It's summit sits at 13,796 ft above sea level and is the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Eruptions at Mauna Kea began about one million years ago and was very active until about 500,000 years ago. It then entered a quieter phase and is currently dormant. The last known eruption was about 2460 BC ± 100 years, and therefore has no historical eruptions.
Mauna Kea as seen from Waimea
Today Mauna Kea is a wonderful deep red covered in cute little cinder cones. In the winter it can also be covered in snow!
So on to the important information, my tips on visiting Mauna Kea.
Was that clear enough?
Mauna Kea is a wonderful mix of science, scenery, history and culture. The geology is stunning. There are numerous cinder cones that can be climbed and photographed. Also the view from the summit is spectacular! The most noticeable feature about this destination is though the Observatories on the summit. Mauna Kea is home to some of the most amazing telescopes on the planet! The Mauna Kea Science Reserve is home to 13 different observation facilities and funding from these come from 11 different countries. There are telescopes for visible light, infrared, and three in the submillimeter spectrum as well as the radio spectrum.
Mauna Kea is a place I would not miss. You can visit the visitor center 365 days a year and star gaze at night. There is generally a constellation tour, and lots of telescopes out to look through. This was the location I first saw the rings of Saturn!
Also if you arrive on the weekend before 1pm (and you have a 4WD car with you) they will take you in a caravan up the mountain and inside the Keck 1 observatory! I found it hard to grasp the size of these telescopes until I actually saw them! It is breathtaking!
While you are up there I would suggest walking over to the summit where offerings are left, and stay to watch the sun set. You can see the shadow of the mountain on the atmosphere as the sun is setting.
In the winter locals drive up with their rigs and fill the backs with snow. There is also skiing and snowboarding that happens where there is fresh snow. I know it will feel strange to bring a jacket to Hawaii but this is one of the most magical places on the island!
Take the Saddle Rd (Hwy 200) from Kona or Hilo
The turn off is approximately 35 miles west of Hilo
Drive up to the visitors center and get out and check it out
the gift shop is science themed so I LOVE IT (surprised?)
Also if you go out back there is a little walk to see some of the remaining Mauna Kea Silver Sword
Hang out for a bit to acclimate (visitor center is at 9,000 ft)
And then take the tour or just head up to the summit yourself!
There are countless adorable cinder cones
The observatories make for a beautiful contrast to the barren geologic world around them
The Trail up to the summit
PROOF maybe that is why I take photos of bench marks. To prove I was there....
Mauna Loa and a cinder cone as seen by the snowman on the summit
Cuddled up on the top of the rental Jeep to watch the sunset
Sun dipping below the horizon
Locals getting snow to make snow men in their yards