Like a lonely ribbon of black asphalt across the Big Island’s empty bosom, Saddle Road provides the fastest means of driving between Hilo and Kona. There was once a time when this remote stretch of highway was one of the worst roads in Hawaii, but substantial improvements and re-paving have made it accessible and open to cars.
From Hilo, Saddle Road climbs through residential neighborhoods towards a lush, mist-soaked rainforest. The green of ferns is gradually replaced by the brown of desert scrub brush, and fog is common as the road climbs toward 6,600 feet in elevation. Passing between the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa—Hawaii’s dueling 13,000-foot mountains that are often snowcapped in winter—the road passes the turnoff for the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center, where stargazers gather each evening.
Cell phone service is spotty on Saddle Road, and for the entire duration of its 48-mile stretch there are no gas stations or supply shops. While Saddle Road can be a time-saving alternative for driving between Kona and Hilo, visitors need to make sure they’re prepared to traverse a remote stretch of island. The journey is one of the most beautifully desolate and adventurously rugged stretches of road in the state, and it’s a convenient way for Kona visitors to access the east side of the island.
Also known as Route 200, Saddle Road reduces the Kona-Hilo driving time to one hour and 35 minutes. It’s a convenient alternative for visitors traveling to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and while the road is safest during the day, anyone driving the road at night must match out for feral cattle.