Visions of a Hawaii vacation may not inspire thoughts of road tripping, but the Big Island of Hawaii offers some scenic road trips indeed. And with most scenic routes able to be completed as day trips, there are many opportunities for sightseeing on the Big Island. Traversing the island horizontally from east to west, Saddle Road in Hawaii is a scenic route that is easily accessible from the west coast town of Kona. Pack some snacks and the camera and be prepared to be wowed at the otherworldly landscapes seen from Saddle Road!
Exploring Saddle Road in Hawaii
Once considered a dangerous route with one-lane bridges and crumbling pavement, Saddle Road is now much more accessible. This mostly two-lane highway reaches a peak of 6,632 feet and is often shrouded in fog and mist, giving it an aura of mystery. If you’re headed between the island’s main towns of Kona and Hilo, you’re bound to spend some time on Saddle Road, with this route taking a total of 1.5 hours. Exploring Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea will also bring you to Saddle Road. However, Saddle Road offers more than just a means of getting from one point to another. Be sure to leave some time for appreciating the diverse terrain and scenic views along the way!
Saddle Road traverses a high valley or “saddle” between the island’s highest peaks, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, giving the road its name. Also known as Hawaii Route 200, this 54-mile stretch of road takes travelers past a variety of intriguing landscapes. Dried lava flows, rolling pasturelands, lush rainforests, and fields reminiscent of desert and moon landscapes all rush by the window in an otherworldly blur.
Since the road has been improved, most rental car companies now allow travel on Old Saddle Road in Hawaii. However, drivers should exercise caution due to frequent fog, mist, low visibility, and rough sections of road that remain. Traveling along Saddle Road offers a serene escape into nature and it is not uncommon to see wild pigs, sheep, goats, horses along the road. The speed limit along most of the road is 60mph, but drivers should pay careful attention to changes at various points. This mostly undeveloped area boasts plenty of scenery and is void of development and facilities. Be sure to stock up on gas, snacks, and drinks before hitting the road!
Points of Interest Along the Way
Stop and stretch your legs at a few of the hiking trails located along Old Saddle Road in Hawaii, such as the Pu’u O’o Trail, Kaulana Manu Nature Trail, and the Kaumana Trail. The Kaulana Manu Nature Trail is an easy one-mile loop great for families that is part of the Hawaii Island Birding Trail. Stretch your legs as you keep an eye out for Native Hawaiian birds and plants, with interpretive signs along the way to guide your viewing.
Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii, and this dormant volcano can be accessed from Saddle Road. With a summit height of 13,796 feet, Mauna Kea is one of the few places in the world you can drive from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in less than two hours. The Visitor Information Station is located at 9,200 feet and offers travelers a place to learn more about Mauna Kea. This is the only place on the mountain you’ll find facilities such as restrooms. Mauna Kea’s VIS is a popular destination for stargazing, with its high elevation and nearly non-existent light pollution. Pushing on to the summit is recommended only for those who have four-wheel drive, who are well-equipped to handle potentially hazardous driving conditions and colder temperatures, and who have stopped at the VIS to acclimatize. Many are surprised to discover that during the winter months, the Big Island is known to receive some snowfall at the peak of Mauna Kea! The peak is a popular place to take in a spectacular sunset from breathtaking elevations.
If you plan on making the drive all the way to Hilo, Rainbow Falls State Park is well worth a stop along Saddle Road. Rainbow Falls is a picturesque 80-foot cascade that drops into the Wailuku River below. If you catch it at just the right timing, you may spot a rainbow arching its way through the cascade, which is what gave this waterfall its name. A path to the left of the lookout provides a closer view from the top of Rainbow Falls, which depending on recent rainfall, can range from a gentle flow to a gushing waterfall.
Vacation Accommodations on the Big Island
With its proximity to some of the island’s best beaches, activities, shopping, and dining, Kona is a highly desirable place for basing a Big Island vacation. From your large vacation rental in Kona, enjoy scenic day trips such as a road trip down Saddle Road. At Venture Hawaii, we offer a variety of high-quality vacation rentals in Kona. Browse our listings and contact us with any questions you may have! Check out our apartment vacation rentals in Kona.