This moderate 3-mile round-trip to the summit of a cinder cone crosses lava flows from the 1970s, lava tree molds, and kipuka. At the top is a vista of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, the coastline, and the vent of Puu Oo, drained of lava in 2018 but still emitting steamy wisps. The trailhead is in the Mauna Ulu parking area on Chain of Craters Road, 8 miles from the visitor center. (Note: Sulfur fumes may be stronger here than on other trails.)
At the end of Chain of Craters Road, a 1.25 mile stretch of pavement leads to the 8-mile emergency access gravel road to Kalapana, overrun midway by a 2016 lava flow; the first few miles have interpretive signs. For avid trekkers, several long, steep, unshaded hikes lead to the beaches and rocky bays on the park’s remote shoreline; they’re all overnight backcountry hikes and require a permit. Only hiking diehards should consider attempting the Mauna Loa Trail, perhaps the most challenging hike in all of Hawaii. Many hikers have had to be rescued due to high-altitude sickness or exposure after becoming lost in snowy or foggy conditions. From the trailhead at the end of Mauna Loa Road, about an hour’s drive from the visitor center, it’s a 7.5-mile trek to the Puu Ulaula (“Red Hill”) cabin at 10,035 feet, and then 12 more miles up to the primitive Mauna Loa summit cabin at 13,250 feet, where the climate is subarctic and overnight temperatures are below freezing year-round. In addition to backcountry permits, this 4-day round-trip requires special gear, top physical condition, and careful planning.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.