Mauna Kea Telescope Visit
Google map link: Google Maps link
Your visit consists of two very different places. First is the visitor’s center at 9,200 feet. Any car can go up at any time. The visitor center is just a small shop and some info signs with little to do. One goes there at night to watch stars. The elevation isn’t that different than ski resorts so I don’t know if I would go out of my way to do this. On the other hand, it only takes about 45 minutes from Hilo to get there, so there isn’t much of a reason not to do it.
Second – One continues all the way to the telescopes. This is only done during the day as all guests up at the telescopes must leave 30 minutes after sunset back down. To drive beyond the visitor center you go through a talk with a park ranger. The biggest requirement is driving a 4×4 (not all wheel drive). The reason is the car needs a Low gear to slow the car on the way down. See the website for other requirements. I recommend leaving at about 3:00 to get to the telescopes to watch the sunset. One is supposed to spend 30 minutes acclimating to the thin air at the visitor’s center. The park ranger will ask you. The drive from the visitor center to the telescopes is about 30 minutes. Therefore leaving Hilo at 3 gets you up there at about 4:30 or so.
What does one do up there? Just enjoy the view by walking around. If there aren’t clouds you can see all the way down to the ocean. There are often clouds though. As the pictures show, the view is amazing. I rented a Jeep for the day to make the trip. The $100 rental fee is cheap considering the tour companies want $175 per person to drive you up the mountain.