The Hawaiian island of Oahu is home of stunning hikes, some are more crowded than others and Hiking the Koko Head Crater Trail is on the touristy end of the spectrum.
However, if you can, you should definitely squeeze just a couple of hours on your days backpacking in Honolulu for this short but fun hike!
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Climbing up almost 300m spread over just 1km long, this little trail is a really cool workout and the views at the top are definitely worth the steep climb!
The Koko Head Crater Trail is great for sunrises, sunsets and just enjoying the views at any other time of the day!
How to get there?
There are a few buses that will leave you within walking distance of the Koko Head trailhead.
Check on Google Maps for the best route as Oahu is well linked by buses. If you decide to rent a car, check on Skyscanner as they normally have some good deals there.
FIND YOUR HOSTEL IN HONOLULU
From Waikiki beach you can take the bus 22 or 23 and from Ala Moana Centre you can take the bus 1L. On both cases it will take about 60-75 minutes to get close to Koko Head and then you will have to walk 10-20 minutes to the start of the trail.
If you go by bus, remember to get a day-pass that cost US $5.50 and gives you unlimited rides for the day. Otherwise, one-way tickets cost US $2.75.
What to take to Koko Head
Being such a short hike you don’t really need much. If you’re quick you will be able to climb up the mountain in 20 minutes or so, but some people take up to an hour.
If you go for sunrise or sunset make sure to bring a good head torch as in some areas of the railway line it can be slippery.
You will need some water for sure, get a reusable water bottle and help our planet breath a little bit better from so much plastic out there! I always take my Camelback Reservoir which I love and it’s more convenient on longer hikes than small water bottles.
The hike can be easily done in sneakers. If you go in the middle of the day, as I did, get some sunscreen as it can get pretty hot!
Hiking the Koko Head Crater Trail
Once off the bus, you walk a little bit on a residential area and then across a park with some baseball fields. There are no signs pointing to the trailhead but just by walking in the direction of the mountain you will eventually find it.
Arriving to the trailhead is already an impressive sight as you can see the straight railway line in front of you.
The railway line was created to carry supplies and was used until the 50’s when a military outpost was located at the top of the crater.
Now all that remains are 1048 “steps” of the railway line. Some of them in better condition than others as many of the railroad ties have been damaged or eroded.
There’s actually an organisation in charge to rebuild and maintain the Koko Head Crater Trail, you will find some signs mentioning this at the trailhead.
The start of the climb is not steep, but you can see on the not too distant horizon how the gradient will quickly increase to what initially looks as a vertical wall!
Walking on the railway ties is easy and in some areas where the ties are missing there are some support blocks to make it even easier to keep climbing.
At about halfway there’s a section which is a “bridge” that is definitely not for the faint hearted as it’s suspended a few meters from the ground.
It is still safe to pass this area though as the ties are linked closed together on this section. You may miss a step but I doubt you could fall in between the ties.
If you’re still not convinced, you have the option to take a short trail on the side of the railway.
The good thing of the steep climb is that no matter where you stop to rest, you will have incredible views of the island and you can only think on how much better it will be at the top!
You will definitely be hiking the Koko Head Crater Trail with a bunch of people. Some going very slow and some others looking like this may be their regular workout area. For me it didn’t feel crowded though as I didn’t have to stop or go slower because someone else was in front.
Reaching the end of the railway is just a step closer to the summit. From that point you will climb just 2 more minutes on a side trail to the very summit of Koko Head! what a wonderful sight!
It’s really cool to see the distinctive rim of the extinct volcano. You can even see a trail going on the sides but looking not too stable and with some really dangerous sections. To keep safe, just stay around the couple hundred meters of wide trails in the area where the military outpost was located.
We stayed quite a while at the summit of Koko Head. Every time we would walk a little bit around the rim we would find more wonderful views. No matter to which side of the island you’re looking it will be a sight to remember.
What to do after Hiking the Koko Head Crater Trail
From the summit of Koko Head Crater is easy to recognise the nearby Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve, which is stunning. If you decide to go there after the hike note that there’s a US$7.50 entrance fee to the reserve.
Very close to Hanauma Bay is the Lanai Lookout which is where President Obama scattered his grandmother’s ashes.
These are two places that you could walk to after finishing your Koko Head Crater Trail Hike!
If you decide to go towards Hanauma Bay, you could make your hiking day a little bit longer and hike the Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail. You will find the trailhead just a minute away from the entrance to the Bay (when you’re still at the highway)
Another option to finish the day, which is what we did, is to take a bus or drive to Makapu’u Beach on the north east side of the island. Not too far away and another incredibly beautiful place to visit in Oahu!
The Koko Head Crater Trail Hike is certainly not a proper hiking day out but it’s a nice half-day activity, and personally I consider it much better than the utterly touristy Diamond Head Hike.
If you look for something more challenging make sure to check my post about Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail as that one was my favourite hike in Hawaii!
Feel free to reach out if you’re backpacking in Hawaii and have any questions about hiking the Koko Head Crater Trail!