The Mysterious Hawaii Road You Absolutely Must Drive At Least Once

Saddle Road, Hawaii

Megan Shute for Only In Your State on Saddle Road, the beautiful road connecting west and east on the Big Island. Join us on our Wild & Scenic Volcano Tour to sit back relax and enjoy the rugged and scenic road in comfort and luxury.

What the Hawaiian Islands lack in terms of long road trip possibilities, we make up for in phenomenal scenic drives — from coastal highways with stellar views of the Pacific Ocean to roads that traverse between and through the mountainous inland. This particular highway is one of the Aloha State’s most mysterious, and we think everyone needs to drive it at least once. Hawaii Route 200, also known as Saddle Road, traverses Hawaii Island for 52.7 miles from downtown Hilo to its junction with Highway 190 near Waimea. The road is notoriously dangerous, and was featured by Conde Nast Traveler as being one of the “10 Scariest Highways For White-Knuckle Road Trips.” While it has undergone extensive renovations since then, it’s still one of Hawaii’s most mysterious roads.

Also known as the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Route 200 reaches a maximum elevation of more than 6,600 feet and provides access to the volcano observatories that branch off the road. The highway received its nickname for being the “saddle” in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.Combine vision-obscuring fog, rough roads, narrow lanes, marginally maintained pavement and several one-lane bridges and you’ve got the old Saddle Road. The highway was once considered to be so dangerous that some rental car companies would forbid their customers to drive on the road.

Combine vision-obscuring fog, rough roads, narrow lanes, marginally maintained pavement and several one-lane bridges and you’ve got the old Saddle Road. The highway was once considered to be so dangerous that some rental car companies would forbid their customers to drive on the road.

The highway dates back to 1849 when Minister of Finance Gerrit P. Judd proposed the construction of a road directly between the two population centers on Hawaii Island. The project was started using prison labor but was abandoned after ten years and only 12 miles when the 1859 eruption of Mauna Loa blocked its path. The road can be seen on maps as Judd Trail.

In 1943, the United States Army built an access road for military vehicles in order to better defend the island in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Following the end of World War II, the Army gave jurisdiction to the Territory of Hawaii, and it became State Route 20.

The territory, however, had little funds to maintain the road, and for several years, minimal maintenance was provided for the road. The road is void of any gas stations, stores, or anywhere manned to get help. It is advised to make sure you have the number of an island tow company before you begin your journey. But be careful — there are portions of the road with no cell service, though call boxes have been placed along the highway.

Since the early 1990s, attention to the road has increased and most of the road has been repaved, and major sections of the highway have been realigned in order to meet modern standards.

The highway has even been Today, the old Saddle Road no longer exists and has been replaced by the new Saddle Road, of which a 33-mile section of road was constructed for approximately $300 million. However, the road is still quite mysterious — especially when the fog rolls in.

The road is void of any gas stations, stores, or anywhere manned to get help. It is advised to make sure you have the number of an island tow company before you begin your journey. But be careful — there are portions of the road with no cell service, though call boxes have been placed along the highway.

This highway is especially mysterious at night — and if you’re driving to or from Mauna Kea for sunrise or sunset, you should be prepared for a truly mysterious journey.

As if it’s fascinating history isn’t mysterious enough, Saddle Road is also considered to be haunted. Like Oahu’s “pork over the Pali story,” legend has it that if you carry pork over Saddle Road, your car may break down or experience something supernatural.

Though Saddle Road is undoubtedly mysterious, it is also beautiful. Striking mountain views abound, and you’ll want to take this scenic drive at least once in your life.

 

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