Explore the most popular camping trails in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

It’s rough lava with full sun exposure the first three miles to Makaopuhi. Then, it’s a shaded forest trail to Napau. I ran the whole 12 miles in about two hours but it was difficult. A hike would last about three times as long, so lots of water would be needed. The wildflower section in a clearing close to Napau was my favorite part.

1 month ago

It’s a long hike and frankly gets a little tedious along the way. No proper trail for the most part but a lot of very rough gravel (like walking on broken bricks) especially after the junction to the summit. The cabin trail might be more fun. Have to grant four stars for the Mauna Kea views, though. If you can wait, don’t do this mountain in bad weather.

I have to admit that I was scared of this trail (if you want to call it that). It seems like everywhere you look, you hear people talking about how horribly difficult it is. I wondered whether I could actually make it up. But I have dreamed of this hike for YEARS. And like so many other people, my time on the island was limited. Who knew when (or if) I would ever come back. So I figured I would give it my best shot. I’m GLAD I did!

Hands down, this is one of the best mountains I have been on (and I’ve been on LOTS). It’s somewhat hard to put a finger on why. Maybe it is the combination of the clear and crisp air, the multicolored lava, and interesting rock formations. Maybe it is watching the steam vents from the summit and knowing you are on an active volcano. Maybe it is that grand, otherworldly feeling that just says ‘La La Land’. Or maybe it is knowing that I am not laying on the beach at a resort or snorkeling like a ‘good little boy’ on vacation in Hawaii. Rather, I am daring to do something as ‘Un-Hawaiian’ (at least in the stereotypical sense) as climbing a 13000ft mountain. Maybe it is all of these things. But in the end, climbing Mauna Loa will DEFINITELY take you to a VERY interesting and different world from just about anywhere else.

As for the hike itself, I did not find it NEARLY as hard as some say. There really isn’t anything terribly steep to climb. And although it is rocky, the terrain is no more difficult than many mountains in, say, California or Colorado. Just keep in mind that the rock tends to be on the sharp side, and can chew up shoes quite badly. As for altitude, this can certainly be an issue for some. And since there aren’t really any high altitude campgrounds or Hotels on the Big Island, coming straight up to a trailhead at 11000ft from Hilo or Kona can be difficult for altitude sensitive folks. But if you can climb mountains like Shasta, Whitney, Langley, White, or even Dana without a hitch, Mauna Loa is not bad at all.

No, there is no lush greenery on this trail. But that is to be expected on ANY trail ANYWHERE at this kind of altitude. You are in the alpine zone, FAR above the treeline here in Hawaii. Furthermore, the fact that it is going to be chilly is a given. I felt like it was significantly colder on Mauna Loa than on mountains as high (or higher) in California - at least in summer. So be prepared. But if you can get over the fact that this hike does NOT have many of the things that most people THINK a hike SHOULD have (ie deep forests, streams, waterfalls, etc), you will find that Mauna Loa certainly has LOTS to offer. The multicolored rocks, interesting formations, awesome views, fresh clean air, amazingly blue skies, and overall grandness of the mountain all make this hike very unique and give it a vibe that is second to none. Even the rough pahoehoe and aa lavas that you walk across have their charm. Oh, and let’s not forget the outdoor toilet at 13000ft. Take a selfie. Nobody will ever know. Regardless this will be a hike you will NEVER forget!

Definitely not for the faint at heart. I hike mount Whitney nearly every year and this is pretty comparable for altitude but not distance.

11 months ago

This is a very technical trail, you have to watch your footing and look for cairns the whole way. We had snow and it made for very slow progress and we were following footsteps that didn’t follow the cairns to the summit but close enough for us to some solar panels and boxes probably 100ft from top but no footprints to actual top. Good hike but altitude was a bit of a problem for us.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I summited Mauna Loa in November and no surprise, it was cold!

Thank god I happen to watch a short video clip of some people on the trail saying, "It's so cold up here!!" otherwise I may not have brought a down jacket with me, and that would have been a huge mistake. You will need some good insulation during your down time. The cabins are very basic, no insulation, no heat, no faucet (water access is outside the cabin).

There is a lot of very important gear BUT, the 5 items that I'm super glad I had?
1. Altitude medication. I got altitude sickness at night and it was rough, I probably would have had to turn back if I didn't have it.
2. Buff. The wind, sun, and cold are HARSH up there. Face/head/neck protections is essential.
3. Down 20F rated sleeping bag. High quality, temperature rated gear is good to have.
4. Sunglasses with side wind/sun protection.
5. Wish I HAD brought lip balm. My lips were MESSED UP toward the end and after the trip. Wish I had remembers chap stick.

My Route:
Day 1: Due to construction, I hiked 5 miles out from the trailhead on Mauna Loa Road, to Pu’u ‘Ula’ula cabin 12.8mi
Day 2: Pu'u 'Ula'ula to Mauna Loa summit cabin 11.5mi
Day 3: Mauna Loa summit cabin to true summit, then back down Pu’u ‘Ula’ula cabin 17mi
Day 4: Rest and explore trails around Pu'u 'Ula'ula
Day 5: Hike back down to my drop off point 12.8mi

About 54 miles in all.

Some random useful tips...

-My typical hiking layer system: a wool/synthetic base layer + wind shirt + fleece, as well as gloves, face shield, sunglasses, and hat for sun and wind protection. Temps ranged from mid 30's Fahrenheit, to 50’s during the day in the broad sunlight; low 30's or high 20's at night.

-No fires allowed, there's no wood to be found anyway. No heat in the cabins, it's simply shelter. In Nov 2017, the bunk mattresses were still very clean and comfortable.

-Get your permit with the Back Country office in Volcano National Park. There you can find out current water catchment tank levels, cabin occupancy, and mountain conditions. Although you can look up weather online, the rangers have the best current knowledge of it.

-Altitude Sickness can affect anybody no matter how strong or awesome you are, makes no difference. If you have never hiked in high altitude, be ready for it, get a prescription, start taking it a few day before you start your ascent. If you've gotten altitude sickness in the past it means you are likely to get it again.

-The cabins are awesome and we are fortunate to have them! If you do use them, be clean and respectful. Leave them cleaner than when you found them. Normal camping philosophy applies. Pack out what you pack in.

-Bring a tent or tarp. Even if you plan to stay in the cabins, there is always the chance of sudden weather changes, extreme wind, rain, snow, whiteout, where you'll be forced to take shelter along the trail.

I was lucky I went when I did. The following week it was expected to snow 20-30 inches. Plan your trip carefully, but be ready to roll with the punches. Weather up there is unpredictable, you might have to delay your start date if there are windstorms or white-out.


Monday, July 17, 2017

definitely not for the faint of heart. hypoxia high is no joke. did this back in march when snow was still present and didn't make it to the summit as the snow made the trail difficult to find. when i was trekking through some calf deep levels of snow and fell through some of the glassy lava, i had to throw in the towel. made it to the mokuaweoweo crater, which was humbling enough. left my offering to pele and just wanted to get the f*ck off the mountain at that point. which i'm glad i did because the way the clouds were rolling in on the descent obstructed my view of mauna kea across the distance as my landmark. take this hike seriously. beautiful experience nonetheless.

Mauna Loa Summit Day Hike was quite an accomplishment to climb, but I am unsure if I would ever do it again or recommend it to most people. It is demanding enough that if someone is not well prepared - in terms of fitness or ability to acclimate to the altitude - it would be quite dangerous to hike.

However, I'm glad to be joining you in having hiked and taken in all the beauty of the largest volcano on the world.

I wrote about my own experience completing the 14 mile RT hike (supposed to be 13, but we got a bit lost on the way down...)


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

This hike is gruelling, but the secluded beach is worth the 17+ mile round trip. there is no shade along the hike and be sure to check in with the park to know if there is catchment water available at Halape.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Definitely worth the view. It is a hard hike and you are constantly lunging; it is a great work out, but if you have a bad knee like I do, wear a knee brace. We were actually able to see the snow at the top which was an incredible experience

Epic hike, a mate an I started late from the Observatory. Started at around 2pm, smoked it up to the summit by 5pm and then chilled for a little bit. The summit is amazing. Although only issue with leaving late is it gets dark really quick (around 7pm last night) so we had to use our torches to find our way back. Eventually got lost and used the gravel roads as markers back to our car. Overall a dicey adventure but all due to our stupidity!

Have fun cobbas.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Pretty amazing trail leading down to Halape Beach. We stayed 3 nights camping, fishing, snorkeling and enjoying the private beach. There are also anchialine tide pools to see and wade in.

The trail itself is marked with rock piles every 100 feet or so to follow. There is a lava field to cross, tall grass and is a very open trail with little to no shade during the hot days. At the end of the trail is Halape which has a primitive bathroom, shelter and water catchment.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Amazing hike with even more of an amazing scene that awaits you at the bottom. Beautiful beach and fresh water holes to swim in. If you hike north along the coastline there is an even more amazing picturesque beach with blue coral. Make sure to find out about the water level at the bottom for drinking before making the trek in and leave early morning on the hike out for it can get brutally hot, especially with the incline. Well worth it!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Is the kind of place you don t wanna miss. The road to go on top was closed the day i went, but there is a mountin to climb there at the base. We saw the sunset and it was amazing. You can almost touch the clouds. Insanely beautiful. When it s dark, there is a free guide that teaches you about the constalations. You can use a telescope to see the stars. I got to see Júpiter, even the rings. Incredible energy. Awsome experience.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's amazing, I didn't follow the tail just go to the top straitly. A little hurt but I will never forget it.

This hike will give you an appreciation for how gargantuan "Long Mountain" really is. First, the drive up to the observatory is a long one. It is 18 miles, and aside from being in poor shape the first couple hundred feet, is nice and smooth. But since it is a single lane with a fair amount of corners and dips, you'd be crazy to drive any more than 30 miles an hour on the road. So because of that, you'll probably be driving 30-45 minutes once you turn off of the Saddle Road. Once you start the hike, you'll be at around 11,000 feet, which is almost certainly a minimum of 7,000 feet (and more likely 11,000 feet) higher than where you slept the night before. Because of that, start slow, trying not to set any land speed records. Fortunately, the terrain almost prevents you from going fast. Most of the first two miles is pahoehoe, but still not too easy to walk on because of ups and downs. There is a fair amount of a'a, but the ahus (cairns) seem to have been set up to avoid the a'a wherever possible. Sometimes it's just not possible. Somewhere between mile 2 and mile 3, the trail becomes "sandy" for lack of a better description - tiny olivine lava particles. It was a welcome change, with padded steps instead of solid rock that may or may not move under your feet. Also between mile 2 and 3, there are quite a bit more lava types, with more than just black a'a and black pahoehoe - there are reds, olivines, some blue (yes, blue), and lots of shiny particles - just an amazing sight. From mile 3 to the crater edge, the trail isn't as good as the third mile, but much better than the first two miles. The crater edge is impressive in its sheer magnitude - looking out to the other side. We did not hike the last 1.9 miles to the actual peak, as we had gotten a "late" (9:30 am) start and the weather was turning. As a general rule, the mountain is clear first thing in the morning, and gets cloudier throughout the day. So for that reason, get as early a start as possible. While some would say this is not a "scenic" hike because of the lack of vegetation, the sheer size of the mountain, the various lava types, and the views of Mauna Kea and beyond are phenomenal. There's almost no place like this on Earth - well, besides nearby Mauna Kea. ;-) We hiked both, and thought this one was more interesting, but with worse footing.

I give this trail 5 stars out of sheer respect for the mountain. No joke. It is not a very scenic trail, as there is nary a piece of vegetation to be found the entire way. The views from the top are not as spectacular as one might hope, as this is a MASSIVE mountain and the "summit" is really just the highest mound on the edge of the crater that covers a huge expanse of the top of the volcano. The views going up the side are ok, as you can see over to Maui and on a clear day can make out Oahu. You can see almost the entire Big Island at various points along the way, but overall you're mostly looking at blackish/reddish lava rock while gasping for some of the limited air molecules to be found.

Oh yeah, about the lava rock... to call hiking for nearly 13 miles across Mauna Loa's high country a "bone-jarring experience" is to understate on the same order of magnitude as if one were to describe December 21st at the North Pole a "chilly day." Ok, I may exaggerate. But not much. Wear HIGH QUALITY, WELL broken in, EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD FITTING BOOTS. I cannot overstate the importance of this. There are two types of lava in this world: that which may be walked upon (aka pahoehoe) and that which should NOT (aka a'a). The majority of this trail should not be walked upon. The a'a flows are startlingly impressive in their size and the severity of their appearance. Oh, yeah, another thing: if you do not use trekking poles for the entire length of this trail, you are either a braver man than I, or stupider. Either way, may god help you, because the mountain won't. A'a lava is sharp. Think razor blades. Or steak knives. Or shark teeth. And it's hard. There is a 1.5 mile stretch of the trail about mid-way that is mostly yellow-ish crushed pumice stones, which feels like walking on pillows after the 3 miles or so of lava flows you've just endured. And the cinder cones in that area are almost beautiful. Or maybe my wife and I only thought that due to the onset of hypoxia.

Most people don't realize how high the two big volcanoes on the Big Island are. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea both scrape just under 14k. And you can feel it your lungs, heart, head, and ultimately stomach. My wife and I are both in pretty good shape. Ok, modesty does not become me. We are in excellent shape. We run, we hike, we eat well, we sleep well (well, she does) and we live an overall healthy lifestyle. Bottom Line: we're healthy people. We BOTH got sick on this hike. The trail head is at 11,000 ft. The trail is over 6 miles up, and over 6 miles back down. ALL of it is well over 10,000 feet. We slept the night before in Hilo, which is at sea level, and drove up early in the morning to do the trip in a long day hike. No problem, right? In a word, WRONG. I highly recommend spending the night in your car at the observatory to acclimatize to the altitude. Hopefully you won't have as shaky a last 2 miles of the hike as we did.

Ok, now the good stuff. This hike is definitely one for the bragging rights. You will summit the most massive mountain in the world, situated in the middle of the most massive ocean in the world, in only one day. You'll walk on rocks that were created possibly within your lifetime, and gaze down into a massive crater that only decades ago was the scene of an immense lava lake. You'll gaze out over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and wonder why every day can't be spent doing something as amazing as this. You'll probably remember that it's because flying to Hawaii is expensive right around the same time your head starts to pound from the onset of stage 2 hypoxia. Good luck with that.

Final thoughts: Do NOT underestimate this mountain. You are a little tiny human being with basic physical needs that, if not met, will cause your immediate and terminal demise. Mauna Loa is, well, MAUNA LOA. That being said, with proper training and preparation, this hike is one for the record books. "Dare mighty things!" as TR said. After this you'll always be able to say that you paid homage to Pele at the summit of the most massive mountain in the world. (No kidding, it's in the encyclopedia) Good luck, and strive on!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Difficult is the understatement. Lucked out with the weather with only the common drizzle at the start and finish where we parked. The ascent didn't seem noticeably steep, but on the return we knew why we were so tired. The trail is well marked, very easy to follow point to point with larger "Ahu" along the way to signify points of interest or wind shelter. Made it to the cabin and both of us were suffering from high elevation sickness for a few hours. Camped over night and well prepared for the freezing cold temperatures at night. The cabin has a new compost toilet which is a step up from the pit toilets. It was clean, the sleeping room door is broken, the rangers were aware and told us beforehand. The stars are so clear at night set your alarm clock early to see them before watching an awesome sunrise. The return was cold with wind at our backs (cold enough to freeze the tubes of our CamelPacks) but we covered ground fast. I would suggest using hockey tape on the toe caps of your boots if they don't have rubber on them. My buddy had a few stuffs on the rubber toe caps of his Mamuts. Mine on the other hand did not, and the razor sharp lava chewed up the toes of my $300 Asolos. Take your time, aclimitize, take enough water, register with the outback park department of Volcanoes N'tl Park, and don't forget to call them with a successful return. Started Feb 16, 2013. Completed Feb 17, 2013

Friday, February 11, 2011

Please see our entry under Mauna Loa Observatory Trail. Although this is a very difficult trail, we will give it all five stars, because the views and exhilaration being at the top of this geologically unique volcanic 'shield' dome (is this the world's most massive?) is well worth the endurance, discipline, and some advanced preperation required to complete it. Unlike Mauna Kea and Haleakala, you cannot drive all the way up to the summit. We see its (snow speckled in winter) summit regularly from Kailua-Kona's Old Airport Park

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

All day, strenuous hike to over 13,000 feet elevation, on very difficult terrain, so some sort of HIGH ALTITUDE ACLIMATION highly encouraged. We were advised by an experienced hiker that one can be helped get somewhat aclimated by simply spending a leisurely day or two at a high altitude location within a few days before doing the hike, which we did.

Got to the trail head just before dawn (after a 2 hour drive from Kona.) Very rough, difficult terrain as mentioned, trail marked only by ahu (stone cairns.) We felt winded as expected, but not overwhelmed. Linda went only as far as a resting spot at the rim of the huge Makuaweoweo crater where she napped, while I went on (a couple more miles) to the cabin where I signed the register, left a small Bible, and then quickly returned to Linda. A couple from Europe was with her, having come up from the other side of Mauna Loa, a 3 to 4 day grueling endeavor, requiring a heavy pack of food, water and sleeping gear. They were spending their second night at that spot before going on to the SUMMIT which would be a different path than to the cabin.

We returned exhausted to our rented SUV moments after nightfall, thanking God we made it back! We were also quite hungry, so we hurried down the mountain and made for Hilo, an hour plus away and the only place where food would have been available. We had a delightful dinner and then checked into the Hilo Bay Hotel. We will never forget the next morning, having the strangely wonderful feeling of walking on level ground again!

We were delighted to meet the European couple, but were happy to have seen no one else on this trail. Fortunate that it was sunny all day, and enjoyed the spectacular views, though some heavy clouds below caused some obscurity. Greatly enjoyed this experience, just wish we didn't feel so rushed.

4 months ago

11 months ago

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Friday, December 02, 2016

Load More