top of page

The Mauna Kea high peak will either require a 13 mile or 1 mile hike roundtrip depending and your personal preference and budget. When I did this high peak I went with my sister so I ended up doing both.


If you are like me and don't live in Hawaii, you may be worried about the cost of completing this high peak. When I did this hike I wanted to make it as affordable as possible. Below you will find sections on transportation, housing, and then my itinerary as well as a few additional items. This is not an exhaustive list by any means just the information I gathered while preparing for the trip! (:  

Basic Information

The name of the high peak in Hawaii is Mauna Kea not Mauna Loa. Mauna Kea is located on a Natural Area Reserve while Mauna Loa is located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

In order to get to the Natural Area Reserve you will have to drive. Unfortunately there is no public transportation to the visitor center so you will need to rent car. The closes bus stop is 20 miles from the visitor center and you do not want to hike this road. It is very steep and would be dangerous. Something to keep in mind is that there is no camping anywhere on the mountain so if you were to hike you would be in a tough position. 

The name of the visitor center you will have to drive to is                                                not Kilauea Visitor Center. The Kilauea visitor center is located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. When I was preparing I got these two confused.  It is definitely a good idea to check the                                              during your trip. The day before I arrived there was a blizzard that came through the area so the trail and road had both been shutdown. Luckily, when I arrived the trail had been opened up but the road was still closed. By the end of my hike the road had been opened and both were opened the rest of the week I was there.  

Basic Information

Route 1: 13 mile hike (no 4WD vehicle needed)

I decided to not rent a 4WD vehicle which meant to reach the summit I had to start from the                                          . I arrived at the visitor center at 5:00am and acclimatized (sat there) for 2 hours. After filling out a free self-registration form I started up the                        . On the map below you will see to get on the Hummula trail you have to walk down the road. (Don't be confused on the map below the First Light Bookstore is the visitor center). If you plan on hiking between December 1st and April 30th I would suggest checking out the                                                      to see the current weather conditions. 

Once you find the trail it is fairly easy to follow. Below I've labeled the key features that helped me the most. 

While walking up the road you will see this sign on the left. This is the start of the trail.

Throughout the trail there are poles and signs throughout trail. 

Sometimes the poles are hard to see without signs but these are positioned throughout the trail.

The most difficult part of the hike was to navigate was the road. My cognitive function may have have just been suffering from altitude sickness but I've included pictures for further clarification.

This path shows how you will go from the trail to the road

As you approach the road you will approach the backside of this sign 

You'll then climb over this fence and then walk along the road

This picture is taken on the path looking back at the intersection. You will need to turn right to take the quickest route to the trail

This is an overview of the route from the trail > road > trail

I've included a satellite overview of the area as I wasn't sure while up there which peak was the actual high peak.  

As you walk the road you will have two switchbacks to complete before finding the trail again

As you finish the last switch back you will see this sign on the right which is the beginning of the last tail to start the last 0.5 miles to the high peak.

Below I also used the two additional resources while hiking the summit

Route 1

Route 2: 1 mile hike (4WD vehicle needed)

If you have access to a 4WD vehicle or are able to hitch a ride up to the observatory then you only have a 0.5 mile hike to the summit. The summit trail starts at the summit trail sign.

Make sure if you rent a vehicle that the company allows you to take it up Mauna Kea. Some rental companies do not allow you to. I did this hike with my sister. We didn't have a 4WD vehicle so we used Tinder to get in touch with a local interested in heading up and hiking the high peak. I'd also recommend doing the hike at sunrise for amazing views!

Route 2

I flew in to Kona International Airport from Eugene, OR. On the Big Island there is also Hilo International Airport. Mauna Kea is halfway between both airports. There is no public transportation to the visitor center and unless you want to hike 23 miles on the side of the road from the nearest bus stop, then I would suggest renting a car or using an uber. Although the flights into Hilo were more expensive the rental cars were cheaper. So I used the               to get from Kona to Hilo. The Hele-on is not convenient for sightseeing, but it wasn't to difficult to plan in advance. There is a            that has a free 14 day, but I would not suggest this as it didn't show all the routes. Instead I would use the                   . As payment the bus uses cash or online payment. For the online payment you can download                         pay for the rides. There are also                             of the bus schedule if you'd prefer that. In Kona there is also a                       program which is nice. From what I noticed Kona was a touristy city while Hilo was more industrial. If you do plan to fly into Kona and need to take the Hele-On bus you can find the bus stop on the three median covering. There wasn't any direction so I had to walk to each median to find this out. 



I stayed on the island for 6 days as I wanted to do other hikes on the island. For housing there were lots of options I looked at.                     campsites were generally about $20 night.                        campsites were a bit more expensive at $30 a night. The                  backcountry drive-in campsite were $10 a night while the drive-in Volcano House drive-in campsite were $15 a night. Note if you plan on staying at the National Park you will have to pay the entrance fee ($15 per individual on foot good for 7 days or $30 per vehicle for 7 days) on top of the cost for campsite. If you are not looking to camp you can also rent a cabin within the National Park for $80.00 a night. If you spend the ngith at the Volcano House drive-in campsite you can also rent equipment for $55 a night which includes a 2 person tent, towels access to showers, 2 chairs, lantern, and a cooler. 

Within the Volcano National Park there are also                                        . To use these you would have to pay the park entrance fee of $15 for 7 days, a backcountry permit of $10.00, which is good for 10 people for 7 nights. You can only stay at one of the eight backcountry campsites for 3 consecutive nights and then will need to move to a new site. There are eight backcountry campsites (Ka‘aha, Halapē, Keauhou, ‘Āpua Point, Nāpau, Pepeiao Cabin, Red Hill Cabin and Mauna Loa Cabin) some of which include cabins with beds. Do note that off-site (dispersed) camping is allowed in the backcountry within the national park but "hikers must be at least 1 mile from a road or improved camp area and "out of sight and sound" of the trail." For my 6 day trip this was clearly the cheapest option for housing costing a total of $25. However, to access the eight backcountry campsites required significant hiking. Below I have included the pdf I created to estimate the number of miles I would need to hike each day to be able to use the backcountry campsites. I also have included pdfs of my permits and pictures of the campsites I stayed at. Additionally, there was almost no overnight parking signs and most places weren't parking meters or required pay to park.

Housing Summary

Caming Permits

Kohanaiki Beach Park  

You can camp anywhere left of the shack 

Kohanaiki Beach Park 

Kulanaokuaiki Campground 




For food, I brought my Jetboil and groceries from the continental US. The only thing I needed to buy from Hawaii was a fuel canister. Walmart, Home Depot, and Target didn't have any but I was able to find one at the TrueValue in Volcano, HI. This is located next to the Hawaii Volcano National Park and it cost $15.00.

Additional Information/Activities 

One of the best stumble upon things I did in Hawaii was at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center you are just above the clouds so you get an amazing view of the sunrise. At night the sky is so clear and away from light pollution that star gazing is amazing. I would highly recommend this. I also asked the rangers about the hours for the parking lot and he said that there is no camping in tents on the mountain so as long as you aren't doing that he doesn't chase anyone off the mountain. I spent 3 nights in this parking lot and the entire time people were coming and going to stargaze. It's a really awesome place to see at night. Also, no matter what I would spend time checking out the observatories. They are really good and have a lot of scientific discoveries taking place. 


Some of the other things I did while I was there was the                                           . Even if you don't go on this hike I definitely recommend going the lookout. If you do rent a 4WD vehicle the you can make it to the Waipio Valley which is half of this hike! There are also so many good                . I'd recommend going to South Point and doing the Cliff jumping and seeing only of the 4 green sand beaches in the world. 

Muliwai & Waimanu Valley

South Point Cliff Jumping

Hawaii Itinerary

Additional Information
bottom of page