Distance: 16.8 mi.
Elevation Gain: 3328 ft.
We started this trip the day before at the Backcountry Office in Volcano National Park , where we paid $10 for a camping permit in the Mauna Loa cabin (max 12). Apparently you can also do this over the phone at 808.985.6178 up to one day before your planned stay.
We stayed at Arnott’s Hostel/Campsite in Hilo that evening, then got a big breakfast at Bears’ Coffee in the morning. (One thing we learned about small town Hawaii – make a reservation! Even for a 7 AM breakfast!) Observatory Road must have been paved in the last year because it was in great condition. Nevertheless, it was still slow-going with all of the dips and swerves. We arrived at the trailhead at approx. 11,000 feet around 9 AM. Thankfully we had gone up Mauna Kea the day before, which helped a bit with the altitude. We climbed a slow and steady pace to the trail split between the summit trail and the cabin trail, where we had lunch and consolidated food and water in just one pack for the climb. Since we were flying out the next day, we decided to summit on day 1. The trail was slightly harder to pick out on the less-popular summit trail, but it was easy enough to keep track of the cairns despite a handful of snow patches. We reached the summit at 2:30 PM.
From there we headed back down to the trail split, grabbed the other pack, and climbed once again to the cabin. At one point we hiked within the crater on a recent lava flow, which was a very unique hiking experience!
We reached our destination at 5 PM, and found that one other couple was staying in the cabin for the evening. We boiled water from the full cistern, chatted with them over dinner, and braved the windy summit for views of the stars through the partially clouded sky. The sunrise in the morning was amazing! We had a leisurely breakfast and then headed down to the trailhead. Our hike down took 3 hours.
Vanessa in front of Mauna Kea
(Download the free Gaia GPS app on your phone to view tracks and then get a Gaia GPS membership if you want offline access. Discount below!)
Recommended Brew: Kona Brewing Lavaman Red Ale
- Sleeping pad
- Trail runners
- Trekking poles
- Water drops/filter
- Winter sleeping bag