One of my favorite things to do on Oahu is hike up the Koko Head Crater Trail on the southeast end of the island. The Koko Head hike is the very first thing I did when I first came to Hawaii. Back then, my friend picked me up at the airport in Honolulu and took me around to show me the area. She took me around Waikiki and Diamond Head, but Koko Head was the first placed we stopped at where I got out of the car. We didn’t even stop at her place to drop off my luggage. I merely went to a public restroom and changed into something more appropriate for hiking. Climbing Koko Head was a great way to start a new chapter.
On a particular note, some of the images in this entry were taken on different days and different times of the year. Therefore, the area looks different in some pictures.
Koko Crater is a prominent volcanic cone that visually dominates the landscape. Back in the early 1940s, the US military built a radar station on the summit of the crater. Supplies to the station were transported via tram rail. The station was decommissioned in the 1960s and was given back to the city and county of Honolulu. The station and the railway tracks were never maintained after the US military returned Koko Crater back to the local government.
The railway tracks used for the radar station are still there but in major disrepair. Today, the railway is known as Koko Head Crater Trail or Koko Head Stairs, and the tracks are what hikers pass over when climbing to the top of the mountain.
At 1200ft in height, the hike up Koko Head is relatively short. But the climb up can be very intense. Especially if it’s your first time climbing it. Hiking up Koko Head is typically seen more as a work-out than a typical hike. There’s even warning signs at the base of the hike that warn people of the risks associated with it.
In reality, however, anybody who has full use of legs can climb Koko Head as long as they go at their own pace. It’s very common for fit people to try to climb up as fast as they can. I climb up relatively quickly but I wouldn’t say that I try to race to the top. I think the fastest I ever climbed up was thirteen and a half minutes. I’ve heard of some people doing it in ten minutes. It takes some people over a half hour.
The climb starts off easy, but gradually becomes more challenging the higher up you go. One part of the hike in particular that can be intimidating to some people is a tram bridge about two thirds of the way up. The tracks go over a ravine and are somewhat far apart with no ground beneath you. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s between a fifteen and twenty foot drop if you fall through the rail ties. I’m personally not intimidated by that section of the climb. Nor have I ever seen or heard of anybody falling through the tracks. Though I’m sure it has happened.
The hike steepens considerably after you pass the tram bridge. It steepens to the point where I sometimes use my legs AND my hands to climb if I’m out of shape or haven’t hiked up in a while.
The hike to the top doesn’t end when you come to the end of the tracks. There’s one more short foot path up to the top of the summit.
Once there, you get fantastic 360 degree views of the area. It makes the climb up worth it.
The hike down the mountain is a challenge all its own. It’s a steep climb down to the tram bridge. I suppose it’s possible to tumble down if you happen to step in the wrong place and fall forward. Though I’ve never seen that happen, it’s a good idea to pace yourself when climbing down. I, myself, climb down relatively quickly and have indeed fallen BACK on a number of occasions when I was climbing down and I stepped on a section with loose gravel or sand.
Once past the tram bridge, it becomes easier and feels more like hiking down an easy hill.
At the trail itself, there are no public facilities, such as restrooms or water fountains. It’s important to take some water with you. I don’t there has ever been a time were I climbed up without some sort of drink in my hand.
Since there are no showers at the trail to rinse off after you are done. Sandy Beach Park on the other side of the crater is a good place to rinse off at after climbing Koko Head. You can use the showers or just rinse off in the ocean. Sandy Beach Park was the SECOND place I ever stopped at when I first came to Hawaii.
From time to time, I hear about the possibility of Koko Head trail being closed to the public due to an increased number of rescues being associated with the climb. I hope that doesn’t happen because Koko Head is part of a lot of people’s daily routine. Closing it due to a few people who didn’t understand the risks involved would be a bad decision.
I look forward to hiking up Koko Head many more times in the years to come.