Mauna Loa Road is a lovely ride! This route traverses up the side of Mauna Loa to the Mauna Loa overlook, where on clear days you can see the National Volcanoes Park and further to the ocean. A single land paved road meanders through lava fields, koa forests, kipuka and across recent lava flow. At the base is Bird Park or Puaulu, a short walking path (only) filled with flora and fauna. Along the bicycle ride there are several vista points with dramatic open views.
Great beginner route!
Go until you don’t want to anymore.
Then go a little further and one of those times you’ll be at the top.
On weather: There is a microclimate change between the northeast region of the Volcanoes National Park and this south-western segment of the park. When raining within the main park and Hilo-Hamakua, this segment can be clear or at least, not pouring. Like much of Hawaii, it can rapidly change. Going up in 60° weather is great, going down with 60° rain makes for a long time to use the breaks, navigate the rough road segments, and deal with cars. During summer, exposure to the sun and UV can be intense.
Safety: By car, this road is long, windy, and prone to impatient drivers only interested in getting to the top. Mauna Loa Road is a relatively popular cycling and pedestrian route, however, the few cars may be traveling fast around blind corners on a single lane road. Always wear bright clothing and use a bicycle light even in daylight.
The Route: The bike route up Mauna Loa Road can be divided into a few tidy segments with obvious landmarks.
To the First Cattle Guard ~2 miles
Off to a great start, the two-lane road winds through a lovely, shaded kipuka. A kipuka is an area of land that avoids death and destruction from Pele. Typically, they are older forested areas with native trees and birds. Cooler, quiet and a wonderful respite between lava flows, kipuka are rich encounters of nature. The ride here is leisure with a few short hills as the road wends through the forested area.
The Second Cattle Guard ~ 4.25
Just before the second cattle guard is a pullout area and a trail that leads off to the right mauka open to hikers and mountain bikers. For this ride, we’ll stick to the road and cross over the cattle guard. The kipuka forest changes into an enchanted green grassy knoll. Lacy koa trees rise up from brilliant clumping grass. The sun shines through the trees casting lacy shadows across the landscape. Often a nice breeze flows through and adds a bit of motion through the scene. The road narrows to a single lane and you may find yourself lost in just how beautiful it is.
Old Lava Flows
From here the climb starts a little more intensely, opening into a more arid lava segment. There was a fire in 2018 which brought this segment to the ground, but now just a few years later it is already replenishing the forest with many new trees. You’ll cross the new growth, head over a few flows and enjoy some long straight segments on the road.
Lava River Vista
Eventually, you’ll come to a significant vista where a lava river took out a segment of the road. The road has since been repaired and you’ll bicycle right across this channel of a’a lava. Looking left and right as you traverse the chasm, feel the power of the channel of lava running down Mauna Loa toward the ocean.
Good news! Just after this flow, is another kipuka, cool and shady, sheltered from Pele’s creative forces. Take your time to move through this segment you’ll hear birds, see unique orange moss on the trees and breath in the clean clear air.
At the Top ~ just shy of 10 miles
You’ll pass through a kipuka and start the final segments of the road, deceiving the top you navigate through open, aged lava flows. The last segment is full of long switchback segments and if you stop to take a break, you’ll hear both silence and birds. One of the most magical parts of the climb is the remoteness; no cars; no planes; no helicopters; only wind and birds. The switchback climbs are not overly steep. Your mind may play tricks however, as everytime you turn the corner it seems like it should be the last! At the time of this writing, sections of the road is is rough and has compact gravel patches. Eventually, you will find yourself at the top and can enjoy the vista which spans across the Hawaii National Park and to the ocean.
At the top is a covered pavilion and the start of the Mauna Loa Trail, which climbs another 4000’ to the summit of the volcano. That is a different adventure!
- ~10 miles from parking to overlook
- ~3000’ elevation climb
- Pit toilets at the top; none at the bottom of Mauna Loa Road