Mauna Loa’s status as the largest active volcano in the world doesn’t stop travelers from flocking to the rugged mountain—in fact, it attracts them. With its last eruption occurring in 1984, the volcano is known for non-explosive activity, making it an inviting and worry-free destination to explore on scenic drives or backcountry trails.
Set within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa’s unfurling flanks make up half the landmass of the Island of Hawaii, and its 13,679-foot (4169-meter) peak is high enough to catch the occasional snow. Most visitors to Mauna Loa explore the volcano on a scenic drive—you can also book a guided tour to enjoy the views without worrying about driving. If you want to explore on foot, opt for guided treks ranging from day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. To get a scope of the true size of the volcano, take a helicopter flight above Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Things to Know Before You Go
- It can be cold and windy on the mountain, so bring warm layers and a windbreaker if you plan to get out of your vehicle.
- Multi-day hikes require permits and spots are limited, so contact the National Park Service before planning a backcountry trip.
- Some areas (such as the Mauna Loa Lookout) have wheelchair- and stroller-accessible walkways and vault toilets.
- Volcanic rock makes sturdy shoes a necessity if you want to hike the trails.
How to Get There
Mauna Loa is located an hour’s drive from Hilo, within the Hawaii Volcano National Park. A popular choice for viewing the park is to drive Saddle Road, which cuts between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. To explore the upper reaches of Mauna Loa, turn off Saddle Road onto Mauna Loa Observatory Road and follow it to the Mauna Loa NOAA Atmospheric Observatory, which sits just below the summit at 11,140 feet (3395 meters).
When to Get There
While the mountain is a popular destination year-round, plan your trip in the spring or fall to avoid the worst crowds. You can also visit in the late evening or even after dark for stargazing. Trail closures are common in the park, so check the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website before planning a hike.
Hiking to the Summit of Mauna Loa
The summit of Mauna Loa can only be reached on foot and is accessible by two backpacking routes. Both are considered strenuous due to rugged terrain and high altitude. You can choose a challenging day hike that begins at the Mauna Loa Observatory or a trek of more than 30 miles (48 kilometers). The route includes cabins where hikers can stay along the way.