Maunakea Tour: Maunakea Summit & Stars Adventure

General Information

Schedule: Afternoon trips depart daily from Hawaii Forest and Trail Headquarters, Waikoloa Queen’s Marketplace, and the Junction of Waikoloa Road and Highway 190. 7 - 8 hours round trip.
Rated: Easy to Moderate; ages 16 and over.
Included in the Tour: Picnic style dinner, assorted teas, hot chocolate, and dessert.  Dinner selections are either Barbecue Chicken (served hot) with Lemon-Mint Quinoa and a Dinner Roll; or a Vegetarian Tofu Wrap (served cold) with Peanut Dipping Sauce, Lemon-Mint Quinoa and a Dinner Roll.  Hot Chocolate and Brownies served for dessert.
Gear Provided: Hooded parkas and warm gloves.
Prices: Adult: $199.00, plus tax.
Group Size: Tour limited to a maximum of 14 guests.
Restrictions: Guests should be able to hike on uneven or rocky terrain. We sometimes encounter cool, wet or muddy conditions. Because of high altitude this tour is not advised for those with respiratory, circulatory or heart conditions, pregnancy or poor health. Scuba divers should be aware of altitude dangers. No children under 16. Other tour restrictions may apply.
What to Bring & Wear: Closed toe shoes, long pants and a sweatshirt or sweater.
If your desired date is sold out: This tour often sells out a week or more in advance. If you are unable to go on your desired date, you can also visit the summit on our Maunakea Voyage tour

Full Description

The drive to the summit of Mauna Kea is one you’ll never forget. It’s hard to believe you’re in Hawaii as you climb to 13,796 feet above sea level. Once at the summit we are afforded spectacular views of the horizon, Haleakala on Maui, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, and Mauna Kea’s world-class array of telescopes.  Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain, rising over 32,000 feet from the ocean floor to its summit, which is considered by many Hawaiians to be the most sacred place in all the islands.  In your hooded parka you’ll stand in awe at both nature’s sublime creation and man’s astonishing technological achievements.

Starting out from our headquarters in Kona, we travel up the coast over desolate lava flows for about a half hour before proceeding up the rolling pasturelands on the flanks of Mauna Kea. Turning onto the Saddle Road that traverses the island between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, you’ll see a dramatic and diverse landscape of ranchland, sub-alpine dryforest and rainforest (with striking features such as cinder cones, lava flows, lava tubes and kipuka).  We arrive at our private dinner location at Humuula approximately 2 hours before sunset for a hot, picnic dinner served family style.  After dinner and with a winter-style parka in hand, we’ll make the 45 minute drive to the summit.  As your make your way up, you’ll be fascinated by your Interpretive Guide’s interpretation of Hawaii’s remarkable natural, cultural, and geologic history.

After sunset we descend to the Visitor’s Information Station at 9,000 foot elevation. Here we set up our own telescope and have a star gazing party. Wrapped warm in Arctic parkas, enjoying hot beverages and cookies, you will marvel at the brilliance of the Hawaiian night sky.  Your Interpretive Guide will share with you stories of the observable universe, and offer you a personal and educational look at the heavens.


  1. Are guests allowed to go into the observatories? Some observatories are open to the public daily until 4 PM. As our tour arrives after this time, the observatories are closed to visitors.
  2. How cold is it at the summit of Mauna Kea? Average mean temperature is freezing.
  3. Is the vehicle ride bumpy and windy? The access road to the summit of Mauna Kea is four-wheel drive only, so it can be bumpy. Our custom off-road motor coaches will get you to the top and back in safety and comfort.
  4. What kind of telescope is used for star gazing? We utilize an 11” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
  5. What is the guide to guest ratio? Our maximum guide to guest ratio is 1:14.
  6. How many guests do take up per night? Our permit allows for a maximum of 2 vehicles per night and our vans carry a maximum of 14 passengers.
  7. Do we go up to Mauna Kea summit every night? We go every night, weather permitting.
  8. Are children allowed on this tour? Children under 16 are not permitted on this tour due to altitude.
  9. Is there much walking / hiking on this tour? There is minimal walking on this tour, the maximum being about 150 yards.
  10. I would like to see a specific astronomical event from the summit. How can I arrange this? Check out for upcoming astronomical events, and whether they will be observable in the Hawaiian sky.
  11. Will there be snow on our trip? Snow is seasonal at Mauna Kea, with the heaviest snowfall occurring during the winter months.
  12. What if it’s cloudy on Mauna Kea? The summit of Mauna Kea is normally above the clouds. If the weather (clouds, snow, ice or high winds) cause us to cancel the tour, there is no charge, of course.



We appreciate your comments! If you've taken a tour and would like to share your feedback, please leave a comment. If you have questions regarding tour specifics, like times, reservations or other details prior to your tour, please use the contact form.

By Lorraine on 2015/02/05

Feb. 2015 - This is a trip you’ll long remember. Driving from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet one transitions from dramatic lava flows to grasslands with beautiful cedar trees to a mountaintop scattered with snow. Watching the sunset above the clouds was incredible. The stargazing afterward was thoroughly enjoyable.  Our guide, Brett, was top notch and his enjoyment of the outdoors and the night sky was contagious. All in all, a great adventure.

By Charlotte on 2015/02/02

My friend and I had Maka as our guide on this utterly breathtaking tour last week - I was rendered speechless then and still am now! Maka was knowledgeable, fun, and overwhelmingly inspirational - from everything about Hawaiian history, mythology and culture, through to the astrology and science he answered every question with an infectious enthusiasm and passion that left me head-over-heels in love with The Big Island (and maybe a little with him too!) The view and sunset are outstanding and we were blessed with a clear night and amazing conditions for stargazing.
The company as a whole are incredible, (we also took the volcano tour with them) - each experience has been well thought through down to the last detail with everyone’s comfort and safety in mind and the small groups give a more personal feel to the day - worth every penny.
I am already planning another holiday to Hawaii which will without question include a return visit to Mauna Kea!

By Mark Cudney on 2014/11/13

Garry Dean is a fantastic guide. He found us all of the endemic birds because he knows all the songs and calls. He would not let us leave until we found the target species. He made sure that all of the participants obtained great looks. I will be back next year for the Hakalau Forest Tour.

By Sylvia DeLuca on 2014/11/02

Loved our Moana Kea tour with Maka. He has a great spirit and is very easy going and knowledgable. Loved the hawaiin music on the way home. The trip was everything I had hoped for. I was moved by the experience that I actually cried. Stunning views. We got lucky with some breaks in the clouds to do some star gazing. Seeing the moon up close was a great grand finale. Thank you Maka!!!

By Miriam on 2014/07/28

I came to the Big Island with two goals—to completely disconnect from my electronic tethers and to make it to the observatories on Mauna Kea.  I did both—partially because I left my I-Pad on the plane—but mostly because I got up early and stayed up late to see all the treasures the island had to offer.  I was fortunate to land on Makalani’s tour.  His enthusiasm is infectious.  Several folks on this tour commented on how his obvious love of the mountain made the trip—especially the star gazing—more exciting.  It seems like that shooting star was just icing on the cake.  He didn’t let the little bumps in the road—both literal and figurative—phase him.  From one naturalist to another—you rock Maka!!

By Liz McQuarrie on 2014/06/25

We brought three teenagers on this excellent tour with our enthusiastic and funny guide Maka.  It is a spectacular experience made even more incredible by Maka’s stories of Hawaiian culture, history, geography and of course, astronomy.  The food was also delicious.  On the top of Mauna Kea, my teens said “Mom, thank you for taking us on this tour!”.  (A first!)

By Corine Bonitatibus on 2014/05/13

This is the first time my family and I booked a tour with Hawaii Forest & Trail and have to say, we were not disappointed.  Our Tour Guide, Brett was fantastic, he made the tour both fun and interesting.  Within minutes of boarding our tour bus, he had every one feeling comfortable and interacting with the other guests on the tour.  We did not, at anytime, feel rushed, everyones questions were answered, we felt welcome.  I highly recommend Hawaii forest & Trail and will use them again in the future.

By Cheri & Barry Higgins on 2014/04/09

We went with Greg on the Mauna Kea Summit tour on March 31, 2014.  It was too snowy to get all the way to the summit, and the cloud cover didn’t allow much stargazing.  In spite of all our weather problems, we felt that Greg did a fabulous job sharing his knowledge of the various terrains of the Big Island.  The telescope was set up at lower altitude so we could look at Mars, the red planet.  Very cool.  We truly appreciated Hawaii Forest & Trails reimbursing us 50% of the cost of the tour.  Hope mother nature is more cooperative on our next trip up Mauna Kea.

By Gonzo on 2014/03/19

I just wanted to comment that we did a tour with you guys around Thanksgiving two years ago.  It was amazing, one of the best experiences I’ve had.  Our tour guide was really knowledgeable, he answered all my constant questions, the experience was unmatched, and the star tour afterwards was amazing.

I just wanted to say Thank you in public and highly recommend you guys to anyone else.

By Glenn on 2014/01/20

This sounds like a spectacular once in a lifetime opportunity. I am very interested in photography on the trip up and around sunset and twilight. Are there fairly frequent stops along the way for photo opportunities and short hikes to scenic areas?  Thanks! [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] We do stop 4 - 6 times throughout the tour, including dinner, the summit area and our stargazing location.  Due to the altitude, we typically don’t do much hiking, but the entire summit area is very scenic and usually has (weather permitting) amazing views of the Big Island, as well as Maui to the northwest.

By MJ on 2014/01/03

I am planning a trip to the Big Island and am very interested in this tour.  Have you ever had anyone suffer from altitude sickness on the trip?  The adults in my party are all normal & healthy, but I’ve read that doesn’t necessarily prevent altitude sickness.  Thanks! [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] It is not uncommon for guests to experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness (light headedness, blurry vision), but moderate to severe symptoms (severe nausea, vomiting, headaches) are more rare.  Our guides to carry oxygen and are trained to administer it.  Guests that are in general good health are usually not at risk to develop altitude sickness, but we do ask that if you have had problems at altitude before, to not travel to the summit.

By Paula on 2013/12/29

We are staying in Volcano.  Where would be the closest pickup point for us? [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] For guests staying in Volcano Village, the closest pickup location is at the Puuhuluhulu Hunter Check In Station on Saddle Road, at the intersection with the Mauna Kea Access Road.  Approximate drive time one way is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

By Steve on 2013/12/09

I heard there was a possibility of light-headedness or dizziness, strange feeling when reaching the top. Also heard some people say they had to get down quickly because of such a feeling, does this occur and if so, not to disrupt the entire group tour, what happens in this situation? Thank you. [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] The symptoms you describe are not uncommon, and typically not a problem for adults in general good health.  Our guides carry and are certified to administer oxygen in the case of more severe symptoms such as headaches and nausea.  If at that time the symptoms do not improve we gather the group and depart the summit area.  Guests can opt out of the summit experience and remain at the Visitor Information Station at 9,000’ if they have concerns about complications due to altitude sickness.

By Cindy on 2013/12/03

Hi, I have question for the telescope session, how many telescopes would you provide?  Are the stars visible to naked eyes?  If only one telescope my concern is to stand there doing nothing and freezing for too long.  Also, i saw below comments that you provide pick up at hilton Waikoloa village, when is the leaving time from this location?

Thank you

[Hawaii Forest & Trail:] We provide one telescope for up to 14 guests.  On a typical evening, the stars are visible to the naked eye, along with constellations, planets and satellites.  Our stargazing program focuses as much on objects that everyone can see at the same time as objects we view through the telescope and our guides carry laser pointers to clearly point out objects in the sky.  We do pick up at the Hilton, and the departure time varies throughout the year.  Please contact us at your convenience at 1-800-464-1993 with your dates and we’ll be able to provide an exact pickup time.

By Sandy on 2013/10/11

I’ll be visiting Kona Dec. 16-20.
It looks like there’ll be a full moon during that time.
Can you still see a lot of the constellations from Mauna Kea?  There have been several comments about the full moon.
It will be a birthday outing, too?  Can cake/cupcakes be ordered?
Thanks!  [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] When looking at the moon phases, something to consider is the moon rise time.  We stargaze for about 1 hour starting about 30 minutes after sunset.  Quite often, the moon is rising after our star party, so it doesn’t affect stargazing.  Give us a call toll free at 1-800-464-1993 and we’d be happy to look at moonrise times for you.

By Boris Soto on 2013/10/09

Good Afternoon going to be staying at the Hilton Waikoloa Village next october and interested in doing the Mauna Kea tour. My first question how far in advance would i have to book? And second do you provide transportation from the Hilton Waikoloa Village to and from?

Thank you

[Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Aloha Boris.  Yes, we do provide a pickup from the Hilton Waikoloa Village.  The Mauna Kea trip is our most popular tour, so we recommend booking at least 2 - 6 weeks prior to your visit.

By Warren Dang on 2013/10/07

I give Hawaii Forest and Trail five stars for the Mauna Kea summit tour.  This is my 3rd time up the mountain, but this time, I went on a guided tour.  Nate our driver was full of so much facts and scientific explanations in the tour, I felt challenged for the next 7 hours driving up the Mountain.  Don’t waste your time going up by yourself, because this tour took me to locations I never knew existed near the summit.  They fed me hot food at a private location, heard a conch shell bellow before dinner, and took a private tour looking through their telescope with incredible scientific information, that made me scramble for astronomy text books when I got home.  And don’t forget the hot chocolate and brownies while wrapped in new parkas and gloves when gazing at the stars away near the Visitor Center on a cold, dark clear night.  Thumbs up on the tour company and Nate!

By Paul & Marion Gaw - Burlington Canada on 2013/09/10

Great tour. The trip to the top with stops along the way was exciting and educational. Our guide Nate enhanced the entire trip with a mix of history, culture and astronomy. His enthusiasm and interactive approach got everyone on our tour involved. His attention to safety and the well being of all his passengers is commendable as the tour involves significant changes in elevation and environmental conditions that can impact an individuals health quickly.
Once at the summit the views are spectacular. The observatories and breathtaking clouds beneath let you know and feel you are on top of the world. The sunset offers a chance for some once in a lifetime photos while the backdrop of the gigantic telescopes around you take you out of the present for a moment as you ponder how small our world is among the universe.
Nate takes over again with his interactive tour of the night sky at the acclimation level near the visitor centre at 9000 feet on the way back down. Offering an insight to some of the wonders with his knowledge, humor and 11inch telescope you get the feeling he could be working in a planetarium in his spare time.
Back at sea level you take a beep breath and acknowledge that this was one lifetime memory from your vacation that you will try to share with family and friends for years to come.
Hawaii Forest & Trail deliver exceptional value and if all their guides are as engaging as Nate you will enjoy every minute of your adventure.

By FREDERIC PALLANCA on 2013/09/08

Excellente sortie, l’organisation est parfaite.
Le guide est excellent, il nous fait découvrir constellations et planètes. A conseiller pour tous ceux qui veulent aller au sommet dans les meilleurs conditions.

By Kristen on 2013/08/13

Hi! Was wondering how scary the drive is- we have someone in our group who is afraid of heights/roads with steep dropoffs to the side. Thanks! [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] The road is fairly narrow in some areas with a steep drop on one side.  Our seating is two seats by two rows so it might work if your friend takes the aisle seat instead of the window seat.

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