As part of my gung-ho reintroduction to Oahu, I decided to take on the beast that is the Koko Head Crater Trail hike with my sister, sister-in-law and niece. I’d never done this hike before and figured it was now or never.
More than a few times along the way I pondered whether I was a masochist, because who in their right mind would enjoy this? It was a grueling StairMaster workout, more than a steep hike, up the discontinued railway, but I made it to the top and back down without dying (much).
It’s a good idea to start this hike early in the morning to avoid the heat of midday. Bring a bottle of water for each person in your group as there aren’t any trees along the way for shelter, and the path to the top isn’t fooling around with switchbacks or lazily circling the crater. It’s got one thing in mind – getting to the top – and everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The Koko Head Crater Trail goes up, up and then continues up some more.
Koko Head District Park
View of my sister-in-law at the start of the bridge portion and a look how steep it is to the top
Start of Koko Head Crater Trail
Hawaii Kai neighborhood
No where near the top yet, my sister has begun using the ladder method.
My niece and sister-in-law at the beginning of the hike
By parking at Koko Head District Park, the walk to the mountain is a slight uphill meander that doesn’t give you a hint of what’s to come. In fact, it lulls you into apathy because you can see the top of Koko Head and it looks so damn close. Your mind’s got you thinking it’ll be easy.
But it’s not.
I’m not sure how many stairs it takes to get from the bottom to the top – possibly around 1,000 – but your thighs, butt and knees as well as your lungs will feel each and every one. The heights of each step and the distance between them varies, so if you’re short like me, you might find it more difficult than taller folks.
Rehydration is key
Start of the bridge section
Steeper than you think
Getting closer to the top but still more steps
Koko Head Crater Trail is a popular hike.
People with longer legs will be able to reach each step in their stride, but shorter legs will have to adjust with some sort of shuffle step. I found it was easier to lead with one foot for about ten paces and then switch sides.
At one point in the hike, the ground beneath the railroad track gives way and the track continues across in a bridge-like fashion. Anyone scared of heights may want to take the alternate path on the right side of the trail to avoid looking at a 10-foot drop between each tracks.
If you decide to take on the bridge (as most people do), just take your time. I noticed people had different techniques for handling this section of the hike. Sure-footed people simply continued along as if they were walking on solid ground. Other people took it one foot at a time, making sure they planted their feet solidly on each track. Some people even crawled up this section, using their hands as if they were climbing a ladder. Do whatever works for you at your own pace. Trust me, people will pass you if you’re going too slow for them.
After all is said and done, the view at the top is pretty spectacular. I won’t commit to doing it again, but I’m glad I did it. Can you believe some people use this hike for their daily workout and RUN (what?!?!) up and down Koko Head Crater? I, my friends, will never be one of them.
See? Red-faced and puffing but smiling.
How steep is it?
At the top!
Reverse ladder method on the way down
View from the top of the crater and the east side of Oahu
Hawaii Kai neighborhood
Careful on the way down
Once you’ve rested and rejuvenated at the top, don’t let your guard down as coming down can be worse than going up if you have bad knees. Be careful and don’t rush. Make sure your footing is stable as it’d be a long, bumpy way down if you slipped and took a tumble.
A nice thing you could do is to smile and encourage (and gloat?) the people on their way up. You can do this now that you’re heading in the opposite direction and aren’t red-faced and puffing like a steam locomotive.
Koko Head Crater Trail is a challenging and grueling workout that’ll make your legs hum for the rest of the day (and possibly sing the following morning). It’s a quick way to get a spectacular view of the east side of Oahu and is definitely a bucket list type of excursion for many people.