Koko Head Hike in Oahu—Everything You Need to Know

Hiking Koko Head is one of Oahu’s most popular and must-do activities. This trail is challenging, and you need to be prepared before hiking the trail.

The Koko Head Trail, officially known as Koko Crater Tramway, is one of the best hikes in Oahu. Hiking the trail is an excellent way to escape from everyday life and enjoy some fantastic scenery on this mountain ridge with amazing views of Honolulu, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, and Diamond Head Crater.

The hike is quite steep, so make sure that you are in decent shape before attempting this hike. There are plenty of places along the way where you can stop and rest if needed.

You should consider many things when planning a hike like Koko Head, such as safety tips, preparation, proper hiking shoes for Hawaii, etc.

We have created this blog post for people who plan to hike or those who want to learn more about Koko Head before they get out there and do it themselves.

Before we begin, let’s answer some FAQs.

Koko Head Frequently Asked Questions

What should I wear hiking Koko Head?

I would recommend wearing proper hiking shoes or trail shoes to protect your feet.

Since it gets pretty hot, I would wear light-colored clothes made of light material. On the other hand, be sure to bring a light jacket if you are doing a sunrise hike. The Koko Head hike is one of the best sunrise hikes in Oahu.

See also: Hawaii Packing List for Your Family in 2022

Can I bring my dog?

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the Koko Head Trail (primarily due to safety reasons).

View of the Koko Head Stairs taken at the start of the trail

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.

Can you hike Koko Head with kids?

I would not recommend taking kids on this hike. There are areas where you have to use your hands and it can be a bit difficult for them. We have seen some families with kids, but they all only did the beginning of the hike (up to the point where it starts getting steeper and more dangerous).

This is me struggling to hike up almost using my hands to get up

Is the Koko Head Trail hard?

The Koko Head trail is considered to be a difficult 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 definitely helpful to be fit. You do not have to be in great shape to hike the trail, but it will make it a lot easier.

Now that we have answered some FAQs, let’s dive in!

How do I Get to Koko Head?

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.

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 will refer 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 summit of the Koko Head crater was later used in World War II by the military. 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.

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 30 minutes to complete. It took others 2 hours, so it just depends.

We actually crossed paths with two people running up and down this trail and they informed us that some people complete the full trip in as little as 15 minutes!

Highlights of the trail: The views of Honolulu and the surrounding areas are spectacular. There are views of Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, and Diamond Head Crater.

Koko Head Parking

Parking is available at the Koko Head District Park. You should see the trailhead about 100 yards from the parking lot.

Hiking the Koko Head Trail

The Koko Head Crater Hike is a very popular hike on Oahu. This hike is not for the faint-hearted, so make sure you are prepared before hiking this trail. You don’t have to be superfit to hike it, but we recommend being in decent shape.

The trail is very steep with an elevation gain of 885 feet. While it’s a challenging hike, the views of Honolulu and the surrounding areas make it all worth it.

Cody at the start of the Koko head trail. You can see all the stairs that lead to the top
The start of the trail

Many people say that there are about 1048 stairs. This is ever-changing since some steps get replaced or new ones added as needed. Also, some of the stairs are missing or replaced with stones; you will have to take steps between them.

What to Expect

The hike starts at the Koko Head District Park. As mentioned previously, the trailhead can be found about 100 yards past the parking lot on your left-hand side.

The beginning of the Koko head trail has a view of the entire staircase.

You will need to follow the steps for a while before reaching the first peak of Koko Head (about 10 minutes into your hike). You then get to enjoy some breathtaking views.

About halfway through the hike, there is a bridge that you will have to cross. This can be a bit tricky, as there is nothing between the ties and the ground below.

You can take an alternate route (the one I took). Just look for the signs to the right and it will take you around it.

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 stairs at Koko Head are not well maintained and there are areas where some are missing or replaced with rocks. The views are still amazing though
Taking a break

The last Part of the Koko Head Hike

The last part of the hike is the toughest due to the steepness, but remember that the views are worth it if you need some motivation. Plus, this is great 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 360 degree astonishing views. You can see into the crater itself, Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Waikiki, and Koko Marina.

Taking a break  on the trail. You are surrounded by gorgeous views all around.
Another Break

Here is where you can relax, enjoy a picnic, eat some snacks, take pictures and take in the gorgeous views.

Coming Down the Trail

After spending some time at the second peak, it’s time to head back down on the same trail that you hiked up.

One of my favorite things about the Koko Head Trail is that there is only one way up and one way down. It’s very hard to get lost, so that makes things easier.

Make sure to take your time and watch your footing. Going down can challenging and your footing will be key. It can also be hard on your knees as well.

There are a few areas where you have to use your hands to help you down, but it’s not too difficult overall.

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, as mentioned before, the stairs are not well maintained and some are missing.

Remember that it’s not a race, so take your time and feel free to stop and enjoy the views along the way!

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 does get pretty hot during the afternoon, so be prepared for that and always stay well hydrated.

I recommend doing this hike early in the morning before it gets too hot. We 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.

Next time we will try to do it early in the morning and see how that goes.

Make sure to wear proper hiking shoes to make sure your feet are protected. I would at least wear 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 definitely need the flashlight, as it will most likely be dark when you start the hike.

Koko Head Tour

If you prefer to do a tour to Koko Head rather than going alone, you can book a Koko Head tour. Some of these companies will provide transportation to and from the Waikiki area along with a tour guide.

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Below are some 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 on the way back to your hotel for some fantastic photo opportunities.

What Other Hikes Can you do Close to Koko Head?

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 sunset. The view is amazing and it’s relatively easy and paved all the way.

See also: The 12 Best North Shore Oahu Hikes

Lanikai Pillbox: The Pillbox Hike is by far one of my favorite hikes in Oahu. It’s considered one of Oahu’s easy hikes and has some fantastic views of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. The pillboxes themselves are pretty cool as well; they have picturesque artwork coving them.

What Else is There to Do in the Area?

Hanauma Bay

If you are looking for a place to snorkel and see some amazing marine life, then head over to Hanauma Bay. It’s one of the most popular tourist places in Hawaii, and for a good reason. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Halona Blowhole

Created over 100 years ago, the Halona Blowhole is a must-see if you are in the area. It was created when molten lava tubes were formed from volcanic eruptions. Be sure to watch out for violent waters and not to get too close, as it can be very dangerous.

Makapu’u Beach Park

If you are looking for an afternoon of snorkeling and a place to relax, Makapu’u Beach Park is the place to go. This made our list of the best beaches in Oahu, so be sure to check it out.

Koko Crater Botanical Gardens

If you are looking for a place to have a peaceful walk and see some amazing flowers then head over to the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens. It’s one of the top botanical gardens in Oahu and definitely worth the visit.

The Wrap Up: Koko Head Trail

If you’re looking for a fantastic hike with incredible views, look no further than the Koko Head Hike.

This hike is not for the faint of heart, but should you choose to embark on this journey, your efforts will be rewarded with panoramic views of Honolulu and more.

Bring plenty of water, snacks, and wear a hat and sunscreen.

If you are not comfortable hiking the trail alone, plenty of tour companies offer guided hikes.

Keep in mind that this is not an easy hike and can be dangerous if you are not careful. Outside of that, have fun and be safe!

Until next time, Aloha and happy hiking in Oahu!

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