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Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory Tours

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Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory
Visiting the Mauna Kea Summit and Observatories gives you the feeling of being on top of the world for good reason: You’re actually pretty close. Standing at 13,796 feet (4,138 meters), the mountain is Hawaii's tallest and the highlight of many visitors' trips to the Big Island of Hawaii. The Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) feature some of the world's largest telescopes, including equipment from Canada, France, and the University of Hawaii, due to its designation as an unparalleled destination for stargazing.

The Basics
Mauna Kea tours depart from Hilo, Kona, and Waikoloa Village, and usually last upwards of eight hours. Whether you choose to visit for sunrise, sunset, a midday summit tour, or after-dark stargazing, the mountain makes for a popular day trip on the Big Island.

The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station sits at 9,300 feet (2,790 m) and features interactive displays and videos, with telescopes, talks, and tours. It’s important to stop here even if you’re headed to the summit to acclimate to the altitude. In addition to checking out the magnificent night sky, you can learn about Mauna Kea’s formation and why the mountain is considered sacred to native Hawaiians.

Insider Tip
Sunrise and sunset are great times to visit Mauna Kea. Enjoy stargazing (offered nightly from 6 to 10pm) and hot chocolate (available for purchase) at the Visitor Information Station, or rise bright and early to drive up to the summit in time to watch the sunrise.

Best Ways to Summit Mauna Kea
You can make an ambitious go of the summit on your own (on foot or in a vehicle), or join an organized summit adventure tour during visiting hours (from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset). From the Visitor Information Station, a roughly 10-hour, roundtrip hike on a rugged trail takes you to the top and back. Be prepared for a workout, and be sure to wear layers and sturdy closed-toe walking shoes; you’ll encounter all kinds of weather as you ascend above the Big Island’s layer of cloud cover. You must bring your own water and pack out your waste; there are no amenities on the trail.

If you’d rather drive to the top, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, plenty of water and sunscreen, and a keen eye for hazards. Depending on conditions, summit attempts can be particularly dangerous in winter. Mauna Kea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to nearly 14,000 feet in a few hours.

Practical Info

How to Get There

The Visitor Information Station is an hour’s drive from Hilo, via Highway 200. From Kailua-Kona, the drive takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes on Highway 190; from Waikoloa, it’s about 50 minutes via the Saddle Road to the visitor center. Camping is not allowed on Mauna Kea.

What Makes Mauna Kea Ideal for Astronomical Sightseeing?

The Subaru Telescope, the W.M. Keck Observatory, and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility take advantage of Mauna Kea’s ideal location near the equator and above most of the atmosphere’s water vapor, which means a clear view of stars in both of the earth’s hemispheres.
Address: Saddle Road, Hilo, Hawaii 96720, USA
Admission: Varies
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16 Tours and Activities to Experience Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory

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Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure TourDay Trips

Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour

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Experience big skies and incredible nighttime views on this Mauna Kea stargazing trip with a small group. Join no more than 28 guests for a pre-trip picnic at a historic Hawaiian ranch, proceeded by a ride in a 4x4 luxury van to the summit of the Big Island's tallest peak. After admiring a sunset view, continue down to 9,000 feet (2,743 meters) for a stargazing session, complete with a telescope, hot chocolate, and dessert. The trip also includes a guide and a hooded parka to keep you warm.
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  • 8 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$235.60 
From  
$235.60 
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  • 8 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Mauna Kea: A Mars and Stars Photo ExperiencePrivate and Luxury

Mauna Kea: A Mars and Stars Photo Experience

star-5
Mauna Kea is home to the world’s largest observatory for optical, infrared and submillimeter astronomy—13 powerful telescopes from 11 different countries sit atop the mountain’s slopes. On this tour with a professional photographer guide, see the night sky like never before. Leave with stunning photos of your group with galaxies, stars, and constellations in the background. After your trip, your guide will send you a link to the photos.
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$212.27 
From  
$212.27 
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation

Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILODay Trips

Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILO

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Hawaii’s natural wonders aren’t only on land and in the sea—the Big Island is also a prime spot from which to admire the wonders of the solar system. This tour is the only one that includes both afternoon solar viewing and nighttime stargazing, accompanied by astronomy experts. Visit Rainbow Falls and the Kaumana lava caves, then explore the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and use a state-of-the-art solar telescope and Dobsonian telescope to spot solar flares, galaxies, star clusters, and planets.
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  • 7 hours
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$184.34 
From  
$184.34 
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  • 7 hours
  • Free Cancellation

Maunakea Stellar Explorer from KONADay Trips

Maunakea Stellar Explorer from KONA

star-4
Hawaii’s natural wonders aren’t only on land and in the sea—the Big Island is also a prime spot from which to admire the wonders of the solar system. This tour is the only one that includes both afternoon solar viewing and nighttime stargazing, accompanied by astronomy experts. Visit different destinations and use a state-of-the-art solar telescope and Dobsonian telescope to spot solar flares, galaxies, star clusters, and planets.
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  • 6 hours 30 minutes
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$198.73 
From  
$198.73 
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  • 6 hours 30 minutes
  • Free Cancellation

Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona - Private TourPrivate Sightseeing Tours

Experience Hawai'i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona - Private Tour

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Look down on the varied landscape of the Big Island from the air on a helicopter tour from Kona. This flight is longer than typical heli tours and provides the opportunity to be wowed by Hawaii’s amazing natural features, from waterfalls to volcanoes to rainforests. Fly along the coast and over Waimanu and Waipio valleys, and spot island industry like macadamia nut orchards. Upgrade to guarantee a window seat.
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$3,354.00 
From  
$3,354.00 
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Big Island Tour Bundle: Get 5 Big Island Audio ToursMulti-day Tours

Big Island Tour Bundle: Get 5 Big Island Audio Tours

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Our Big Island mobile app features five audio tours and you'll get all of them when you purchase the Big Island Tour Bundle. Here’s what’s included in the Big Island Tour Bundle: - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tour - Kona Big Kahuna Loop - North Island Jungle Adventure Loop - South Island Epic Coastal Journey - Kohala Coast and Backcountry Tour Each tour uses GPS to give you turn-by-turn directions to popular sites and local gems with stories and music along the way. The audio tours play automatically using your location to give you on-the-spot information. WHY SHAKA GUIDE? ✅ Tours never expire. ✅ Tour work offline. No data needed. ✅ Reliable GPS directions. ✅ A guided tour for a fraction of the price. ✅ Save time planning! We’ve done the work for you. ✅ Your vacation, your terms — freedom to stop and go as you please. ✅ The #1-rated travel app for Big Island. ✅ Listen to interesting stories and Hawaiian music!
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  • 5 days
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$21.32 
per group
From  
$21.32 
per group
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  • 5 days
  • Free Cancellation

Big Island - South Island Coastal Loop Driving Tour AppHiking

Big Island - South Island Coastal Loop Driving Tour App

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Hawaii’s Big Island is renowned for its beautiful beaches, dramatic volcanic landscapes, and abundant wildlife. With this Shaka Guide app, explore independently at your own pace on a self-drive tour, using the GPS-programmed audio guide to direct you to all the top attractions. Follow the South Island Coastal Loop, stopping at sights including Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu'u Black Sand beach, and the Captain Cook Monument.
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$10.66 
per group
From  
$10.66 
per group
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation

Big Island - North Island Jungle Driving Tour AppHiking

Big Island - North Island Jungle Driving Tour App

star-5
Explore the Big Island on your own terms, and at your own pace, with this self-guided app tour. You'll get over six hours of audio content, a map of the island that can be used offline, and even turn-by-turn navigation. Audio commentary is available for a variety of popular spots around the island, and you can use the app as much as you want, even on future trips.
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$10.66 
per group
From  
$10.66 
per group
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  • 2 days
  • Free Cancellation

Endangered Native HabitatsDay Trips

Endangered Native Habitats

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Discover Hawaii’s remarkable wildlife on a full-day, small-group birdwatching tour into the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Forest Reserve. Travel on foot and by four-wheel drive as you explore dry forest and rainforest habitats that shelter the endangered palila honeycreeper, the Hawaii amakihi and the Hawaii ‘elepaio. Listen for the calls of endemic songbirds as you traverse an otherworldly lava trail, then follow a local, bird-loving guide along forest paths into the distinctive, high-elevation mamane-naio ecosystem.
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  • 12 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$218.85 
From  
$218.85 
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  • 12 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Ultimate Hawaii Waterfalls combo Dolphin Boat TourDay Cruises

Ultimate Hawaii Waterfalls combo Dolphin Boat Tour

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Experience Hawaii’s whales, waterfalls and wildlife with a 2.5-hour tour of the Hamakua coastline on a 40-foot (12-meter) catamaran from Hilo. Learn about this history of this lush region as you navigate past the old town, a sugar mill and some beloved local surf spots. Between December and April, watch humpback whales breach and play in the ocean, and visit a trio of waterfalls that tumble from coastal cliffs to the ocean. Get a glimpse of old Hawaii in Onomea Bay, where a tropical forest thrives on the protected coast.
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  • 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$148.72 
From  
$148.72 
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  • 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Free Cancellation

Big Island Mountain Biking on Anna RanchMountain Bike Tours

Big Island Mountain Biking on Anna Ranch

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Experience the ultimate mountain-biking adventure on the Big Island during this 2-hour, small-group ride through 100 acres of private ranch land. Open up on the custom-built trails of this exclusive riding area situated amidst the rolling hills near the Kohala Mountains. During your trip you’ll admire amazing views of Mauna Kea, check out a 40-foot (12-meter) tall waterfall and navigate through fields of green pasture and craggy lava rocks. This small-group ride, limited to 12 guests, includes a guide, high-end mountain bike and helmet, hydration drinks and energy bars.
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$200.00 
Price varies by group size
From  
$200.00 
Price varies by group size
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  • 2 hours
  • Free Cancellation

Waterfall Heli-Trek: Big Island Helicopter Tour and Hike Adventure- Private TourDay Trips

Waterfall Heli-Trek: Big Island Helicopter Tour and Hike Adventure- Private Tour

Two of the best ways to explore the Big Island of Hawaii are by air and your own two feet—both of which are possible with this Big Island helicopter tour and hiking adventure. Begin by exploring the island by air on a scenic flight, where you’ll experience the fury of Kilauea Volcano in Volcanoes National Park, and pass over pasture lands, black-sand beaches, and waterfalls that spill toward the coast. You’ll next touch down in North Kohala, the home of King Kamehameha, to hike through valleys and lush rainforests that were once inhabited by kings.
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  • 8 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$5,028.00 
From  
$5,028.00 
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  • 8 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Kona Volcano by Air & Land: Helicopter, Coach, Walking Adventure - Private TourDay Trips

Kona Volcano by Air & Land: Helicopter, Coach, Walking Adventure - Private Tour

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Experience the best of Volcanoes National Park on this adventurous Big Island helicopter tour, where you can easily see lava, steam, and cinder cones while circling above the volcano, and then touch down nearby to explore the park’s volcanic formations on foot. Throughout the day, expert pilots, guides, and drivers will accompany you to discuss the park’s history and legends, as well as the fascinating natural geology that changes by the day. To guarantee a helicopter seat by the window seat, upgrade to the preferred seating option for an unobstructed view.
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  • 10 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$4,722.00 
From  
$4,722.00 
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  • 10 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Mauna Kea Sunrise ExperienceDay Trips

Mauna Kea Sunrise Experience

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Start your morning on the Big Island on top of the world (literally) during this half-hour sunrise trip to the peak of Mauna Kea. Watch the first rays of light peek across the horizon from the 13,000-foot (3,900-meter) summit before descending for an included continental breakfast and visit to the Mauna Kea Silversword plant enclosure.
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  • 7 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures
From  
$200.00 
From  
$200.00 
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  • 7 hours
  • Free Cancellation
  • Taking safety measures

Private Grand Circle the Big Island Mercedes SprinterDay Trips

Private Grand Circle the Big Island Mercedes Sprinter

Complete a circuit of the Big Island during this full-day circle tour. Riding in style on board a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van with your party up to 11 other family members or friends, stop at the island's highlights and landmarks, including Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and South Point, the southernmost point in the U.S. While you travel, watch DVDs containing information about Hawaiian culture, traditions, and history onboard your vehicle. Pickup and drop-off at Kona hotels is included.
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  • 12 hours
From  
$1,537.44 
per group
From  
$1,537.44 
per group
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  • 12 hours

Mauna Kea Arnott's AdventuresDay Trips

Mauna Kea Arnott's Adventures

star-5
Our Mauna Kea Summit Tour is designed to showcase the beauty and wonder of one of the most impressive mountains in the world. Mauna Kea (meaning “white mountain”) is historically and culturally very significant to the Hawaiian people, and because of its contributions to geology and astronomy, to the world as well. Our local guides will enlighten you with the sacredness and cultural aspect of Mauna Kea. A spiritual high for many locals and visitors. #1 rated tour for adventure and photography.
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  • 6 hours
  • Free Cancellation
From  
$208.38 
From  
$208.38 
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  • 6 hours
  • Free Cancellation

Frequently Asked Questions

The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
Q:
What's the best way to experience Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory?