Mauna Kea Tour: Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure

General Information

Schedule: Afternoon trips depart daily from Hawaii Forest and Trail Headquarters, Waikoloa Kings’ Shops, and the Junction of Highways 190 and 200. 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 Homemade Cornbread and Coleslaw; or a Vegetarian Spinach Wrap (served cold) with Glazed Carrots and Tabouleh.
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.

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.

FAQs

  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 www.space.com/nightsky 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.

 

Comments

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 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
Cindy

[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
Boris

[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.
Merci

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.

By Josephine on 2013/08/13

Do you pick up and drop off at the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Beach Hotel ?

I’m disappointed that my 11-year old is considered too young for this tour.  I appreciate all the concerns about this policy, I really do, but she’s a perfectly normal healthy kid.  Are you able to make an exception to the policy?

Thank you!

[Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Unfortunately, we do not have a pickup available at the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel, but we’re just a short cab ride away.  The age requirement is dictated by the Office of Mauna Kea Management, the state agency that manages Mauna Kea and we are obligated to abide by their rules.  So sorry we can’t accommodate your daughter on this visit but hope you all can join us in a couple of years!

By Michelle Keenan on 2013/07/28

We took the tour to Mauna Kea on Juy 20, 2013.  What a wonderful, memorable experience.  Our tour guide, John, was excellent!  He gave us an awesome tour, was very knowledgeable, and friendly.  He went above and beyond to see if we could do some stargazing on a very cloudy night, and when we could not, he was very apologetic, even though we were all assured that the clouds are not in his control.
He is a true asset to your company!

By Vicki on 2013/07/26

Is the junction of 190/200 close the Parker Ranch? My maps don’t seem to show route 190. What time do you leave in the afternoon? Also are tours available 7 days a week? Thanks!! [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Yes, route 190 is close to the Parker Ranch Headquarters in Waimea.  Look for Route 190, also called Hawaii Belt Road, heading south out of Waimea/Kamuela.  Departures vary seasonally with the sunset times, but generally between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm and do operate 7 days a week.  Trips typically sell out 5 - 10 nights in advance, so check with us early for best availability.

By Tim on 2013/07/20

Do you stop at the VIS on the way to the summit?
How long do you spend at the VIS stargazing?
How long are you at the summit?
Do you visit the Keck visitor’s center or the Subaru?
Can I use my camera on your telescope if I provide the mount?
We will be on the island and available from August 25th through August 31st. When would be the best time for stars, planets and nebula?

[Hawaii Forest & Trail:]  Great questions!  Yes, we stop at the VIS on the way up and the way down before our stargazing program.  We typically stargaze at an area just below the VIS to avoid the crowds, and our star show lasts 1 - 1.25 hours.  We stay at the summit for 30 - 45 minutes.  The public areas of the Keck Visitor Center and Subaru close at 4:00 pm, so we do not visit those two sites.  Yes, you’re welcome to use your camera on our telescope provided it doesn’t impact the other guests from using the telescope.  Any night would be good.  The moon will be waxing from 76%, but moonrise won’t be until around 10:00 pm.

By Rajesh on 2013/07/10

We are planning a tour to Kona in late August 2013. We have two children aged 7 and 10 years. I understand that they may be too young to go all the way to the summit. Does your tour allow us to go upto the visitor center only ? If not, can you suggest any other way for us to at least get a partial experience of Mauna Kea? [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Yes, we do give guests the opportunity to disembark the tour at the Visitor Information Center at 9,000 feet.  You may also consider driving your own car to the VIS.  They give a free star show there, nightly.  It’s not quite as intimate as ours, but that way you’ll have the ability to come and go as you please.

By Elisabeth on 2013/07/07

Hello. We will be travelling with our son, who is 15 1/2. You write in the description that the minimum age is 16. Could he still come? [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Although not recommended, we do allow children as young as 13 to attend when the completion of an additional waiver.

By Gregg on 2013/06/29

Like many people, I debated as to wether I should rent a jeep and drive up the summit myself, or spring for the somewhat pricey tour.
Research told me to expect light-headedness, possible dizziness (due to 40% less oxygen), no lights, and bone-ratteling sections (miles) of the road. I went with the tour and I’m glad I did. Reason: on our decent, we came upon a jeep that rolled off the road. Yep. I made the right decision.
Jon, our guide, delivered information in a way that belied the true depths of his knowledge. There wasn’t a question that was asked that he couldn’t answer. And he was asked ALL SORTS of questions (several of which had nothing to do with the tour!)
My only caveat is: try and time it where the moon is minimal. I went during the “Super Moon”...because that’s what I wanted to see. And it was awesome! But the trade-off was that a lot of the other celestial sights were washed out. And Jon even warned us about it. Still, I had hoped to see the Milky Way, or the Magellanic Clouds. But that darn Super Moon…..
Jon opened up his new telescope and we saw more things than I remember: Saturn, a double star, Southern Cross, satellites, and he even tried to find us a “moonbow”! But the pics of the moon that I got from his telescope made up for it.
Yes, it’s cold up there. But not too bad. The only problem I had was after 20 minutes my fingers froze, and I couldn’t feel the buttons on my camera! And I wore my own very thin gloves, too!
So…go for it! Leave the logistics To Hawaii Forest & Trail. They’ve done this before. [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] Aloha Gregg, and thanks for dropping a line.  Good to hear Jon took good care of you.  Guests often ask if the moon affects our stargazing, and as you correctly point out, it can.  One additional piece of information to consider is the moon rise and set times.  We typically start our stargazing program 1 to 1.5 hours after sunset and it typically goes for a little over an hour. That means it is possible to have completely dark skies during a full moon if the moonrise isn’t until later in the evening.  If you’re concerned about the moon impacting your stargazing, just ask our guest services representatives about it and they’ll be able to advise you.

By Lindsey on 2013/06/25

Does your company offer any kamaaina discounts? I am a local resident. [Hawaii Forest & Trail:] We do!  Please give us a call at your convenience.

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