7 Best Mauna Kea Tours On The Big Island Of Hawaii

Two white telescope domes on top of the Mauna Kea summit during sunset

Looking for the best Mauna Kea tours on the Big Island of Hawaii? You’ve come to the right spot!

I recently returned from an epic Big Island vacation. As the tallest mountain on Earth (from base to peak), visiting Mauna Kea is one of the top things to do on the Island of Hawai’i.

In this post, I have put together all of the highest-rated Mauna Kea tours – so you can easily book one and continue with your vacation planning.

Don’t have time to read the entire post? My pick for the best Mauna Kea tour: Mauna Kea Summit And Stars Small-Group Adventure with over 1000 five-star reviews!

While it is possible to drive up to the top of Mauna Kea without a tour, I do not recommend it due to dangerous road conditions. You must have a 4WD and most rental companies don’t allow rental cars on the summit road. For this reason, most travelers opt to take a guided tour instead.

Below I cover 7 of the best Mauna Kea tours so you can visit this location safely and not worry about a thing!

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!

7 Best Mauna Kea Tours:

1. Mauna Kea Summit And Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour

This is one of the best Mauna Kea summit adventures tours to take on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 8 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa Village, or Hilo
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: pickup & drop off, guide, warm clothing, hot picnic dinner, hot cocoa, cookies, star show with telescope
  • Tour company: Hawaii Forest &Trail

You’ll have a new appreciation and admiration for the majestic night sky during your Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Adventure Tour.

It all begins with a picnic and a chance to get to know your guide and everyone in the group. Next, you’ll get into a 4×4 luxury van and start making your way up the summit of Big Island’s tallest peak. There, you can watch the breathtaking sunset, which will surely be one of your core memories.

This was such a fantastic experience! The dinner and snacks were wonderful! Sunset on top of the mountain was spectacular, and the stargazing was everything I expected it would be.”

— David W. (read more reviews)

After enjoying the sunset from above a sea of clouds, your small group will head to a lower area with a more comfortable elevation. You’ll spend the evening there basking under the night sky and taking turns with the team’s 11-inch Celestron telescopes. This is the perfect backdrop for deep conversations as you sip hot chocolate and be warm in the provided parka jackets.

Rest assured that the guides of this Mauna Kea excursion are deeply knowledgeable about the island and would love to answer your questions about the area and the skies above. The professional guides ensure that the overall experience is safe and engaging and that this summit and star tour is one you’ll always remember!

Because this tour involves high altitude, it is not recommended for pregnant women, children below 13 years old, and those with back, respiratory, circulatory, or heart conditions.

Check Mauna Kea Summit Tour rates & availability!

2. Mauna Kea Summit Sunset And Stars Free Astro Photos

Sitting at 13,796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 7-8 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa Village, or Hilo
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: transportation, guide, warm clothing, snacks, hot beverages, professional telescope, complimentary night photo
  • Tour companyHawaii Island Holidays

This top-notch Mauna Kea sunset tour is a one-of-a-kind experience! On this tour, you and your fellow adventure seekers will head to the highest point on the Hawaii Islands for an afternoon and night to remember. The tour guides will get you up 13,796 feet for a true bird’s eye view of the island.

After getting the group together for an afternoon pick-up, you will travel via a 4×4 luxury van to the summit and catch the beautiful Hawaiian sunset with clouds almost within reach. It is the perfect backdrop for your photos, especially as you bundle up with your warm jacket and gloves and sip your hot beverage.

Watching the sunset from the summit of a mountain is an experience like no other! Once the stars begin to cover the night sky, they will rekindle your love for astronomy.

“Just an amazing experience all the way around. We were able to see galaxies far away, constellations, satellites, and more. The sunset was beautiful but the stars were amazing and our guides were great.”

— Melissa Z. (read more reviews)

Your guide will give you a highly informative, engaging, and fun discussion about the island, the skies, and everything in between. You’ll feel like a kid again as your guide uses a laser pointer and shares bits and pieces about constellations, galaxies, and Hawaiian legends and folklore, including stories about the islands’ deities Lilinoe and Waiau.

Get a closer look at the beautiful heavenly bodies with the Celestron telescope. And, of course, get a physical memento of your time in the clouds, sky, and mountains with a professional night photo.

Joining this Mauna Kea tour is a must when you want to experience Hawaii on a different level. You can expect this adventure to be safe, well-organized, and worthwhile.

Check Mauna Kea Summit And Stars Tour rates & availability!

3. Best Mauna Kea Summit Tour (Free Sunset And Star Photo)

Book this Mauna Kea telescope tour and travel to the summit for sunset, plus enjoy stargazing afterward.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 8 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa Village
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: transportation, guide, warm clothing, dinner, telescope, free DSLR photo of sunset & stars
  • Tour companyHawaiian Eyes Tour

Hawaii offers the best spot for stargazing, and no, it is not on the beach with bonfires all around. Instead, it is at the country’s 13,803-foot Mauna Kea peak!

Yes, a Mauna Kea summit tour should be on your bucket list!

What do you get on this Mauna Kea Summit Tour? For starters, you will enjoy a group dinner at the Onizuka Astronomy Complex to get to know everyone in the group and satiate your hunger before embarking on a life-changing adventure.

After making your tummy happy, you’ll head to the summit of Mauna Kea and experience a truly stunning Hawaiian sunset. Above the clouds, you’ll be amazed by the bright oranges and reds that will color the sky.

As the sun goes down, you can watch the blanket of stars and the moon fill the sky. As you stargaze, you will see galaxies, planets, and other heavenly bodies through the telescope set up for your group.

Words can hardly describe how spectacular this tour is. Astronomy geeks, stargazers, and anyone in general individuals will be blown away at how many stars you see.”

— Debbie W. (read more reviews)

Aside from stargazing, you will also get professionally taken pictures and a light dinner to tide you over before going back down the mountain. From start to finish, this tour will always put you first, providing flexibility and various options.

Everything is supplied, from food to warm clothes, gloves, admission fee for Mauna Kea, a van going to the summit, an expert tour guide, your keepsake photo, and a telescope for stargazing. You just need a curious mind and open heart, and you’re all set for the adventure of a lifetime!

Check Mauna Kea Summit Sunset Tour rates & availability!

4. Mauna Kea Stargazing Experience & Photos

Are you looking for a shorter tour? Book this Mauna Kea night tour that is only 2 hours long!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 2 hours
  • Tour meeting point: Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder cone parking lot (along Saddle Road)
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: photography guide, warm clothing, complimentary photos
  • Tour companyEpic! Tours Hawaii

This Mauna Kea stargazing tour is one you should book if you want to experience Hawaii from a different angle – or at least height. Look up at the sky and admire the millions of twinkling stars while on the slopes of Mauna Kea, and you’ll never look at it the same way again!

Being at the Maunakea summit means being very cold. But don’t worry! Your guide can provide you with parka jackets and blankets so you can bundle up and ward off the cold. Just be sure to wear long pants to stay warm as the temperatures cool down.

This tour may surprise you in that you may not have realized just how many stars you can see from Hawaii and how vast the sky is. Thanks to your highly experienced and knowledgeable guides, you’ll be amazed by the sheer amount of information you will learn about astronomy and the island.

“Five stars are not enough, by far my favorite tour of our trip to the Big Island. Awe-inspiring views of more stars, galaxies, nebulae, planets, constellations than you can imagine.”

— Mark T. (read more reviews)

Don’t hesitate to ask your guide for recommendations about the areas to get the best views. If conditions are right, you may even have the chance to see a clear picture of the Milky Way and dozens of constellations.

You will never feel rushed when on this tour. You will undoubtedly head back down the mountain with a full heart and beautiful memories of the sky and stars.

You can also look forward to the professionally captured picture you get to keep with the gorgeous night sky as the background.

Check Mauna Kea Stargazing Tour rates & availability!

5. Mauna Kea Arnott’s Adventures

Book the Arnott’s Adventures Tour and visit Mauna Kea, the highest point in Hawaii!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 7 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Hilo
  • Tour rating: 5/5 stars
  • Includes: transportation, guide, coat (upon request)
  • Tour companyArnott’s Lodge

This is a small group tour with four amazing stops. Kickstart the afternoon by spending some time at Hilo’s Rainbow Falls and the monkeypod tree. If the weather permits during the day, you may even get a bonus sight of a rainbow at the waterfall!

An amazing experience. Our guide Donna was very knowledgeable and did a great job telling us about Mauna Kea, Hawaiian culture, and the Island.”

— Jakob P. (read more reviews)

This Mauna Kea observatory tour travels to the Onizuka Astronomy Complex, where you will check out the cozy stations used to observe and study the environment in Mauna Kea.

This will also help you acclimate to the elevation of your destination, which is 9,000 feet high, before going further up to the Mauna Kea summit. Some people may experience altitude sickness at the top, so it’s important to notify your guide if you do.

Weather permitting, once you reach the summit (13,796 feet), you’ll find yourself surrounded by clouds. You will be able to watch an impressive sunset from an extraordinary angle.

You’ll also see a series of international and professional telescopes along this Hawaiian sacred mountain and feast your eyes with the best night sky view at the Onizuka Astronomy Complex.

Your local guide is equipped not just with the necessary equipment to make the experience better for you, such as laser pointers, but also with extensive knowledge about the sky, stars, and all of Hawaii.

Check Mauna Kea Adventures Tour rates & availability!

6. Maunakea Stellar Explorer From HILO

Book this Mauna Kea Stars Tour if you’re staying in Hilo.

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 7 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Hilo
  • Tour rating: 4.5/5 stars
  • Includes: transportation, guide, dinner, hot drinks
  • Tour companyKapohokine Adventures

This Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILO tour has five stops and starts mid-afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Hilo.

Among all the Mauna Kea tours, this is the only one where you can enjoy an afternoon solar viewing and then go stargazing at night. You’ll be with astronomy experts who will make the outing even more fun and educational.

The Stellar Explorer tour is designed to help people understand that Hawaii is not just a country rich in land and sea. It is also one of the best spots in the world to observe the solar system.

Our tour was fantastic! The weather cooperated and we saw and learned so much. Nate kept us engaged and it was a great experience.”

— Stephen R. (read more reviews)

Begin your adventure at Rainbow Falls, a postcard-worthy natural wonder that is an 80-foot-high waterfall flowing down in front of a lava cave. And as the name suggests, on sunny days you may capture the rainbow effect in the water.

Take more pictures for your memories and social media as you head to the Boiling Pots on the Wailuku River, and then, at your third stop, you’ll be exploring Kaumana Caves. Then, you will enjoy a little picnic with the rest of the group atop these magnificent caves.

You will then proceed to an area in Mauna Kea—not the summit, but a strategic location to see the sky come to life at night and gaze at the stars.

On this tour, everyone can also use the Dobsonian telescope. If the weather permits, you’ll see galaxies, nebula, planets, and so much more.

Check Maunakea Stellar Explorer HILO rates & availability!

7. Maunakea Stellar Explorer From KONA

With low light pollution, Mauna Kea is one of the best places for star gazing!

Tour Highlights:

  • Tour length: 6.5 hours
  • Tour pickup point: Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa & other locations on the island
  • Tour rating: 4/5 stars
  • Includes: transportation, guide, jacket, dinner, drinks
  • Tour companyKapohokine Adventures

Join this Maunakea Stellar Explorer Tour from KONA if you want to make the most of one full afternoon and evening in Hawaii while trying something new apart from activities at the beach.

To start, you will have an early dinner with everyone in your group before traveling across Saddle Road between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, two of the biggest and tallest volcanoes in the world.

You will have a National Park Service-trained guide who will answer all of your questions and provide informative insights about geology, volcanology, and even the history of these two incredible earth giants.

“Our tour guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and funny. Make sure you wear warm clothes: sweat pants, warm socks. Warm jackets are provided and were much appreciated. Worth the money.”

— Cheryl K. (read more reviews)

What many people find most interesting here is the in-depth discussion about the flora, fauna, and lava flows that you’ll see throughout the tour.

You will end the day by settling into one of the reliable and strategic locations on Mauna Kea so you can enjoy a night of stargazing. And if the sky is clear, you will see all manner of planetary objects and stars, all almost within reach thanks to the solar telescope and Dobsonian telescope you can use.

At the end, you can relax and warm up with hot chocolate or local Kona coffee in hand.

Check Maunakea Stellar Explorer from KONA rates & availability!

FAQs On Mauna Kea Tours:

Is it difficult to drive up to Mauna Kea?

Yes, it is very difficult to drive up to the summit of Maunakea. Properly engaged 4-wheel drive low range is required for safe travel beyond the visitors center.

You should not drive yourself if you don’t feel comfortable operating 4WD low or if you have only a 2WD or AWD car. In that case, we suggest booking a guided Mauna Kea Summit Tour instead.

Can you go up to Mauna Kea without a tour?

Yes, you can drive up to the top of Mauna Kea without a tour but only in certain cars. 2WD and AWD vehicles are not recommended for summit travel and it is not safe to descend the summit road in drive D.

Keep in mind that overuse of breaks on steep slopes can cause brake failure and is the primary cause of most serious accidents on the Mauna Kea mountain.

Maunakea Visitor Information Station

How much does it cost to visit Mauna Kea?

A guided tour to visit the Mauna Kea summit costs around $280 per person. While this is pretty pricey, most Mauna Kea tours are about 8 hours long and include hotel pickup, food, drinks, experienced guides, warm clothing, and telescopes for star gazing.

What to wear to the Mauna Kea visitor center?

If you plan to visit Mauna Kea, we recommend wearing warm clothing, lots of layers, closed-toe shoes, and long pants as it gets very cold at the summit. Most guided Mauna Kea summit tours offer jackets and warm gloves to keep you cozy, but be sure to double-check the tour details before booking one.

Is Mauna Kea Summit Tour worth it?

Yes, a Mauna Kea summit tour is so worth it! Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth (from base to peak) and features the world’s largest astronomical observatory at the top.

Mount Kea is home to 13 telescopes that are operated by astronomers from 11 countries. This is a truly unique experience and a must-do Big Island tour!

Looking for more Big Island Hawaii travel inspiration? Be sure to check out some of our other popular posts below:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m the founder of the Fun Life Crisis travel blog and I’ve been traveling full-time for the past 7 years. Here I share my experiences and tips to help 100,000 people a month plan their adventures around the world! Read more about me here.

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