Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail in Hawaii

Hiking the Ka'au Crater Trail

Hawaii is a dream destination for any nature lover. Being world-famous for the surf, the Hawaiian islands also have some of the most scenic hikes you could find on the planet and hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail in the island of Oahu is certainly one of them!

Hiking the Kaau Crater Trail

I didn’t even know of the existence of the Ka’au Crater Trail before arriving to Oahu and talking with some friends I met one day at the beach in Honolulu they mentioned it as one of the toughest and most scenic on the island. Definitely one of the best hikes in Hawaii. Music to my ears!

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This is now one of my all-time favourite one-day hikes, keep reading and you will find out why!

How to start hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail

Hawaii is not the most budget-friendly place to go backpacking low-cost, but luckily the island of Oahu is well linked by bus and it’s not so expensive (for Hawaiian standards…)

Hiking the Kaau Trail

If you’re travelling with a few friends you could rent a cheap car and will cost pretty much the same that going by bus. I’ve found in the past really cheap car rental deals on RentalCars. If you’re 3 or more I’d definitely suggest to take a look at doing so.

When hiking alone or as a couple, the cheapest option to go hiking to the Ka’au Crater Trail is by bus. A single journey in the island of Oahu costs US $2.75, but you can get a day-pass for US $5.50 that gives you unlimited rides so make sure to buy a day-pass when out there adventuring!

You can find the best bus combination on google depending on where you’re staying.

When I was backpacking in Honolulu I stayed couchsurfing in the Ala Moana area which was beautiful and far enough of the crowded Waikiki Beach area. From Ala Moana centre it took me about an hour to get to the start of the Ka’au Crater Trail.

Have a look at accommodation in Honolulu in case you don’t find a Couchsurf host.

Kaau Crater trail hike

No matter where you start your journey, it’s likely you will connect to the 9S bus which goes around the Palolo valley and will drop you at the bus stop “10th Ave + App Waiomao Rd”, once off the bus you walk slightly uphill on a residential area for about 15-20 minutes until you reach the start of the trail.

What to take when Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail

This was the wildest hike I did on my few days in Oahu so it’s certainly not your Sunday stroll-by-the-park kind of walk. The Ka’au Crater Trail is technical and even dangerous at times so make sure to bring good hiking gear!

Kaau Trail waterfall

For any one-day hike I do, I always carry my Salomon Daypack, Camelback Reservoir and if I know it’s going to be challenging or has been raining I take my Salomon Hiking Boots as well. Although not essential, a quick dry towel can be handy if you decide to take river swim!


I saw a couple of guys in sneakers. They didn’t make it to the top. Perhaps you could do it, but if you have a good pair of boots then it’s going to be a lot safer!

Plenty of water and some snacks are always a good idea when spending a few hours out on the mountains.

Kaau Crater Rim
Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail

The Ka’au Crater trail is not for the faint-hearted. It involves waterfall climbs, a windy and narrow volcano crater rim walk, clad-like slippery slopes, steep descents, steep ascents, mud, mud, mud, lots of stream crossings, wild narrow paths and peace, so much peace……so awesome!!!!

At just over 7.5km and some 600m of climbing is not super long in distance but due to the difficulty of the terrain it took me a good 5 hours to complete, including marvelling a lot and some time lost cross-crountrying a bit of a dangerous cliff.

The very first thing you will see when arriving to the trailhead is a sign mentioning that the Ka’au Crater is an unmaintained trail and you have to continue at your own risk. Awesome!

Kaau Trail start

It will not take more than a few steps to discover what the sign was referring to, as the trail quickly goes downhill over muddy and slippery terrain. There are some support ropes at times though. Not dangerous at all but just a little taster of what will come later.

Although it’s not maintained, the Ka’au Trail is easy to follow and almost impossible to get lost as it’s well marked with some pink laces when there’s not a clearly visible path. There’s only one point at a river crossing that could confuse you but there’s an actual sign indicating to continue following the stream.

5 or 10 minutes after you start, you will be following some old water pipes that go next to the trail, at first I was a bit disappointed to see this as it’s not particularly wild and just a constant reminder of being on a civilised man-made path. But eventually you will leave the pipe behind and the adventure will continue!

Summit of Kaau Crater Trail

The route to go hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail is a loop that starts with a “single-lane” path for the first 750 meters, this path will be the same to start and to finish the trail.

After a few river crossings and 750 meters from the start you will have the option to go either left or right as that’s the start/end of the loop.

I didn’t know which direction would be better to hike the Ka’au Crater so I studied a little bit on the limited information I could get from maps.me (I was offline) and decided to take the path on the right to go counter-clockwise. My logic was because there are two waterfalls on the trail and going on this direction you climb them up instead of down which I consider it safer.

Kaau Crater trail waterfall view

When I finished the loop a few hours later I was glad that I took that counter-clockwise direction on the Ka’au Crater Trail as I think the super slippery areas had better positioned support ropes when going on this direction.

Even that it may sound difficult to climb the waterfalls, if you go slowly and look at where the support ropes are located it can be done very safely.

Waterfall climbing Kaau Trail

One of the couples that I saw on the day told me they didn’t know how to climb the second waterfall. On this one you just need to find a slightly steep trail when you’re about halfway of the waterfall. I guess they were just looking for more ropes to keep climbing next to the waterfall.

Remember, just look around you and you will find the trail or rope as it’s all easy to follow.

When leaving the waterfalls behind you have another intersection for the crater rim loop. I recommend to always, along the entire trail, take the right path so you keep going counter-clockwise. Only when you pass the highest section of the Ka’au Crater Rim you need to take a left to stay on the rim instead of going to the nearby mountain.

rope climbing kaau crater

After the second waterfall the trail is mainly flat with some slight climbing. This goes through a beautiful dense forest. Make sure to stop for a moment and listen to all the sounds of nature!

Once you start hiking on the crater rim you will go on a constant climb and the views will finally start to pay off!

This section is where you will be glad to have brought a good pair of hiking boots as it’s steep, slippery and narrowly dangerous at times.

Slippery climbs at Kaau Crater

The clad-like terrain is really steep at times. Most of these climbs have support ropes but on a good few of them you will have to scramble. Be careful with loose rocks if you have someone hiking behind you!

Reaching the highest point of the Ka’au Crater Trail is what makes the adventure worth it. From the main peak there’s almost a 360° view of Oahu, speechless.

Even that I had a cloudy day I could still see far in the distance the north shore beaches and the touristy Waikiki area across the crater.

Views from the summit of Kaau Crater Trail

The only thing that breaks the beauty is the presence of some electric towers. But hey, sometimes you cannot have everything! even more on a well developed island.

I spent a good time enjoying the scenery until finally deciding to move on.

To go down the Ka’au Crater Trail is not any easier, it’s in fact much harder!

Similar clad-like climbs that you had to go through on your way up will be waiting for you on the other half of the crater rim.

Kaau Crater Rim

In many of them there were no ropes. That’s one of the reasons I find the counter-clockwise hiking direction safer.

On the rope-less, steep and slippery descents I just had to kneel down and slide/scramble as it was simply too difficult/dangerous to walk.

In some of these descents there are some trees that are good to gain some support or to break on your sliding! So much fun!

There are also some really narrow sections going through overgrown vegetation so it’s easy to miss your step. Be extra careful if there are strong winds!

HIking the Kaau Crater
Can you see the path?

Finalising the crater rim you get again another intersection which takes you to keep going on a loop of the rim (if you take the left) or just take the right and you will start hiking down the mountain. As I mentioned above, always take the right on all intersections! 🙂

Leaving the Ka’au Crater Rim behind, you will find a similar terrain to when you were coming up, except that you will not find any waterfalls and no river crossings until you finally reach the end of the loop which takes you to the 750 meters “straight line” that you walked at the very beginning of the trail.

Hiking the Ka'au Crater

What a wonderful hike!

Quick reminders and tips when hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail

-You will get wet. If not by rain or by all the river crossings, you will get dirty with mud so you will eventually end up in the river washing yourself! 🙂

Muddy after hiking the Ka'au Crater

-Plan 5-7 hours in the mountain, do not start too late as the final section will get dark soon as it goes through dense forest.

-Bring good hiking boots! it will help massively on the steep slippery sections.

-Take always the path to your right in case of intersections for a counter-clockwise hiking direction (my personal preference)

Are you ready to go hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail?

Go for it! I absolutely loved it! I now consider this hike one of my all-time favourite one-day hikes in the world!

Kaau Crater Trail summit

Prepare for an adventure! I only saw 9 people on the entire day and everyone quit at some point before arriving to the main peak or even at the waterfalls. That speaks for itself on the level for this incredible trek! but that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible hike, just not for someone that has never hiked before.

If you’re looking for the best hikes in Hawaii you must try the Ka’au Crater Trail!

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about this hike, or if you have done it share your experience! 🙂

Check out the rest of my Hiking adventures in Hawaii for more ideas on your next trip!

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