Mauna Kea Trip Report

Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano standing 13,796 ft above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the state of Hawaii. However, much of the mountain is under water; when measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is over 33,000 ft tall, even taller than Mount Everest. With its high altitude, dry environment, and stable airflow, Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Since the creation of an access road in 1964, thirteen telescopes funded by eleven countries have been constructed at the summit

Susan and tackled this one together and since there is a road going most of the way up, we drove a jeep. This track starts from the Visitor Information Center at 9000 feet AKA “The VIS”. From there we drove up the winding road to the observatories, and finally I hiked the remainder to the summit at 13,796 ft.
Driving up the mountain on the narrow and twisty washboard dirt road was in itself quite the adventure, and the view was spectacular once we broke through the clouds. The washboard surface violently vibrated the jeep, and I was glad to be in a rental and not my own car as I could picture various screws, fasteners and bolts working their way loose. Once we hit the upper part of the mountain, it was a beautifully paved road, apparently this keeps the dust down for the observatories.

It took about 45 minutes to drive up to the observatories stopping for a few photos along the way. Once at the observatories, we got out, snapped a few pics, and since it was very cold and windy Susan waited while I hiked up to the summit and back. I had to double time it (literally jog) to make it back in time to share the most amazing sunset I have ever seen with my lover.

Sunset was absolutely amazing, as we were above the clouds with the mountains peaking through the tops. It was really quite breathtaking, and as the sun went lower, it only got better. And while we took over a hundred pictures, they cannot do it justice.

But that was just the beginning, after the sun went down we were treated to a brilliant night sky. I now understand why the observatories are here. The stars felt so close you could reach out and touch them. The milky way was a vivid stripe across the heavens and it was a glorious site. It was quite emotional, and touched us both deeply.

With tears in our eyes, Susan and I prayed together thanking God for allowing us to be at that place at that time to observe some of his best work.


Rent a 4WD (required by the park), and take 30 minutes at the VIS to acclimate. Stay for the stargazing at the VIS afterward. Wear several layers of clothing. It is very cold and windy at the top. I was so cold I could barely think at the summit and had trouble working my camera, zippers, ETC. And I had a synthetic base layer, a fleece mid layer and a GoreTex outer layer. However, I only wore a single layer pant, and no gloves, which was a big mistake.Our schedule was as below, but we checked in at the VIS at 4:00. I had to rush the summit hike so I have adjusted the time below accordingly so this should work well for you.
3:30 Check in at the VIS to acclimate (9,000 ft)
4:00 Drive to top and park near observatories
4:45 Hike to summit (13,796 ft) snap pics and hike back to observatories
5:45 Settle in for an amazing sunset, and take photos (bring a tripod)
6:30 Sunset (this was in late Sept)
7:00 Drive back down to VIS
7:45 Stargazing at VISThe stargazing at the VIS starts at 6:00 with a lecture, which is quite good, but in my opinion, seeing the stars from the top was priceless. They provide very high quality telescopes, the most expensive one was $14,000 and was really big and very bright. This happens every night and ends at 10:00. The night we were there they had two different acts from live entertainers, both were quite good, and it was a nice backdrop to the evening.
Mauna Kea, Stargazing, Hawaii Highpoint