A Complete Guide to Hiking The Scenic Koko Head Trail on Oahu (2023)
Are you looking for a great hiking adventure on Oahu? Look no further than the Koko Head Trail!
The Koko Head Trail, officially known as Koko Crater Tramway, is one of the best hikes on Oahu. Hiking the trail is an excellent way to escape everyday life and enjoy fantastic scenery on this mountain ridge with amazing views of Waikiki, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, and Diamond Head Crater.
The trail is steep, so ensure you are in decent shape before attempting to hike.
We created this guide to ensure you have the best hiking experience. Here, we’ll go over what to expect on the trail, answer some FAQs, what to bring, some tips for making your hike more enjoyable and safe, and so much more.
How to Get to Koko Head Trail
From Waikiki, you will need to take the H-1 to HI- 72 to Lunalilo Home Road, then drive up to Anapalau Street.
The Koko Head hike is located in Hawaii Kai. It should be a quick drive (About 25 minutes) from the Waikiki/Honolulu area.
We always use Google Maps and type in “Koko Head Trail” for the driving directions.
Below is the map of the parking lot.
Koko Head Parking
Parking is available at the Koko Head District Park. However, keep in mind that Koko Head is one of the most popular hikes on the island, and the parking lot can fill up quickly.
We recommend going early in the morning, before 10:00 am or after 4:00 pm, to avoid the crowds. We usually do this hike for sunrise and have never had a hard time finding parking during this time.
You should see the trailhead about 100 yards from the parking lot.
Koko Head Hours
The trail can be accessed from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm. However, the parking lot is open from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm.
If you plan to hike before sunrise, you need to figure out parking arrangements and give yourself enough time to get there.
We usually park on the side of the road by the tennis court. You can also take Uber or Lyft if you want to avoid dealing with parking.
Important Information about Koko Head
Distance: 1.6 Miles
Elevation gain: 885 ft
Route Type: Out & Back
Difficulty Level: Difficult
How long does it take?: It depends on your fitness level. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete. It took others 2 hours, so it just depends.
We crossed paths with two people running up and down this trail, and they informed us that some people complete the entire trip in as little as 15 minutes! We don’t recommend doing this, though.
Highlights of the trail: Gorgeous views of Waikiki, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, and Diamond Head Crater.
Hiking the Koko Head Trail
The Koko Head Trail can be challenging but is worth the effort. You don’t have to be superfit to hike it, but we recommend being in decent shape. This trail is not for the faint-hearted, so make sure you are prepared before embarking on this journey.
The trail is steep, with an elevation gain of 885 feet. While it’s a challenging hike, the views of Waikiki and the surrounding areas make it all worth it.
Many people say that there are about 1048 stairs; however, this is ever-changing since some steps are replaced or added as needed.
Also, some stairs are missing or have been replaced with stones.
What to Expect on the Trail
The hike starts at the Koko Head District Park. As mentioned, the trailhead can be found about 100 yards past the parking lot on your left-hand side.
The first peak of the trail can be reached about ten minutes into your hike. Here you will start seeing spectacular views of Waikiki and the surrounding area.
About halfway through the hike, there is a bridge that you will have to cross. This can be tricky, as there is nothing between the ties and the ground below.
You can take an alternate route (the one I took). Look for the signs to the right, and it will take you around.
Once you make it through this area, it gets even steeper, but you are now more than halfway there.
Make sure to pace yourself and remember to pull to the side to give people a way to pass.
The Last Part of the Trail
The final part of the trail is the toughest due to the steepness, but remember that the views are worth it if you need some motivation. Plus, this is excellent exercise!
Once you reach the end of the stairs, don’t stop there and return down. Keep going up for a few more minutes to get to the very top.
Once you get to the top, you will be greeted with astonishing 360-degree views. From here, you can see into the crater itself, Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Waikiki, and Koko Marina.
Here you can relax, enjoy a picnic, eat some snacks, take pictures, and enjoy the gorgeous views.
Hiking Down The Koko Head Trail
After spending some time at the second peak, it’s time to head back down on the same trail you hiked up.
One of my favorite things about this hike is that there is only one way up and one way down. It’s tough to get lost, so that makes things easier.
Make sure to take your time and watch your footing. Going down can be challenging, and your footing will be critical. Hiking down can be hard on your knees as well.
There are some areas where you will have to use your hands to help you down. Overall, it’s not too difficult, but something to keep in mind.
I will be the first to admit that there were certain areas I had to sit on my butt to get to the next stairs because the stairs are not well maintained in some areas.
Remember that it’s not a race, so take your time and feel free to stop and enjoy the views along the way!
The History of Koko Head
Officially known as Koko Crater Tramway, Koko Head is also referred to as “Koko Head Stairs,” “Koko Crater Stairs of Doom,” “Pu’u Mai Stairs,” or “Koko Crater Stairs.”
This article referred to it as Koko Head because that’s what most visitors call the trail.
Koko Head was formed over 10,000 years ago by secondary volcanic eruptions of the Koolau Range. It is made up of tuff, compressed volcanic ash.
The military later used the summit of the Koko Head crater in World War II. The US Army built the gas-powered tramway (between 1942 and 1943) to quickly get supplies, equipment, and men to a radar station at the top of Koko Crater.
Today the radar station is no longer there, but the pillbox and structural debris are still present.
Additional Things to Know/ Tips about Koko Head
The Koko Head Trail is mainly uncovered, meaning there is very little shade on the trail.
Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a snorkeling shirt, a hat, and snacks. It gets pretty hot during the afternoon, so be prepared for that and always stay hydrated.
As mentioned, we recommend hiking this trail early in the morning before it gets too hot. We once did the hike around 4:00 pm in April, and it was still too hot, but it was so much better while coming down as the sun was beginning to set.
We have since stuck to hiking the trail for sunrise and have never looked back. Seeing the sun rise over Waikiki is an experience that will stay with us forever.
Make sure to wear proper hiking shoes to make sure your feet are protected. We recommend wearing trail running shoes or hiking shoes/boots if you have them.
You will see multiple people (most-likely locals) hike this trail without shoes, but I would not do it myself.
If you decide to do this hike during sunrise, remember to bring a flashlight and a jacket, as it gets cold in the early morning hours. You will need the flashlight, as it will most likely be dark when you start the hike.
Best Koko Head Tours
If you prefer to hike the trail with a tour, you are in luck, as several companies offer tours. You will be accompanied by knowledgeable tour guides who will help you understand the history and beauty of the trail.
Some companies will provide transportation to and from the Waikiki area along with a tour guide.
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Below are the tours we recommend:
Koko Head Trail Challenge
The Koko Head Trail Challenge Tour takes about 2 hours. They provide fresh fruit and water, a professional tour guide, and they’ll even take photos for you.
Koko Head Crater Sunrise Hike
The Koko Head Crater Sunrise Hike provides transportation to and from Waikiki and, of course, a local professional guide. They also stop at Halona Blowhole and Sandy Beach upon returning to your hotel for fantastic photo opportunities.
Koko Head Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some FAQs regarding hiking the Koko Hea:
What should I wear hiking Koko Head?
We recommend wearing proper hiking shoes or trail shoes to protect your feet.
Since it gets pretty hot, consider wearing light-colored clothes made of light material.
We also recommend bringing a light jacket for a sunrise hike since it can be cooler in the early hours.
Can I bring my dog?
Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the Koko Head Trail (primarily due to safety reasons).
Is the hike dangerous?
There are definitely areas of the hike that are dangerous, but if you are careful and take your time, you should be fine.
Is the Koko Head Hike Suitable for Kids?
We do not recommend hiking the Koko Head Trail with children as it is challenging.
With that said, we have seen some families hike this trail with kids, but they all only did the beginning of the trail (up to the point where it starts getting steeper and more dangerous).
If you decide to take them, ensure they are supervised and can handle the terrain.
Is the Koko Head Trail hard?
The Koko Head trail is considered to be a strenuous hike. It’s taxing cardio-wise and can be tough on the legs, knees, and feet.
Do I need to be physically fit to hike the trail?
Yes, it’s helpful to be fit. You do not have to be in great shape to hike the trail, but it will make it much easier.
Additional Hikes Close to Koko Head
If you are looking for other hikes in the area, we recommend the below hikes:
Diamond Head: This is a must-do hike if you are in Honolulu. It’s not as steep as Koko Head, and it’s very easy to get to from the Honolulu/Waikiki area.
Makapu’u Lighthouse: This is a family-friendly hike, and it’s one of my favorite places to watch the sunrise. The views are fantastic, and it’s relatively easy and paved all the way.
Lanikai Pillbox: The Pillbox Hike is one of my favorite hikes on Oahu. It’s considered an intermediate hike and has fantastic views of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. The pillboxes are incredible as well.
Things to do Near Koko Head
After your hike, you can take a well-deserved break at one of the many nearby attractions. Here are some options:
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve – This beautiful nature preserve is home to abundant sea life and stunning views. If you are looking for a place to snorkel with amazing marine life, head to Hanauma Bay. It’s one of the most popular tourist places in Hawaii for a good reason.
Halona Blowhole – Have you ever seen a blowhole in action? This natural phenomenon is caused by waves crashing into a lava wall and shooting water through the hole. It’s quite a sight to see! Make sure to enjoy the spectacular views at Halona Blowhole.
Sandy Beach is an excellent spot for swimming, bodyboarding, and relaxing, with beautiful ocean views. Bring sun protection, as it can get hot during the day!
Makapu’u Beach Park – This beach is perfect for an afternoon picnic or a stroll on the beach. It’s a great spot to enjoy some of Oahu’s stunning views. Makapu’u Beach Park made our list of the best beaches in Oahu, so be sure to check it out.
Koko Crater Botanical Gardens – This is an excellent spot for peace and tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s one of the top botanical gardens in Oahu and definitely worth the visit.
The Koko Head Trail is a must-see for anyone visiting Oahu. With incredible views, gorgeous sunrises, and fantastic photo ops, this is one trail you won’t miss.
Mahalo for stopping by. Until next time, Aloha, and happy hiking on Oahu!
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