The tallest peak in the state of Hawaii is the million-year-old volcano, Mauna Kea, one of the five volcanic hot spots that combine to form Hawaii’s Big Island. While the top of Mauna Kea is 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) above sea level, the volcano would be more than double the height of Mount Everest when measured from its base at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Mauna Kea is iconic, with its snowy peak visible across the island and its summit offers some of the best views in Hawaii.
Make the three-hour drive to Mauna Kea’s summit in the company of experts by booking a spot on one of the many four-wheel drive tours of the volcano. Not only are these tours a safe and comfortable way to experience Mauna Kea, they also provide a wealth of information about the history and environment of the volcano.
Stop halfway up the volcano to acclimatize to the altitude, and tour the Visitor Information Station, which is open every day of the year. See the largest telescopes in the world and learn why Mauna Kea is such an important location for astrologers.
From the Visitor Information Station the journey to the summit is along a steep gravel road. Traveling across the hardened lava that covers the summit region, at heights where little vegetation can survive, is a surreal experience. Pull on your gloves before you get out of the car, as temperatures at the summit are icy. Arrive in time to see one of the most sought after sunsets in North America, with views across the island and the Pacific Ocean.
The Mauna Kea access road is located approximately 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Hilo and the summit is a further 15 miles (24 kilometers) along the road. While it’s possible to drive yourself, many rental car agreements restrict you from doing so. The safest way to see the peak is by joining a tour from Hilo or Waikoloa. There is no public transportation that services Mauna Kea, but parking is available at the Visitor Information Station and summit.