Stays are limited to 3 consecutive nights per site. A total of 24 hikers are allowed per night at the Pu'u 'Ula'ula (Red Hill). The cabin has 8 bunks. A total of 28 hikers are allowed at the Mauna Loa summit cabin area. The cabin has 12 bunks.
Backpackers to Mauna Loa should be adequately equipped, experienced in wilderness/high altitude trekking, and physically fit.
ESSENTIAL BACKPACKING EQUIPMENT
SUMMIT CABIN LOG
In addition to regular winter/high altitude gear:
first aid kit
emergency food supply, cookstove, fuel, utensils (Open fires are prohibited)
flashlight & extra batteries/headlamp/candles
biodegradable soap, toilet paper
signaling device (mirror, etc.), cell phone
minimum 3 to 4 quarts/liters water per person/day
broken in sturdy boots, moleskin, duct tape
sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
sleeping bag (0 degree or better)
rain pants and jacket (a poncho will not keep you dry)
We were foolishly under-prepared ... One hour more in the cold rain and wind and Jean would have been a serious case of hypothermia...
Very nippy for the 1st of June...
I thought I'd never make it. The Observatory trail is really tough and exhausting. In addition, the altitude sickness caught us.
Perfect weather, great sunset and sunrise. Glad to have done it but wonder if the last 7 miles from the summit trail junction really were only 2.1!
For backcountry camping, there is a non-refundable $10.00 fee per trip (effective November 1, 2016), in addition to the park entrance fee. The fee is good for up to 12 people and 7 nights per permit. Failure to obtain a backcountry permit is a violation of 36 CFR 2.10(b)(8). Violators may be subject to fines up to $1000 and/or 6 months in jail. All eight backcountry campsites (Ka‘aha, Halapē, Keauhou, ‘Āpua Point, Nāpau, Pepeiao Cabin, Red Hill Cabin and Mauna Loa Cabin) require a permit, with a stay limit of three consecutive nights at one site. Campers can move to another backcountry site for the fourth night, but no more than 7 consecutive nights per permit. Stays longer than 7 nights require purchasing an additional $10.00 permit. Sites may be reserved up to a week in advance and are reserved upon receipt of permit fees. Fees for backcountry camping can be paid in person at the Backcountry Office by credit card, personal check, cash (exact change please), or online through pay.gov up to a week in advance of your departure. Physical permits must be picked up no more than 24 hours in advance from the Backcountry Office, open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Payments made through pay.gov require obtaining a permit number in advance by calling or emailing the Backcountry Office. You will enter this number into the pay.gov online form.
Permit requests to hike Mauna Loa from the Weather Observatory Trail may be done by phone.
Permits for campers using watercraft to access coastal camping areas may be done over the phone.
Off-site (dispersed) camping is allowed in the backcountry. Hikers must be at least 1 mile from a road or improved camp area and "out of sight and sound" of the trail. "Cat holing" is not allowed to dispose of human waste.
Be prepared for severe winter conditions, including blizzards, high winds, and whiteouts. Snow or driving rain are possible at any time of year. High altitude storms can occur without warning. Temperatures are below freezing at night all year round.
Leave No Trace
All hikers are required to pack out everything they pack in. Do not bury or discard trash in composting toilets - Pack it out. Practice "leave no trace" camping.
The Pu'u 'Ula'ula (Red Hill) cabin at 10,035 feet has 8 bunks with thin foam mattress pads. The Mauna Loa summit cabin on the rim of Moku'aweoweo at 13,250 feet has 12 bunks with mattress pads. Cabins have attached water catchment tanks. Check on current water levels when obtaining your permit. Treat all water before drinking. Composting toilets are provided; please use them. Do not put trash in the pit toilets.
There is no drinking water at either the Mauna Loa Observatory or Mauna Loa Road trailheads. Both are accessible by one-lane paved roads. Neither has public telephones or public transportation. It takes about an hour to drive from the Kilauea Visitor Center via Mauna Loa Road to the trailhead, and two hours to drive to the Observatory trailhead via Saddle Road.
You will be hiking at high altitudes under rigorous conditions; altitude sickness is common. The only cure is to descend. Pace yourself, drink plenty of water. Pack extra clothing and your sleeping bag in plastic for waterproofness. Stay warm and dry; hypothermia (low body temperature) is a killer. Be prepared to treat injuries caused by falls on sharp, glassy lava.
SCUBA divers MUST wait at least 24 hours before ascending Mauna Loa to avoid getting the BENDS. This means that if you were diving less than 24 hours ago, you should not be hiking on Mauna Loa.
There are serious and potentially fatal consequences of hiking at high altitude. Mauna Loa IS HIGH ALTITUDE.
Children under 16 years of age, pregnant women, and individuals with severe health problems including, but not limited to, pulmonary and cardiac problems, high blood pressure, or a severe overweight condition SHOULD NOT HIKE on Mauna Loa without first consulting with their own personal physician.
Be familiar with the following symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). If you have had AMS, HACE, or HAPE before, you are very susceptible to getting it again -- check with your personal physician before hiking on Mauna Loa. The only appropriate treatment for altitude-related illnesses on Mauna Loa is evacuation to a lower elevation., preferably to sea level. If symptoms do not get better at sea level, the individual should be admitted to a hospital for observation and treatment.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): mild to severe headache (which responds to aspirin), nausea (and/or vomiting), lack of appetite, sleeplessness, or malaise (not feeling well in a vague way and not having much energy). Altered balance and muscular coordination (ataxia). Altered mental state. Dizziness. Fainting. Extreme shortness of breath after almost any activity. Difficulty sleeping. Unusual patterns of breathing during sleep. Swelling in hands and face. Darker urine with heavy odor, and decreased urine output.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): headache, nausea (and/or vomiting) lack of appetite, dizziness, weakness and fatigue, increasing anxiety, unable to catch breath (even at rest), very rapid pulse, gurgling sounds in the lungs, very rapid respiration rate, dry cough at first then becoming wet (possibly pink), incoherence or hallucinations. Blue coloration in lips and under finger nails.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): headache (which doesn't respond to aspirin), nausea (and/or vomiting), loss of balance (ataxia), loss of muscular coordination, altered mental state, decreased mental functioning, psychological withdrawal, disorientation, confusion, hallucinations, weakness or numbness on one side of the body, being unable to talk, being unable to make sense while talking, coma.
IF MORE THAN ONE OF THESE SYMPTOMS IS PRESENT, DO NOT WAIT - DESCEND IMMEDIATELY. IF SYMPTOMS PERSIST AFTER DESCENT TO SEA LEVEL, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION WITHOUT DELAY. THIS IS A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH!
Volcanic eruptions are possible at any time. Stay upslope from active lava flows and remain on high ground. Stay upwind of volcanic gasses. Earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous.
The Mauna Loa Strip Road traverses areas which contain very flammable grasses and brush. Open fires are prohibited.
Give us your feedback - Let us know about trail, cabin, or campsite conditions. Did you notice anything damaged or dangerous conditions that rangers should be aware of? File a Trip Report