Hiking Mauna Kea Hawaii’s Tallest Mountain


Above sea level, Mauna Kea stands at 4,207 meters. However, when measured from the ocean floor, the mountain is 10,203 meters tall – this makes Mauna Kea the tallest mountain in the world, beating Mt. Everest by a whopping 1000+ meters.

The steep grade of the mountain’s volcanic stones and thin air at higher altitudes makes the Mauna Kea hike quite challenging. However, this does not mean that hiking Mauna Kea is impossible. Armed with the tips in this article, you should be able to summit Mauna Kea in just a single day.

The Best Time to Try the Mauna Kea Hike

The best time to grab your hiking backpack and attempt hiking Mauna Kea is in the summer and spring (April to September). During the 2 seasons, the weather is friendly and mild – this will give you a much easier time.

The Winter season can get extremely stormy and windy. To avoid dealing with extremely low temperatures, storms, and winds, you must avoid hiking Mauna Kea in January and February.

Mountain Climbing Routes

The Mauna Kea hike starts at the Onizuka Visitor Center at 9,200 feet. The summit trail, which is known as the Humu’ula trail to the locals, is approximately 10 kilometers long and features an altitude gain of 1,400 meters.

From the Visitor Center, hikers can use 2 options to get to the summit:

Getting to Mauna Kea Summit by Car

From the Visitor Center, you will find a regularly maintained pebble track. This track is meant to be used by only 4-wheel drive vehicles. After driving straight ahead for approximately 10 kilometers, you should find a small car parking lot where you can park your vehicle. This will mark the beginning of the trail to the Mauna Kea summit that is not accessible by vehicle.

Take roughly half an hour to acclimatize before you start walking to the summit. Once you get out of the car, you may feel a little bit lightheaded – this is a normal feeling at high altitudes, and taking deep, slow breaths should make the feeling disappear in about 15 minutes.

Put on your hiking sunglasses and apply sunscreen correctly since the UV rays tend to be quite vicious at this juncture. Next, proceed for approximately 300 meters and you should be on the summit.

Hiking Mauna Kea by Foot


After acclimatizing for about an hour at the Visitor Center, you will need to head towards the Humu’ula Trail. The trail begins with a gradual incline that gets steeper as you progress. The summit trail is obvious and the fact that there are signposts along the road means that chances of getting lost are very minimal.

While hiking the mountain, be sure to listen to how your body is adjusting to the altitude change – if you feel any signs of altitude sickness, you may want to take some time to rest or even turn around, depending on how severe the signs are.

At an altitude of approximately 11,000 feet, you can decide to rest and acclimatize as you enjoy the stunning view of the second highest mountain in Hawaii – the Mauna Loa. This will also be an ideal time for you to grab a hiking snack, sip some water, and even use your hiking camera to capture some beautiful pictures.

At approximately 13,000 feet, you will find a small fork – to stay on the summit trail, be sure to turn left. A couple of meters from the initial fork, you will come across another fork – take a right to move towards the summit. If, however, you would like to see Lake Waiau, make a left turn on the second fork.

If you do take a right, you will hike along the trail until you find the observatory structures. You can take a couple of minutes to catch your breath before pacing yourself for the final 300 meters to the mountain summit.

Hiking with Kids

Children under the age of 16 years are not allowed to hike to the summit of Mauna Kea. If you are planning to hike with kids, you should keep in mind that the farthest they can go is up to the Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center, the kids can learn a lot and even participate in stargazing.

Camping on Mauna Kea

Camping on Mauna Kea is prohibited. However, you can always choose to camp at the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area. The recreation area is located approximately 7 miles west of Summit Road.

Things You Need to Know Before Attempting the Mauna Kea Hike

To have an easy time on the trail, you need to keep the following in your mind:

  • Carry your best compass – this will help you find the east road in the case of severe weather.
  • In the early morning hours, a dust mask may come in handy – it can help reduce lung burn usually caused by dry air.
  • You won’t be able to buy food on the mountain – be sure to either carry food in your backpack or eat before starting the hike.
  • Prepare for both weather extremes – if it is hot, you will need your sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. If the weather is rainy, you will need good boots, a good rain jacket, a warm fleece, a long-sleeved shirt, long rain pants, and gloves.
  • You won’t find any drinking water on the trail – be sure to carry your own water.
  • Be sure to stay on the trail – do not go cross-country.

Globo Surf Overview

The Mauna Kea hike is an uphill battle from the beginning. However, the shortness of breath and struggle in your legs will be rewarded by the superb Mars-like views. Once at the Mauna Kea summit, you will be able to enjoy miles of unobstructed views.

In this article, we have mentioned everything you need to know before hiking Mauna Kea. In addition to having all the necessary gear, be sure to attempt the hike in the summer or spring – this should give you the best conditions.

More Backpacking/Hiking Reviews:


  1. Mauna Ikea Hike – Summitpost.org
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!