When you think of Hawaii, glorious beaches, stunning tropical vegetation, and dramatic mountains come to mind. You might be wondering, does it snow in Hawaii?
You might be surprised to find out that it does snow in Hawaii! This warm-weather paradise gets snow, ice, and wintery weather conditions, but only at the tops of the highest mountains.
Nothing is more amazing than lounging in the sunshine at the beach with a snowcapped mountain in the distance.
I had to see this one to believe it myself! I have mostly visited the Hawaiian islands in the winter. I have been to Big Island, Oahu, and Maui, all in the winter months of December and January.
When I was researching Mauna Kea for our Big Island trip, I was so surprised to find out that it is very cold up there and that I have to pack warm jackets, gloves, and beanies to go up the mountain!
I always thought of Hawaii as a warm tropical escape, and it was hard to believe that it could snow there.
But there it was! From our hotel in Hilo, I could see the snow-capped peak of Mauna Kea in the distance! It was amazing to see for myself that it could snow even in a tropical paradise like Hawaii!
Where does it snow in Hawaii?
While it never snows at sea level, the peaks of the three tallest volcanoes all get snow.
Haleakala, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa have each sported a wintery coat of white snow during winter. I visited both Haleakala Summit and Mauna Kea in the winter.
It’s a rare occurrence and only happens a few times a year. These occurrences are generally between December and February.
Often, the snow will disappear in a day or two, but depending on the weather, it has been known to last up to 6 days.
Even when it’s not snowing, each of these volcanoes is worth visiting. They offer incredible scenic views, fantastic hiking opportunities, and are culturally significant sites.
Don’t let the warm weather at the beach fool you— even without snow, it’s cold at the summit.
You’ll want to dress warmly. Wear pants and a sweater at a minimum; multiple layers are recommended. If you like to be extra warm like me, also take a beanie, woolen socks, and gloves.
Anu’s Pro Tip: Have a thermos with you? Bring up a cup of hot chocolate to enjoy at the top. We even took blankets from our condo to keep us warm on Mauna Kea and Haleakala.
Mauna Kea (Big Island)
The gorgeous volcano of Mauna Kea on the Big Island is the highest point in the Hawaiian islands. It gets the most snow of the three volcanoes.
With the peak standing at 13,800 feet, Mauna Kea has even been known to get snow during the summer. The temperatures at the summit are often below freezing.
Even the name means “white mountain,” denoting its frequent snow caps. Mauna Kea is a sacred location in Hawaii, known to Hawaiians as the region of the gods.
It also serves a vital role in the scientific community. It’s a hub of astronomical observation, with more than a dozen massive telescopes.
While the observatories aren’t open to the general public, scientists can observe galaxies at the far edges of the observable universe.
There’s plenty to do on Mauna Kea, though. This volcano has some stunning hikes. The Humu’ula Trail and a shorter hike to Lake Waiau are the two most popular trails.
The Humu’ula Trail is a 12-mile round trip that will take you to the summit. It’s intense, with a 4,500-foot elevation gain.
If you’d rather have something less intense, take a 4WD vehicle to the Lake Waiau trailhead and visit Hawaii’s shallowest and highest lake.
The lake is a spiritual location for Hawaiians and was considered a portal to the spirit world.
We only went up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, and there was no snow there. It was still very cold up there.
We were told that kids under 13 shouldn’t go to the Mauna Kea Summit due to acclimatization issues. As we had our kids with us, we hiked to the small hill opposite the visitor center to see the sunset and stargaze from there.
Mauna Loa (Big Island)
Mauna Loa is the largest of the Hawaiian volcanoes, which stands at 13,679 feet high. It makes up half of the Big Island’s landmass.
It has also erupted over 33 times since 1843— making it the largest active volcano. The literal translation of it’s name is ‘long mountain.’
The dome measures 75 miles long and 64 miles wide. Want to know the craziest thing about this volcano? The ocean floor literally bends under its weight!
Mauna Loa typically gets snow once a year. It’s impressive to think of one mountain encompassing both lava and snow!
Whether it’s got a snow cap or a streak of glowing lava, Mauna Loa is an impressive volcano and well worth visiting.
Haleakala Summit (Maui)
Found on Maui, Haleakala is the smallest of the three volcanoes. It rises to 10,000 feet and receives less snow than the other two.
Snowfall on the top of Haleakala is rare but has happened at least once in the last few years.
Even when snow isn’t on the top of the mountain, Haleakala is a significant tourist destination. The “house of the rising sun” is picturesque at sunrise and sunset. (You do need a reservation to get in at sunrise).
We went to the Haleakala Summit at sunset and were blown away by the sunset views. It was very cold, but there was no snow in early January.
There’s even a fantastic hike where you can go down and hike through the crater. Depending on which additional trails you take, you’ll hike between 11 and 16 miles.
We just went a mile or so in to experience the crater and then came back the same way. I didn’t want to miss the sunset and wanted to come back before dark.
Inside the crater is a different world; the unique silversword plants and lava rock make it feel like a distant planet.
This volcano has also been named one of the quietest places on earth, if not the “quietest place on earth.” If you hike through the crater, take a moment to stop and be still. The quiet is so intense it’s almost eerie.
Does it snow in Maui?
It occasionally snows on Maui, but only at the highest points. The peak of Haleakala gets snow the most often, although there have been occasions where snow has fallen further down.
2019, it snowed in Poli Poli State Park, which is only 6,200 feet high!
The only other area of Maui that occasionally gets snow is the Ko’olau Gap, a valley between two mountains. This is an infrequent occurrence and only happens when it’s unseasonably cold.
Does it snow in Honolulu?
It’s never snowed on the island of Oahu, so if you’re planning an Oahu vacation, you’ll only see a light dusting of sand and ocean spray.
The coldest temperature on record in this coastal city was 52 degrees in 1969!
If you have your heart set on seeing snow in Hawaii, you’ll need to fly to the Big Island or Maui. The coastal regions of those islands have never seen snow either.
Does it snow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?
No trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This park is massive and home to the most active volcanoes on the island, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
While Kīlauea doesn’t get snow, Mauna Loa does! So, yes, it does snow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
We visited Volcanes Park in January, and there was no snow on the sea level where the Visitor Center and the other attractions are. We were also fortunate to witness the Kialuea eruption and lava glow!
The park has scenic vistas, great drives, and wonderful hikes. My favorite hike here is the Kilauea Iki Crater trail, in which you walk inside a lava crater! See the Pu’uloa Petroglyph field, which is filled with Hawaiian lava etchings.
You can even give back and help restore the land by participating in volunteerism projects!
When does it snow in Hawaii?
Typically, snow in Hawaii happens during the winter months of December through February. The mountain peak of Mauna Kea occasionally gets snow throughout the year.
Snowfall typically happens because of a Kona low. These storms are a type of cyclone with a cold core. The state gets 2-3 of them annually, and they cause rain, high winds, flash floods, and hailstorms or snow.
The strong winds can create drifting snow or blizzard-like conditions.
So, even if you’re on Maui or Hawaii islands when the peaks get snow, you might not be allowed close enough to see it if the conditions are bad.
How often does it snow in Hawaii?
It snows at least once a year in Hawaii. It’s hard to predict when snow will happen, but the colder the season, the more likely you’ll be there for it.
Snow measurements aren’t customarily taken, so it’s hard to say how much snow the state sees yearly. However, during the winter season of 2004-2005, estimates said 35-55 inches of snow fell.
Mauna Kea sees the most snowfall each year. The peak is so high that this volcano occasionally gets snow during the summer months.
Can you ski in Hawaii?
Shockingly, you can actually ski in Hawaii! The slopes of Mauna Kea are a ski destination— but only for professionals. The mountain is part of a National Science Reserve and isn’t maintained as a ski area.
This means no lifts, groomed trails, or day lodges exist. You’ll need an ATV or 4WD to get to the areas where you can ski.
Plus, the snow is unpredictable, which makes it hard to plan around it. If you go skiing there, you’ll be on your own!
How do you prepare to visit the mountains in Hawaii?
Visiting the mountains in Hawaii requires a bit of prep work, regardless of snow.
Temperatures can get very cold (as low as 30-40 ℉ on Mauna Kea!), so you’ll want to dress warmly and bring many layers, especially if you’re hiking on one of the volcanoes.
Conditions can change quickly, so make sure to be prepared.
Sunglasses and sunscreen are excellent, and you’ll want plenty of water and snacks.
The elevation gain from sea level can be intense. If you’re hiking on Mauna Kea, spend at least 30 minutes at the Visitor’s Center to avoid getting altitude sickness.
No matter which volcano you visit, filling up your gas before driving to the top is a good idea.
Wrap-up: Does Hawaii get snow?
Are you surprised to find out that it does snow in Hawaii? While snow is a rare occurrence happening only at the highest of peaks, it’s a real treat to see it for yourself.
The volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Big Island and Haleakala on Maui are the three locations that see snowfall.
Even if there isn’t snow on the top, you should still visit these locations. Each one has scenic vistas, incredible hikes, and a completely different climate than the rest of their respective islands.
Plus, it’ll still be cold, so you’ll get your fix of winter weather before you head back down to the beach!