Mauna Kea Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

42.5 mi
13,755 ft
6.1 %



This is hands down and by far the hardest bike climb in the world. The climb begins with the waves of the Pacific Ocean lapping at the shore behind us and ends 42 miles later, 13,803' above sea level at Mauna Kea Summit. In those 42 miles we descend less than 100'. We travel through five climate zones -- from the lush rainforest environment of Hilo, Hawaii to the lunar landscape that surrounds us the final 10 miles of the climb. At the top, you will have 42% less oxygen available as you climb the final miles at grades reaching 16%. Climb above the clouds to the top of the bike climbing world. This is the "Biggest Climb" you can ever do on Strava (Strava Mauna Kea Segment) . . . but, see our dear friend Erwan Treguier's tale of Mauna Kea + Mauna Loa . . .  on the same day!!

Our Big Island guided tour App is accessed below. 
It's all about altitude and gradient on Mauna Kea. There is 42% less oxygen at the summit than start (3% less each 1000'). The 14.5 miles on Mauna Kea Access Road from 6,588' to the summit at 13,842' averages 9.5% (this segment alone qualifies as the #4 hardest world bike climb).

Average grade for 42.6 miles is 6.1%. We climb 13,863' and descend only 98'. 46% (19.6 miles) of the climb is at 0-5%, 37% (15.6 miles) is at 5-10%, 12% (5.2 miles) is at 10-15%, 3% (1.2 miles) is at 15-20%, and a fraction is above 20%. The steepest quarter-mile is 16.5% and steepest continuous mile is 14%

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the Profile Tool button.
Roadway: The roadway is in excellent condition but there are 4.7 miles of gravel and sand to contend with just past the visitor center.

Traffic: For the first nine miles and the final fourteen miles, traffic is not a problem. However, 20 miles on Highway 200 (Saddle Road) can be harrowing with traffic whizzing by often above the posted 55 mph, including commercial trucks traveling the primary east-west traffic artery across the island. There is always a very wide shoulder and deep rumble strips (you\'ll know what I mean if you ride over them on your bike) that separate the "slow" highway lane from the shoulder. This is a tough section for the traffic averse.

Parking: There is street parking near the start, or parking on 301 Kamehameha Ave near the start which also is home to the Hilo Visitor Center (Map Street View).
Clothing: We have been snowed on atop Mauna Kea. It will almost always be around 70 degrees in Hilo and probably raining. The temperature nearly 14,000' higher will be quite different, particularly during the winter. Review the PJAMM weather tool for summit forecast before you begin your ride.

Cycling Gear: You either need to bring a gravel bike with 40mm tires or mountain bike to swap to for the 4.7 mile sand-gravel section. Bring MTB shoes for hike-a-bike on the impossibly steep and sandy portions.

4WD: Required above the Visitor Center. Use SAG/photographer Christian James (, or rent a bigger 2WD vehicle for SAG to MK Visitor Center and one of the Jeep 4WD rentals on the Big Island for the segment above the VC.

Provisions: There are sandwiches, chips, water, Gatorade, and the like at VC.
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
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Mauna Kea is the hardest bike climb in the world. If you are interested in traveling to The Island of Hawaii for a cycling adventure, be sure to consider PJAMM’s travel app and our Hawaii: The Big Island Tour. The app and Big Island trip page feature: navigation, sharing your trip real time, tracking trip participants, blogging, an itinerary to ensure you're on time for all trip events, and PJAMM's choices for things like points of interest, cycling climbs, and routes - all you need to ensure your trip goes smoothly. Our travel app also acts as a digital photo album to use on your computer, tablet, smart TV, and other devices.



Difficulty: Extreme



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Aug 24, 2023
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Aug 24, 2023
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Amazing ride, by far the most difficult section is the gravel, possible on CX tires with the right gearing. I rode on 34 mm semi slicks (WTB byways) and had 22/34 gearing and I would have benefitted from lower. Don't forget that your sustained power is much lower at elevation, plan for lower gearing accordingly. I highly recommend hiring Christian James Photo to help you. They were very friendly, provided me with great SAG service for the day and amazing pictures that I will keep forever.
Aug 25, 2023
Thanks for the info! How many times did you need to stop for water? Did you rent or bring a bicycle?
Aug 25, 2023
I brought a cx bicycle that I installed mountain bike cranks on, to allow for lower gearing. The gravel section was very steep and extremely loose, you need way lower gears then you think or wide tires. Christian Jame's SAG service had refueling available frequently (30min to 60min range). I probably refilled my bottle 5 times, but that will be highly dependent on weather, the day i went was warm, mostly overcast for the first half of the trip.
Jan 24, 2023
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 3
traffic: 2
road: 4
Jan 24, 2023
scenery: 3
traffic: 2
road: 4
Nov 25, 2022
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Nov 25, 2022
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Successful 1st attempt from Hilo on 11/17/22, 9h 7m on Mauna Kea Strava segment. Rented gravel bike (Giant Revolt) from Bikeworks Beach & Sports in Waikoloa; brought my own 11-40 cassette (bike came with 11-34 cassette and 48/31T crank) and chain to have extra low gears. Very happy with this setup, also had decent 38mm tires (Specialized Sawtooth). Checked wind speed and road status at beforehand, but there is no reliable forecast. My husband drove a support van to the Visitor Center, and then rode along on an eMTB to the summit with a backpack of extra clothing for the descent. Never had to walk, but took the tire pressure way down for traction on the gravel. After reading other trip reports, I thought the gravel was not too bad; the road is very wide so you can pick your line. The final 3 miles on asphalt were daunting, with that final brutal switchback forever in view. After summiting, we rode back to the Visitor Center to our van.
Sep 19, 2022
This 09/17/2022 was my second attempt to reach the summit. First one was one week earlier on 09/10/2022. I had just road bike at that time (50/34 - 11/36) and the gravel road from VS was too much for it. Tried my best but ended about 2 miles from the summit. One week later without support car I took my MTB (36/24 - 11/36). It was good decision for the gravel, not so good for the paved road. I walked last half a mile on the gravel, from the sign - Ice age -which is brutal because of the 15% but mostly because of badly damaged road and high altitude. The weather was perfect, no inversion clouds and fog below. Three miles before VS the chain got trapped between last cog and the wheel. I realized I cannot shift anymore. Tried to fix this at VS, rangers were very friendly, Mike especially, but they had no appropriate tools. So I went on with just one gear. On the way down full suspension on gravel was perfect. EPIC CLIMB, I recommend two bikes, one for the paved road and one for the gravel.
Sep 13, 2022
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 3
Sep 13, 2022
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 3
8/5/22 - Left Hilo before sunrise to get ahead of the afternoon snow forecast at the summit- clouds rolled in as I started down (in support vehicle- would have been drenched and miserable otherwise). Switched wheels to 31/42 gear ratio with 42mm tires at the VC using the same Diverge frame. Last half mile of the gravel at sustained 15+% was the hardest part of the entire climb. Altitude really sapped the power above 11,000 ft; I conserved effort on the lower part of the climb, but ultimately couldn’t burn any matches at altitude when I wanted them. Epic climb.
Sep 4, 2022
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Sep 4, 2022
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 4
Climbed on Sept 1, 2022. A perfect day of cycling for me. Cool and overcast in Hilo, a little sun about half-way to the access road, then a tailwind up to the turn. I rode through the clouds between 7 and 8,000 feet but then it was clear skies and pleasant temps all the way to the summit. I brought my own bike built for this kind of ride. It's a no-name chinese carbon mtb frame, built up as an all-road/gravel bike, 40x24 and 11-42. Front Furious Fred/Rear Speedking. Aerobars for the flats. I rode my target watts and arrived at 10,000 feet feeling great. Which was good because the last mile of the gravel was steep, loose and washboarded. I was pretty relieved when that was over only to have a headwind on the super steep grind to the 2nd to last turn. My advice to add: no gear is too low when the road is this steep, this high up the mountain. I never had to walk or paper-boy.Big thanks to my wife, who supported me for the last half of the ride (and the 25 years before that).
Apr 7, 2022
Attempted on 4/6/2022 from Waikoloa Beach. First 17 miles had a decent cross headwind which made for slow going. Steep pitches start on the access road and I was happy I had the proper gearing on a rented Cervelo Aspero (30 front 34 back). Made it to the visitor center in another 90 minutes or so despite feeling like I was barely moving. Once at the VC, what looked like fog was clearly rolling in but they let me continue up the gravel part. Made it 2.5 miles or so up the gravel (only had to walk once on a very steep loose section) before a ranger drove past and told me they were closing the road and I needed to turn around. It started pouring ice rain and my goretex jacket was still in the support vehicle that now couldn't come up the road with the closure. Unfortunately turned around at 10,600ft :( The 38c tires on the gravel bike came in handy, might be able to do it on a 28c road bike but would be tough and probably slip a ton/require walking.
Jul 15, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Jul 15, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
'Rode' this 6/23/21 from Waikoloa Beach unassisted. Ritchey breakaway, 30C, 50/34 X 11-34, 3L camelbak (12 lbs full). Without support, go Kona side as you can pit stop at the Kahehe rest area off Inouye Hwy. Take Old Saddle Rd - much quieter and absolutely beautiful - best part of whole ride imo. Phone coverage is good all the way so you can call for bail-out. Part above VC at 9000ft is as bad as most ppl say. Probably doable on road tires if you are >4-5 W/kg FTP. I'm not - ergo did 'some' high altitude bike hiking. Normal-ish riders need >35c tires + MTB gearing imo. Above 11000ft, altitude really hit and could not push 34/34 @ >10%. Don't know if it was just me, me that day, or something physiologically fundamental. Been up that high before and not had problems. Have small rain jacket for descent. Sort of sketch dodging tour vehicles coming up gravel part and got wet below VC to Hwy. Weather tends to come in late day. Would not want to descend Hwy to Hilo.
May 26, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
May 26, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
Completed 5/19/2021 Gear: Fuji Sportif 2.0LE | Shimano Tiagra | Compact Crank 50-34t | 11t-36t cassette (w/ Wolf Tooth Road Link) | 35mm Clement XPlor Ush tires. Such a sufferfest. First 7 miles from Hilo was great. Then a steady Hawaiian rain from mile 7-22ish. Fortunately it was warm rain and I had a rain jacket. From Mauna Kea Access Road to finish the weather was perfect - sunny and 50-60ºF. The Pjamm summary is spot on: it only gets increasingly more difficult from Saddle Rd to the summit. Gravel section was near impossible - sand/gravel mix. Walked a good portion of it. From end of gravel to summit is still brutally steep, requiring plenty of breaks to breathe (despite my living at elevation in Denver). The last mile has a few easier spots which provide just enough hope to finish out the climb. I was self-supported from Hilo to Access Road. Had support vehicle (i.e. family) for food/water from Saddle Rd to Summit. Thanks to PJamm for all the great info and inspiration!
May 6, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
May 6, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
If you love climbing on a bike, this is the most you could probably get, from Waikoloa Village Resorts to summit it’s 85km almost continuous climb. Gravel section didn’t feel as bad as others posted, but the 3mi after the gravel is the hardest sucker I’ve ever climbed. Seriously, it takes everything out of you. PERFECT
May 6, 2021
If you want to make it not only a long climb but also a long ride, you can start at Waikoloa Village. That gives you 53 miles and 4300+m to the summit. Best ride ever, incredibly demanding, 67 finishers on STRAVA as of May 2021.
Mar 5, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Mar 5, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Once in a lifetime! The last part from above Visitors center is hell! Loosely lava gravel and last 7km altitude impact, postman technique is required. The view at the summit is magnificent!!!

Climb Profile Not Found

Mauna Kea: THE hardest bike climb in the world.

Ride 42.5 miles gaining 13,850’ at 6.2% average grade to 13,800’

Photo: Mauna Loa across “the saddle” in background

Mauna Kea is the hardest bike climb in the world.  If you are interested in traveling to Maui for a cycling adventure, be sure to consider PJAMM’s Travel App and our Hawaii: The Big Island tour program.  Among other things, the App and Big Island Trip Page features navigation, sharing your trip real time with friends and family, tracking trip participants, blogging, PJAMM’s Choice for, among other things, points of interest, cycling climbs and routes, etc., an itinerary to ensure your on time and on location for all trip events and many more features to ensure your trip goes easily and smoothly.  We have added our photos, but those will be substituted for the photos from your epic adventure as and after it is completed - the PJAMM App also acts as a digital photo album to use on your computer, tablet, smart TV and other devices.


(PJAMM Cycling’s Founder & CEO)

Cycling Mauna Kea, Hawaii - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, PJAMM Cycling's summits of Mauna Kea as seen over the years

We have climbed Mauna Kea five times: 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2022.

Mauna Kea is the most difficult bike climb in the world and one of the most epic.  Adjectives do not do justice in describing this climb.  Distinguished by the highest Fiets Index in the world, Mauna Kea is a monstrous, nearly impossible ascent.  In addition to the daunting climb, cyclists must be mentally and physically prepared for changing weather conditions, altitude sickness, and varying terrain on this extremely challenging 42 mile climb.  

Cycling Mauna Kea - view of clouds, road and volcano near top

Not much vegetation on a volcano.


Before heading to Hawaii for your Mauna Kea cycling adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

What Makes This the World’s Hardest Road Bike Climb:

The sheer elevation ascended (13,800’/4200m), the average grade (9.9% for the last half of the ride), dealing with the gravel for 4.7 miles, the altitude (be prepared for the possibility of altitude sickness, as it commonly occurs above 8,000 feet; Wikipedia), and dramatically ​changing weather (for example, rain and 80 degree weather in Hilo, followed by wind, snow, and sub 40 degrees at the top, depending on the season).  On one climb up the volcano in December, it was 73 degrees in Hilo when we started, and we endured as low as 34 degrees and blustery snow towards the summit.

photo collage highlights warning signs along climb route

Well . . . you can’t say they didn’t warn you . . . 😨

When to Climb Mauna Kea: 

We have taken on Mauna Kea twice in May, twice in June, and once (foolishly) in December.  We recommend going in May or June, as these are the lowest rainfall months for the start of the climb in Hilo.  The highest rainfall months there are March, April, and November.  The temperature throughout the year always averages in the 70s so it will be warm in Hilo when you start, but often cold to extremely cold (it was in the 30s and snowing in December 2013 when we rode to the top).

PJAMM Cyclist stands with bike at observation center at summit of Mauna Kea climb, in full snow 

PJAMM’s Brad Butterfield on Mauna Kea summit, December 20, 2013.

Checking Road and Weather Conditions on Mauna Kea:  

The best resource for Mauna Kea road conditions and status is the Mauna Kea Weather Center.  For example, when I originally typed this entry on January 14, 2020 from my hotel in Kona, I had just checked the MKWC site and the road from the VC to the summit was closed due to snow and ice - good to know!  Additionally, each PJAMM Cycling climb page has current and forecasted weather for the start and finish of each climb.

How to Climb Mauna Kea by Bike:  

There are more tips below, but in a nutshell:

  • Train, train, train.  Be in the absolute best shape you can be before even thinking about this climb;
    Choose the right time to do the climb, we suggest May-early June (better weather, cheaper prices);
  • The climb finishes at nearly 14,000’.  To the extent possible, altitude train, either using an altitude tent or riding up Mauna Loa or to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center days before the full MK climb.  Perhaps that’s just psychological because the studies indicate it takes at least three weeks to “fully acclimate” to altitude, but we recommend it anyway.  Regardless of what studies say, we have always ridden Haleakala (Maui) and Mauna Loa on the same trip before riding Mauna Kea and that seemed to help us.  One of our cyclists used an altitude tent in preparation and he felt that was an advantage;
  • Be prepared to swap out to a mountain bike or at least change wheels/tires on your cross bike to 38-40mm (only for very strong riders) at the Visitor Center (mile 34) for the 4.6 miles of sand/gravel beginning at mile 34.2.  The pavement begins again at about mile 39 and the last three miles are paved.  We do recommend a mountain bike or a bike that can handle 2.25” size tires (that is 57mm as a comparison to the 40mm gravel tire mentioned above);

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson stands with bike at the end of the gravel portion of the climb, in front of sign reading "Road Narrows"

End of the gravel. May 2018.

40mm gravel tires on a Specialized Crux cross bike.

  • Make absolutely certain you have warm clothes for the trip above the visitor center.  The temperature will be between 25-40℉ (14-22℃) colder  at the top than in Hilo at the start.

Photo: Riding up Mauna Loa - Mauna Kea is in the background.

  • Have SAG support.  If you do not have your own:
  • Christian James (also an exceptional photographer) can be hired to SAG and photograph your momentous ride.  Phone (440) 225-9807, email: and website here.
  • PJAMM founder John Johnson’s personal note and endorsement:  Chris and Jen SAGed for us on our 2022 Mauna Kea climb and they were absolutely INVALUABLE, pleasant, fun, competent, enthusiastic and supportive.  They have supported cyclists on the Mauna Kea climb many times and know exactly where to stop for support and for photographs.  Many of Christian’s exceptional photographs appear on this page.  If you are attempting the Mauna Kea climb I strongly and without any reservation recommend using Chris and Jen.

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson stands with SAG support Christian James in May 2022

Chris, John, and Jen after our May 24, 2022 Mauna Kea climb.

  • PJAMM’s Bruce Hamilton’s tips for an unsupported climb (not recommended):  If you’re really riding it all solo with no equipment changes, I’d ride something like 38-42mm tires with knobbies on the sides and a slick stripe down the middle. Pump them to max pressure to start and then take them down to maybe 25 psi at the visitor center. If you are riding down, remember that it’s not just a screaming descent – adjust your time to account for going very slowly on the dirt even when coming down. It’s quite rough on an unsuspended bike and adds substantial time (and discomfort) to your descent.

What Gear to Bring to Climb Mauna Kea by Bike:  

We have always done the paved portion of the climb with a compact disk and in 2011 (27t cassette at age 55), 2013 (30t age 57), 2014 (32t age 58), 2018 and 2022 (30t chainring and 42t cassette - age 61 & 65 - see a trend here . . . ).  In 2018 and 2022 I used a specially fitted Roubaix Crux cross bike that I used 30mm tires for pavement and 38mm knobby tires for the gravel.  Note that for all but exceptional riders, I recommend swapping to a mountain bike for the gravel - I am not an exceptional rider at age 65 and would have been much better served with a mountain rather than gravel bike in 2022.  As noted above, bring very warm clothes for the top.  You may also wish to bring breathable rain gear because there is a good chance of rain in Hilo, regardless of the month you pick to tackle the climb.

Micah Ling’s Input: Bike - Moots Routt RSL -- same bike all the way up. I started with about 55 psi, lowered to about 30 for the gravel, did not reinflate.  Maxxis Rambler tubeless tires, size 38.  I'd ride this setup again, just because I'm so used to it. The bike did me well even though I had to walk a couple sections. I might go up to 42 for the tires.  


panoramic view of Mauna Kea, rising above the fog line, as seen from Mauna Loa

As seen from Mauna Loa.

photo collage shows Mauna Kea as seen from Waikoloa Road and Mauna Kea

 Mauna Kea as seen from Waikoloa Road (55 miles)

Other four photos are of Mauna Kea as seen from Mauna Loa.

Mauna Kea as seen from the airplane and from Waikoloa Road

Mauna Kea left, Mauna Loa right.

Top photo: From the air leaving Kona

Bottom Photo: From Waikoloa Road (55 miles)


Statistics for the four segments of this climb.

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows profile grade, route overview for Mauna Kea

PJAMM’s interactive profile tool (exit this summary to access profile tool)

The steepest segments are on the gravel and last paved section

Quarter-mile at 15.3%; 2.5 miles at 12.4%.

Where to Start: 

The traditional start for Mauna Kea, and the location that ranks Mauna Kea as the highest rated bike climb in the world, is Hilo, Hawaii.  It is best to stay in Hilo so you needn’t get up at an insane time to drive from the west side of the Island (Kona side) to the east side (Hilo). Twice we have made the early morning trek across the island to start the climb and do not recommend it.  In 2022, we stayed in Waikoloa but also rented a hotel in Hilo the night before our climb so we could get up 1.5 hours later (still up at 4 a.m. for sunrise start).

two PJAMM Cyclists dip their bike wheels in the Pacific, just across the street from climb's start 

Dipping our bike wheels in the Pacific just across the road from the start of the climb.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists at the start of the climb, with the Pacific Ocean in the background, over the years 

Photos with the Pacific in the background just across from the start of the climb.

PJAMM Cyclists pose next to Mile 0 sign at climb's start, Waianuenue Avenue

Climb begins at mile 0 on Waianuenue Avenue (we just call it W Avenue).

PJAMM Cyclists set out on climb early, sunrise behind them

We start early.

Alternate Route:

The alternate route from the west side of the Island (Mauna Kea West; commonly known as the “Kona side”) is 59 miles (15 miles longer than from Hilo) and thus necessarily ranks lower on the Fiets scale (21.82 v. 28.9 from Hilo).  The comparative statistics for the western approach are:  Miles:  59 v. 42.6, average grade 4.6% v. 6.1%. The first 44 miles from the west are at 3.3%.  The final 14.8 miles from the start of Mauna Kea Access Road to Summit are at 9.2% and go from 6,579’ to 13,767’; that stretch alone is a 23.4 Fiets which would rank the final leg of Mauna Kea at #11 in the world if we only rated that fraction of the entire climb.  What does that tell us?  Save your energy for the last 14 miles of the climb.  

View of Mauna Kea Summit from Mauna Loa as framed by cyclist.

Alternate start - Anaehoomalu Point, Waikoloa

Profile Gradients from our friend Erwan Treguier of Brittany, France

SEGMENT ONE: Hilo to Mauna Kea Access Road

The first leg of this journey is the "easiest" part of the ascent.  With a Fiets score of 10 for this segment alone, it would rank #37 in the U.S. Top 100 (equal to Mt. Lemmon in Arizona).

  • The entire climb Includes the only two turns (right onto Saddle Road at mile 11, and right onto Mauna Kea Access Road at mile 27.8);    
  • The first three miles of the climb take us along the only urban portion of the route (along Waianuenue Avenue). Make sure to bend left at about mile 1.3 onto Kaumana Drive, which merges into Saddle Road (Highway 200) about five miles further up the volcano.​
  • The 16 miles on Saddle Road are fairly easy (not too steep and not yet at elevation), but traffic makes this segment a bit unpleasant as vehicles do whiz by at 60 mph.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists on first segment of the climb

Ride 27.6 miles gaining 6,595’ at 4.5% average grade. 

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route overview and grade for the first segment of the climb

PJAMM Cyclists ride through rain and rainbows on first segment of climb

You will often encounter rain on this segment, but

. . . with rain in Hawaii can also come the beautiful rainbows!

PJAMM Cyclists ride through rain on first segment of climb

Stacy Topping riding her bike on the Mauna Kea gravel.

The final 16 miles of this segment are on Saddle Road (Highway 200).

PJAMM Cyclists ride within traffic on Saddle Road

Traffic on Saddle Road - note the safety rumble strips.

Highway 200 is a main connector from west and east Island of Hawaii.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding in rain on Saddle Road

You may get some drizzle or rain on Saddle Road.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding Saddle Road on a clear day, Mauna Kea visible in distance; mile marker 16

On a clear day you will see Mauna Kea as you ride west on Saddle Road.

SECOND LEG: Mauna Kea Access Road to Visitor Center

While the climb from Hilo to Mauna Kea Access Road is challenging, the section of this climb that makes it the most difficult in the world starts just after you begin your climb up the Access Road.  The Access Road part of the climb is broken into three parts and includes segments 2-4 of the full climb.

photo collage shows highlights of segment 2 of ride, including road sign for Visitor Station

Ride 6.5 miles gaining 2,808’ at 8.2% average grade from 6,613’ to 9,421’.

PJAMM Cycling Profile Tool shows route overview and gradient

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding second segment of climb, Mauna Loa looms in the background

Top photo: Mauna Loa in background.

interesting signs along this segment, including "No Dogs Allowed for Mammal Hunting," and "Invisible Cows"

A couple of interesting signs along this segment.

photo collage shows bare hillsides for most of this segment, other than two pockets of conifers

For the most part, the hillside is bare but for two pockets of conifers along the way.

runaway truck ramp, sign for 17% grade

You know the road’s steep when it’s got a Runaway Truck Ramp . . .

. . .and when the sign at the top says 17%. 😓

VISITORS CENTER: Switch to Mountain Bike

Swap to a mountain bike here.  These can be rented on the west (Kona) side of the island Bike Works (Kona) or Bike Works (Waikoloa), or Kona Sports Center, or swap to wider gravel tires.

Note: As of May 2022 the Visitor Center was being renovated and had only tap water available - no food or other drink.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists taking a break at the visitor's center

bicyclist information sheet to give to ranger   

Fill out your information sheet and give it to the ranger before continuing above the VC.

THIRD LEG: Gravel Section

This segment of the ride is two-tenths of a mile after Visitor Center; you must have four-wheel drive. There are five switchbacks that are murderous -- they are generally steeper than the straight road and at the steepest sections cause your rear wheel to slide towards the inside of the turn.

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route overview and climb gradient

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists reaching the gravel portion of the roadway, about 2/10ths of a mile up from the Visitor's Center

Beginning of the gravel - 300 yards up from the Visitor Center.  

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding along gravel portion of roadway

Ride 4.6 miles gaining 2,472’ at 10.2% average grade from 9,421’ to 11,877’.


views of roadway snaking along Mauna Kea, and of mountain partially covered by clouds in distance

PJAMM Cyclists make their way up the gravel portion of the roadway climbing Mauna Kea   

It’s a long, lonely grind up this segment.

Stacy Topping riding her bike on the Mauna Kea gravel.

Sorry for the shaky video, but . . . I was a bit shaky at the time.

   PJAMM Cyclists make it back to the pavement, past gravel section

Back to the pavement at mile 38.9.

FOURTH AND FINAL LEG: End of Gravel to the Summit

At the end of the gravel, you may wish to  swap back to the road bike, or continue on the mountain bike with its lower gears.  The final stretch presents a serious challenge to climbers with its altitude and extreme gradient in places. On this final stretch we are fighting: altitude, gradient, and fatigue.  Upper left photo is a photo of Luke Hise and Erwan Treguier paperboying it up the last 17% pitch - these are not weak cyclists!  They went on to ride down Mauna Kea, up Mauna Loa and then on to Waikoloa, dipping wheels in the ocean at 2 a.m. after 19.5 hours riding, 139 miles gaining 19,000’ (Luke Hise’s Double Dip).

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclist on final segment of climb; Garmin reads 16%

Ride 3.7 miles gaining 1,980’ at 10.3% average grade from 11,877’ to 13,857’.

aerial drone view of last 3.7 miles of climb

Last 3.7 miles.

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route grade and overview

bike parked next to a 12,000 feet elevation sign

You’ll not see that elevation outside Colorado and Mauna Kea in the US.

bike parked next to a 13,000 foot elevation sign

Mt. Evans (14,125’), Pikes Peak (14,110’) and Mauna Kea (13,767’)

 are the only paved roads topping 13,000’ in the U.S.

bike parked next to road sign approaching hairpin turns

Approaching the hairpins.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding together toward the climb summit, observatory in view

aerial drone view shows two giant hairpin turns at climb's finish; Mauna Kea observatory seen at climb's summit

Two giant hairpins at the finish.

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson summits Mauna Kea

Eight miles from Visitor Center to top.

THE FINISH: Highest point in Hawaii

The full section from Mauna Kea access road to the Summit is approximately 14.8 miles, 9.9% average grade, 7,189' gained, 0' descended, 23.38 Fiets Index, by itself would rank this ride as #1 in the US, even eliminating the first 28 miles and 6,500' of climbing, that's how much of an absolute beast this part of the climb is. ​

From the finish of our ride you can hike to Mauna Kea Summit which is the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Mauna Kea Summit is 13,796’ (from its base under the sea = 33,500’ - tallest mountain in the world)

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson summits Mauna Kea, Gemini Observatory

Finish at the Gemini Observatory.

sign at climb's finish for Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Summit to your right as you finish the climb.

PJAMM Cyclists rest at summit of Mauna Kea above the clouds

 On top of the world!

Garmin device at climb's finish comes in just under 13,800 feet of elevation

While our downloaded map reads 13,800+ elevation, our Garmin 2011 and 2022 is a bit less.

on top of the world at Mauna Kea's summit, Gemini Observatory

Bottom right photo:  View from Mauna Kea Summit back to cycling finish.

Photo collage shows PJAMM Cycling founder John Johnson on his five summits to the top of Mauna Kea, most recently in 2022 for his 65th birthday

I think my 65 birthday post-cancer challenge in 2022 will be my last Mauna Kea climb.

But, there’s always the challenge of my 70th coming up . . . .


In addition to 2 solo trips, I have had the great fortune of climbing Mauna Kea with good friends three times.  The most recent (hopefully not final) time was in 2022 with, among others, my dear friend, comedian, great story teller and really fun guy, Erwan Tregiuer from Brittany, France. This is a link to one of Erwans great stories and adventures (Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in the same day!! - Erwan’s Great Adventure)

These two volcanoes , so close and certainly "magmatic blood brothers" 🌋🌋 at almost identical altitudes, are different in many ways. Big Island, so "big" that its weight causes the oceanic crust to bend up to several hundred km, is made up of several volcanoes, the highest being Mauna Kea (MK: 4207m) and Mauna Loa (ML: 4169m). Let us mention in passing the dates of their last eruptions at the time of this release: -2500 for the MK, 1984 for the ML (see footnote for a small update!). The ML is more massive (it is the heart of the Big Island) and represents the archetypal shield volcano, crowned by a cyclopean caldera (like it's even more colossal Martian cousin, Olympus Mons ). From a distance, its slopes seem regular, moderate and smooth, while the MK is steeper and more irregular, bristling with a large number of secondary cones (it would be in a later eruptive phase). Up close, they are also different: the ML appears to be formed by an accumulation of solidified lava flows, while the MK rather evokes a monumental pile of ejecta of various sizes and colors, ranging from ashes to large volcanic bombs. Even their rocks seem to have quite distinct compositional signatures (related to a bifid mantle plume ?). 🔥🔥 In short, the origin of these differences seems to give scientists a hard time, but it's not just the mountain that changes: the roadAlso! While the MK's road seems to have been forcibly dug to climb the mountain, which it cuts with a brutal and mercilessly steep route offering not the slightest respite, that of the ML, thinner, resembles a ribbon of asphalt delicately placed on the lava fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, marrying the undulations of the landscape, which gives the impression of evolving on a roller coaster, 🎢 according to the many small descents that intersect the climb! The huge asperities of the lava make us feel very small, as does the majestic and imposing silhouette of the MK, which dominates the landscape (a few hours earlier, the roles were reversed!). We feel even more isolated from the world, in this chaotic landscape which corresponds to the idea that


Comparison for his ride up the beast - A comparison of the european cycling club BIG's top climbs confirms that Mauna Kea is THE world’s BIGest bike climb.

Riding the road bike at the top of Mauna Kea.

Thank you to to my friend Helmuth Dekkers, Netherlands for providing us this BIG climb comparison[1].

Helmuth’s tips for the climb 

snow at the top of Mauna Kea in 2020, with Mauna Loa in the background

It does snow in Hawaii:

Top of Mauna Kea during winter 2020 with Mauna Loa in the background.


“Mauna Kea is another great ascent on the Big Island of Hawaii and one of the most difficult and spectacular climbs in the world. After just over one mile in town, turn left on Kaumana Road (which becomes Saddle Road). You soon leave the city over moderate grade along with a short flat. Rolling miles follow and signs of civilization (including traffic) soon end. The route becomes tree lined about 6 miles in as you continue to ride over mostly shallow grade. Laa slowly and eventually replaces trees as you ride between two massive shield volcanoes over a long section characterized by mostly shallow and rolling grade...Soon the grade eases within the magnificent saddle between the two giant mountains and just beyond mile 28 turn right for the top.

This is quite isolated and spectacular territory and the next section continues as shallow and through grassy fields (there were a few cattle hanging around this area when the author was on this hill) and then gradually gets steeper as you ride. Just over 3 miles into this upper section you encounter the first of two steep ramps. The initial one lasts for over one mile and then the slope moderates. Very soon the 3nd and steeper ramp appears and lasts for one mile and is one of the steepest paved miles in the U.S. It also provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and lava fields in places as you ascend. Soon the grade eases, there is a small descent, climbing resumes over moderate grade and you reach the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center (on the right) which is an interesting place to spend some time (and fuel up for the return trip as needed). Just beyond the Visitor’s Center the pavement and listed climb mercifully ends within a lunar-like landscape with long views from high points. If you reach this point you have come a long way.

A somewhat soft (mountain bike) gravel road heads to the very top of the mountain (pavement reappears a few miles from the summit) and its high altitude and world famous observatories. Snow occasionally accumulates on top in winter which is quite a sight. If and when the unpaved section is paved this hill may well become the world’s most difficult paved road climb. It is tough enough as is so go prepared if you tackle it (there are no services once you leave Hilo). Keep in mind Mauna Kea is a giant descent as well.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 178.)

sunrise on Mauna Kea

That’s a wrap!!

[1] These are Helmuth’s personal comments, not as a representative of BIG.

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