Mauna Kea Summit Adventure, Hilo Hawai’i

Mauna Kea is many things to many people.

To Hawaiians, it is a revered spiritual site, home to the mightiest Gods and burial place of their ancestors. The famous Adze Quarries and dozens of archaeological sites define Mauna Kea's importance to Hawaii's first settlers.

  • Mauna Kea Sunset

To Astronomers, Mauna Kea is home to the world's largest telescopes and has atmospheric clarity better than anywhere else on earth. Cutting-edge science and new understandings of our Universe are constantly flowing from the summit.

To students of Geology and Earth sciences, environmentalists, and anthropologists, Mauna Kea has something for everyone: wonderful Ice Age/Glacial scouring, road cuts revealing strata and a well defined Volcanic history.  Learn more about the Volcano on our Volcano Twilight Tour.

To Doug Arnott and his adventure guides, it is an opportunity to share our accumulated knowledge with our many and varied guests and to recreate for each guest the absolute thrill and awe that we experienced on our first visit to Mauna Kea.

A Mauna Kea tour is a must-do when visiting the Big Island of Hawai'i.  Check off your bucket list with Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures and enjoy the journey!

Our goal:  We are an Adventure Tour company and guests come to do the Mauna Kea Summit for a variety of reasons such as cultural and spiritual importance, some have come to add Mauna Kea to their list of High Points in the world, some come to just to say they have stood on the tallest mountain or to examine its unique geology and Ice Age artifacts.  A few come to view the worlds' largest telescope buildings even though few have public access.  Therefore we will do everything possible to get our tour to the summit as this is our main objective.
Weather:   Mauna Kea is ocassionally hit by passing clouds or bad weather which does not close the road.  If the road is open to the summit, our tour WILL proceed.  We cannot guarantee that you will see sunset or stars as we have no control of cloud coverage and spontaneous weather.  Check out Mauna Kea's webcam
Provided:  Carhartt hooded jackets, hot chocolate and an adventure of a lifetime.
Bring:  Extra layer of clothes, long pants, sturdy “closed toe” walking shoes, a light meal, water, sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, camera and an adventurous attitude.
Please do not bring: Alcoholic beverages or excessive gear.



    1. Our regular 4x4 van (14 pax) departs from our Lodge in Hilo for the Sunset and Starshow.
    2. Are you lodging in Kona? While we do leave from Hilo, we can meet guests from Kona at a meeting point on Highway 200. There's no need to be picked up and shuttled around the Kona hotels! You can drive yourself straight to our meeting point and save time and money. Kona and West Side guests can drive their rental car to the Mauna Kea turnoff on Saddle Rd (Highway 200, Mile Marker 28) to join up with our standard Mauna Kea tour.
    3. Private or Custom Mauna Kea tours. Usually small numbers in an SUV vehicle where we pick you up from Hilo or Kona/Waikoloa hotels. Private or Custom tours also encompass Sunrise, daytime telescope visits, Sunset and larger groups.  Our private or custom tours has the same itinerary as our regular Mauna Kea tour but with the use of an exclusive guide.


  1. Our regularly scheduled Mauna Kea tour days are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  2. Guests driving their own cars can meet us on the above days.
  3. Private or Custom Mauna Kea Tours can be arranged for any day we have available capacity. Call us at 808.339.0921 or email us at for more information and availability.

Arnott's has been professionally operating on Mauna Kea since 1992 and has provided transport for both Keck and Subaru VIP's during construction of these world class observatories.

We are also the only daytime operator taking cruise-ship guests to the summit, which requires a higher degree of training and insurance for this demanding sector.

Regular Mauna Kea Sunset/Starshow Tours

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Hilo departure or meet at Highway 200/ Kipuka Puuhuluhulu Cinder Cone at Mile Marker 28, Mauna Kea turnoff on Saddle road.)
Departure time varies from 2:30pm-3:30pm depending on season.  Please call 808-339-0921 or email at for tour departure. These days don't work for you? Not a problem, ask us about our private or custom Mauna Kea tours. Subject to tour guide availability.

  • $180/person - Regular Price (Pick up at Hilo Hotels or meeting at Arnott's Lodge)
  • $160/person - Drive yourself from Kona or Waikoloa. Meet at Highway 200/ Kipuka Puuhuluhulu Cinder Cone at Mile Marker 28, Mauna Kea turnoff on Saddle road.).
  • $130/person - Arnott's Lodge Guest price (Subject to two nights minimum stay)
    • Please note that if only one guest is signed up for a tour, we will run the tour just for you, but must charge the Regular Price of $180 per person.
  • Plus 4.16% Gross Excise Tax
  •  Gratuity is not included--tipping is customary in Hawaii: an optional tip of $5 and up per person would be greatly appreciated by your guide.
  • These tours are conducted in a specially converted 4x4 Ford Van rated for 14 passengers and Carhartt jackets are provided.
  • The Starshow is conducted by our tour guide with a laser pointer. We do not use telescopes! A Starshow subject to moon and atmospheric conditions will be given after leaving the summit.
  • 48 hours is needed to cancel your tour reservation: if you cancel your tour within the 48 hours you will be charged for the tour.

Click here for Private Mauna Kea Tours (including Sunrise, Daytime and Sunset tours)

The Sunset Adventure

Our tour leaves Hilo at seasonally adjusted times (1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.). We start our tour from Arnott's Lodge and make a quick stop at Rainbow Falls, then go directly to the Onizuka Visitor Center (VIS) at 9200ft (3000m) where you may do some vigorous short climbs or watch videos on Astronomy and the Telescopes. The VIS also has hot drinks, snacks and a large range of mountain and astronomy related souvenirs and educational materials available.

Following a 30 to 45 minute acclimatization stop at the VIS, we ascend to 13,600ft where our guide will explain the various telescopes in view. Next we continue up the last few hundred feet to the road highpoint where those in good physical condition may walk around the nearby telescopes. This opportunity and sunset are often at the same time revealing spectacular views of sunset and the famous "Shadow" of Mauna Kea to the East. Mauna Kea to Halekala Sunset

Upon twilight, we descend to our own Starshow location where our guide, using a high powered visible laser, leads you on a detailed journey across the magnificent night sky describing major celestial objects and Polynesian navigational stars. We have found by experience that this is preferable to deploying an amateur telescope which takes a long time to aim and to process all guests through one object while everyone is getting very cold. Finally, we stop at the Visitor Center for hot drinks and bathrooms before continuing back. We return to Hilo usually by 9:00 to 11:00pm.

Searching Availability...

IMPORTANT WEATHER INFORMATION.  Arnott's Lodge and Hiking Adventures does not guarantee fine weather. Getting you to the Summit area is the main thrust of this tour and full price will be charged if we make it to the top.  As with all mountains, local heating and cooling can cause cloud or haze and impact Sunset and the Starshow, as can full moon, high wind or extreme cold.  Our Starshow, if conditions permit, is an overview of what is seen that night including major constellations, Polynesian navigational stars, and signs of the Zodiac.  We do NOT use telescopes. If we cannot get above the Visitor Station due to road closure, you will recieve a 50% refund.  This is the ONLY case for a refund.  There are cases where overnight snow and ice have the road closed even up to the time we leave Hilo for the mountain, however we monitor the 28 webcams on the mountain for any sign of thaw and possibility to get up to the top as we realize that road crews are also striving to get astronomers up to telescopes and many of our Adventurer guests have just this one shot to go. Sometimes the road only opens briefly and you have to be at the Visitor Information Station to take advantage; this is where 25 years of experience comes in.

Please read concerning all Arnott’s Mauna Kea Tours:

    1. People with respiratory and/or heart conditions, severe obesity, pregnant women, and children under 16 are advised not to go above the 9,200 ft. level where the visitor center is located.  Do not go to the summit within 24 hours of scuba diving.
    2. We provide supplemental oxygen, however this is to restore oxygen balance only.  This is a remote area with at least 90 minutes for emergency response and we take NO responsibility for the rare person who reacts negatively to altitude.  Any use of oxygen is considered an emergency medical situation and immediate evacuation of the entire group from the summit is required.
    3. While Mauna Kea is renowned for over 340 accessible days a year, there are sudden storms that can force closure of the summit road.  Our professional staff monitor weather and road conditions as the information becomes available on the internet.  On those occasions where the road is found to be closed, we will visit the Onizuka Visitor Center at 9200 ft (3000 m).  A fixed 50% discount/refund will be given if we do not get at least to the lower summit telescopes.
      1. If guests are interested, we may offer a tour to see Mauna Loa when Mauna Kea is inaccessible. Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain in the world, and reaches an impressive height of 13,679 ft (4,169 m). There are many things to see on Mauna Loa, including lava tubes and formations, pahoehoe and a'a lava flows, cinder cones, and the outside of the NOAA Mauna Loa Atmospheric Observatory.

In some cases of extreme weather, we may offer you the option to opt out with a full refund before we leave for the tour.  Mauna Kea Webcams:

Reasons NOT to take a rental car above Saddle Road turnoff to Mauna Kea:

  1. Many rental car companies still prohibit this activity and levy severe fines for non-compliance.
  2. Grades even below the Visitor station are up to 20%, requiring extended climbing in low gear which can cause your engine to overheat.
  3. Returning down these same grades even your low gear is insufficient braking causing many inexperienced drivers to burn their brakes leaving a telltale smell that will cost you big money if detected by the rental agency.
  4. Read at the Visitor Station about Invisible Black Cows that wander these roads at night and score an occasional car.
  5. Above the Visitor Station, an unpaved four (4) mile section of washboard gravel and lava rock surface is a challenge for even the heavy diesel vans and busses operators use.
  6. Many times large rocks are worked out of the surface by traffic and lie in wait for your low slung car, to damage or tear out your oil or tranmission pan, tear out a tire sidewall or place large dents in your muffler system. Rental agencies have mirrors and check for these damages.
  7. At the time most go up for Sunset, brilliant low sun ahead catches your eyes blinding you...operators know every inch of the road and slow to a crawl.
  8. As you will notice going up, there are few guard rails and 45 degree slopes going if you make it up in daylight, getting down is a whole different experience.
  9. At the summit many guests suffer mild to moderate, and in a few cases severe, oxygen deficiency, for which we have oxygen on hand...what will you do?

Play it safe. GO WITH AN EXPERIENCED OPERATOR, whether it is us or another company. You are playing with your and your families lives for a few dollars!

* The above tour description is a generalization of average sunset/starshow activities: the actual tour may change in response to weather, seasons, daylight and guide preferences. Some telescopes are open or closed seasonally, roads may close in response to floods or snowfall. Arnott’s Adventure Tours is not responsible for these events and no refunds will be given except a fixed 50% discount/refund if we do not get at least to the lower summit telescopes.** Reservations, to be confirmed, must be guaranteed by credit card or advance payment. 48 hour minimum notice of cancellation is required to avoid being charged.