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Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory Tours

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Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory
Visiting the Mauna Kea Summit and Observatories gives you the feeling of being on top of the world for good reason: You’re actually pretty close. Standing at 13,796 feet (4,138 meters), the mountain is Hawaii's tallest and the highlight of many visitors' trips to the Big Island of Hawaii. The Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) feature some of the world's largest telescopes, including equipment from Canada, France, and the University of Hawaii, due to its designation as an unparalleled destination for stargazing.

The Basics
Mauna Kea tours depart from Hilo, Kona, and Waikoloa Village, and usually last upwards of eight hours. Whether you choose to visit for sunrise, sunset, a midday summit tour, or after-dark stargazing, the mountain makes for a popular day trip on the Big Island.

The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station sits at 9,300 feet (2,790 m) and features interactive displays and videos, with telescopes, talks, and tours. It’s important to stop here even if you’re headed to the summit to acclimate to the altitude. In addition to checking out the magnificent night sky, you can learn about Mauna Kea’s formation and why the mountain is considered sacred to native Hawaiians.

Insider Tip
Sunrise and sunset are great times to visit Mauna Kea. Enjoy stargazing (offered nightly from 6 to 10pm) and hot chocolate (available for purchase) at the Visitor Information Station, or rise bright and early to drive up to the summit in time to watch the sunrise.

Best Ways to Summit Mauna Kea
You can make an ambitious go of the summit on your own (on foot or in a vehicle), or join an organized summit adventure tour during visiting hours (from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset). From the Visitor Information Station, a roughly 10-hour, roundtrip hike on a rugged trail takes you to the top and back. Be prepared for a workout, and be sure to wear layers and sturdy closed-toe walking shoes; you’ll encounter all kinds of weather as you ascend above the Big Island’s layer of cloud cover. You must bring your own water and pack out your waste; there are no amenities on the trail.

If you’d rather drive to the top, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, plenty of water and sunscreen, and a keen eye for hazards. Depending on conditions, summit attempts can be particularly dangerous in winter. Mauna Kea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in a few hours.

Practical Info

How to Get There

The Visitor Information Station is an hour’s drive from Hilo, via Highway 200. From Kailua-Kona, the drive takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes on Highway 190; from Waikoloa, it’s about 50 minutes via the Saddle Road to the visitor center. Camping is not allowed on Mauna Kea.

What Makes Mauna Kea Ideal for Astronomical Sightseeing?

The Subaru Telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory, and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility take advantage of Mauna Kea’s ideal location near the equator and above most of the atmosphere’s water vapor, which means a clear view of stars in both of the earth’s hemispheres.
Address: Saddle Road, Hilo, Hawaii 96720, USA
Admission: Varies
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14 Tours and Activities to Experience Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory

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Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure TourNature & Wildlife

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour

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Experience big skies and incredible nighttime views on this Mauna Kea stargazing trip with a small group. Join no more than 28 guests for a pre-trip picnic at a historic Hawaiian ranch, proceeded by a ride in a 4x4 luxury van to the summit of the Big Island's tallest peak. After admiring a sunset view, continue down to 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) for a stargazing session, complete with a telescope, hot chocolate, and dessert. The trip also includes a guide and a hooded parka to keep you warm.
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  • 8 hours
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$236
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  • 8 hours
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Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILO4WD, ATV & Off-Road Tours

Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILO

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Hawaii’s natural wonders aren’t only on land and in the sea—the Big Island is also a prime spot from which to admire the wonders of the solar system. This tour is the only one that includes both afternoon solar viewing and nighttime stargazing, accompanied by astronomy experts. Visit Rainbow Falls and the Kaumana lava caves, then explore the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and use a state-of-the-art solar telescope and Dobsonian telescope to spot solar flares, galaxies, star clusters, and planets.
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  • 7 hours
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  • Free Cancellation
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$177
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  • 7 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from KonaHelicopter Tours

Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona

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Look down on the varied landscape of the Big Island from the air on a helicopter tour from Kona. This flight is longer than typical heli tours and provides the opportunity to be wowed by Hawaii’s amazing natural features, from waterfalls to volcanoes to rainforests. Fly along the coast and over Waimanu and Waipio valleys, and spot island industry like macadamia nut orchards. Upgrade to guarantee a window seat.
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  • 2 hours
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$559
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  • 2 hours
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Maunakea Stellar Explorer from KONA4WD, ATV & Off-Road Tours

Maunakea Stellar Explorer from KONA

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Hawaii’s natural wonders aren’t only on land and in the sea—the Big Island is also a prime spot from which to admire the wonders of the solar system. This tour is the only one that includes both afternoon solar viewing and nighttime stargazing, accompanied by astronomy experts. Visit different destinations in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and use a state-of-the-art solar telescope and Dobsonian telescope to spot solar flares, galaxies, star clusters, and planets.
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  • 6 hours 30 minutes
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$198
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  • 6 hours 30 minutes
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  • Free Cancellation

Stargazing, Lava Cave and Waterfalls + Free PhotosDay Trips

Stargazing, Lava Cave and Waterfalls + Free Photos

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Spend an unforgettable evening exploring volcanoes and stargazing on a truly off the beaten path adventure on Hawaii’s Big Island. See an active volcano, and then drive through the rainforest to see waterfalls, and an unusual lava tube cave. Finally, drive up Mauna Kea for spectacular stargazing with our professional photographer guide.
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  • 5 hours
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$280
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  • 5 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Expedition Big Island Air Tour- Kapalua DeparturesHelicopter Tours

Expedition Big Island Air Tour- Kapalua Departures

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Get an unbeatable aerial view of some of the world’s most active volcanoes on an air tour of the Big Island from Maui. Soar in a fixed-wing Cessna plane over the dramatic craters and valleys of the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park, looking for sparks and lava flows erupting from Kilauea Volcano. Admire the stately peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, plus waterfall-studded valleys and the dramatic sea cliffs of Waimea. Large viewing windows and live narration from two pilots ensure you don’t miss a thing.
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  • 2 to 3 hours
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$549
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  • 2 to 3 hours
  • Free Cancellation

Volcano by Air and Land: Helicopter, Coach, and Walking Tour of Volcanoes National Park from KonaHelicopter Tours

Volcano by Air and Land: Helicopter, Coach, and Walking Tour of Volcanoes National Park from Kona

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Experience the best of Volcanoes National Park on this adventurous Big Island helicopter tour, where you can easily see lava, steam, and cinder cones while circling above the volcano, and then touch down nearby to explore the park’s volcanic formations on foot. Throughout the day, expert pilots, guides, and drivers will accompany you to discuss the park’s history and legends, as well as the fascinating natural geology that changes by the day. To guarantee a helicopter seat by the window seat, upgrade to the preferred seating option for an unobstructed view.
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  • 10 hours
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$784
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  • 10 hours
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Endangered Native HabitatsNature & Wildlife

Endangered Native Habitats

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Discover Hawaii’s remarkable wildlife on a full-day, small-group birdwatching tour into the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Forest Reserve. Travel on foot and by four-wheel drive as you explore dry forest and rainforest habitats that shelter the endangered palila honeycreeper, the Hawaii amakihi and the Hawaii ‘elepaio. Listen for the calls of endemic songbirds as you traverse an otherworldly lava trail, then follow a local, bird-loving guide along forest paths into the distinctive, high-elevation mamane-naio ecosystem.
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  • 12 hours
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$215
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$215
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  • 12 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Private Grand Circle the Big Island Mercedes SprinterPrivate Sightseeing Tours

Private Grand Circle the Big Island Mercedes Sprinter

Complete a circuit of the Big Island during this 11-hour circle tour. Riding in style on board a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van with your party up to 11 other family members or friends, stop at the island's highlights and landmarks, including Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and South Point, the southernmost point in the U.S. While you travel, watch DVDs containing information about Hawaiian culture, traditions and history on board your vehicle. Pickup and drop-off at Kona hotels is included.
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  • 12 hours
From  
$1,499
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$1,499
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  • 12 hours

Waterfall Heli-Trek: Big Island Helicopter Tour and Hiking AdventureHelicopter Tours

Waterfall Heli-Trek: Big Island Helicopter Tour and Hiking Adventure

Two of the best ways to explore the Big Island of Hawaii are by air and your own two feet—both of which are possible with this Big Island helicopter tour and hiking adventure. Begin by exploring the island by air on a scenic flight, where you’ll experience the fury of Kilauea Volcano in Volcanoes National Park, and pass over pasture lands, black-sand beaches, and waterfalls that spill toward the coast. You’ll next touch down in North Kohala, the home of King Kamehameha, to hike through valleys and lush rainforests that were once inhabited by kings.
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  • 8 hours
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$794
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$794
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  • 8 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Big Island Mountain Biking on Anna RanchBike & Mountain Bike Tours

Big Island Mountain Biking on Anna Ranch

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Experience the ultimate mountain-biking adventure on the Big Island during this 2-hour, small-group ride through 100 acres of private ranch land. Open up on the custom-built trails of this exclusive riding area situated amidst the rolling hills near the Kohala Mountains. During your trip you’ll admire amazing views of Mauna Kea, check out a 40-foot (12-meter) tall waterfall and navigate through fields of green pasture and craggy lava rocks. This small-group ride, limited to 12 guests, includes a guide, high-end mountain bike and helmet, hydration drinks and energy bars.
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  • 2 hours
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$189
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  • 2 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Big Island - South Island Coastal Loop Driving Tour AppCultural Tours

Big Island - South Island Coastal Loop Driving Tour App

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Hawaii’s Big Island is renowned for its beautiful beaches, dramatic volcanic landscapes, and abundant wildlife. With this Shaka Guide app, explore independently at your own pace on a self-drive tour, using the GPS-programmed audio guide to direct you to all the top attractions. Follow the South Island Coastal Loop, stopping at sights including Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu'u Black Sand beach, and the Captain Cook Monument.
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  • 6 to 10 hours
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$10
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  • 6 to 10 hours
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  • Free Cancellation

Big Island - North Island Jungle Driving Tour AppCultural Tours

Big Island - North Island Jungle Driving Tour App

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Shaka Guide's driving tour app works like a tour guide in your car! On this tour drive along beautiful green coastlines, through tropical jungle roads, and go star gazing on the tallest mountain in the world. We've done our research so you will not miss a thing! Just sit back and listen to fun stories along the way.Skip the tour bus & explore Big Island at your own pace for a fraction of the cost with the best self-guided audio GPS tours for Hawaii! Rated the #1 best GPS tour app for Hawaii with over 6,000+ raving reviews and 200,000+ downloads. Why you need it:✅ You don't need service because you can download the tours & use them offline✅ Much cheaper than a tour bus at only $9.99 for lifetime access✅ Save time planning your trip because we have the best stops lined up✅ Freedom to stop and go as you please, unlike a tour bus where you are confined to the pre-determined route (no fun!)✅ Hear cool and fun stories along the way (and some corny joke's that might make you laugh)
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation

Ultimate Hawaii Waterfalls combo Dolphin Boat TourDay Cruises

Ultimate Hawaii Waterfalls combo Dolphin Boat Tour

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Experience Hawaii’s whales, waterfalls and wildlife with a 2.5-hour tour of the Hamakua coastline on a 40-foot (12-meter) catamaran from Hilo. Learn about this history of this lush region as you navigate past the old town, a sugar mill and some beloved local surf spots. Between December and April, watch humpback whales breach and play in the ocean, and visit a trio of waterfalls that tumble from coastal cliffs to the ocean. Get a glimpse of old Hawaii in Onomea Bay, where a tropical forest thrives on the protected coast.
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  • 2 hours 30 minutes
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  • Free Cancellation
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$145
From  
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  • 2 hours 30 minutes
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  • Free Cancellation


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