Expert Backpackers: Try Ainapo Cabin

This camping location is not for everyone. However, if you’re an avid backpacker this is the spot for you!

To hike to the cabin from the base of the Ainapo Trail it will take the average hiker 2 to 3 hours. If you want to summit Mauna Loa from the cabin, that will take another 8 to 12 hours. Warning this trail can be very hazardous so read the details regarding the hike carefully before starting your journey.

Getting There

To reach the Ainapo Trail follow Hwy. 11 in Kau to the cattle guard near the 40.5 Mile Marker. Located on the mauka (mountain side). The gate is open during daylight hours only.  Campers and hikers are required to contact Kapapala Ranch at (808) 928-8403 to obtain the combination for locked gate. This combination is changed daily. Users are required to call the night before between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to schedule entry. This combination is changed daily and given out at the same phone number from 4:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on entry day. It is your responsibility to arrange entrance. Keep in mind that the Ainapo Road is 4WD only. The road begins at the cattle guard and passes through Kapapala Ranch for 5.7 miles before entering Kapapala Forest Reserve and continuing 2.3 miles to the Ainapo Trailhead. To view trail head map click here.


The Ainapo Cabin resides at 7,750′ elevation and has 6 bunk beds, 6 stools, and a table. There are no heating facilities. A 400-gallon water catchment tank provides water. The water is suitable for washing and other uses, but it is not recommended for drinking unless it has been treated. A composting toilet is provided.

A permit must be purchased within 30 days in advance of check-in date. Office hours, Hilo: M-F, 7:45 AM- 4:30 PM, Kamuela: M-F, 7:00 AM- 3:30 PM, CLOSED weekends and state holidays. No refunds, alterations will be given if requested within 15 days of your first scheduled camping or lodging day- all payments will be forfeited. There are no open fires permitted. Unfortunately, you will need to leave your furry friends at home, dogs are not allowed. Make sure you protect the ʻĀina (land) and pack out everything you pack in.


  • Hawaii Resident $30 per night up to six people
  • Non-Residents $50 per night up to six people

Hiking trail

Only experienced hikers who take all proper safety measures should attempt to reach the summit of Mauna Loa. Weather at the upper elevations changes frequently with high winds and cool temperatures. The journey from the trail base to the Ainapo Cabin is considered moderate to challenging. The Ainapo Trail begins at 5,650 feet in elevation and ascends 2,100 feet with the distance being 2.7 miles long. While hiking this trail you will pass through an ohia forest. The distance from the cabin to the summit of Mauna Loa is 7.5 miles and ascends another 5,500 feet. This section of the trail is considered challenging. While on the upper hike you will pass through an alpine stone desert.

*warning You should not attempt the upper hike unless you are a very experienced hiker. Again, weather at the upper elevation changes frequently with high winds and cool temperatures.


Come prepared/ Safety warnings

Hunting is permitted in Kapapala Forest Reserve year-round so make sure to wear bright colored clothing. Be prepared for hazardous weather this could include rain, blizzards, whiteouts, snow, and high winds. The temperatures can drop below freezing at night make sure to dress accordingly. The weather conditions can lead to a hiker’s disorientation, bring a compass or a GPS tracking device. Sunlight is intense especially with snow cover, sunglasses and sunscreen are recommended.


Begin at the gate located between the 40 and 41-mile marker on Māmalahoa Highway 11. Go through a locked gate using the combination issued by Kapāpala Ranch. Drive for 5.7 miles on the 4WD ʻĀinapō access road. After passing through the Kapāpala Forest Reserve gate, continue for another 2.3 miles to the ʻĀinapō Trailhead. Hike for 2.7 miles, ascending 2,100 feet, to the ʻĀinapō Trail Shelter at Halewai at 7,670 ft. Regulated commercial activity allowed by permit only. (

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