Time: 0.5-2 HOURS
Distance: 1.5 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1000 FEET
Foot Traffic: VERY HIGH
Challenges: Unshaded, Steep Incline, Tough Footing
Sights: Koko Crater, Makapu'u, Hawaii Kai, Honolulu, Ko'olau Range, Maui/Lanai/Molokai
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Water
The famous and very popular Koko Head Stairs is not a hike, it's a workout! 1048 stairs, 3/4 of a mile and 1000 feet of elevation change are what it takes to summit this beast. However, once you make it to the top, you will get to see incredible views of downtown Honolulu, Hawaii Kai, Makapu'u, and the Koko Head Crater itself. On the clearest days, you can even see Maui, Lanai, and Molokai off the southern coast. There's a reason this is a top tourist destination. Whether you make it up in 10 minutes or 3 hours, those views at the top make all that pain worth it.
After almost a year of living on Oahu, I had done a lot hiking. I'd done hikes on 4 different Hawaiian Islands, tackled the famous Stairway to Heaven, the treacherous Pu'u Manamana, and even hikes many have never heard of like Kawiwi Ridge. However, one thing I still had not done was hike the Koko Head Stairs. It was finally time to do it. My friend Chelsi suggested making this a sunset hike. I thought that was a fitting way to celebrate my one year anniversary on the island.
This hike is located in Koko Head District Park in Hawaii Kai. There is a big parking lot near the trail entrance. Make sure you don't leave any valuables in your car. I did not get robbed, but I did see a smashed car window when I was leaving.
This image does a good job of illustrating what you are about to accomplish-- going straight up the side of a volcanic crater.
There it is, the famous volcanic cone Koko Head! Koko Head is the taller of the two famous volcanic tuff cones (the other being Diamond Head). It looks quite massive in person. The reality of what we were about to do was just starting to hit me.
It's easy to find the start of the stairs. There are paths to get there and it's well marked. If you somehow couldn't find it, just head towards the base of the stairs where all the little dots are moving.
We got to the base of the stairs with this path. I wonder if that little crevasse is a result of the eruption so long ago...
Accurate sign. It is steep and some of the stairs are old with an awkward distance between them. These stairs are part of a tramway that was used to transport personnel and supplies up to the top of the crater, where an old Radar Station was built by the U.S. Army. There's your history lesson for the day.
And so it begins. A lot of people run these stairs multiple times a week as a workout. Not a bad idea if you're into that sort of thing (#crossfit?). Today, I just wanted to get to the top for the sunset.
It didn't take much time for me to start huffing and puffing. No worries though. Just turn around, check out the beautiful sights, and catch your breath, before you get back after it.
For most of the hike, there is a trail alongside the stairs that you can use to take breaks and let others pass. This portion, however, is more like a bridge and there's a large drop between the stairs and the ridge below it.
So just make sure you watch your step...
The sun was starting to set. We might have to pick up the pace if we're going to make it to the summit in time.
The trail definitely gets steeper near the end. Which is great because you've only done about 800 stairs at this point...
This graffiti signifies the end of the stairs. I really like this art. I think the red octopus thing really goes well with the"Stairmaster from Hell" nickname of Koko Head.
And we made it! The sun was starting to set behind Honolulu in the distance. This dude was just chilling on top of this electrical pole structure. I had to snag a picture of him with the sun in the background.
Also, not a bad date spot if you ask me. Thank you random couple for posing for this picture. If you don't find this romantic, you have no heart!
If you walk a little farther, you can get glimpses of the crater itself. In the distance is Makapu'u. On very clear days, you can see Lanai, Molokai, and Maui from here. This picture doesn't really capture the beauty and expanse of this place.
And the sunset. Breathtaking. I'm really glad we decided to come for this. One year down in Hawaii and hopefully many more years with moments like this to come.
Check out my video of this leg burner of a hike!
Have you made it up all 1048 steps of Koko Head? Share your story below!
Also Check Out:
- This Science Blog about how these volcanic craters are formed as well as their experience hiking them.
- This article about the history and future of Koko Head