The Biggest...not the Best!
Mauna Loa Peak at 13,677' is the little sister to Mauna Kea, just across the valley. Yet, it could offer a far superior hiking challenge.
Three basic routes ascend to the peak. The most common: the Observatory Road, departs from around 6,000' off of the Saddle Road, near the intersection of the road up to Mauna Kea. You may drive this paved route up to 11,150' to the Mauna Loa Weather Observatory... then hike the 6.4 miles up to the peak.
The second route, normally used as a multi-day backpack, departs on the opposite side of the mountain in the Volcano National Park, around the 4,000' level. The initial paved road ascends to the Mauna Loa Lookout at 6,662'. From there the Mauna Loa trail heads up to the Red Hill Cabin at 10,035', 7.5 miles of scenic hiking.
The cabins have water collection systems; bring your filter!
The next cabin destination along the trail is at 13,250', 11.6 miles further up. If you want to hit the peak, you will have to backtrack two miles from the Mauna Loa cabin, then loop another 2.5 miles around the Caldera.
Lots of connecting and looping options... check at the Ranger Station for the current status of the various routes. There are seasonal closures... you may not be able to drive in and up!
The third route is the potential massive one day challenge... or, a nice extended multi-day backpack. Ainapo Road appears to begin at the 800' level. The map is wrong... it is probably 800 meters. This route also takes off from the Volcano National Park side, just down the road towards Kona. The gate off Hiway 11 accesses private land... call for permission to enter and cross Kapala Ranch(4:30am---8:30pm daily 808-928-8403). The road is rated 4wd... eight miles of approach before you reach the Ainapo Trailhead at 5600'. From there, 2.7 miles of hiking will take you up to the Halewai Cabin at 7750'. Then, 7.5 miles will carry you on up to the Mauna Loa Cabin at 13,250. At that point you have that 4.5 miles around the Caldera to hit the peak. Completed as a one day effort, this route might be the most challenging day hike in the USA.
So... the Long Mountain offers options!
Note: Mauna Loa is credited with a total mass greater than the entire combined mass of the Sierra Nevada mountains! You will be hiking big!
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.