Time: 2.5-4 HOURS
Distance: 2.8 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1000 FEET
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Rock Scrambling, Narrow Ridges, Shadeless, Closed, Cacti
Sights: Koko Head, Makapu'u, Maui/Lanai/Molokai, Diamond Head, Honolulu, Hanauma Bay, Sandy's Beach
What to Bring: Decent Hiking Shoes, Sunscreen, Water (), Long Pants
An alternate way to experience the popular Koko Crater, this hike takes you around the entire rim of this famous volcanic tuff cone. The journey is not easy as you will be tested with some rock scrambling, narrow ridges, and even some prickly catci. But with these challenges comes some amazing views, both of the crater itself and the surrounding coastline. This is the trail that will give you the full experience of this geological wonder.
After not having gone to Koko Crater for the better part of a year, I found myself making the trek to this Oahu landmark on three separate occasions in the month of December. And this is A-Ok with me. Koko Crater really is a beauty, and you can get some variety in your experience each time you go. With its location near the southern point of Oahu, this location is good for both sunrise and sunset, giving you different lighting to show off its beauty. And if you include the nearby Koko Head cinder cone, there are a total of 4 equally interesting and fun trails (Koko Crater Stairs, Koko Crater Arch, Koko Head/Hanauma Bay Rim Trail, and Koko Crater Rim) for you to choose from. This post covers a couple of my trips circumventing the Koko Crater Rim trail which, for me at least, is truly the best way to experience this place.
Here's a nice and colorful map...don't worry I'll explain. The red is the rim of Koko Crater which, if followed fully, will allow you to circumvent the rim in it's entirety. The other colors are side trails or alternate accesses to the rim. Yellow marks the Koko Crater Stairs and blue marks the Koko Crater Arch. My hike, however covers solely the rim. This route begins starts in the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens. I would be following the counterclockwise route, or the West to East rim. This is my favorite way to do the hike, but it does come with a little uh awkwardness...
Because to get to the trail you have to go past an uninviting Area Closed sign. As soon as you enter the gardens there will be a fork in the path, head RIGHT. Only a couple hundred feet after the fork, if you look to your right, you will see another path that goes beyond said closed sign. This is the path you need to take. What makes this a bit awkward is that there's a security guard sitting at the entrance to the park. This path isn't in his direct line of sight as there's a bush between the path and his post. Haven't had any issues, but still... like I said it feels awkward. A couple hundred yards after passing the sign you should see this opening in the grass to your left. Enter here.
From here, you follow the beaten down path to reach the ridge. The first time I did this, my friend and I accidentally veered too far right and found ourselves in some thick brush below the ridge line. We were forced to bushwack our way back up to the ridge. I recommend always hugging the left if you are ever in doubt.
And pretty soon, you will reach the open ridge. This is when the fun begins.
Because the West Rim is no joke. It gets quite narrow in sections and sometimes you are climbing on uneven surfaces with sharp dropoffs.
And there's plenty of scrambling to keep it interesting. The good news is this rock is very grippy. As long as it's not wet, it is much more comfortable than some of the other Oahu trails with slick and/or crumbly ridge.
Did you know there's cacti on Oahu? Well now you do.
And in some sections of this hike, the cacti are everywhere! They are a bit of a nuisance because if you put your hand in the wrong place or accidentally brush up against them, it's going to hurt (just ask Quent after this section). This is actually a reason I would highly recommend long pants on this hike.
But enough about the cacti, what about the views? Well, they are pretty epic. We are low enough in elevation and close enough to the coast that you don't get any cloud cover. Which means the views are (almost) always spectacular.
And those views look even better with the drone :). Keep in mind we're still on the West Rim, the view get even better when we're on the opposite side, closer to the ocean.
But we gotta get there first! This shot is a good example of the alternate paths you can take on West Rim. Sometimes, the crest of the ridge has eroded to the point that you would basically have to hop between two narrow sections of ridge. Not ideal. The good news is there's usually a side trail a little below the crest, like this one, where you can avoid that unnecessary sketchiness. You basically just find the path of least resistance to keep going up.
We're getting close!
The last big obstacle before reaching the highest point on the crater. A scramble up this nice looking rock.
I'd say this section looks sketchier than it feels. It's a scramble and there's a decent dropoff, but the number of holds and width makes it feel pretty comfortable. Clearly Colin didn't find it too bad since he's taking a selfie...
We've reached the summit! This is the highest point on the crater and gives you some beautiful views towards Honolulu and Diamond Head (right) and Hanauma Bay (left). Oh and Merry Christmas. Apparently it's a tradition on Koko Crater for someone to lug a tree up the stairs for everyone's enjoyment. A nice little reward for reaching the top.
Up here you can also get your best views of the entirety of the crater. My camera lens isn't quite wide enough to capture the whole thing...
Ah there we go. Gotta love that GoPro fisheye.
Now it's on to the East Rim, the prettier of the two rims (in my opinion). That's why I love this hike, you get some exciting scrambling for the first part of the hike, and then a nice scenic ridge for the second half. Finding the trail isn't too hard, just look for some ribbons/the natural flow of the trail. If you run out of trail and are looking out over the edge of the crater, backtrack and look for an alternate path.
While this side is definitely easier, it's still got some scrambling. Just like the West Rim, if the trail looks like it's too narrow or sketchy, then look for a side trail to go around. That's the theme of this hike, trial and error.
Once you make your way down the trail a bit, take a peek out over the exterior of the crater. That there is the Pacific Ocean--miles and miles and miles of it. It's a bit blustery today in case you can't tell from all the white caps. Also featured in this picture is Halona Blowhole, which is the cause of the backup in that parking lot.
If you know where to look, you may see some ribbons leading towards the exterior of the crater. This is the trail that leads down to the Koko Crater Arch. From this vantage point we are looking directly down towards the top of the arch (roughly in the center of the photo). Looks pretty steep, but I assure you, it is hikeable.
How about that for a view? A clean look down the southern coastline.
How about some more? That beach down there is the famous Sandy's Beach AKA "Breakneck Beach". This picture doesn't show it but, when it's clear you can see the neighboring islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai out over the horizon.
But as much as I would have love to stare at the views the rest of the day, we have to continue. Places to go, people to see, poke to eat.
Getting off the ridge is the only somewhat tricky part of the hike (other than getting on the ridge). You basically need to continue following the East Rim until it ends. Near the end, you should see some ribbons that will lead you down into the trees. This is the way down. There weren't necessarily tons of markers during the descent, but following the natural flow of the trail should get you to ground level.
Which will spit you back out near the back of the Botanical Gardens. From here, just follow the path back to the entrance where your car (and hopefully snacks) awaits you.
What a great way to close out 2019! Another satisfying adventure at one of my favorite Oahu spots. Wonder what adventures 2020 has in store for us?
Check out this video of my journey around the rim!
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Also Check Out:
- Aloha from 808's post about this hike