The Hawaiian Islands are known for their sunshine, pristine beaches, and lush jungles. But you may have heard that certain parts of the islands can get pretty chilly and wondered to yourself “does it snow in Hawaii?”. And the surprising answer is yes—it may snow here even more than you’d think! Here’s everything you need to know about snow in Hawaii, from where you can find it to whether you need to worry about it on your next tropical getaway.
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Where does it snow in Hawaii?
As an island, much of Hawaii’s coastal regions are at or just above sea level. But there are some massive mountains–well, really, massive volcanoes—that tower above the rest of the island’s landscape. And, really, it’s almost exclusively at the staggeringly tall elevations near their summits where you’ll ever find snow in Hawaii, which usually only sticks to the ground for a few days.
These massive volcanoes are Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala.
Mauna Kea, found on the Big Island of Hawaii, towers at 13,803 feet tall and holds all kinds of fun titles. It’s the tallest point in the state of Hawaii, the second tallest point on any island on the planet, and, as measured from the seafloor to its summit, the tallest mountain in the world (take THAT, Mount Everest!). Because it’s the tallest mountain in Hawaii, it was also revered as being incredibly sacred to the Native Hawaiians, who believed Mauna Kea was in the realm of the gods.
This volcano receives the highest amount of snow in Hawaii, receiving an average of 7.41 inches each year, although, of course, it can see more than that in any given year—after all, Mauna Kea roughly translates to “white mountain” in Hawaiian. In 2016, it actually snowed more than two feet at the summit of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa during a particularly gnarly winter storm.
While Mauna Kea sees the most snow in the wintertime (December through February), it can actually get snow well into the warmer months as well. My husband, Justin, and I visited in May and did the Mauna Kea hike, a pretty grueling 13.4 mile trek up to the summit. We were over-the-moon THRILLED that we got to hike on the trail, given that it had been closed, just a week prior, due to heavy snowfall and icy road conditions.
In addition to hiking, the summit of Mauna Kea is also renowned for being one of the best places to watch sunsets on the Big Island and offers an excellent location for stargazing and astrophotography. If you’re interested in experiencing its incredible views for yourself (and stand on top to the Tallest Mountain in the World*), you can either drive up here yourself on a VERY rough road (be sure to check whether your rental company allows you to take your rental car offroading!) or go on a guided tour, like this Mauna Kea summit tour or this stargazing and photography tour.
As alluded to above, the road and trail accessing the summit can be closed down in instances of heavy snowfall, but this is pretty rare.
Also found on the Big Island, Mauna Loa is a MASSIVE volcano, accounting for 51% of the total land mass of the Big Island, and is just a few hundred feet shorter than its neighbor, Mauna Kea, at 13,679 feet tall. But it does have a pretty unique characteristic—out of the three volcanoes that receive snow in Hawaii, it’s the only one that’s still active. In fact, Mauna Loa last erupted at the end of 2022!
Despite being only slightly shorter than Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa sees a lot less snow than its taller brethren—on average, its summit receives under four inches of snowfall each year. It did, however, happen to snow here shortly after the 2022 eruption started, which had to be quite the sight!
You can theoretically drive to the summit of Mauna Loa, but it would absolutely require a VERY high-clearance vehicle (we’re talking, like, monster truck high clearance) with four-wheel drive.
Accordingly, most people who access the summit do so by tackling the challenging 19.5-mile Mauna Loa hike, one of the best hikes on the Big Island. If you’re interested in seeing the summit of Mauna Loa, but aren’t quite up for such a hardcore hike during your vacation in paradise, I’d suggest booking a helicopter tour, where you can see the summit from above, like this tour or this tour.
Haleakala, found on the island of Maui, is quite a bit shorter than the two Big Island volcanoes, clocking in at a mere 10,023 feet tall. It’s still pretty enormous, though—in fact, it’s technically the largest (by volume) dormant volcano on the planet.
Due to its lower elevation, snowfall on Haleakala is quite rare, with an inch or two falling approximately once every two to three years, generally from December through February. In 1978, though, there was a storm that dumped a whopping eight inches on Haleakala, one of the largest recorded winter storms in the state’s history.
Additionally, Maui actually holds the state’s record for snowfall at the lowest recorded elevation. In 2018, it snowed at just 6,200 feet above sea level at the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, a first for the park and for the entire state.
Although it’s the least snowiest of the three massive volcanoes in Hawaii, Haleakala, which is also a U.S. National Park, should absolutely be on your Maui itinerary, given that there’s a lot more things to see and do here as compared to the other summits. For example, you can hike past colorful cinder cones and into its crater along the Sliding Sands Trail or bicycle down at sunrise, like on this self-guided tour or this small group tour.
How often does it snow in Hawaii?
As mentioned above, it usually snows at least once a year at Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and about once every two or three years at Haleakala.
When does it snow in Hawaii?
It’s most likely to snow at all of these extremely high elevations during winter in Hawaii, in particular, December through February. So if playing in the snow is REALLY high on your Hawaii bucket list, I’d suggest planning your trip then—with the understanding that you’ll have to get really lucky for it to actually snow during your visit.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to see any snow in Hawaii, this time period just so happens to overlap with the best time to see humpback whales on the islands—so, at least you can drown your sorrows while seeing creatures the size of school buses leap out of the water (check out our post on the best whale watching tours in Maui!).
If your trip to Hawaii is outside of this window, remember that snow can—and does—happen at these high elevations, regardless of the time of year—for example, in the summertime, the temperature at the summit of Mauna Kea ranges from about 30 degrees to 60 degrees, which means that snow can obviously still form during this window. Climate change is making snowfall more irregular and unpredictable, so it’s possible that snow in Hawaii during the summertime may actually increase in the coming years.
Can you ski in Hawaii?
Theoretically, yes, you can ski in Hawaii, primarily at the summit of Mauna Kea. However, there’s no facilities to support skiing, like a chair lift, tow rope, or lodge, so you’d have to drive up the already treacherous road to the summit (in the snow), ski down the mountain, and then climb back up (again, in the snow) while at almost 14,000 feet of elevation.
There is actually the Hawaii Ski Club, a non-profit organization for ski enthusiasts in Hawaii, who used to regularly organize trips to Mauna Kea to ski down its summit. However, they have since stopped this activity, due to health and safety concerns for its members (e.g., altitude sickness) and how disrespectful this activity is to Hawaiian culture and religion.
For all of the reasons that ski trips to Mauna Kea are no longer a thing for the Hawaii Ski Club, I’d strongly recommend against skiing in Hawaii—the islands are MIND BLOWINGLY amazing for lots of things, like beaches, epic hikes, and wildlife, other than skiing!
What to Bring for High Elevations in Hawaii
If you’re planning on adding a visit to the summit of any of these volcanoes during your trip to Hawaii (which you absolutely should!), come prepared for a range of weather, regardless of what time of year you’re visiting.
The summits can typically be pretty hot during the day and drop to literally freezing temperatures once the sun goes down, if you plan on watching the sunset or doing any stargazing while you’re here. For example, Justin and I watched and photographed the sunset at Haleakala (which was INCREDIBLE, by the way!) and were so thankful that we packed jackets and warm, cozy hats to wear once the sun sunk below the horizon.
So here’s what I’d recommend adding to your Hawaii packing list if you plan on visiting any of these summits:
- Puffy jacket: I love packable puffer jackets, like this version for men and this version for women. They zip up into a teeny tiny, light-weight pouch that you can throw in your suitcase and your day hiking backpack, but are super warm and cozy to put on once the temperature starts dropping.
- Beanie: Keep that noggin nice and toasty warm—I love my Carhartt beanie (which has somehow became the official hat for Adventure Girls everywhere!), which Justin definitely steals and uses from time to time!
- Lots of water: High altitude is no joke; your body loses water much faster than you would at sea level, especially if you’re doing any kind of physical activity. So bring more water than you think you need—Justin and I love our comically giant Nalgene bottles. Also, remember that, other than at the Haleakala Visitor Center, these summits don’t have any kind of facilities, like water fountains, or water sources, so you’ll have to bring whatever you’ll need with you.
- Sunscreen: The Hawaiian sun can be REAL harsh and it’s even more intense at higher elevation. Given there’s no shade at or near the top of these summits, be sure to bring sunscreen (I love this brand, which is reef-friendly and smells like Hawaii in a bottle) and sunglasses along.
- Microspikes: If you’re planning on doing hikes to the Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa summit, it’s probably a good idea to throw a pair of microspikes in your suitcase, especially if you’re visiting in the cooler months (October through May). It’s not uncommon to find patches of ice or snow along the trails during the cooler months and, given how challenging it can be to hike up loose, volcanic soil at high elevations as it is, you’ll be happy for the extra traction that microspikes can provide if you encounter any icy patches along the trail.
I hope you feel a bit more prepared for whether to expect snow in Hawaii during your visit. Do you have any questions for us about any of these summits or the weather there? Let us know in the comments below!