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"Ka Piko Kaulana O Ka Aina"
(The Famous Summit of the Land)

Visitor Station, Lake, Observatories, Summit

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  • Drive starts from the Exit of Liliuokalani Park in Hilo.
  • Approx. 45 miles from Start to End of Drive.
  • Approx. 1-3/4 hrs. hour driving time from Start to End of drive excluding time spent at "stops".
  • All distances are to the nearest tenth of a mile.
  • Do not leave valuables in vehicle or unattended.
  • For your safety, please observe Cautionary Notes on drive "stops" below.
  • Set Odometer to Zero between "stops" below.
  • Mauna Kea ("White Mountain") is a dormant volcano in one of the most remote locations in the Islands. It is the highest island-mountain in the world rising 32,000 ft. from the ocean floor to 13,796 ft. above sea level.
  • Mauna Kea is host to the most sophisticated collection of astronomy facilities in the world and is home to rare flora and fauna. Stay on marked trails to protect plant and animal life.
  • Mauna Kea is sacred to Native Hawaiians. It is the focal point of a number of Native Hawaiian traditions, beliefs, customs and practices attributed with spiritual and cultural significance. Your respect for the practices and beliefs of Native Hawaiians is important to the well-being of Mauna Kea. Leave the mountain in as pristine a condition as you found it. Leave no scars on the land.
  • Before driving to Mauna Kea, call 935-6268 (recording) for weather conditions.
  • Mauna Kea has no public accommodations, food, or gas. The observatory buildings are usually closed to the public. (The Keck Observatory and the UH2.2m telescope visitor galleries are open at certain times.)
  • Begin your visit at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) and spend at least 30 minutes at the VIS to allow your body to adjust to the elevation.
  • Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required above the VIS (9,200 foot level) to cope with the steep, partially unpaved 8 mile road beyond the VIS that rises nearly 5,000 feet to the summit. Check your rental car company's Policy.
  • Observe the 25 mile/hour speed limit. Report all accidents to the Rangers/Staff.
  • Vehicles should be in good working condition with sufficient fuel. Emergency services, including medical and auto assistance, may be two hours away.
  • Use low gear when descending rather than relying on your brakes.
  • Hikers are encouraged not to hike alone and to advise Rangers of their plans.
  • Dress for altitude - weather is often cold and/or wet and can change rapidly. Daytime temperatures can range from the 50s to well below freezing; wind speeds can exceed 100 miles per hour; ultra violet radiation is very intense and severe sunburn can occur rapidly; the summit atmosphere is extremely dry.
  • Use sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing. Drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated to fend off the effects of altitude sickness.

(Click on PHOTOGRAPH to view Stop on Tour.)
See Also: A Mauna Kea Pictorial

(9,200 ft. elevation)
DIST/TIME: Approx. 37.2 Miles / 1 Hour  
WATCH FOR: Mile Marker 28 on the Saddle Road  
  • Exit Liliuokalani Gardens & turn left onto Banyan Drive
  • Go 0.9 mile to end of Banyan Drive at intersection of Kamehameha Ave. & Kanoelehua Ave. (traffic light)
  • Cross intersection & go 1.9 mile on Kanoelehua Ave. to W. Puainako Street (traffic light - right side)
  • Turn Right onto Puainako Street & go 1.6 mile to end of Puainako Street (Stop Light)
  • Turn Right at stop light and immediately get into left lane
  • Make an immediate left turn which puts you onto the Saddle Road (Hwy 200)
  • Stay on the Saddle Road & go 26.6 miles to Mauna Kea Access Road (just before Mile Marker 28)
  • Turn Right onto the Access Road & go 6.2 miles to the Visitor Information Station
At the Visitor Information Station (VIS) there are informational panels, interactive displays, information handouts, a video program, and the First Light Bookstore containing many books about astronomy and Hawaiian culture. There is food for sale, hot water containers and a microwave for your convenience.

Note: Open 9-10 daily all year, tel. 961-2180. From 10-10, there are telescopes ready for public use at the station. During the daytime, there is a solar telescope available for viewing that is pointed at the sun and equipped with protective filters. The Stargazing program is conducted daily from 6-10.There are special programs on Saturday night and a public Escorted Summit Tour conducted every Saturday and Sunday (see below).

The Park Ranger Escorted Summit Tour Program:
  • All participants must have their own 4-wheel drive transportation to the summit.
  • Everyone must be at least 16 years of age
  • No one may be pregnant.
  • Persons who are extremely over-weight, in poor health, and those with a history of heart or respiratory problems should check with their personal physician before planning a trip to the summit of Mauna Kea.
  • No one should have been SCUBA diving in the previous 24 hours.
  • All of these regulations are strictly enforced! Please call the road report number, 935-6268, to hear a recording of the current road conditions on the summit. The summit tour will happen as long as the road is open.
  • Participants must arrive at the VIS by 1:00 PM on Saturday or Sunday. After the orientation, there will be a caravan up to the summit which takes about 1/2 hour up the graded gravel road and the speed limit is 25 miles an hour. The tour will go into at least one of the Keck I telescope and the University of Hawaii 2.2 meter telescope and will end between 4:15 and 4:30 pm.
  • Those wishing to stay at the summit may do so, but the rangers will escort people off the summit a half-hour after sunset. Be sure that you have a full tank of fuel in the vehicle you are driving to Mauna Kea. The steep grade combined with the lower oxygen level makes internal combustion engines run inefficiently. Fuel is NOT available for purchase on Mauna Kea!
Caution: Due to the effects of high elevation, it is strongly advised that persons in the following categories not travel beyond the VIS to the summit of Mauna Kea: persons under 16 years of age; pregnant women; anyone with high blood pressure, heart or respiratory conditions; scuba divers with less than 24 hours after their last dive; anyone who has been drinking alcohol.

DIST/TIME: Approx. 7.1 Miles / 30 Mins.  
WATCH FOR: Mile Marker 7  
  • Turn Right from the Visitor Information Station parking lot & go 7 miles to Mile Marker 7
  • Park at Parking Lot #3 (just beyond Mile Marker 7)
  • When out of car, turn around, look back downhill towards the road, and you will see 2 cinder cones. Hike between them to the lake.
At 13,020 feet above sea level, Lake Waiau is one of the highest lakes in the world and one of very few in the state of Hawaii. It is relatively small, only about 100 meters across, and varies in size as the water level rises and falls.

Note: Waiau - literally "Swirling water" is a crater that became a lake. Named for "Kapiko o Waiau", a goddess who was the ward of Poliahu (the goddess of Mauna Kea). Waiau is situated to the southwest of the summit. The lake is accessible via an approx. 30 minute walk one-way from the road.

(Earth's connecting point to the rest of the Universe)
DIST/TIME: Approx. 1 Mile / 15 Mins.  
WATCH FOR: Mile Marker 8  
  • Leave Lake Waiau parking area and return a very short way to the fork in the road.
  • Stay to the left & go to Mile Marker 8 - opposite the Summit of Mauna Kea
  • Park in front of the University of Hawaii 2.2-m Telescope
Mauna Kea has become the world's premier site for 13 ground-based astronomical observatories operated by astronomers from 11 countries. More major telescopes are now located on Mauna Kea than on any other single mountain peak in the world. The University of Hawaii 2.2-meter (88-inch) telescope was the first - it commenced operation in 1970 and has become one of the most productive telescopes of its size in the world. Summit skies are pure, dry and free from atmospheric pollutants. The Keck telescopes are the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world.

Note: The Keck Observatory and the UH2.2m telescope have visitor galleries from which the telescopes may be viewed at certain times. The Keck gallery is generally open 10am - 4pm Mon-Fri, while the UH 2.2m is usually open 9.30am - 3.30pm Mon-Thurs. The Keck gallery includes a 15-minute video, interactive kiosk, public restrooms and a viewing area with partial views of the Keck I telescope and dome. It does not provide tours of its summit facilities. Information about the observatories and the environmental, cultural and geological features of Mauna Kea is available. For information, please call 961-2180.

At this altitude, the atmospheric pressure on your body is roughly half of the pressure at sea level. Your body may not adjust properly to this condition. Symptoms can include: shortness of breath, headaches, dehydration, nausea, impaired reason and drowsiness, and loss of balance and muscle coordination. High altitude sickness can lead to serious - even life-threatening - situations. The only way to alleviate these conditions is to descend to a lower elevation.   

(13,796 feet)
DIST/TIME: Not Applicable - Hike to Summit!  
WATCH FOR: Hill opposite the UH 2.2 m. telescope  
  • Leave car parked in front of the University of Hawaii 2.2-m Telescope
  • Walk across from the observatory, climb over a guardrail and take the trail leading to the top of the hill. This is the summit of Mauna Kea
With only about 60% of the oxygen at sea level, it is a tough climb to the top. It is challenging and very cold but it is one of the most breathtaking views - you feel you are at the top of the world. On a clear day you can see forever ...

Note: There is only a small sign on the door of the University of Hawaii Observatory indicating where to hike to the Summit. The hike is approx. 30 min. one-way.


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