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From the ocean floor to the summit marker, this volcano ascends 33,000 feet, roughly 4,000 feet more than Mt. Everest rises from its base. But your car does all the climbing here, on a road that rises through lush greenery into an increasingly barren environment and blindingly clear skies. The pavement turns to dirt at 9,240 feet; then, tires crunching and dust flying, you enter a surreal landscape littered with enormous black boulders and red cinder cones that look like giant anthills. Finally, 10 engine-straining miles later, a handful of white-domed observatories sparkle in the blue. Go in the late afternoon with a warm jacket and picnic dinner, and settle in for what is likely to be the best sunset-and-star show of your life.
Elevation: 13,796 feet
Contact: Mauna Kea State Park, (808) 961-2180
USGS Topo: Mauna Kea
Eat: Kona Brewing Company, (808) 334-2739
Sleep: Spencer Beach Park, on HI 270 near Kona, (808) 961-8311
Gear: Hawaii Forest & Trail, Kona, (800) 464-1993