Ready for a unique hiking adventure? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking up the Koko Head Stairs on Oahu, including where to park, when to hike, the trail stats, and more!
With spectacular scenery everywhere you look, you can’t go wrong with any hike on Oahu, but if you’re looking for something a little bit different than your average trail and with top notch views from the top, hiking up the Koko Head Stairs is a must do when visiting Oahu!
The Koko Head Trail combines a bit of history, spectacular views, and a great workout to make one heck of a unique experience! We hiked to the top of the Koko Head Stairs for sunrise on the last day of our trip in 2018 and it was the perfect way to finish off an epic 5 days on the island. It was very tough, but well worth the effort for the views! (You can watch our experience on the hike here!)
In this guide, we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking the Koko Head Stairs on Oahu, including where it’s located, things to know before you go, information about the trail, and more!
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Reminder: Leave No Trace
Before starting your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave the places you explore even better than you found them.
- Plan ahead and prepare: Know the regulations, prepare for different weather conditions, and pack the 10 essentials.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Travel on designated trails and camp at designated sites at least 200 ft away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. Carry ALL trash with you and dig a 6-8″ cat hole for human waste, 200 ft away from water.
- Leave what you find: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
- Minimize campfire impacts: If fires are allowed, use established fire rings. Keep fires small and put out fires completely.
- Respect wildlife: Do not approach or feed wildlife, keep pets under control, and store your food properly.
- Be considerate of others: Yield to hikers going uphill and keep noises down.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Koko Head Trail
The Koko Head Trail is located in Koko Head District Park, which is about a 25 minute drive east of Honolulu.
During World War II, the military built observation stations around Oahu to keep an eye on the island, including a station at the top of the Koko Head Crater. And in order to get supplies and soldiers up and down the hill to the station, they built a narrow-gauge cable-pulled tram.
After it served its purpose during World War II, it became an Air Force station before turning into Koko Head District Park, which has been owned by the city of Honolulu since 1966 and is now a popular hiking spot.
For this hike, you climb up the 1,048 Koko Head Stairs, which are the old railroad ties from the tram, to get to the top of Koko Head Crater, also named Pu’u Mai summit of Kohelepelepe. While the hike up to the top is an adventure in itself, the views from the top are spectacular too! After your uphill battle, you’re treated to views of Hanauma Bay, the Hawaii Kai neighborhood, Diamond Head, and the Ko’olau Mountains.
But don’t expect to be alone! Being that the trail is a short drive from Honolulu and how accessible it is, the Koko Head Trail is very popular, seeing around 500 hikers on a slow day to around 1,000 on weekends and holidays.
Note: While in this guide we’re referring to the hike as the Koko Head Trail or Koko Head Stairs, the hike can also be named Koko Head Crater or Koko Crater Railway. So if you’re researching the trail and see those names, it’s all the same hike!
Koko Head Trail Stats
Miles: 1.8 miles
Elevation: 1,020 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
Many call it “Nature’s Stairmaster” or the “Stairs of Doom,” and after a few short minutes on the trail, you might be cursing it with similar names! There is no doubt this trail will test your mental toughness and endurance!
As we mentioned above, the trail is comprised almost entirely of 1,048 railroad ties, which have quite large steps between them. They are bigger than your typical 7 inch stairway step you’re used to, so they require using your leg muscles even more than normal.
At the beginning of the stairs, the incline starts out at a more decent slope, but increases and gets tougher as you progress up to the crater. Due to the railroad ties age and how often they are used, most are showing some signs of deterioration. However, the Kokonut Koalition, a group dedicated to preserving the trail for years to come, has been working on repairing the steps. You can see an up-to-date map with their progress here!
After you park at the Koko Head District Park, you will go to the right side of the baseball field and then walk on Koko Head Park Road, before beginning the actual stairs. This part of the hike is flat and easy, but don’t get too used to it! For the majority of the hike you will be climbing up the Koko Head Stairs, which makes the hike super straightforward and easy to follow.
Despite the difficulty of the hike, you will see people of all ages and ability levels on this trail. It is doable for almost anyone, as long as they can handle stairs. However, if hiking with kiddos, be careful with some of the spaces between the railroad ties.
There is one spot in particular that can be tricky. About halfway up the trail is a “bridge,” which is a section where there is no ground below the railroad ties (there is about a 40 ft drop), so if your foot slipped, it would hang a bit over the ground.
This part can be a bit scary if you aren’t prepared or don’t like heights, but if you concentrate on your steps and the railway ties you will be just fine. We suggest crouching down a bit and holding onto the ties to help you balance a bit better. You do have an option of going around this area in the bush, to the right of the track, as well.
The hike takes most folks between 30 minutes-1 hour to get to the top, but since there is only one way to go up and down, you may have to battle two way traffic on the steps, which could prolong your hike a bit.
When to hike up the Koko Head Stairs
Hawaii is perfect anytime of year, so no matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to have an amazing time and view from this hike. However, the winters can be a bit rainier on Oahu, so we’d suggest avoiding doing this hike right after a lot of rain. Between the railroad ties, which can be slick when wet, and the metal grate on top that is slippery when wet, the hike is more dangerous in wet conditions.
Although this hike is doable any time of the day, we highly recommend hiking at sunrise for a few reasons:
- Sunrise hikes are just gorgeous!
- The hike will be a lot less crowded at sunrise than late morning or mid-day.
- Not having to battle two way traffic on the way up makes it a lot easier.
- This hike would be extra brutal in the heat and with the sun beating down on you.
While hiking up in the dark can be a bit daunting, with headlamps and going slow, you’ll be totally fine! It’s worth the extra effort to be able to see the sun first hit the island and to experience the trail without tons of other people.
Sunset would be another amazing time to hike, but it will likely be busier than sunrise. However, our biggest piece of advice: avoid hiking mid-day! Hawaii can be warm and humid and hiking up these stairs in the heat and with the sun on you the entire time would be extra tough.
As we’ve mentioned, it is one of the most popular hikes, so do not expect solitude. We went on a Monday morning at sunrise and while we were the first to the top, there were quite a few people that joined us, especially after the sun rose more.
Things to know before you hike the Koko Head Stairs
Before hiking up the Koko Head Stairs, here are a few more important things to know!
Unlike a lot of trails on Oahu, Koko Head District Park has a lot of parking! There is a large parking lot right by the baseball field, so parking should not be an issue.
There is no fee to park or hike up the Koko Head Stairs…well unless you count the sweat it’ll cost you going up!
There is a restroom here in the parking lot if you need it before or after your hike.
According to AllTrails, this hike does not allow dogs. But even if it did, we’d highly advise not bringing a dog, as the stairs may be tough for them.
What to bring when hiking up the Koko Head Stairs
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
The hike up to Koko Head requires climbing up tons of old railway ties. Having shoes with good grip is key! We wore our Chacos, which are hiking sandals, and they worked fine for us, but you may want something a bit sturdier.
The hike up the Koko Head Stairs is very exposed, so you’ll get lots of sun!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. If you do this hike mid-day, you’ll get very hot and will want lots of water!
Having a headlamp is not only one of the 10 hiking essentials, but is especially important if you plan to start your hike before sunrise or finish after sunset.
Our experience hiking up the Koko Head Stairs
Now that we have shared info about the trail, when to hike the trail, what to bring, and more, we’re going to dive into our experience on the trail, to hopefully give you a better idea of what to expect. You can also watch our experience!
For our last day on Oahu, we decided to wake up at 3:30 AM (who needs sleep on a vacation right?!) to have a killer workout and go on a sunrise hike up the Koko Head Stairs. Despite visiting Oahu before, we had never attempted this hike and we were super excited to check it out!
We arrived at the parking lot around 5:30 AM, without an ounce of light in the sky, and began the trek to the start of the Koko Head Stairs. Navigating the trail to the stairs was a bit tricky in the dark, but very doable, especially if using the AllTrails map and a headlamp. The big perk is that no one else was around, so we had the stairs all to ourselves!
At the beginning, the stairs are more gradual, so at first we thought “this isn’t too bad!”, but as you get closer and closer to the top, things get a bit steeper and harder and we definitely started huffing and puffing more.
From our research, we weren’t too nervous about the hike, minus the bridge we mentioned above. As not huge lovers of heights, drop offs, or slipping, the thought of it was a bit daunting. Although there is a way around it, we decided to get the full experience and go for it. And to be honest, it wasn’t horrible! Walking across it in the dark made it a bit scarier, but if you take it slow and watch your feet, it’s not bad at all and is over quickly.
As we made our way up the rest of the stairs, it started to slowly lighten up a bit, helping us see what we were doing even more. After about 30-45 minutes or so, we made it to the top! While we are pretty fit and love to hike and workout, we were very winded at the top and our legs were a bit jello-y. But despite that, we loved every second of the journey to the top!
At the top, there is this metal grate, which was part of the lift housing, that you can sit or stand on to see the view, so we climbed up to it so we could watch the sunrise. Although it hadn’t rained much during our trip, the humidity and morning dew made this metal grate very slick, so be careful!
We were the first ones on this grate and got to enjoy the sky turning pink all to ourselves for a tiny bit, before others started to join. There are a couple other areas you can hang out, but we’d argue that the metal grate is the best spot for the most expansive views.
We got treated to a pretty nice final sunrise in Oahu and loved getting to see different parts of the island light up from the top of the Koko Head Crater. After the sun had been up for a little bit and we snapped a bunch of photos, we started the trek back down.
For us, we thought going down was more difficult than going up. While it was easier on our lungs, it was tougher on our knees and also easier to slip. The Koko Head Stairs are basically a long ladder and going down a ladder facing forward is a bit tricky. So we had to crouch down more often and use the railroad ties to help us balance on the way down, especially in the areas with wider gaps.
We also had to battle a bit of traffic going up, which meant we had to step to the side to give others some space to get up safely, but it wasn’t too bad on a Monday morning, and we made it back to the parking lot pretty quickly.
We got back to the car on cloud nine for what we just experienced. While the views alone are worth the trek, the unique experience makes the leg pain, rough breathing, and occasional fear of slipping totally worth it. There is a reason this hike is so popular and loved and we cannot wait to go back to Oahu and hike it again!
Things to do after hiking the Koko Head Trail
If you’re looking for things to do after hiking the Koko Head Trail, you’re in luck! This side of the island is beautiful and has lots to do! Here are a handful of suggestions, including some spots you could grab a post-hike coffee or meal.
Looking for even more things to do, places to eat, or places to stay? Check out our full 5 Days on Oahu Itinerary!
There are so many incredible beaches near the Koko Head Crater that make for a great place to relax after the hike.
As always when visiting popular places, especially beaches, do not leave any valuables in the car or in sight. Although Hawaii is a safe place, break-ins can happen anywhere!
Hanauma Bay is a gorgeous bay that is famous for being the best snorkeling spot on the island. It gets very, very busy and parking can be rough, so be prepared! (Note: Hanauma Bay is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays).
Hanauma Bay is a state protected area so there is a $12 per person fee to enter plus $3 for your vehicle. Along with your visit you will watch a video on marine life and preservation.
Normally you can rent snorkel equipment there, but right now you need to bring your own.
Halona Beach Cove
Halona Beach Cove, also called Eternity Beach and sometimes unfortunately called Cockroach Cove (we aren’t sure why!), is a beautiful cove right by the Halona Blowhole. You have to hike down some rocks to this beach, but it’s worth the effort to see the bright blue water and walk in the cool cave.
This beach has been the backdrop for “From Here to Eternity,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “50 First Dates,” and an Elvis music video! Be careful here if you choose to swim. The water was rough when we visited, so we just stuck to the cave and beach.
Sandy Beach is a popular beach for bodyboarders and surfers because of the waves and shore breaks. However, unless you are a strong swimmer or surfer, it’s probably best to watch the action at this beach. There are restrooms, showers, a lifeguard and a free parking lot.
Makapu’u Beach is the easternmost point on Oahu and is one of the most popular body surfing beaches. It was actually the site of the first body surfing competition held by the Waikiki Surf Club in 1953. The waves can get pretty intense here, so be careful if you venture into the water. The beach has a parking lot, restrooms, showers, and lifeguards on duty.
Be sure to hike to the Makapu’u Lighthouse as well! Info below in the hikes section!
Waimanalo Beach is a big, wide beach that is actually the longest uninterrupted white sand beach on Oahu! It is perfect for sunbathing and swimming and the water is a gorgeous blue color, even on cloudy days!
Since it’s so large, during the week you will have no problem finding your own space, but on the weekends it can get quite busy. We visited after hiking the Koko Head Stairs and hardly saw anyone! There are restrooms, showers, a lifeguard and a free parking lot.
This is one of our favorite views on Oahu! The stunning backdrop of Makapu’u beach and the east side of the island is incredible. And all it requires is parking in a parking lot and walking just a few steps!
This blowhole was created by molten lava tubes, which formed thousands of years ago from volcanic eruptions. From this overlook you can see water from the strong waves blow through the hole up to 20 to 50 feet into the air!
Other Hikes Nearby
Haven’t had enough hiking for the day? Here are a couple others to check out nearby!
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse
Miles: 2 miles
Elevation: 500 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail has breathtaking views of the southeastern shore of Oahu, Koko Head, and Koko Crater! The lighthouse was built in 1909 and is apparently a great spot to check out migrating whales from November – May.
To access the trail, park at the parking lot in Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline. There are no restrooms, but the park is free to enter. On your way to or from the Lighthouse, be sure to check out the Makapu’u Tide Pools too!
Elevation: 452 ft
Reviews & Current Conditions
This is probably the most popular hike on Oahu and most iconic landmark on the island. This crater was formed 300,000 years ago during an eruption and in 1908 a trail was created to the summit of the crater. Similar to Koko Head, Diamond Head was used for military purposes and along the hike you’ll get to experience tunnels, bunkers, and more!
It’s an uphill climb to the top, but doable for any age. And at the top, you get insane views of Honolulu and other parts of the island. It is worth dealing with the crowds!
It costs $5 to park at Diamond Head (for non-Hawaii residents) and as of March 8, 2021, the park is open Thursdays-Tuesdays from 6 AM-4 PM.
Hiking to conquer the Koko Head Trail on Oahu?
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