Important: Read This Before Going Up Mauna Kea

Thinking about taking a stargazing tour on Mauna Kea? Read this first to make sure you get the best stargazing you can.

Over the years Mauna Kea has become a hot spot destination for visitors and locals alike on the Big Island. It is an appealing spot that can be a lot of fun. This has led to capacity issues and reduced quality in stargazing. While going up the mountain can still be a fun experience, it’s important to get this heads up.

Visibility Issues

The parking lot fills up early and throughout the evening headlights and dust from vehicles diminish visibility of the sky. Additionally, the telescopes provided on the stargazing deck are often limited by the amount of calibration and care they are able to receive with the number of people using them.

Safety Issues

The Visitor Information Station is located at high altitude. Going from sea level to the Visitor Center over just an hour or two can cause altitude sickness. Children under 16 are urged to go no higher than the visitor center. If you do go, take lots of water to stay hydrated and pay attention to what your body tells you.

Also, take a heavy jacket or good blankets. Mauna Kea is at below freezing temperatures during the winter months and often just above during the rest of the year.

From the Maunakea Visitor Information Station Page

As seen recently on the Maunakea Visitor Information Station Page:

“Due to the hazards of altitude sickness, children under 16 should not venture above the Visitor Information Station AND those traveling in groups of 10 or more require an approved special request from the Visitor Information Station.

Currently we are experiencing both insufficient parking and crowding on our Stargazing deck. We are working to address these issues but be aware before you arrive of the possibility of long lines and no parking available at the Visitor Information Station.

This situation can happen on any evening until about 1 1/2 hours after sunset (check the bottom of the Maunakea Weather Center page for current sunset times).  We are unable to predict volume on any particular day, so please do not call to inquire about current parking conditions.  Mahalo for your understanding.”

Our Recommendations

We used to enjoy going up to Mauna Kea with our own family and friends and still occasionally go there. However, our love of the sky and passion for viewing the stars led us off the overcrowded mountain and to the Kohala coast, where the stargazing is more beautiful and more comfortable.

We found that the viewing conditions on the coast exceed those at the visitor center. The unique geography of Kohala affords world-class viewing at sea-level (see the how and why here). Because of this, we now do all of our tours and astro-photography on the West Hawaii coast.

This makes for:

  • No altitude sickness or restrictions
  • No freezing cold weather
  • No overcrowding
  • Meticulously calibrated telescopes
  • Professional astronomers giving the presentation
  • World-class stargazing

If you’re interested in joining us or learning more about the best stargazing experience in Hawaii, take a look at our tour dates and times here.


Photograph by D.A. Swanson on February 15, 1971.