Mauna Kea | Island of Hawaii (Big Island) More information: https://bigislandhikes.com/mauna-kea Know Before You Go: This is a high-altitude and VERY steep hike through scree fields to a cold, snow-covered mountaintop. Be sure to acclimate at the Visitor Station for at least 30 minutes to avoid altitude sickness. Pack layers, plenty of water and sunblock. You will need to start early in the morning if you are going to make it to the top and back in the same day. We didn’t start early enough and were not able to get to the top because we had to catch a plane - learn from our mistake! Length: 12 miles round trip Time: 8 hours or more Difficulty: Difficult. Terrain: Rock, scree, some snow. Kid-Friendly: We took our 15 year old and he had no trouble but smaller children would struggle. Dog-Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed except for service dogs.
With an elevation of 13,803 feet above sea level and rising 33,000 feet from the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from its base beneath the ocean to its summit. Your quads will know it after you’re done hiking it.
This hike is largely devoid of trees and water but is strangely beautiful - especially the views. You get a bird’s eye view of nearby Mauna Loa and even off the ocean beyond the city of Hilo as you march up the rock and scree trail.
We started at the Visitor Center and acclimated for the recommended 30 minutes before deciding to hike one of the smaller summits close by prior to starting the big hike.
You need to register at the Visitor Center before embarking on a hike up Mauna Kea. From there, you are required to visit with the ranger to learn about the dangers of your hike prior to beginning. He reminded us that the symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, feeling sick, dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath - although I have no idea why you wouldn’t be short of breath while ascending 4,500 feet.
As we hiked up the mountain, gorgeous views began to emerge. We could look down into a crater. We could see the lava patterns on the recently-erupted Mauna Loa. We could even look down on the ocean and the city of Hilo below the clouds.
Be aware, there is snow on this trail as you hike higher. You will need layers as it is quite chilly as you approach the summit.
Most of the way up to the summit there is an alpine lake called Lake Waiau - a bright blue alpine lake.
This hike is completely doable as a day hike. We did not make the summit because we started too late in the day to hike the whole thing and catch our late afternoon flight. If you do make it close to the summit, keep in mind that it’s disrespectful to stand directly on the summit due to its sacredness.
This was by far the most difficult hike we did while in Hawaii, although the Kalalau Trail on Kauai was challenging due to the slick mud and the traffic. It’s well worth the effort considering the amazing views!