We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.
The latest reviews. The lowest prices. The perfect place to shop for hotels.

“Thinking Of Driving Up To Mauna Kea Peak?”

Mauna Kea State Recreation Area
Book In Advance
More Info
and up
Hakalau Bird Watching
Ranked #26 of 80 things to do in Hilo
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Honolulu, Hawaii
Level Contributor
31 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 56 helpful votes
“Thinking Of Driving Up To Mauna Kea Peak?”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed May 30, 2014

The road up to the peak is a challenging drive both going up & back down. The road is paved most of the way up. Stop at the Onizuka Astronomy Center at the 9000 foot level. The center is named after Ellison Onizuka, Hawaii's first astronaut. He perished in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster. There is a kind of space museum & gift shop there with many interesting exhibits & presentations.. After dark you can see amateur astronomers gazing into the heavens with their telescopes. Most are happy to let you take a look at whatever objects are visible that evening. Continuing on up to the 14,000 foot summit, the road eventually turns to dirt & your car will be struggling to breathe. You will feel the loss of horsepower as the air gets thinner. Some maps will tell you that 4 wheel drive is required or highly recommended. This is simply unnecessary. The maps say this to pacify the insurance companies. The fact is that the return trip downhill is hard on any vehicle's brakes, whether 2 or 4 wheel drive. Go slow back down & use your lower gears. Avoid pumping the brakes, rather, apply steady, even pressure on the brake pedal. At the top of Mauna Kea you will be above the clouds. Sunsets are stunning up there & the star gazing is amazing. Look for the Southern Cross dancing on the southern horizon during March/April. Take warm clothing, especially during winter months. There is often snow on the ground at that time. If you encounter "snowfall" on the way up, you may seriously want to consider turning around unless you do have 4 wheel drive. Note, the observatories at the summit are NOT open the public. Also, some people are subject to altitude sickness. If anyone in your group complains they feel sick, you must take them back down the hill right away, at least back down to the Onizuka Center. From the summit, you can pick up far away AM radio signals on your car radio at night. I spent the night up there one time. I left my motor running so the car's heater would work. If you do this, I recommend that you point your car directly into the wind so that the exhaust fumes are blown away behind you. You will receive many radio broadcasts from California, & from as far away as Boise, ID, Denver, CO, Des Moines, IA & New Orleans, LA, among others. This only works at night, & on the AM dial. On the FM dial, you will receive stations throughout the state of Hawaii 24 hours a day. One note about the Saddle Road... Be alert for thick fog, which you may encounter at any time. The road is accident prone. Slow down, drive with aloha & have fun...

Visited July 2013
11 Thank Hawaii96815
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Write a Review

73 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
  • German first
  • Italian first
  • Japanese first
  • Korean first
  • Portuguese first
  • Russian first
  • Spanish first
  • Any
English first
Spokane, Washington
Level Contributor
195 reviews
107 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 158 helpful votes
“A Place to Stretch Out your Legs”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed April 29, 2014

It's a nice place to get out of your car after a long drive from Hilo especially after a foggy and rainy day. Situated strategically at the base of Mauna Kea, enjoy the peaceful solitude and a great place to unwind before another yet leg-pumping downhill drive all the way to highway 190 or to Waikoloa Village.

My husband and I stopped here to enjoy a little snack and to stretch out our legs.

Visited April 2014
1 Thank MimieW
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Waukesha, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
60 reviews
21 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 23 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 29, 2013

As state parks go, there's not much here but as a much needed rest stop between Hilo and the Kona coast, it has a bathroom, places to eat, and air out the children. Compared to other state's rest areas, it can be a bit sparse - but does feature some great views and usually very bright sun.

Visited May 2013
Thank BennyDRR
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Palm Harbor, Florida
Level Contributor
66 reviews
36 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 43 helpful votes
“Excellent drive!”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 9, 2013

Saddle road is finally open all the way from Hilo to Kona. Beautiful road! On the highway at 6000 feet driving through the clouds! Amazing! Take this drive

Visited December 2013
1 Thank Ryan B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level Contributor
32 reviews
28 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 12 helpful votes
“Don't stop or waste your time”
1 of 5 bubbles Reviewed November 1, 2012

This place was horrible and I couldn't believe it was run by the state. It was dirty, looked abandoned and a little scary. There is nothing around the area and I wouldn't stay here. We stopped and didn't even want to use their restrooms.

Visited October 2012
1 Thank Bethmharvey
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Travelers who viewed Mauna Kea State Recreation Area also viewed

Hilo, Island of Hawaii
Hilo, Island of Hawaii

Been to Mauna Kea State Recreation Area? Share your experiences!

Write a Review Add Photos & Videos

Owners: What's your side of the story?

Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.

Claim Your Listing