Saddle Road on the island of Hawaii is less challenging to drive, but still requires caution.
Most older Big Island guide books and travel advice columns contain a warning, “Rental car companies prohibit driving across Saddle Road.” Until recently, there was good reason for that—and some companies may still have restrictions about driving “the saddle.” However, Saddle Road is a much nicer drive than it used to be.
Over the last few years, several sections of the ongoing Saddle Road realignment project have been completed, so what was once a sometimes nerve wracking drive is, for the most part, now a much smoother and safer experience.
There are a few things to consider before you undertake this potentially gorgeous and inspiring journey across the Big Island:
First, bad weather is going to make the drive tough even though the road is now wider and more navigable. If you look up toward the mountains from Kona or Hilo and see thick, grey clouds, you may want to reconsider the drive and opt to take another route instead (either the Hamakua coast or the South Point drive).
Another warning: if you do drive Saddle Road, you must be aware of the one-lane bridges on the Kona side. We started up Saddle road a few weeks ago and were quickly reminded how aggressive some drivers can be. Watch for the “Yield” signs and heed them carefully. Once you’re on your way, also pay attention to speed limits, especially near the Pohakuloa Training Area.
Last, if you do decide to make the drive, get gas, snacks and water before you head out. There is always a chance of encountering construction. Your drive may take a little longer than you’ve budgeted for. Leave prepared and take time to stop at the Mauna Kea State Park to use the facilities, stretch your legs and enjoy the view of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea. (The Park is located at about 6,500 ft elevation, so you’ll definitely notice a difference in the temperature up there. Go prepared!)