We visited in Feb, and it was unbelievably cold and windy, with ice in the parking lot of the visitor center. The rest of the road to the summit was closed due to icy conditions. Signs warn hikers about intense (sun) radiation, and thin oxygen. Did I feel shortness of breath? Or was it my imagination? It was my imagination. We enjoyed the visitors center, had some hot chocolate, and enjoyed hiking in the lunar-surface-like area with sinister looking, windblown straggly trees.
We layered up and tucked our hair under hats pulled down over our ears. It's a unique experience and we got some great pictures. Depending on how long you want to hike you can spend quite a bit of time here. For just the visitor center, I'd say an hour is plenty. There is a public escorted summit tour on weekends, and other special events - check website. You will find informational panels, video, interactive displays and good handouts. The First Light Bookstore has books about astronomy and Hawaiian culture, food (snacks, soup, hot & cold drinks) for sale, and there are hot water dispensers and a microwave for visitors.
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