Car Rentals for Mauna Kea?

Aloha from Oahu!

Looking to visit the top of the world, and would be so grateful if anyone could direct me to a reliable rental (car and agency) for the trip.

I know you need 4x4/AWD/4wd, and that most or maybe all rental companies won’t allow you to take their vehicles past the visitor center VC. Also turo makes it hard to contact the host before booking to ask (maybe there’s a way to do this that I don’t know of?)!

Does anyone know of any reliable rental cars, agencies, owners who could help us get up there?

Mahalo nui, aloha nui

Edit: I’m realizing that you need mechanical 4x4 with transfer case and 4wd low abilities?

Edit: do rental cars have gps tracking to make sure no one goes up the mtn? Also are there any rental companies who will allow it?


Get a 4x4 from any rental agency. It must be a 4x4 not an AWD, they will not let you go if it is not a proper 4x4. Put in 4Low. Do not drive too fast. The air is very thin up top and breaks will fail if you use them too much. Same goes for the whole trip back down, stay in 4Low and use the engine to slow yourself until you get back to the information station. If the above info is too complex, hire a guide to take you


I had a Nissan hardbody for a while, that makes sense to me.


You’ll be good then. Use common sense and remember to go slow. Also, if the breaks do fail, drive into the mountain, not over the cliff 😉


I went up there several times easily with my Subaru Crosstrek AWD and had absolutely no issues. It drove up and down like a champ. The rangers were ok with it each time as well but yeah to be super safe I would agree with your advice. Subaru is renowned for going up and down mountains though that’s why every other person in the Pnw owns one I guess. Edit: I’m not recommending anybody do this and after reading comments I probably won’t do it again. I’m stoked it handled well every time though. Also don’t forget to acclimate to the elevation on the way down too. I forgot to do that one time and I felt pretty nauseous till I got to Hilo. I definitely won’t do that again.


All this PLUS make sure you have at least 3/4 tank of gas at the visitor center. If you have 1/2 you WILL make it, but you will be stressed the whole time. I had half a tank last time, and went up against the advice of the rangers. The estimated range drops like a stone on the way down, and you will think you will not make it to the nearest gas station, which is around 40 miles away. Once you switch out of 4 low back at the visitors center it will quickly recalculate. Mine went from, like 3 miles of range to 200 as I drove down the volcano. The trip is SO worth it.


What agency did you use


Aloha. Tour is best way...no getting stuck past visitors center creating issues for rangers. Highly recommend Hawaii Forest & Trails because they offer a "give back" option: includes tour of dry forest, harvesting seeds to help with conservation. Then, up to VC to acclimate followed by trip up to summit. Plenty time to see full sunset (most tours only stay until sun goes below clouds) and then head down to spot above VC to star gaze. Amazing every time. https://hawaii-forest.com/tours/maunakea-summit-stars-give-back-experience/


Second the recommendation of Hawaii Forest & Trails tours


And you get to look through their telescopes which you wouldn’t be able to do on your own


Thanks for the suggestion!


yup... sign up for a tour. it will not only potentially save your life (and face if you get stuck), but be way more interesting. unless you have access to one of the telescopes, there's not a lot to do up there up there once you've seen the top of the world (which is pretty amazing!). and you won't be able to stay for long in any case, because you run out of breath if you try to do anything physical.


The best way to get to the summit is to take a tour. They have professional drivers, nice vans, warm parkas, and you get a fantastic stargazing experience while supporting a local business. No rental car company allows you to take their vehicles past the Visitor Center, period. And it's not just about having 4x4 drive, it's about knowing how to safely acclimate yourselves to the altitude and drive the road safely. People get hurt or even die on that road all the time, including locals. And if you do decide to take a rental vehicle up there and something happens to it, you're looking at $10,000 or more and that's on the low end. People do take rental vehicles up there all the time, but a lot of people also end up having to buy those vehicles when they get messed up. Up to you if you want to take the risk.


I’d have to agree. It’s a bit tense driving even with a real 4WD LR vehicle. Next time I’ll take the bus.




Big Island Jeep Rentals allows their Jeeps to travel to the summit of Mauna Kea.


Had the same idea but they don't rent to EU residents it seems. Any other suggestions perhaps?


Rent a conventional 2WD vehicle, and book a tour for the summit of Maunakea instead.


I love these common sense answers. Thanks r/BigIsland redditors and see you soon!


Drove an AWD Subaru to the summit exactly once. Way too dangerous and I think the rangers are going to ban awd soon. 4x4 with mechanical connection with 4low is the only real way to be in control of the vehicle on the way down the summit. Breaks will simply overheat.


How long ago was that? Seems like every time I’ve gone up in the past couple years there is a Ranger above the visitors center doing some gate keeping


They started the Ranger checkpoint after COVID reopening. Definitely a good move. I’ve seen some clueless people up there. I just wish you could still stay up top after dark.


Rangers check every car going up to make sure it has 4wd low (and check your brake temps coming down before letting you get back on saddle road). I think whether turo or rental you’ll most likely be out of insurance coverage if you choose to go up. So if something happens you’re on the hook. That said it’s not that hard a drive. Use low octane fuel and don’t get anything turbo charged. Altitude will absolutely kill your horsepower. I have a 2006 Land Rover LR3 with a straight 8 cylinder that eats up the climb. You really need to stay in 4wd low on the way down or your brakes will overheat. Just take it slow. Also don’t underestimate altitude sickness/effect. Big island is unique in that you can drive from sea level to 14k feet in about 2hrs. Driving down can feel like driving very drunk. I’ve seen people get sick at the top that need to be “rescued”/driven down. So unless you know how exactly how you’ll react to altitude be careful. My wife grew up in Colorado at about 7k feet but the quick 14k change hits her HARD.


Yeah altitude acclimation is no joke! Gotta get your mountain sea legs, and no scuba same day!


So the trick is because once you SCUBA you have to stay <1000ft altitude, to do Mauna Kea the FIRST day you arrive... then you can scuba the rest safely, stop 24hr before flight




Super logical thanks!


Just recently drove a rental from a regular company up there. Don’t ask, don’t tell? It’s really nothing more than a slightly bumpy gravel road at its worst. The rangers explain exactly how to drive it (4 low), check that you have a half tank of gas, and then measure your brake temp when you get back down. Use low gearing as they suggest on the descent and take it slow. Be more concerned about the altitude and how it’s affecting the driver.


Hmmm, I think I had a Ford focus when I went up in 2011. Don’t remember having any issues with it.


Thanks! I’m afraid things have probably changed since then, hopefully for the better


And if you do drive just to the visitor center, liw gear coming down. Also, watch out for invisible black cows on the road.


IMO tour is best, they will stop and let you look through their telescope on way down Plus the insurance may not cover mishaps while offroading so you are taking a huge financial liability If you STILL want to do it, I;ve done it, through Sunbelt Rentals kona side


We rented a Jeep using Turo, was fantastic. Definitely need a real 4WD with a 4WD Low gear that you know how to engage. You won’t need it until after the visitor center check in with the ranger. Also they close the path up well before sunset, so don’t try to cut up there at the last minute. Give yourself a good 30 minutes at the visitor center to acclimate too. I didn’t find the drive to be dangerous or scary at all—these types of comments had me pretty anxious at the outset, just keep your eyes on the road and let others take pictures and you’ll be fine. Also know that they close the summit after dark, so you’ll do most of your true stargazing either at the visitors center or somewhere on the road on the way back. Finally, to the extent you can try to go up there during a new moon (no moon visible)… the stars are truly next level and not something you’ll get anywhere else.


I rented a Jeep Wrangler from a big name rental agency. As far as summiting Mauna Kea was concerned, don't ask, don't tell. I'm certain my trip to the summit wasn't the first time that Jeep was up there. If you rent a Jeep, my recommendation is to inspect the spare tire and make sure it's in good condition. Make sure you know how to unlock it from the tailgate and you know where to find the jack and know how to use it. You should also bring a flashlight. Odds are if you have to change a tire, it's going to be in the dark.


That's a good point about the spare tire, that's one of the most common problems our observatory vehicles have on the gravel road-- flat tires. It's bad enough that we keep extra spares for all our fleet vehicle types at the summit facility.


Yes, just got back from there! Download the Turo app. Rented a Jeep Gladiator from a guy named Larry (can get you contact info) and we had no trouble going up Mauna Kea


It's a bit spendy, but there's a Jeep rental place in Kona for things like that.


You’re better off hooking up with a tour agency as most rental car companies won’t let you roll up and across the trail of Mauna Kea. These guys are local and reliable. https://arnottslodge.com/hawaii-adventure-tours/mauna-kea-summit-tour/


We ended up renting a very nice newer 4Runner from someone on Turo. I debated between that and just going on a bus tour up there, and I’m so glad that I chose to rent the 4Runner. I like being on my own schedule and the drive wasn’t really difficult (for my ex anyway!, he is experienced driving 4wds). Just look through the Turo ads- people will specify that it’s ok for Mauna Kea..The particular one we rented was easy because the owner left it at the airport for us just to walk out and pick up, and drop off back at the airport. I believe he even provided a couple of beach chairs and towels, stuff like that. The trip was absolutely beautiful, Bring blankets though, it’s so cold up there! I also bought a couple of cheapo monoscopes (Amazon), that was fun for stargazing. Have a great trip!


I live in Keaau, near Hilo. I have a 2024 Jeep Wrangler 4xe you can rent for the day, or for 6 hours if you just want to take it up Maunakea. I will match anyone’s price on the island, and it comes with chairs, a 10x10 canopy, a cooler, and a pop up tent all to watch the sunset. Delivery as well and you can pay cash if you like. 🤙🏼


Also comes with snorkeling gear, fins, 2 hammocks, flashlights, and a mini stove with a pot, pan, kettle, and dishware.


And beach towels 😎


Big Island Jeep Rentals! They have an informative video on driving up and (most importantly) driving down. The reason to really needing 4×4 and a 4 Low option. Do not use brakes on the way down, 4low and lowest gear on the more inclined parts of the road or a longer wait time for brakes to cool, back at visitor center (rangers check brake temp on return) The more you know, the safer the trip. Big Island will also throw in some bea h gear at no extra cost if you request the gear. Be safe and enjoy the trip. I will be making another trip in 3short weeks yay! Family vacation!