Welcome to Mauna Kea


For the scientific world, it all began in 1968 when the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) began observing the universe from atop the mountain. The summit is so high, dry, dark and pollution-free that it allows investigation of the furthest reaches of the observable universe.

Many Hawaiians are opposed to the summit 'golf balls' – the white observatories now dotting the skyline. While not antiscience, they believe unchecked growth threatens the mountain's wahi pana (sacred places), including heiau (temples) and burial sites. Litter, vandalism and pollution (including toxic mercury spills) have been a problem. Visit with respect, and pack out your trash.


Top experiences in Mauna Kea

Travel guides

Starting at $38.99

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Mauna Kea activities

$205 Day Trips & Excursions

Endangered Native Habitats

Puu Oo Trail is a historic cattle drive route located at the 6,000 foot (1800 meters) level of Saddle Road on Mauna Loa's northeastern flank. This is the windward side of the island and is often cloaked in misty clouds. It is enchanting to be serenaded by the forest birds as you cross three to four miles (5-6 km) of lava trail. At the Humuula hunter check-in station just off Saddle Road, you'll go into the Kaohe Game Management Area and four-wheel up to nearly 7,000 feet (2,100 meters) on the western side of Mauna Kea. Some of the avifauna you may spot along the way are iiwi, apapane, amakihi, omao, elepaio, and the elusive akiapolaau, with its unique multipurpose beak. In the dryforest, the track leads to a locked gate that is the entrance to the Mauna Kea Forest Preserve. Here, you'll have the opportunity to disembark from the van and take in the spectacular views. Then get down to some serious bird watching on foot in the mamane-naio forest. You'll particularly focus on sighting the critically threatened palila, which feeds almost entirely on the green pods of the mamane tree. There are two other endemics of note to be found here: the Hawaii amakihi, and the local species of the Hawaii elepaio (noted for the white feathering on its head).

$187.50 Day Trips & Excursions

Big Island BIG Volcano Adventure from Kona: Small Group

Immerse yourself in the waterfalls and rainforests along the famous Hamakua Coast before exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This tour is an awesome way to experience the Big Island's diverse scenery while expanding your knowledge of Hawaii in a small-group setting.After pickup from your hotel, embark on your journey to the lush rainforests that populate the east side of the island. Cruise along Highway 19 and pass though the town of Waimea, admiring vast cattle ranches that hold major significance in this part of the island's history. From Waimea, travel along the eastern flank of Mauna Kea volcano, commonly known as the famous Hamakua Coast. Thousands of years of erosion have carved deep valleys and steep cliffs into the side of the mountain, producing some of the island's most striking imagery. Stop at Laupahoehoe for an outstanding visual example of the Pacific Ocean's powerful ability to carve rugged pinnacles into the coastline.Continue along jungle roads to Akaka Falls, a stunning waterfall that plunges 442 feet (134 meters) into the Kolekole gulch below. Heading back from the falls, stop at Hilo Sharks in Honomu for some fresh local wraps. After lunch, head toward Hilo along some of the island's most scenic backroads. These roads wind along the Hamakua coast, through lush jungle gorges and past epic ocean vistas. Cap your tour with a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the summit of the Kilauea volcano. Gaze into Kilauea's vast summit caldera, relatively young at 500 years in age. Travel the east rift zone of Kilauea along Chain of Craters road, passing pit craters, scorched earth, steaming ground, and lava flows old and new. Enjoy plenty of time to look around and learn about what's happening both above and below the ground.Buy dinner at Lava Rock Cafe in Volcano and reflect on the day while preparing for one of the tour's most memorable highlights. Head back to Kilauea's summit after the sun has set and witness the stunning glow from Kilauea's very active lava lake before a hassle-free ride back to your hotel.