Hike One Of The Highest Peaks In America On This Popular Trail In Hawaii

If you're planning a visit to the Big Island of Hawai'i, there is a spectacular hike that you cannot miss. That hike is the Humu'ula trail to the summit of the inactive Mauna Kea (meaning "white mountain") volcano. Not only will you get a stunning view of the Big Island, but you'll get a great view of another volcano, Mauna Loa. 

This trail begins near the town of Ō'ōkala, it's 13.2 miles roundtrip, and takes you up to the summit. With an elevation gain of 4,753 feet, it's definitely not for beginners. That said, a journey up the mountain absolutely worth it as long as you prepare. Mauna Kea is one of the highest peaks in the United States, and if you measure from the floor of the ocean, where it begins, up to the summit, it's the highest peak in the world. We'll take a look at what you'll see on the trail and what you need to know to be fully prepared before you go. 

Hiking the Humu'ula trail

The trailhead begins at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center off of Highway 200, and you must be sure to register when you leave (there is a dropbox), and sign out when you get back. The hike takes you up the Mauna Kea road. However, you can take a 4-wheel drive up to the summit if hiking isn't your thing.

This is about a seven or eight-hour plus hike if you're in pretty good condition, but you cannot go up there unprepared. It does tend to get cold at the top (the temperature can drop below freezing at times), so make sure to check the weather conditions and pack/dress appropriately. 

On the hike, you'll see a view of the mountain's cinder cones and you'll pass a trailhead for Lake Waiau, which is a possible short side hike. The trail (which is largely loose cinder and lava rocks) is rather steep at the beginning, and you might want to bring hiking poles for stability. While there is a public restroom at the summit parking area, though there are none on the trail. 

There are trail signs about every 500 feet, so be sure to keep an eye out for them. It's best to hike this trail between March and December, because weather conditions can be an issue. Please be respectful when you go, because the area is considered sacred, as is Lake Waiau if you choose to visit that as you go. (Do not touch the water or any offerings you may find there if you do.) 

What to bring and what to know for this hike

The Humu'ula to Mauna Kea summit hike will give you some incredible views, but there are some important safety precautions to keep in mind. If you make the summit halfway up, you'll be at 13,728 feet above sea level. It's beautiful to experience, but you do need to be prepared. The air has less moisture and oxygen at that altitude, and you're more vulnerable to sunburn. That means you should reapply sunscreen/lip balm with SPF frequently, and bring plenty of water or sports drinks with you. As this is a long hike that will take a lot of physical effort, make sure you pack food for yourself, and take your garbage with you. With this and any other hike, make sure someone knows where you'll be.

There is a risk of altitude sickness at this height, so if you feel confused, nauseated, clumsy, have difficulty breathing, or if you no longer feel hungry or thirsty, head back down the trail to a lower elevation. That said, if you prepare correctly, this is an incredible hike to take on one of the highest peaks in America.