Puu Kalepeamoa, a phrase that in Hawaiian means “Sunset Hill”, is a large cinder cone situated near the heart of the Big Island and just north of Mauna Loa’s peak. The hiking trail to reach Puu Kalepeamoa (referred to by the same name) is one of several similar hikes in the area, with the Puu Kalepeamoa being the shortest of them all. The hike to the top of Puu Kalepeamoa from the trailhead at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center (MKVIS) is 1.3 miles round-trip, or you can extend the hike by following side trails for a longer loop that is 3.8-miles round-trip.
Reaching MKVIS is easy as it lies neatly along Saddle Road, a highway that cuts across north-center Hawaii. Around the 28-mile marker, you will see signs for the visitor center directing you down Mauna Kea Road on the north side of the highway. Follow the road to the center’s parking lot, and then you can begin your trek.
There are a few smaller signs for the Puu Kalepeamoa trail, but otherwise finding the route is easy. You will start by walking back down the road you drove until you reach a dirt utility road leading to a power transfer station. You cannot miss it. The land here is barren of lush tropical landscapes and part of its beauty is being able to see for so long with so few impediments. Follow this dirt road for about a quarter of a mile, until you see the small dirt path leading through the rocks up to the top of a hill south of the road. This is Puu Kalepeamoa.
The straightforward hike up to the summit of this cinder cone is not hard. You are already starting at a high point of the country when you exit your vehicle in the MKVIS parking lot. From there to the summit, you will see an elevation gain of just 160 feet. This small elevation change paired with the path here being well-worn makes for an overall easy route.
However, while the trail itself is easy, there are some important things to know about this general part of the Big Island before you make your way out to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. Remember, your elevation over the course of the trail won’t change much, but you are starting at nearly 9000 feet above sea level. This is an extreme height that equates to a completely different environment from the island’s coastlines. Every month, the low temperatures here can dip below freezing with average highs never touching above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The winds are constantly blowing here, often with sustained wind speeds in the high teens and low twenties miles per hour. Simply put, if you are in Hawaii to relax and enjoy a more tropical climate, then you probably will not appreciate the Puu Kalepeamoa hike. You will want to dress warmly with layers and bring plenty of water to counter the altitude sickness that commonly comes with traveling up to such a high elevation within a few hours.
If you do choose to make your way to this unique part of Big Island, consider doing so for sunrise or sunset. Standing atop Puu Kalepemoa puts you above the clouds, offering a truly breathtaking experience as you watch the sun merge with the clouds and dip far beyond the horizon. Plus, if you give yourself enough time before dawn or after dusk, you can also enjoy a one-of-a-kind stargazing experience as you’re not only above the clouds, you’re above all the light pollution of the lower coastline areas.
-If you forget a hoodie, or maybe you didn’t even think to pack one for your trip to Hawaii, make sure to pop in at the visitor center where you will find hoodies and blankets available for sale. Naturally, they are not going to be the cheapest of options, but they can double as a nice souvenir of your time spent here at one of Hawaii’s highest locations.
-There are more hiking options for those who want to hike further than just the short climb of Puu Kalepeamoa. The Humuula Trail and a trail towards the Waikhalulu Gulch offer an extended hike from the visitor center. To get started on these longer trails, simply follow that aforementioned dirt road past the aforementioned power transfer station where you will see another traversed path in the dirt. Follow this as a loop that will lead you back to the north side of the visitor center. This loop will have several spur trails that extend as short out-and-back hikes to unique vistas.
-Next to the visitor center’s parking lot is a protected field of silversword flowers, known locally as ahinahina. These plants are considered the crown jewel of Mauna Kea and erupt in a dozen pink to maroon flowers between mid-June and November.