The Koko Head hiking trail on Oahu is a favorite with both local residents and visitors alike. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
The Koko Head hike, known formally as the Koko Crater trail, is a 1.8 mile uphill adventure that is located on the east shore of Oahu in the town of Hawaii Kai. The trail itself has over a thousand stairs to climb until you reach the top at an altitude of 642 feet. That’s almost sixty stories high. You’ll be able to view prominent landmarks and places of interest as well as take in the 360 degree views of the east and south shores of Oahu. Completing this hike will guarantee that you will experience breath taking views while also granting you the privilege of saying “Yeah, I did that!”.
I would classify this hike as easy to moderate. If you are a beginner hiker or don’t hike at all then it is still very much doable as long as you prepare in advance, take your time, and watch yourself carefully. I’ll be covering everything you need to know about this famous hiking trail on Oahu called Koko head below.
a little history of Koko Head And Its Stairs
The crater itself is considered an extinct tuff cone that was formed by volcanic activity over thousands of years ago. During World War II, the United States military built bunkers at the top as well as a rail system to help them bring equipment up. It’s assumed that the bunker was used as a lookout to identify enemy ships and possibly had machine guns and firearms as well. After World War II, the bunker and rail system were no longer needed and the area was turned over to the County of Honolulu which developed it into a park.
Preparing For Your Adventure
- The most important thing you need is water. If it’s a hot day you’ll need a full hydroflask (or a large bottle of water) per person. You’ll need more if you get easily dehydrated, are out of shape or are hungover. Keep in mind that you will be hiking in full sun with little to no shade.
- A cellphone for pictures, video and face-timing your jealous family and friends. In addition, the ability to call for help.
- SPF30 or higher sunscreen. If you don’t apply any then you will get burned. The UV index can be over 10 meaning you’ll be experiencing extreme sun conditions.
- Snacks for energy. Easy to snack items such as granola bars and nuts.
- A bag to keep your essential items in. Otherwise, shorts with secure pockets so that nothing can fall out (car keys, phone, etc).
Getting There Is Easy
- Traveling by car: there’s lots of free parking at the park. To head there from Waikiki, you’ll head eastbound to reach Kalanianaʻole (ka-lah-nee-ah-nah-oh-lay) Highway, take a left onto Lunalilo home road then take a right onto Anapalau Street. It will take you about half an hour to get there.
- Uber or Lyft from Waikiki (one-way):
- Up to three people about $20.
- Four or more people about $40.
- The Bus: An all day bus pass is a little over $5 and it will take you about one hour and forty-five minutes to reach the park from Waikiki. It’ll also require additional walking through a neighborhood.
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… The Park.
The Koko Head Trail is one of my favorite hikes because it’s close to where I live, provides a great workout, and on cloudy days I can take my dog Bandit with me. As an added convenience, located nearby is Koko Marina Shopping Center where you can stop to get coffee or a light snack and some hiking supplies.
Now it’s onto Koko Head District Park.
Once you enter the park you will notice tennis courts on your left followed by the only bathrooms in the park.
Yes, there are no bathrooms on the hike itself.
Here’s where you will park. The parking lot is rarely filled to capacity.
The busiest days of the trail are on weekends and during the holidays. You can expect up to a hundred people hiking with you.
If you’d prefer to go when it’s less crowded then I would recommend going on weekdays or when it’s gloomy.
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… THE Trailhead.
The journey will start when you reach this park sign by the baseball field. There are two warning signs that both need to be taken seriously. Often times the fire department has to rescue people who:
- Do not bring enough water.
- Are not physically prepared and overexert themselves.
- Or physically injure themselves.
Walking up the dirt path and onto a paved road that’s reserved for park maintenance vehicles.
When you reach the end of the road you’ll take a right onto another dirt path.
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… THE Start.
You’ve reached the bottom of the trail and now is the start of your hike.
You may notice that the trail has fallen into disrepair. With the sheer volume of visitors within the past couple of years there has been a significant amount of erosion. Thankfully, there is a local nonprofit group called the Kokonut Koalition who are dedicated to working with our city to preserve and fix up the railway. So far they have done minor improvements such as installing wooden stairs and concrete bricks which help to make the experience better.
The view from a quarter of the way up.
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… The Middle
You’ve reached the half way point. If you are totally worn out, here’s where you can sit and wait for your group or you can head back down.
Otherwise, meet the bridge… You have two options and they both take about the same time and meet at the same point.
Option 1) Brave the bridge.
Option 2) Go to the right and use the safer route.
After choosing your options and making it past the bridge you’ll see that the hike will be getting much steeper in elevation. It’ll be similar to walking up stairs for the rest of the way.
You may see dogs on this hike! As a word of caution, I would not recommend bringing your dog up during the summer or when the sun is fully out (when it’s not partly cloudy or rainy). Dogs have had heat strokes doing this hike. You’ll need extra water and if you suspect your dog is having a heat stoke then pour water on her and go to a vet immediately.
This is about three quarters of the way up.
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… THE Top.
Welcome to the TOP! Now, time to soak it all in.
But wait, It’s not over yet! Let’s head a little past this area to explore and see the full view from the top.
As soon as you reach the final end of the hike you’ll find another bunker (pillbox) and a metal structure. From these viewpoints you can see part of Sandy Beach, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and if you look down you’ll see Koko Crater Botanical Garden.
If you look to the right, you’ll see the Kaʻiwi Channel also referred to as “Molokai Channel”. In addition, on a clear day you can spot the island of Moloka‘i which is nicknamed ‘The Friendly Isle’.
Here are some additional pictures from the top.
And finally, time for some..
HIKING OAHU: KOKO HEAD… Going Back Down.
The climb up can be considered easier than the climb down. It’s a lot steeper heading down so you’ll need to take your time. This is the part where injuries tend to happen from falling or tripping. You’ll take the same path back and again you’ll have two options 1) the bridge or 2) the safer way.
Other Things To Note And Some Common Etiquette
- The total hike from start to finish can take up to two hours if you take your time and hangout and the top. Otherwise, if you’re in a rush then you can reasonably do this in under an hour (depending on your fitness level).
- As a common courtesy, please move out of the way if you are planning on taking a break. Do not sit in the middle of the path.
- The person coming down has the right of way. The reason for this is because it’s much steeper hiking down and it also protects you in case someone falls towards you.
- There are no trash cans. Please carry your trash down with you.
- Again, there are no restrooms on the hike.
In conclusion, hiking Koko Head is a fun and rewarding experience. I recommend this hike for all my friends and family that are visiting. I hope you will appreciate this place as much as I do. It’s truly one of a kind.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Thank you for taking the time to read this and stay awesome!