Critical Bird Habitat Restoration on Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14025A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Enjoy scenic views from Hawaii's tallest mountain
  • Work to preserve endangered native bird habitat
  • Spend two days in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park


  • All lodging and most food
  • Transportation to and from Volcanoes National Park
  • Park entrance fees


DatesMar 23–29, 2014
StaffJill McIntire
Photo: Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The Island of Hawai'i is the largest and southernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, the most remote island archipelago in the world. Due in part to its remoteness, the islands are home to many species found nowhere else on Earth, including the critically endangered honeycreeper, palila. Rising more than 2.5 miles above sea level, Mauna Kea defines the landscape of the island and is the state’s highest mountain. For Hawaiians it is a wahi pana, sacred place. Mauna Kea is considered by some to be the physical form of Wakea, the forefather of the Hawaiian people. And because of its sanctity, many shrines, burials, and kapu surround the mountain top. Let us respect this important mountain and tred reverently in our work there.

Also located on the Island of Hawai'i is Hawai'i's top visitor attraction, Volcanoes National Park. Home to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the park will give us the opportunity to learn more about the natural forces that continue to shape these islands.

The Project

The Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project (MKFRP) was initiated when the Saddle Road that cuts across the island was rerouted through the high-elevation dry forest land that is critical palila habitat. To compensate, two areas on Mauna Kea that were formerly used for cattle grazing were selected for reforestation to replace the habitat lost to the development of the Saddle Road. Our goal is to extend the forest down to the lower elevations, increasing the year-round food availability for the palila by propagating native seedlings, outplanting seedlings, and controlling invasive plants.

"This was a really unique opportunity to work hard, achieve significant results in habitat restoration, and observe our endangered species bird both in the wild and in a sanctuary aviary setting. Plus we had a great tour of Volcanoes National Park as another reward for our efforts."  - James


Day 1: Participants will arrive in Hilo and transfer to the MKFRP bunkhouse. There we will get acquainted over dinner and prepare to transfer to Mauna Kea the following day.

Days 2-5: We will be camping and working on Mauna Kea under the supervision of MKFRP staff. We will work several hours each day, taking breaks to eat lunch and, as necessary, to rest and hydrate at this higher elevation. When we stop for the day, we'll return to camp for a shared dinner. On the evening of day five, we will return to the bunkhouse in Hilo.

Day 6: On the morning of day six, we will drive south from Hilo to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. The itinerary in the park will be decided based on the interests and ability level of the group, as well as conditions in the park. We will eat a picnic lunch during our adventures and spend the night in the park, where we will hope to see the glow of the volcano in the darkness.

Day 7: On the last day of the trip, we will make our way back to Hilo and share a final lunch before going our separate ways. There is much to do in the Hilo area and beyond for those wishing to spend a few more days in paradise on their own!



Getting There

Hilo is a major airport serviced by several airlines. Participants will be responsible for making their own way to the MKFRP bunkhouse, but a list of participants will be circulated prior to the trip for those wishing to arrange shared taxi rides. The leaders can provide a list of suggested activities in the area for those wishing to arrive early or stay longer.

Accommodations and Food

Our accommodations will be rustic but pleasant, with each of our destinations providing a unique camping experience. The camp on Mauna Kea has showers and a composting toilet, as well as a central kitchen cabin with appliances. However, all water comes from a catchment system and water conservation is critical so that water can be used primarily for irrigation. Participants will stay in small two-person A-frame cabins. Please note that we will be working and camping at elevations up to 7,800 feet. At this altitude, temperatures can dip below freezing at night (yes, even in Hawai'i!).

At Hawai'i Volcanoes NP, we will stay in a historic campground in recently renovated cabins situated in a fragrant eucalyptus grove 4,000 feet above sea level within the park. Cooking will be on a shared outdoor grill. There is no electricity or water in the cabins, but a communal bathroom has showers and toilets. Beds and linens are provided at the park.

Trip Difficulty

The project work is not necessarily strenuous, but participants should be able and willing to work all day in the sun and at elevation. Rest and water breaks will be taken as needed and participants will work at their own pace. The terrain both on Mauna Kea and in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is rocky and rugged. The work site on Mauna Kea is remote and several hours away from medical attention, so caution is paramount. At night, temperatures can drop below freezing, and it can rain at any time on the mountain.

Equipment and Clothing

A sleeping pad and warm sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees is necessary while on Mauna Kea, as is warm clothing to withstand freezing temperatures at night. A headlamp is also crucial. Boots that lace up through the ankle are required; please make sure they are broken in (but not worn out) prior to the trip. We do not anticipate spending time at the beach on this trip.


Hawai'i faces many unique challenges to preserving its endemic species, development not least among them. We will have an opportunity to learn more about these challenges during our work project. Additionally, most goods and products must be brought to Hawai'i by boat from the mainland or overseas, and the state has a limited ability to deal with landfill waste. For this reason, please plan to "pack out" any packaging or other garbage from items you bring from the mainland.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.



Jill McIntire lives in Berkeley, California, and has led trips on the main Hawaiian Islands and on Midway. She first went to Hawaii on a Sierra Club bicycling trip; since then, she's cycled, kayaked, and hiked the islands. Warm weather and birds are two of her passions, so Hawaii fits the bill beautifully.


Elaine Grace

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