7 Facts About Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii, standing at 14,207.3 m (13,803 ft) above sea level. It is part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain and is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. 

The mountain holds great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians and is also a hub for astronomical research due to its high altitude and minimal light pollution. 

This article will explore the geological features, flora and fauna, cultural significance, astronomy and research, recreation and tourism, and environmental and conservation efforts surrounding Mauna Kea.

1. Basic Information

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is the highest point in the state, standing at 14,207.3 m (13,803 ft) above sea level, making it the highest peak in Hawaii and one of the most prominent and isolated peaks. 

The name “Mauna Kea” means “White Mountain” in the Hawaiian language due to its snow-capped summit during the winter months.

2. Geological Features

Mauna Kea is part of the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain, formed by volcanic activity over a hotspot in the Earth’s mantle. The volcano is estimated to be about one million years old. The last eruption of Mauna Kea occurred approximately 4,500 years ago, making it a dormant volcano. Some unique geological features of Mauna Kea include:

  • Cinder cones: Small, cone-shaped hills formed by volcanic debris.
  • Lava tubes: Tunnel-like structures created by flowing lava.
  • Glacial deposits: Evidence of past glacial activity on the summit.

3. Flora and Fauna

Mauna Kea is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The volcano’s lower slopes are covered in lush rainforests, while alpine shrublands and grasslands dominate the higher elevations. 

Some notable species found on Mauna Kea include:

  • Silversword: A rare and endangered plant species with silver, sword-like leaves.
  • Palila: A critically endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper bird found only on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
  • Hawaiian hoary bat: The only native land mammal in Hawaii, often found roosting in trees on Mauna Kea.
  • Nene: The state bird of Hawaii, a goose species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Haleakala skink: An endemic lizard species found in dry shrublands near the summit of Mauna Ke

4. Cultural Significance

Mauna Kea holds great cultural and spiritual significance for Native Hawaiians. The summit is considered sacred, known as the “realm of the gods” in Hawaiian mythology. 

Many ancient Hawaiian shrines, known as heiau, can be found on the slopes of Mauna Kea. The mountain is also used as a site for traditional Hawaiian ceremonies and rituals.

5. Astronomy and Research

Due to its high altitude, dry climate, and minimal light pollution, Mauna Kea is one of the best locations in the world for astronomical observations. The Mauna Kea Observatories, located near the summit, houses some of the world’s most advanced telescopes and research facilities.

These observatories have contributed to numerous groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics, such as detecting distant galaxies and studying black holes.

6. Recreation and Tourism

Mauna Kea is a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, offering a range of activities such as hiking and stargazing. The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, located at 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level, provides information and guidance for visitors exploring the mountain. 

The Maunakea Astronomy Outreach Committee also offers free stargazing programs and educational events for the public. Mauna Kea is also home to various wildlife, including the beautiful but endangered Hawaiian goose (Nene), which you can see during the visit if you are lucky. 

7. Environmental and Conservation Efforts

Mauna Kea is a fragile ecosystem, and conservation efforts are in place to protect its unique flora and fauna. The Mauna Kea Forest Reserve, established in 1909, covers 72,491 acres (29,336 ha) of land on the mountain’s slopes. 

The Mauna Kea Ice Age Natural Area Reserve protects the glacial deposits and other geological features found on the summit. Various organizations, such as the Mauna Kea Watershed Alliance and the Office of Mauna Kea Management, work to preserve and manage the mountain’s natural resources and cultural sites.


Mauna Kea is a unique and fascinating natural wonder with a rich history and cultural significance. Its diverse flora and fauna, geological features, and ideal conditions for astronomical research make it a valuable resource for scientists and nature enthusiasts. If you love exploring nature, Mauna Kea is definitely worth a visit!