We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

“Get a 4wd vehicle (with low range) and go up the mountain”
Review of Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea Summit
Book In Advance
More Info
and up
Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour
Ranked #2 of 138 things to do in Kailua-Kona
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Owner description: At 13,796 feet, this peak offers an incredible view of lava, desert, the valley and Mauna Loa.
Reviewed 29 April 2014 via mobile

Before going to the Big Island, I was told that driving to the summit of Mauna Kea was to be avoided as the road was extremely hazardous and altitude sickness would render me stupid and helpless at 13,700 feet.

Well, I'm here today to say that with appropriate equipment and experience, the drive to Mauna Kea is easy and the views at the top are extremely rewarding.

I live in the western USA and have some experience with driving 4x4s on forest service roads in the Cascades and the Sierras. As long as you have a truck or SUV with a low range transfer case (you're on the Internet, look it up) and know how to use it, Mauna Kea is damn easy to go up and down during the day. Shift into 4wd Low right before you leave the pavement. Go up the hill at no more than 20 miles per hour. When you're going downhill, manually shift your vehicle into 2nd (1st isn't needed, this isn't Waipio Valley...) and go down the hill at no more than 20 mph. In low range and second gear you should barely need to touch the brakes during your trip down the mountain.

Note that unless you rent from a local rental car company (Island Discount, Harpers, etc) you probably aren't technically permitted to drive up to the summit of Mauna Kea. That having been said, I saw multiple new SUVs at the summit of Mauna Kea, and they weren't private vehicles or local rental cars. The bar codes and non smoking signs are always a dead giveaway.

As far as altitude sickness goes? I'm in my early 30s and consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I'm not a Crossfit addict or a marathon runner, but I did fine on top of Mauna Kea and even hiked to Lake Waiau (about 500 feet of elevation below the summit, takes about 45 minutes to an hour). I don't know why there are so many scare stories about altitude sickness on Mauna Kea. If you've skied or hiked in Colorado or the Sierras you'll be fine.

Don't let the negative nellies on TA scare you away. Rent a 4x4, drive up during the day, enjoy the awesome views and have fun.

7  Thank swp81
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Write a ReviewReviews (3,812)
Traveller rating
Traveller type
Time of year
  • More languages
All reviews
"wheel drive"
in 284 reviews
"visitor center"
in 549 reviews
"star gazing"
in 312 reviews
"mauna kea"
in 490 reviews
"warm clothing"
in 47 reviews
"milky way"
in 121 reviews
"night sky"
in 141 reviews
"altitude sickness"
in 56 reviews
"watch the sunset"
in 129 reviews
"ranger station"
in 36 reviews
"sea level"
in 88 reviews
"the big island"
in 278 reviews
"rental car"
in 112 reviews
"tallest mountain"
in 35 reviews
"gravel road"
in 59 reviews
"high altitude"
in 54 reviews
"sun goes down"
in 37 reviews

2,202 - 2,206 of 3,812 reviews

Reviewed 28 April 2014

The scenery in this area is so diverse. You are, literally, right in the clouds and even above them. There are places where you feel like you're on a different planet, dark, foggy, spooky. Then you're back in the sunshine again. It's crazy. The interpretive centre which is located at the base of the summit is very informative. I encourage everyone to take the time to read up on Mauna Kea there. Mauna Kea is the perfect place to go and see just what a diverse place the Big Island is.

1  Thank Mona67
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 28 April 2014

It is astounding to see the night sky from the top of Mauna Kea. There is a reason why so many observatories are located here, in the middle of the dark Pacific at almost 14,000 feet. Believe me about the cold! Down gear would not be out of place!

Thank ras828
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 April 2014

Parkas are handed out for 30 degree summit. I brought own vest,
scarf, hat, gloves as well. Part of road to summit very bumpy.
Worth the trip. Beautiful Island landscape & informative driver of
4 wheel vehicle. Sunset amazing.

Thank Lorena M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
See more reviews
Reviewed 26 April 2014

We went with a paid tour that cost me and my wife about $350. We had a Jeep but were "advised" not to drive. Don't believe it. I have taken my 2 wheel drive Ford Escape on rougher terrain. Save your money and drive it yourself. Bring lots of water, warm cloths...it was about 40 degrees in April and the wind was blowing. But the view is incredible. Due to cloud cover, we did NOT get to see a sunset, but, the colorful clouds and the sun peeking through were fantastic. Our "guide" did give us some interesting info on the way up, but nothing that can't be learned on the Internet. Stop at the Visitors Station about 2/3 of the way up and get used to the thin air. MANY people up there got light headed so be careful. Everyone MUST come down at dark so be prepared to drive down a steep unpaved road in the dark. Plan on arriving at the summit no later than 30 minutes before sunset and leaving after sunset. After dark, go back to the Visitors Station to do some stargazing. They have a few small telescopes set up. We got to see Jupiter in two of them. If you go with a camera, be sure to bring a tripod to get the best shots of both the sunset and the starts.

3  Thank dgoldattorney
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

Travellers who viewed Mauna Kea Summit also viewed

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Island of Hawaii
Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Island of Hawaii

Been to Mauna Kea Summit? Share your experiences!

Write a Review Add Photos & Videos

Owners: What's your side of the story?

Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.

Claim Your Listing