nearly every night, the station hosts free public viewings of the stars. Volunteers haul out telescopes, pointing out planets, stars, and galaxies millions of light-years away.
On your next visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, be sure to make a trip to Mauna Kea. Whether you choose a self-guided tour in a 4-wheel drive rental or you opt for a local tour to the top, the views will make the whole trip worthwhile.