Hiking the Koko Head Stairs in Hawaii

Koko Head Trail

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Koko Crater Stairs (Summit)

7430 Kalanianaʻole Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96825, USA

When it comes to visiting the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu, hiking the Koko Crater Trail, also known as the Koko Head Stairs, has become a regular tradition for tourists.

With 1,048 steps to the top, the trail follows the steep hill that rises 1,200 feet above Kawaii Kai and overlooks Hanauma Bay. Rated as a moderately challenging hike, the out-and-back trail is estimated at 1.6 miles. From the top, you'll be treated to a stunning panorama of the bay, along with unparalleled views of Diamond Bay and Koko Crater. Here's everything you need to know to plan your hike.

History of Koko Head

Koko Head is often called nature's Stairmaster, but humans helped the evolution of the incline by adding a gas-powered railway during World War II in order to transport military personnel and supplies up to lookouts built at the top. In 1947, the site served as the Koko Crater Air Force Station, tracking aircraft en route to Oahu; later, new satellite technology made the station obsolete. Today, all that remains are remnants of the old lookouts and a trail lined with railroad ties.

How to Get to Koko Crater Trail

The trailhead is located in Koko Head District Park, about a 25-minute drive east of Waikiki. You'll find a parking lot nearby; from there, it's a roughly 100-yard walk to the trailhead. If parking isn't available, there is an additional parking lot at the entrance to the park on Anapalau Street, near the restrooms. Note that while Koko Head District Park welcomes visitors from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., its parking lot opens at 6:30 a.m.

What to Expect During Your Hike

While there are many hikes in Hawaii to choose from, the hike up Koko Head Stairs is one of the quickest and most enjoyable hikes on the islands.

The stairs climb straight up the hillside, and the first 500 railroad ties are set at a moderate incline, but you should try to pace yourself as the second half of the trail becomes steeper for the ascent to the peak. At about this point, there is also a wooden bridge that you can either cross directly or take a path to the right that avoids the bridge if you're afraid of heights.

After the bridge, the grade is considerably steeper. One tactic for conquering the stairs is to take 10 or 20 steps and then break for a minute or so (which also serves as a perfect opportunity to snap photos)—just make sure to step off the path so others can pass.

Descending can prove to be somewhat challenging and taxing, especially on your knees. Taking it one step at a time and trying a side straddle down is one good strategy to avoid straining on the way down. Use whichever method provides a safe and comfortable descent, and be prepared to dodge sprinters as they come flying down the mountainside.

What to Pack

Though good footwear is recommended, you may see the occasional veteran hikers making the climb in slippers—it really depends on your experience and comfort level for what you should pack. In any case, you should also take precautions during inclement weather due to the railroad ties and steps becoming slippery when wet. Also, plan to bring a daypack and plenty of water—you'll be sweating a lot.

Preparing for the Hike

Don't be surprised to encounter a vast cross-section of hiking abilities on this hike. You'll find avid trail runners who sprint up three times a week in under 20 minutes and visitors to the island who take it a few leisurely steps at a time.

No matter what your style or level, the vistas are worth the workout. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but you may be surprised at how quickly you will want to adopt it as a new tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How many stairs are in Koko Head?

    There used to be 1,048 railroad ties (or steps) along the trail, although all but about 800 have fallen into disrepair.

  • How long does it take to hike Koko Head Stairs?

    It depends on your fitness level and how often you stop to take pictures, but it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours to climb.

  • How hard is Koko Crater Trail?

    Rising 1,200 feet and running 1.5 miles, the Koko Crater Trail can be a challenging hike. Keep in mind that there is a 150-foot section of the trail where the ground beneath the railroad track has severely eroded, and climbing the ties can result in serious injury. There is, however, a bypass trail to the right that will help you avoid the worst of the erosion.

Article Sources
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  1. Kokonut Koalition. "Brief History of the Koko Crater Tramway." Accessed April 5, 2022.

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Hiking the Koko Head Stairs in Hawaii