Important Things to Know
How to Get Help
The Maunakea Rangers actively patrol 365 days per year to maintain public safety and provide visitor information. Because emergency assistance may be hours away, it is important to heed all Ranger advisories regarding parking and traffic directives and trail and area closures. Contact Rangers and VIS staff at (808) 934-4550 when VIS is open.
Due to interference with the radio telescopes, Cell phone use is restricted to emergency calls only. A public emergency telephone is located at the University of Hawaiʻi 2.2 meter Telescope.
Get to Maunakea
Q: What is the elevation of the VIS and what is the elevation of the summit?
A: The Visitor Station is located at 9,200ft (2,800m) and the summit is 13,796ft (4,205m).
Q: Where are the restrooms?
A: Outside to the back of the VIS building.
Q: Is camping permitted on Maunakea?
A: No. See the Administrative Rules for what are permitted and what are not.
Q: Can I bring pets to Maunakea?
A: No. The Administrative Rules prohibit "Introducing any form of plant or animal life, except dogs when permitted by the hunting rules of the department of land and natural resources and legally authorized service animals when accompanying their handlers."
Q: Is the VIS part of a national or state park?
A: No, the area around the VIS and summit of Maunakea is a conservation district and not part of the National Park Program.
Q: Can I drive a 2WD vehicle to the Summit?
A: 2-wheel drive vehicles are not permitted above the Visitor Information Station. A 4-wheel drive vehicle with Low Range is required. About 300 yards beyond the VIS, the pavement ends and the next 4 and a half miles are a steep graded-gravel road. You should check with your rental car company to see if you are allowed to travel on Maunakea.
Q: Are there any shuttles to the Summit?
A: No. The permitted commercial tour services all start from Kona or Hilo and need to be prearranged in town. See Commercial Tours page for more information.
Q: Where is the nearest gas station?
A: Gas stations in Hilo, Waikoloa Village and Waimea are each about 35 miles away. If you think you're (almost) out of gas: park your car on level ground, release the gas cap to equalize pressure in the tank, turn off the engine and turn it back on again. If the gas level is still "empty", let a Ranger or VIS staff know.
Q. Public access after sunset and before sunrise
A. When conditions permit safe driving, the road to the summit of the mountain is open to the public. But please refrain from going to the summit until 30 minutes before sunrise. You should leave the summit and head back down the hill within 15 or 20 minutes after sunset. It's much safer driving with enough ambient light and you’ll have time to make it to the VIS before it gets completely dark. For maximum safety please drive with your headlights on at all times.
What to do on Maunakea
Q: What is there to do around the VIS?
A: Around the VIS, you can watch videos, shop in the First Light Bookstore, check out the silversword garden through the gate past the picnic tables, picnic, view the Sun through our solar telescope, or just relax and enjoy this place.
Q: What is there to do on the Summit?
A: Hiking and sunset viewing are typical activities.
From the 2nd intersection (near Hoku Kea telescope), you can view the Summit. Park your car between Hoku Kea and the porta-potties.
From the 1st intersection at "Park 3", you can walk to Lake Waiau. This is the 6th highest lake in the U.S. and a very sacred site in Hawaiian culture. Follow the trail to the south from Park 3, and after about 1/2 mile you'll see a trail branching to the right. Climb up to the top of the crater and you'll see Lake Waiau. The one-way walk from Park 3 takes about 30 minutes and is about 2/3 of a mile or 1 kilometer.
Q: What's the altar near the silverswords?
A: It's an ahulele (ahu: lower stone part, lele: upper wooden part), an altar with 3 levels for making offerings to family, the earth/environment, and gods/goddesses. There is one at the base of the Access Road at Pu'u Huluhulu, and one at the Summit as well.
Q: Do the stars look different on the summit from here at the VIS?
A: The lack of oxygen on the summit means your vision is not as acute there. You can actually see more stars from the VIS than from the Summit.
Q: Is there a location on the way to the summit to watch sunset?
A: No, there is no place along the summit road that will allow you to watch the sunset other than the summit area itself.
Q: Can I go to the summit without acclimation at VIS?
A: If you are planning to visit the summit, we highly recommend that you stop at the VIS at 9,200ft to receive a current weather update, safety information, and to adjust to the change in altitude (for at least 30 minutes). At 14,000 feet, there is 40% less oxygen available than at sea level, so visitors should acclimatize to the altitude before proceeding further up the mountain. Anyone in poor health should consult their physician before planning a visit to Maunakea. We do not recommend anyone who is pregnant to go further than the VIS. People under the age of 13 should not go any further because their bodies are still developing and they are affected more rapidly when going to a high altitude. If you plan to scuba dive, do not plan to come up the mountain within 24 hours after your dive. Furthermore, we do not recommend anyone with a heart or respiratory problem to travel above the VIS. See more information on visiting Maunakea safely and responsibly.
Q. Can I hike from VIS to the Summit?
A. The average round-trip hiking time is 8 hours, 5 hours up and 3 hours down. Don’t expect to have enough daylight to complete the journey unless you leave early enough. Be aware that the sun sets earlier in the winter. This is a wilderness area without rest areas or restrooms and no public transportation is available.Cell-phone service is spotty and absent in places. If you are lost or physically in trouble and it’s getting dark, head toward the road where you may encounter help. You should not assume you can get a ride down if you become tired or lost. If you have an emergency, call 911.