The Big Island of Hawaii is home to dramatic land formations, from exotic black sand beaches along the coastline to the highest point in the state of Hawaii, the summit of Mauna Kea. If you plan to vacation on the Big Island, the Mauna Kea Summit is a stunning location to add to the itinerary. And with less than a two-hour drive, it can easily be visited as a day trip from Kona!
About the Mauna Kea Summit
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Big Island, known for its astounding height at 13,796 feet above sea level. Temperatures can get surprisingly cold on the summit of Mauna Kea – if you thought it didn’t snow in Hawaii, think again. During winter months, the Mauna Kea summit is known for getting occasional snowfall! As one of the few places in the world where you can spend the morning basking in the sun along the beach and the afternoon throwing snowballs after just a couple hours’ drive, Mauna Kea is truly unique. Due to its isolation and elevation, Mauna Kea is an ideal destination for star gazing. In fact, there are 13 observatories located on the summit that are used by astronomers for research and observation.
Mauna Kea is also a sacred place for Native Hawaiians, as in Hawaiian culture it is believed to be the dwelling place of the goddess Poli’ahu. In ancient times, only high chiefs and priests were permitted to ascend to the summit. While still held as sacred to many Native Hawaiians in the present day, Mauna Kea is visited by many each year. Native Hawaiians hope to bring awareness about this sacred location so that all visitors will respect the land.
Visiting Mauna Kea
Many people who visit Mauna Kea culminate their trip at the Visitor Information Station rather than continuing on to the true summit. The Visitor Information Station (VIS) is open daily and is located at an elevation of 9,200 feet. The VIS is accessed via a paved road and is reached much easier than the summit. At this VIS, visitors are able to watch informational videos to learn more about Mauna Kea, browse for gifts in the bookstore, wander through a silversword garden, and enjoy a picnic with an incredible view. A solar telescope presents the unique opportunity to get an up-close view of the sun. In the evenings, the VIS is an ideal destination for stargazing in some of the best conditions you’ll find in the world. With its high elevation and very little light pollution, the sky above the VIS becomes ablaze with stars.
With careful planning, it is possible to continue past the VIS for those who really want to reach the Mauna Kea summit. Anyone who plans to make the full trip to the summit should stop first at the VIS for updated weather conditions and to acclimatize for at least 30 minutes due to the drastic change in altitude. Because you’re beginning at sea level, altitude sickness is a real concern when visiting the summit and should only be attempted by those who are in good physical health and those who are over the age of 13.
After the VIS, the paved road gives way to a steep graded-gravel road on which 4-WD is a strict requirement. Daytime visitors can consider hiking to Lake Waiau, a sacred lake in Hawaiian culture and the sixth highest lake in the country. This hike takes approximately one hour round trip. People also make their way to the summit to watch the sunset, heading down the mountain immediately afterward to avoid driving on the roughest sections of road in the dark. During winter months, the road beyond the VIS leading to the summit may be closed due to snowy and icy conditions. Although stargazing is possible from the summit, conditions actually tend to be clearer at the VIS.
When visiting the Mauna Kea Summit or the VIS, be sure your gas tank is filled before heading up the mountain, as there are no services available on Mauna Kea. You should also be sure to bring along warm clothes because temperatures are drastically colder at the higher elevations. Whether visiting the Mauna Kea summit or the VIS, this destination offers a special experience that you may not expect on an island vacation!
Basing Your Stay in Kona
Visiting Mauna Kea Summit is a great road trip option when staying in Kona. If you’re planning a vacation with your family, make sure to check out our large vacation rentals! The drive from Kona to the Mauna Kea VIS takes approximately 1.5 hours, with an additional 30 minutes to reach the summit. Basing your stay in Kona puts you in proximity to some of the island’s best beaches, island activities, and day trips such as the Mauna Kea summit. At Venture Hawaii Rentals, we offer a variety of Kona vacation rentals for your Big Island getaway! Browse our listings and contact us for more information. Browse our wonderful vacation rentals with an AC. Also, be sure to check out our apartment vacation rentals in Kona.