Taking Rental Cars Off-Road or on Saddle Road on the Big Island

Information and Cautions about Hawaii Off Road and Taking Car Rentals on Saddle Road between Kona and Hilo

Are 4WD rental cars allowed off-road in Hawaii or on Saddle Road on the Big Island?

Do I need 4WD? | Can I drive on Saddle Road? | How to get to Mauna Kea Observatory | Policies | Saddle Road Cautions | Insurance Coverage | Breakdowns | Alternate Route

Do I need 4 wheel drive in Hawaii?

Jeep Wrangler 2 DoorHaving four wheel drive on a car rental is not necessary on any of the Hawaiian Islands. This is because the car rental companies DO NOT allow any of their cars to be taken off the pavement, even if they are 4-wheel drive (4WD). Going onto any unpaved area in Hawaii is a car rental contract violation. So as long as you stay on the paved portion you are fine.

Can I drive my rental car on Saddle Road?

Yes. I have been advised by Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty and Enterprise that it is okay to take their rental cars on Saddle Road. Saddle Road, which is State Route 200 on the Big Island, is now completely paved from the Kona side all the way to the Hilo side of the Big Island. It takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes to travel Saddle Road between the Hilo and Kailua Kona sides of the Big Island. Please take note of Saddle Road Cautions.

The Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road:

This road is also paved between Saddle Road and the Mauna Kea Visitor's Center. However, beyond the visitor's center and all the way up to the observatory, it is not paved. It can be very dangerous to travel beyond the visitor's center, especially in foggy conditions. It is forbidden to take rental cars on this portion of the road.

How to get to the Mauna Kea Observatory:

Rental cars are not allowed to travel beyond the visitor's center. If you want to go all the way up to the Mauna Kea Observatory, you will need to find a commercial tour company or a car rental company in Hilo to rent you a 4WD and that also allows their vehicles on this unpaved portion. But be advised that this section can be treacherous, especially in inclement weather. Mauna Kea is a 14,000 mountain and you can also get altitude sickness.

Car rental company policies for the Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road to the Visitor Center:

Saddle Road Driving Restrictions
Where is it okay to drive a rental car?

Avis Saddle Road Policies Budget Saddle Road Policies Dollar Saddle Road Policies Enterprise Saddle Road Policies Hertz Saddle Road Policies Thrifty Saddle Road Policies
On Saddle Road between Hilo and Kona: Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok
From Saddle Road to the Visitor's Center:
This road is called the " Mauna Kea Observatory Access Road." It is the paved road that goes between between Saddle Road and the Visitor's Center.
Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok Ok
From the Visitor's Center up to the Observatory:
This road is not paved and can be hazardous in poor weather conditions such as rain, fog, sleet, snow. See Saddle Road Cautions  below.
No No No No No No

 Avis Hawaii restricted driving areas agreementBudget Hawaii restricted driving areas agreement arrow
When you rent an Avis or Budget car in the state of Hawaii, you will be asked to sign:
Avis/Budget Rental Agreement Addendum Terms & Conditions

Avis/Budget Rental Agreement Addendum Terms & Conditions

Saddle Road Cautions:

Please be advised of these possible road conditions and challenges:

  • There are no street lights.
  • There are no services whatsoever; no gas, no food, nothing. It's a country road.
  • Repair and construction:
  • The older paved section of Saddle Road can be hazardous because of rough pavement and possible potholes.
  • Feral critters like goats, cattle, turkeys and pigs wandering on the road, day and night.
  • Visibility can be poor due to weather conditions; heavy rain, flooding, fog with zero visibility.
  • Little to no cell phone reception.
  • If you break down, it could be hours before a tow truck arrives to help.
  • Military vehicles cross, enter and leave this road. You may also encounter slow-moving military convoys.

Does car rental insurance cover me on Saddle Road?

As long as there is no evidence of going off the pavement, you should be covered. Going off pavement would be considered a contract violation at which time the coverages would be null and void.

What if my rental car breaks down on Saddle Road?

If a rental car breaks down, stalls out, quits running or won't start on Saddle Road, does the rental car company pay to come and get it? If the customer purchases roadside assistance protection and there are no contract violations, then yes. But be aware that Saddle Road is in a fairly remote area of the island so it would be hours before anyone would be able to get to you. If the tow service company that is called doesn't take the insurance coverage then the customer may be charged for the tow depending on the situation. It is suggested that the customer call their own insurance company or auto club for a tow. The Rental locations really try to discourage customers from going this way because it is dangerous and so far from anything. Cell phones don't work in most places around there.

Is there an alternate route to Saddle Road?

If you're traveling between Hilo to Kona and you enjoy beautiful tropical Hawaiian scenery, Saddle Road is not the way to go. Though it has it's own special scenic beauty, it is quite barren, dry and rocky. It's probably better to take the north coast highway so you can stop off along the way in the small towns, botanical gardens and small beach parks along the way.

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