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28 miles (45.1 km) W of Hilo on Hawaii 200, then N on the access road to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy
Mauna Kea is the largest volcano on the Big Island, and the tallest volcano in Hawai'i, measured from the ground. If you measure from the seafloor, however, Mauna Kea is the largest mountain in the world, reaching down over 19,700 ft into the watery depths and 13,796 ft above sea level for a total over 33,500 ft (6.3 miles). Considered a dormant volcano, the last time it erupted was around 2460 BC. It was once covered by an immense ice cap.
Free, guided summmit tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00-5:00 PM, and the Onizuka Center offers free stargazing nightly from its telescope array as soon as the sun sets.
To access it, drive to the Onizuka Visitor's Center. There you will have to wait at least 30 minutes to get acclimated to the elevation which is almost at 10,000 feet.
Note: Some rental car companies may not allow travel on Hawaii 200 (Saddle Road) because of outdated information on road conditions. Saddle Road has been repaved, straightened, and widened between Hilo and Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa within the last two years and is much safer to drive. The road between the Kona side and Mauna Kea is currently being repaved and straightened. The road is curvy and at elevation with limited sight distance in many places.
Driving to the summit of Mauna Kea may not be allowed in your rental car agreement because it is unpaved and very steep. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended to get to the top of Mauna Kea. There is one company that will allow their vehicles to the summit (average $120/day). The nearest emergency services are at least two hours away and weather conditions can be dangerous. Plan on a full-day excursion if you plan on seeing Mauna Kea.
Note: There are tour companies on the Island that offer daily tours to Mauna Kea, usually pick up from a central location in the Kona area at around 2 pm & return by 10 pm. Tours usually include a dinner stop at the visitor's center (food provided), 30-45 minutes at the summit (timed for sunset - a sight not to be missed!), and stargazing at around the 9200 foot level (not far from the visitors center) after sunset. Parkas and gloves are also included and are needed. It stays cold at the summit (sometimes has snow up there) and is often very windy. It is not a place to go wearing your shorts, T-shirt, & sandals. These tours can be expensive (average $170/person) but do allow one to enjoy all of the sights without the worry of driving or dragging along cold weather gear on a tropical vacation.
See this page on visiting Mauna Kea before going.