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How to Hike Oahu’s Koko Head Stairs

Updated: Jan 2

The Koko Head Stairs hike is a steep, no-shade, climb to the top of Koko Head Crater that includes spectacular panoramic views of the east Honolulu shoreline, Hanauma Bay, and parts of Moloka’i. The 1.6 mile, 1,000+ step walking track consists of abandoned railroad ties that run along the crater’s west side to the top of Koko Crater.

The military used them previously during World War 2 as part of an incline tram to transport supplies to a lookout post at the summit. It’s a very unique hike and extremely challenging. Here’s how to hike Oahu’s Koko Head stairs.

Being Prepared

Of all the hikes we did on Oahu, this was by far the most challenging. I loved the views on this one and on our North Shore hike. It’s 1.6 miles with 885 feet of elevation. All in all, it’s a very intense hike.

The Sun

As mentioned above, there’s no shade during this hike. You’ll need plenty of water and sun protection along the way because of this. Since it can be easy to get overheated, I recommend doing this hike in the morning before the heat of the day sets in so you aren’t stuck feeling trapped in the heat!

You’ll want to bring more than one water bottle or an extra-large one.

Afraid of Heights?

The hike is on a site the military used previously during World War 2 as part of an incline tram to transport supplies to a lookout post at the summit. The track is all uphill or downhill and the tracks are not evenly spaced.

With the difference in heights and space on each step, it’s easy to feel like you might lose your footing. You’ll also be looking down the whole way back.

Halfway up, there is a “bridge” portion without ground beneath ~50 rail steps, but there is bypassing trail if you’re scared.

All in all, it’s very easy freeze up on this hike if you’re afraid of heights.

How in shape are you?

Okay, may sound harsh but… I struggled on this hike! I’m not someone who is extremely fit but I am someone who is very active. This was a really hard hike for me! It could end up being very hard for you. It took us about 2 1/2 hours, the average is 1 hour 15 minutes.

Track your Hike

AllTrails is a great way to track your hike and hear about others experiences. I highly recommend using it for any hike you have coming up!

Getting to Koko Head

Just a short 10-15 minute drive from Diamond Head and Waikiki, this is a great option for hiking when staying in the city.

Park in the Koko Head District Park parking lot and you will find an easily identifiable trail that leads to the start of the climb up the mountain. Start walking towards the end of the parking lot, around the courts, and follow the path leading past the field.

The dirt trail is a short 100 yards from the park path, before reaching the first step of “the stairs”. The Koko Crater Trail starts off relatively easy for the first 100 steps and progressively gets tougher from there.

Hiking up Koko Head Stairs

As mentioned, the “stairs” get progressively more steep as you go higher. There are markers along the way to tell you how many stairs you’ve done, but they aren’t always accurate.

It doesn’t take long for you to see amazing views of Hanuama Bay and Moloka’i. When you’re climbing, don’t forget to stop and take in the views! There are so many different photo ops on this hike, you might lose your words for what to say about Hawaii on Instagram.

Speaking of stopping, take plenty of breaks as needed and move over to the side to get a little bit of shade as you climb. You’ll see a lot of locals who choose to run or go very quickly up the trail and want to make space for all different paces!

The Top of Koko Head Crater Trail

Once you reach the top, if you look back, the view is covered mostly with trees. Instead, you want to go around to the other side for views of the inside of the crater and beaches. This was my personal favorite view!

We hung out in the shade of the Pill Box at the top, relaxing and enjoying the view with our water.

The trail does continue through the side of the crater if you wanted to keep going, but I’m not sure how you’d get back to your car! We went just a little down the trail to get another view at the top before heading down.

Climbing Down

Climbing down can be more dangerous than going up. Think about it, you’ve gone up 1050 stairs and are about to go down them again. Your legs might be a little tired and you might pay less attention to what is going on.

All of this means that you need to be really careful when you start going down! Take your time and do not go to quickly as you make your descent. We did see someone fall and luckily they were okay, but the scrapes did not look fun.

Overall, I do recommend you hike Oahu’s Koko Head stairs, but to be as prepared as possible when you do. It’s a very difficult hike and you don’t want to spend your whole trip recovering!


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