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Jeep Interior

You are welcome to drive your vehicle on the Mauna Kea Summit Rd to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. Please do not take your rental vehicle north of the red line in the photo above. Map

Car rental brands for Mauna Kea
Rental brands that typically allow their rental cars to go as far as the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station

Planning to drive Mauna Kea’s Summit Road?

Checklist:
Do you know exactly where you’re going?
Are you dressed for extremely cold temperatures?

How well do you understand altitude sickness?

Is everyone in your car 16 or older, not pregnant, not been scubaing recently, is heart and lung healthy?

Are you protected from UV radiation?
Do you know where to refuel-- your vehicle and you?

Are you comfortable driving on steep grades in low gear?

Are you experienced driving on rough, possibly icy, unpaved roads?

Does your vehicle have high clearance?

Did you sign a rental car agreement that forbids off-pavement driving?

Start of Mauna Kea Access Road
Turn from Saddle Road to Mauna Kea Access Road


The walk to this trailhead (dirt road) is just about 350 yards past the Mauna Kea Visitor Info Station parking


Mauna Kea summit is the renowned location the world's largest astronomical observatory


Rent a Jeep from us and drive to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. Pay less than renting direct.

Drive a Rental Car to the Summit of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is:
• A dormant volcano that erupted 4600 years ago.
• Hawaii’s tallest peak at 13,796 ft. above sea level.
• Our Earth’s highest mountain.
• Annual average temperature of 38.1ºF recorded at Mauna Kea Observatory.
• Is home to 13 public and private telescopes from 11 countries.
• One of the highest lakes on the planet, Lake Waiau, just 750 ft below the summit.

Remember to check Mauna Kea road conditions before you depart.

Web Cam:
The Physics & Astronomy department at U of HI, Hilo maintains a southwest-facing webcam near Mauna Kea’s summit at 13,750’ elevation.

Before you decide to go to the summit of Mauna Kea, plan your trip. A great place to gather information is Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea. Here, you can learn everything you need to know, and then decide if you want to drive the road yourself or join a tour. The road is slow-going and rough. Gasoline is limited. Weather changes unexpectedly and you are likely to encounter icy conditions on the unpaved, precipitous road. Be prepared for a road that closes during ice and snow. This also cancels scheduled tours.

If you plan to drive, there are several important vehicle issues you should consider. None of our major rental car companies allows their vehicles, Jeeps included, beyond the visitors center. Harper Car and Truck Rental, a locally owned company, rents vehicles in Hilo and Kona that come equipped with rugged suspension and good ground clearance. This company’s vehicles are an excellent option if you wish to join a night tour to the summit, or make the drive by yourself. Harper’s vehicles are obviously more expensive than renting from us, so you might want to book with them for just the day of your Mauna Kea visit, keeping the car you’ve rented from us for the rest of your driving. Unlike us, they ask for payment at booking, so be sure to have your dates set.

There are important considerations for each person in your vehicle who will travel to the summit of Mauna Kea. Did everyone pack warm clothes and footwear for the always-cold temps of the summit? If you’ll be on the summit after sunset, be ready for freezing temps. To prevent dehydration, everyone in the vehicle should drink plenty of water throughout the trip. Everyone should be wearing fresh sunscreen and quality sunglasses to protect from UV radiation at the summit.

Are you prepared for altitude sickness? To acclimate to Mauna Kea’s thin air (40% less oxygen than at sea level) it is important to stop at the visitor’s center for at least 20 minutes before heading on to the summit. Each passenger in your car may be at danger, for different reasons, from the extreme altitude. These include children under the age of 16, pregnant passengers, folks with heart and/or respiratory issues, anyone who smokes, has eaten gassy foods (yes, really), enjoys large amounts of caffeine, or has been scuba diving during the previous 24 hours.

We believe that the best way to see Mauna Kea is to join a tour and leave the driving to experienced guides. Or, you could just watch the video of the Drive Up Mauna Kea. Options for tours include visits to observatories, summit walks, early morning sunrise tours and nighttime stargazing. These permitted companies will pick you up, provide warm clothes, and many offer food and beverages. The “original” and the most luxurious tour company is Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Mauna Kea is an amazing educational wonder. We suggest that you pick the tour company that offers you the best adventure for your interests.

Read others Mauna Kea Summit Road reviews online and refer to our Mauna Kea Rental Car Map for more information. One person describes How NOT to visit Mauna Kea Summit. Visit the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy website to discover more about the different Telescopes.

If you decide to make the trek in a rental car, please call (808) 935-6268 (recording) for current weather conditions.