Hawaii August 14, 2018
Take An Unforgettable Drive To The Top Of Hawaii’s Highest Mountain
Hawaii is full of majestic mountain peaks and lush valleys, but there is one summit that stands tall above the rest. Mauna Kea, or Mauna a Wakea in Hawaiian culture, is Hawaii’s tallest peak, but also one of the most fascinating mountains in the Pacific. To reach the summit of this towering mountain, take the Mauna Kea Access Road for an unforgettable — and potentially nerve-wracking — journey to more than 13,700 feet above sea level. It not only leads you to the summit of the Aloha State’s highest mountain but is one of the highest paved roads in the world as well. Let’s explore, shall we?
In Hawaiian mythology, the peaks of Hawaii Island are sacred, and Mauna Kea is considered to be the most sacred; an ancient law mandated that only high ranking ali’i could visit the summit. But today, anyone can visit, as long as you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and nerves of steel.
Measuring in at 13,796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is the tallest point in the state of Hawaii. In fact, when measured from its oceanic base deep in the vast Pacific, the mountain measures in at more than 33,000 feet tall – that’s higher than Mount Everest.
The eight-mile road to the summit from the visitor’s center requires that you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, and although it can be quite nerve-wracking, the expansive views from above the clouds are well worth the effort it takes to get here.
The access road was built in 1964, and while the dirt road is well-maintained, there are few guardrails found along this road littered with steep drop-offs.
Did we mention that only three miles of the eight-mile road is actually paved? Just 200 yards past the visitors center, the pavement ends and you will drive on a steep-grade gravel road for approximately five miles before reaching pavement again.
The summit area of Mauna Kea is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere across the Hawaiian Islands. Lying above the tree line and primarily consists of lava rock and alpine tundra, growth is restricted by extremely cold temperatures, a short growing season, little rainfall, and snow during the winter months.
While the summit is home to a few hiking trails, Mauna Kea is best-known as one of the best places in Hawaii to experience a vibrant sunset. The sunsets here are notorious, and you’ll love watching as the sun paints the sky in a variety of vibrant colors as you seemingly float above the clouds.
You might want to participate in a bit of stargazing, too. Due to the high altitude, dry environment, and stable airflow, the summit of Mauna Kea is one of the world’s best sites for astronomical observation, and once you reach the summit, you will find thirteen state-of-the-art telescopes funded by eleven countries.
Due to Mauna Kea's elevation and weather conditions, you might find yourself driving through thick fog, so be careful and use caution. Don’t forget to bundle up: temperatures can drop below freezing, and you might even encounter snow.
Whether you visit during the day or in the evening for sunset, the drive along the Mauna Kea Access Road to the highest point in Hawaii provides an experience you'll never forget.
Depending on the time of year, you might find
snow at the summit of Mauna Kea, so be sure to check out road and weather conditions before you head out.
Have you ever driven to the summit of Mauna Kea? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, and then read about Hawaii’s second tallest peak: