Koko Head Crater Railway Trail Hike
- a very unique hike in Hawaii
- it's like an outdoor StairMaster
- you can't get lost on it -- it's a straight path
- lots of parking
- no shade from trees = very hot
- there is an area with a visible drop underneath the tracks (for those afraid of heights)
Distance: 1.8 miles, up and down total (2.8 km)
Elevation Gain: 990 feet (301 m)
Terrain: Old railroad tracks, some solid steps, some dirt
Hours: 4 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Completion Time: 1h to 2.5h
Difficulty: 4/5 (short, but steep)
This hike might be on my top 2 hikes in Hawaii. It is not a typical hike where you run around in some trees, but rather, a big climb towards the top. There is something appealing about looking back and seeing how far up you are… and something disheartening about looking up at the steep climb ahead. The views are so-so, but I love the appeal of this hike and it is very unique. It’s also great that it has plenty of parking.
Lots and lots of steps
The journey is the reward
Legs will feel heavy
Most of you will be driving from town or West Oahu. You will get onto H-1 East and continue driving. There are no special turns — just keep driving and you will eventually transition into Kalanianaole Highway, a 3-4 lane highway in a residential area. You will continue driving. Your lane will eventually become a 2-lane road. When you pass a small shopping center near the marina, called Koko Marina Shopping Center, with a visible Texaco (red/black colors), that means you will turn left onto Lunalilo Home Road soon. See the bridge overpass up ahead? Get in the left lane and turn left right before that. Shortly after the turn, turn right at the second right turn, Anapalau St. Keep driving and you will enter the park.
The closest parking lot from the hike is the one next to the further baseball field, which should be the second lot on the left you pass. I went on a holiday weekend and even then, I was able to find a parking spot there!
Start walking towards Koko Head. Take the right path (which is an old road).
Once near the baseball field, you should be able to see either the straight trail that goes up Koko Head Crater, or even people hiking up. Follow the road or the trail towards the base. You should see some dirty shoes hanging on the power lines above too.
Can I Take THE BUS?
Yes you can. Simply get on the 1 or 1L headed east bound to Koko Marina Shopping Center. The #1 is a major bus that goes through downtown and to this area, called Hawaii Kai. From there, you can walk towards the entrance of the hike, which is maybe a 20-minute walk.
The Hike Up
Before we begin, I want to let you know I’m an intermediate hiker. I am in okay shape and don’t shy away from difficult hikes, but I also find myself resting on strenuous hikes. For this hike, I went up in 27 minutes with lots of resting. People that do this hike often do it in about 20 minutes. It was very hot (as you can see) at about 3pm, so that made me slow down a bit.
What to Expect
You should expect a lot of steps. You can use the tracks. There are also stepping stones. If you have slow hikers in front of you, you can also use the side of the track and the plants to help you go around them. As you can see from the picture, it is steepest at the end, so you should expect to get tired there. I would recommend slowing your pace.
Are you afraid of heights? About midway through, there are about 70 steps which are above a drop. I think this drop gets up to about 25 feet. If you do not like heights, you might want to slow down here. If you really don’t like heights, there is also a dirt path alternative to the right if you would like to bypass this drop, so look for it. Once you reach the end of the steps, you can rest. The actual peak where you get the view would be a short walk up on the right side.
The View at the Top
At the top is a little pillbox that you can go into or stand on. It was used as a military lookout during World War II, which is what most pillboxes you will find on hikes were used for. It is a panoramic view of the from the top of the crater. You can see the residential area (Hawaii Kai), the ocean, as well as the mountains. I saw some people hiking along the ridge of the crater too. I also saw a couple of mongoose (a carnivorous, ferret-like animal) at the top!
Hiking down is pretty standard.
You can walk slowly with your body weight held back (so if you fall, you fall backwards and not forwards).
For the stairs, it’s also common to do a slight lateral movement where you’re almost in a surf-like stance, using your hands for balance. You put one foot forward while keeping your weight on the back foot. Once your forward foot is stable (you have to worry about look soil, a shaky track, or maybe a slightly tipsy step) you can bring your back foot forward.
If you really do not feel balanced, you can squat down and almost climb down during steep parts.
For me, I enjoy a little fun with my hikes, so I go down “jungle-style.” There’s also a lot of firm plants and trees around the sides, so I can bypass all the slow hikers on the center part by using the sides and holding onto the plants for balance and in case I slip. This allows me to be more aggressive and put more weight forward. It’s also fun.