On a white sandy beach of Hawaii… or not? More of a mountain person?
Oahu’s got you on both fronts. But for those mountain people who want a relatively short but grueling hike with a big payoff at the end (and a bit of history thrown in for fun), the Koko Head Crater Trail is for you!
The Koko Head hike is like Oahu’s natural StairMaster. It’s an abandoned railroad track left over from WWII, used to carry supplies up the mountain to the bunkers on the top. Today, it is a hike for the fitness junkies of Hawaii and for tourists who want a good view and a kick in the ass getting there.
There are over 1,000 stairs (1,048 some say – I didn’t count) that go straight up. There’s only one path up and down so you’ll be sharing the track. Some people run it, some people struggle up, and some people quit halfway through, there are even those who do it two or three times in a day (not me). The hike will take between 20 minutes to an hour depending on the kind of hiker you are.
What to Bring
- A hat
- Good sneakers
- A small bag that you can put everything in but won’t get in your way
- Your phone (for pictures and music) + headphones
It’s an easy hike to find, most GPS will find it if you type Koko Head Crater Trail into Google Maps or Waze. If that doesn’t work, try Koko Head District Park. There’s a lot of parking available and a bathroom near the front of the parking lot entrance – use it, because there is no other chance to go. When parking, be sure to watch out for the cats that roam around the park.
Tip! – No matter what time of the year it is, doing this hike at dawn is best. Firstly, because if you go early enough you can catch the sunrise. Secondly, Hawaii is rarely cold and getting the hike done before the sun rises and beats down on you will save you some time and sweat – possibly a sunburn as well.
Getting to the mountain is easy, just follow the dirt paths or follow other hikers. You’ll pass a baseball field and go through some trees before you reach the bottom of the trail. Stretch a bit before beginning the climb, then start!
Going up will test your endurance.
Pace yourself, take breaks, and keep in mind that the tracks can be unstable in some parts. There are parts where you may feel uncomfortable, the bridge portion for instance. In these cases, you’ll see signs that direct you to side paths. People are trying to get funding for rougher parts of the track to get partially rebuilt but it’s been hard getting that money. Instead, people have been bringing up planks of wood to cover parts where people tend to slip or where part of the earth has been eroded away.
Remember – the hike itself is not unsafe, but like with anything you have to be careful, especially considering how steep the incline is.
Once at the top, you can explore the graffiti-covered bunkers and see the amazing view. This place is Instagram heaven so if you bring a friend, put them to work. If you’re a solo hiker, people are more than ready to take your picture and ask for one in return – they’re just so relieved they made it to the top!
Getting down is a whole different ballgame.
It is definitely less of a workout, but you have to be the most careful here because it is a steep drop. Those afraid of heights, like my father, will definitely have trouble. It can be done though, as my father just focused on where he put his feet and took the side paths around scarier parts. Another woman I saw scooted down on her butt – there are ways to handle it.
For those who aren’t afraid of heights, enjoy the view going down. It’ll be much faster getting down than it was getting up so take your time and take some pictures.
And congrats! You’ve conquered Koko Head! Treat yourself to a reward and ignore the other hikers going back for a second round (I did).