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Hike Mauna Kea via Humuula Trail

Hawaii County, Hawaii



12 miles

Elevation Gain

4800 ft

Route Type



Added by Cameron Catanzano

If hiking 13k ft above sea level on a volcano in the middle of the ocean wasn't cool enough, you can also tell people you hiked what Is technically the "tallest" mountain in the world (over half of this mountain existing far below the ocean's surface).

Mauna Kea is one of the volcanoes that helped form the Big Island of Hawai’i. However, its last eruption was around 2600 BC.

Mauna Kea sits at an elevation of 13,796ft above sea level making it the second highest mountain I’ve hiked as I write this post – just shy of Mt Whitney.

Interestingly, more than half of the mountain lays below the ocean’s surface. This adds 18,900ft to Mauna Kea’s height (32,696ft) making it the tallest mountain on Earth – 3,661 ft taller than Mount Everest.

Since we slept the night before at sea level. This hike is the largest elevation gain I’ve made in a single day.

(For more interesting geographic information on Mauna Kea check out this blog post I wrote a while back)

The trail begins at an elevation of 9,000ft at the Mauna Kea Visitor center. Parking is free. Go up about 200 yards from the visitor center on the road and the beginning of the trail will be on your right.

The trail is marked well. You shouldn’t have any issues finding your way once you get on it.

It’s called the Humuula Trail.

Before you get on the trail though, theres a station for you brush your shoes off, protecting the mountain's ecosystem from unwanted pests.

In total it’s about 12 miles round trip. The first 6 up will slow you down from the steep elevation gain of 4,800ft, but the way down will go by fast.

Our group was inexperienced with high elevation hiking, and we got up and back in 9 hours – 5 1/2 up and 3 1/2 down.

Make sure to plan plenty of time into your hike to get your group up at a pace that works for you, and you should be fine. One mile an hour is definitely a crawling pace, but I’m happy to say that everyone in our group made it all the way up and back just fine.

There are a few tips to staying on top of the altitude while you’re up there:

  •  Make sure to drink plenty of water. Lack of fluids will slow down your acclimation process, and make sure you regularly eat to give yourself the calories you need
  • Keep an eye out for headaches and nausea. If you feel any of these from the altitude make sure to stop. 13k ft isn’t anything insane, but it’s enough to affect you, especially if you’re altitude sensitive or even if it just isn’t your day. If the symptoms don’t go away while you wait there, go down to a lower altitude.
  • Also, make sure to wear sunscreen. There is no sun protection on this hike, and you will be more susceptible to burning at the higher altitude.

(I also wrote a little more on dealing with altitude on my before mentioned Mt Whitney story)

One more thing to look out for is low electrolytes. Taking Gatorade or propel packets can be a good call. You’ll be sweating a ton on this hike, and the sugary drink can also be a great pick me up.

A telltale sign of low electrolytes is nausea when drinking plain water, so it can easily be confused with altitude sickness at first – believe me, I’ve made that mistake!

If it comes to this, stop and get your electrolytes up. Gatorade is common, but something salty will work just as well. The best approach as always is to be proactive. When you pack food and liquids keep electrolytes in mind.

Finally, don’t forget to keep an eye on others in your group. Don’t fry them at a horrible pace that only works for you. Sometimes the only way to the peak is to take a break.

Since you most likely would be spending the night before this at sea level you likely will be taking many breaks for acclimation.

Know what your group dynamic is going into this. We took lots of break on our way up, but if you’re with people that can charge the mountain go for it.

We made sure to have no solid plans after this hike, and it worked out well. Having something we couldn’t miss right after the hike would add stress to hasten our pace and maybe even cause us to turn around before the summit.

The hike is on a dirt trail for the overwhelming majority of it and the last mile connected back up with a paved road, but it’s gotta be the prettiest paved road you’ve ever walked on.

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