Mauna Loa, while not the only volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is the largest volcano in the whole world! That is big… Hiking the Ainapo Trail on Mauna Loa was the primary way of getting to the summit for a very long time – in ancient times the Hawaiians would take this trail up the mountain in order to make offerings to Pele (The goddess of fire, lightening, wind, and volcanos) during volcanic eruptions.
The Ainapo Trail is 20.4 miles round trip to the Mauna Loa Summit Cabin, located at about 13,200 feet. Sometimes this trail is referred to as the Menzies Trail, after the first person reported to have reached the peak back in the seventeen hundreds.
Hiking the Ainapo Trail on Mauna Loa
You can find the trailhead entrance along Ainapo Road in Ka`u. In order to get access to the trail, you must call between 7:30 – 8:30 the night before your hike to schedule your hike and to get directions for obtaining the combination to the lock (which is updated daily). IF YOU DO NOT GET THE COMBINATION YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GET IN!
Contact Kapapala Ranch at 808-928-8403 to register.
You need to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle to drive thru the Kapapala ranch land to the trailhead. Watch for ribbons in the trees that will mark the path, and be sure to stay on the trail. Lava tubes are scattered through the area, and you will want to give them a miss. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach the summit, and be prepared to turn back if you overestimate the time it will take you to get there. For most people it will take 10-12 hours to get to the top. Trying to do this hike in one day would be rather foolish for most.
“Caution: The Ainapo Trail is difficult to the shelter [found about 2 1/2 hours into the hike] and challenging above. Only experienced, well equipped hikers should attempt the summit. Weather conditions change from pleasant to life threatening in minutes at the upper elevations. Kapapala Forest Reserve and Ranch are open to public hunting year round. Bright clothing is recommended.”
The Ainapo Trail Shelter contains bunk beds and a composting toilet and a good place to make a stop – if you want to stay there overnight you must get a permit ahead of time. There is also rain catchment water there, but you should purify it before drinking.
Stone cairn trail markers will help you to identify the route over pahoehoe lava sections if you decide to hike to the summit. Be aware that you can encounter snow as you reach the higher elevations, and pack your supplies accordingly. As always, bring water, sun protection, and a light source. Good footwear is a must when walking over the uneven lava fields. Hiking the Ainapo Trail on Mauna Loa is no walk in the park and you should plan on multiple days on the trail to make it there and back.