The Ka’au Crater Trail on Oahu, Hawaii is an unreal adventure with three waterfalls, a desolate crater, and a perilous peak. This trail has it all and it’s one of the more challenging waterfall hikes on Oahu. If you are ready for a big adventure, you’ll see why many people rank this as their overall favorite hike on the island.
KAAU CRATER WATERFALL HIKE
In this blog post, I will share with you all of the details you need in order to enjoy this hike such as distance, incline, best viewpoints along the way, where to park, the best time of day, photo opportunities, and other attractions nearby. I took all of the photos on my phone for this blog post, so the beautiful view had to do all the work for me.
WHERE IS THE KA’AU CRATER TRAIL
The Ka’au Crater trailhead is about a 15-minute drive from Waikiki. It’s quite easy to find on the left side of the road after your park in the neighborhood near the pin on the map below. It begins on the left-hand side of the road. The exact address for the Kaau Crater Trail parking spot is: 3000 10th Ave, Honolulu
KA’AU CRATER TRAIL DETAILS
- Duration: The hike can take as little as three or four hours or more than six depending on your speed. Some find the terrain and incline unexpectedly challenging.
- Incline: 601m or 1,971ft
- Distance: 8.5km or 5.2 miles
- Difficulty: It’s definitely a step up from many of the fun ridge hikes on Oahu. There are some ropes involved, muddy and steep ridges and 600m of incline is significant. However, if you are a regular hiker, this will be just slightly more adventurous than your average trail. The main difference is the section where you use a rope to climb the rocky incline next to the waterfall. It’s not a vertical wall and not very dangerous but it is more than a regular hiking pathway for sure.
HIKING THE KA’AU CRATER TRAIL EXPERIENCE
This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment, the Ka’au Crater Trail throws you into a world of enchantment. After no more than five steps I felt like I was in the middle of the jungle, fighting for survival, on the swivel looking for wild animals. A glistening creek was lined by majestic trunks, so tall my neck hurt looking for the treetops. Dangling vines were strewn from the canopy as rays of sunlight broke through the dense foliage creating a natural theatre with a magical atmosphere.
Shortly after being blown away by the surreal amphitheater, we began our trek along what we suspected would be a round-trip journey of five hours. It didn’t take long for my shoes to be engulfed in thick mud and for my first slip of the hike to send me to the ground.
HAWAII HIKING PACKING LIST
Many people come unprepared for hiking on Oahu and that’s why there are so many rescues. Make sure you at least have the basics and you will be prepared for bad weather or any mishaps on the trail. A headlamp, rain jacket, and good hiking boots or shoes are the three main pieces of gear you need.
What are my favorite pieces of hiking gear?
There are four pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a hike. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my hiking essentials.
- Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
- Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
- Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.
We criss-crossed the creek several times at the beginning of the Ka’au Crater Trail, rock hopping our way along the trail. A pipe maintained by the Board of Water supply was the tour guide for more than an hour.
As the muddy path steepens, the trail begins to get narrower and the mud grows thicker. A slow, measured pace was needed for us to manage this part of the trail safely before we finally heard the sound of a waterfall.
A huge waterfall billows into a small pool of chilly water. I thought it would be a perfect spot to wash off all of the mud I had managed to accumulate halfway up my legs.
We stopped for lunch at the top of this waterfall after clambering up with the assistance of the ropes. It was a great spot to rest the legs while chilling on the edge of the waterfall, taking in the views. The Ka’au Crater Trail was physically draining because of all the mud and slipping we were doing.
There is a tour operator called Mahina Hawaii that can guide you on this hike and many other off-the-beaten-path trails on Oahu. If you want to have a local lead the way that knows the island and all of the conditions well then I can recommend getting in touch with Mahina Hawaii.
After only another 10 minutes the next waterfall, similar to the first, came out of nowhere. We decided to look but continued on as we feared we would set the record for the slowest Ka’au Crater hike completion of the year. However, we were having fun taking lots of photos so we let ourselves off the hook for being passed by multiple groups.
We had been hiking for two and a half hours when we reached the bottom of the third waterfall. We passed two women and a dog, who would be later airlifted by helicopter off of the trail up near the third waterfall. Public Service Announcement: If your dog can’t climb up waterfalls it can’t do this hike!
For 20 minutes we pulled ourselves up the side of the waterfall, aided by a strong rope. The waterfall itself followed a staircase pattern, with inclines and flat sections that allowed us to rest and of course take more photos.
THE FOUR MOST POPULAR OAHU TOURS
- Doors-Off Oahu Helicopter Flight Tour: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off)and be blown away when you see Oahu from the air.
- North Shore Shark Cage Tour: The biggest adrenaline rush you can have in Hawaii is beneath the surface with sharks!
- Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Tour: One of the best experiences I had on Oahu was swimming with the beautiful spinner dolphins on this exact tour.
- Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran: The number 1 MOST POPULAR snorkel tour on Oahu. GUARANTEED Turtles!
At the top of the third waterfall we felt accomplished, and there was a trail that looped back around to the beginning of the hike, but we were not done. Many people loop back after the third waterfall, however, an out and back trail leads up a steep, narrow ridge that overlooks the desolate Ka’au Crater.
Despite our legs screaming ‘no’ we began to tackle the incline. Looking down every ten steps confirmed we had made the right decision as the crater began to open up and Waikiki crept over the mountains in the distance. The earlier parts of the Ka’au Crater trail were bustling with hikers, but now we felt a sense of isolation and subsequently, vulnerability.
An almost vertical rope climb used our remaining energy before we finally crawled to the top of the ridge. We now overlooked the entire east coast of Oahu, much of the south coast, the Ka’au Crater, and extensive mountains.
Fog flowed heavily throughout the mountain tops and created an eerie atmosphere as we enjoyed some snacks to begin preparing for the loopback.
Just as we decided to begin heading down a helicopter flew straight at us, within fifty yards. It was a weird feeling and we began discussing what the pilot could be doing. The low-flying chopper emerged from behind the ridge, airlifting a woman to safety. The pilot then went back for the tired old Bulldog and the second woman. We found out later from other hikers that the Bulldog had refused to go up or back down and the women decided they had no other choice but to be airlifted out with the dog.
You can either head back down the same way you came up or complete the entire Kaau Crater Trail by circling the crater and coming down the ridge on the opposite side of the crater itself.
Feeling recovered after our break at the summit and our ten minutes of rescue entertainment, we began the descent down the slippery ridge with an extreme concentration on our footing.
This Ka’au Crater hiking trail took us a total of six hours, however, more than an hour (or two) was spent taking photographs. Due to the muddy terrain and the need to be able to pull your bodyweight out of holes and over ridges in certain sections, this trail should probably not be done without a group or someone who has experienced the route previously.
We dragged our tired legs onto our mopeds and went to the beach to wash off our mud-caked bodies and shoes. I decided my shoes had run their last race and threw them away, a small price to pay for one of the most amazing adventures on Oahu.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Ka’au Crater hike on Oahu, Hawaii and feel ready to take on the challenge yourself!
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
- Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location.
- Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like you are living in a theme park.
MORE OAHU BLOG POSTS
I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!
- What to pack for Hawaii: THE HAWAII PACKING LIST: WHAT TO PACK
- A helpful guide to choosing accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Most epic hike on Oahu: THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN OAHU, HAWAII
- The best Waterfalls: AMAZING WATERFALLS ON OAHU, HAWAII
- Ultimate Cliff Jumping Guide: 11 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON OAHU
- Guide to Swimming with Sea Turtles: WHERE TO SEE TURTLES ON OAHU
- The best Waterfall Hikes: TOP WATERFALL HIKES ON OAHU
- Best Tours: 20 BEST TOURS ON OAHU
- The Ultimate Guide to Oahu: 80 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON OAHU