Mauna Loa Observatory Road

Mauna Loa Observatory Road

6,000 - 11,000 Feet Elevation, 35 Miles

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Route: This is a narrow road accessing scientific observatories on Mauna Loa and on clear days can provide spectacular views of Hualalai, Mauna Loa and other peaks.

Directions: Hilo side of the intersection with John A. Burns Way (Mauna Loa Observatory Road), 27.7 miles from Hilo.

This infrequently maintained, unpaved, four wheel drive hunters’ road circles the east, north, and west sides of Mauna Kea between the 7,000′ and 9,000′ elevations within the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve. It passes through native sub-alpine woodland and over barren lava flows.

This paved, winding, rolling, single lane, two wheel drive road proceeds roughly south for about 3 miles, then southeast for 5 miles, then west over nearly barren lava flows, rising steadily to the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory at the 11,150′ elevation on the north slope of Mauna Loa.

This observatory has been providing global carbon dioxide (and climate change) data since the 1950s. Clear weather provides a spectacular view of Mauna Kea, Kohala, Haleakala (Maui), Hualalai, and the Pohakuloa saddle. Under optimum conditions, the islands of Kaho’olawe, Lana’i, and Moloka’i can be seen. The Observatory facilities are not open to the public. Trails into the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to the Mauna Loa summit originate at the end of the road.

The route traverses critical habitat of the endangered palila (Loxioides bailleui), a Hawaiian finch found only on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea. Caution, the entire route is open year-round for hunting.

Hiking Safety Tips

  • STAY ON MARKED TRAILS! Vegetation or cinders may hide deep cracks in the ground. Use caution near cliffs, cracks, and steam vents. The edges of these features are unstable and can be slippery. Keep your children safe. Hiking over cracks and holes, loose rock, and thin lava crust greatly increases your risk of getting hurt. Falling on lava may result in severe wounds.
  • WEAR STURDY SHOES AND LONG LIGHTWEIGHT HIKING PANTS (falling on lava is like falling on broken glass).
  • CARRY AND DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. No matter how short your hike or brief your stay, bring more sunscreen and water than you think you’ll need. Recommended: 2 liters of water per person, per day. Hawaii’s strong tropical sun can cause serious dehydration.
  • AVOID HIKING AFTER DARK (cracks, crevasses, and cliffs look like shadows – depth is not evident in the dark).
  • Always hike or camp with another person.
  • Bring a cell phone.
  • Do not drink untreated stream or lake water.
  • Always be prepared for rain. Rainstorms can roll in with surprising speed.
  • Have warm clothes on hand. At elevations above 1,000 feet (and even on windy beaches), nighttime temperatures can drop by at least 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the elevation, the colder it will be.
  • Carry bug spray. Mosquitoes can be thick even on breezy beaches.
  • Abide by posted signs and stay on the trail.
  • Always obtain the proper permits to hike or camp.
  • If you are a novice hiker, consider arranging a hiking tour with an activity/attractions tour provider

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