5 star rating: Highly Recommended 285 Reviews

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  • Address: Saddle Road, Hilo, Hawaii 96720, USA
  • Admission: Free

Big Island of Hawaii ATTRACTIONS See all

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.

Tours & Tickets

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Mauna Kea Above the Clouds Sunrise Tour, Big Island of Hawaii, null
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 1 ADMISSION : 3

Mauna Kea Above the Clouds Sunrise Tour

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 1 Review

Avoid the overly crowded sunset on Mauna Kea. Instead, depart in the pre-dawn hours and take advantage of the glorious sunrise at Mauna Kea's summit, which ...  Read more

Location: Waikoloa Village, Hawaii
Duration: 7 hours (approx.)

From USD $250.00
Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Kona and Waikoloa - Small Group Tour, Big Island of Hawaii, Nature & ... 
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 1 ADMISSION : 5

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Kona and Waikoloa - Small Group Tour

4 star rating: Recommended 23 Reviews

Mauna Kea Summit is home to the world's largest telescopes and has atmospheric clarity better than anywhere else on earth. Breathtaking views from Hawaii's ...  Read more

Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 7 hours (approx.)

From USD $199.00
Mauna Kea Summit Small Group Stargazing Tour from Hilo, Big Island of Hawaii, 4WD, ATV & Off-Road ... 
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 1 ADMISSION : 5

Mauna Kea Summit Small Group Stargazing Tour from Hilo

4 star rating: Recommended 17 Reviews

Mauna Kea is home to the world's largest telescopes and has atmospheric clarity better than anywhere else on earth. You'll see breathtaking views from Hawaii's ...  Read more

Location: Hilo, Hawaii
Duration: 7 hours (approx.)

From USD $175.00
Hawaii Birdwatching Small Group Adventure Tour, Big Island of Hawaii, 4WD, ATV & Off-Road Tours
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 1 ADMISSION : 5

Hawaii Birdwatching Small Group Adventure Tour

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 2 Reviews

Get your binoculars ready for a small group adventure tour to Mauna Kea Forest Preserve for fantastic bird-watching opportunities. Visit both rainforest and ...  Read more

Location: Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 11 - 12 hours

From USD $203.13
Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour, Big Island of Hawaii, Nature & Wildlife
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 1 ADMISSION : 5

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour

Head to the Mauna Kea Observatory, nestled high in the mountains of the Big Island, and experience an intriguing and provocative journey through space and ...  Read more

Location: Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 8 hours (approx.)

From USD $223.96
Kilauea Hike and Glow from Kona, Big Island of Hawaii, Nature & Wildlife
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 2 ADMISSION : 3

Kilauea Hike and Glow from Kona

Get your hike on with one of the Park Service certified guides on this Kilauea Hike ‘n Glow tour. This is a specialized tour designed for adventurous guests ...  Read more

Location: Hawaii, Hawaii
Duration: 12 hours (approx.)

From USD $217.71
Small Group Tour: Deluxe Volcano Experience with Restaurant Dinner, Big Island of Hawaii, Nature & ... 
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 2 ADMISSION : 5

Small Group Tour: Deluxe Volcano Experience with Restaurant Dinner

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 52 Reviews

This first-class tour showcases the raw nature of the active volcano-Kilauea. Journey through the middle of the island on the brand new Saddle Road. The views ...  Read more

Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 12 hours (approx.)

From USD $238.53
Big Island Adventure Combo: Helicopter, Zipline and Lava Tour, Big Island of Hawaii, Night Tours
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 2 ADMISSION : 5

Big Island Adventure Combo: Helicopter, Zipline and Lava Tour

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 41 Reviews

Take your need for speed to new heights on this thrilling Helicopter, zipline and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park adventure. Imagine soaring over the ...  Read more

Location: Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 14 hours (approx.)

From USD $619.00
Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona, Big Island of Hawaii, Helicopter Tours
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 2 ADMISSION : 5

Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 61 Reviews

Get breathtaking views of Hawaii from the air! On this deluxe, two-hour helicopter tour of the Big Island, you’ll take off from Kona and fly above ...  Read more

Location: Kona, Hawaii
Duration: 100-120 minutes

From USD $539.00
Volcano by Air and Land: Helicopter, Coach, and Walking Tour of Volcanoes National Park from Kona, ... 
TVRM_SORTED : true ESSENTIAL : 2 ADMISSION : 5

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

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 5 Reviews

Immerse yourself in the wild beauty of Hawaii’s volcanoes on a full-day tour via helicopter, coach and foot. Venture deep into volcano territory as you ...  Read more

Location: Hawaii, Hawaii
Duration: 10 hours (approx.)

From USD $756.00

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