Observatory Trail to North Pit Junction is a 14.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Holualoa, Hawaii that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, camping, and nature trips and is best used from March until September.

14.2 miles
2,119 feet
Out & Back



nature trips



wild flowers




no dogs

Directions from Hilo: This road begins at the 27.7 mile point of Saddle Road (Hwy 200), just Hilo side of Puu Huluhulu Native Tree Sanctuary.

4 months ago

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!

6 months ago

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

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.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

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...)


Monday, May 16, 2016

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, 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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

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.

Friday, May 24, 2013

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

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.

10 months ago

11 months ago

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sunday, April 05, 2015