Ka’au Crater Trail on Oahu, Hawaii is an unreal adventure with hree waterfalls, a desolate crater, and a perilous peak.
WHERE IS KA’AU CRATER TRAIL
The Ka’au Crater trailhead is about a 15-minute drive from Waikiki. It’s quite easy to find after your park in the neighborhood near the pin on the map below. It begins on the left-hand side of the road.
MY 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 amphitheatre, 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.
We criss-crossed the creek several times in 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. Take my advice, do not try and balance on this pipe despite how muddy the trail. Unless you are a ninja you will slip on this pipe as I managed to do multiple times. Yes, I am a slow learner.
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.
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 2015. 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 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.
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 loopback after the third waterfall, however, an out and back trail leads up a steep, perilously narrow ridge that overlooks the desolate Ka’au Crater.
Despite our legs screaming ‘no’ we began the 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 loop back.
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 within 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.
Feeling recovered after our break at the summit and our ten minutes of rescue entertainment, we began the descent down the slippery ridge with extreme concentration on our footing.
This Ka’au Crater hiking trail took us a total of six hours, however, 45 minutes to an hour was spent taking photographs. Due to the muddy terrain and the need to be able to pull your body weight out of holes and over ridges in certain sections, this trail should probably not be done without a group.
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.
KA’AU CRATER TRAIL INFORMATION
Duration: 4-6 hours
Altitude: 2500 feet
Open: Sunrise (enforced by the guard)
What to pack for a trip to Hawaii
What to pack for Hawaii?: After multiple trips to Hawaii, there are some items you NEED to pack. I wrote a blog post with all of my suggestions about things you might not think about packing: THE HAWAII PACKING LIST: WHAT TO PACK AND WHY
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. Luxury rooms overlooking the beach, a private lagoon and a free fireworks and dance performance show. Hilton is easily the most recognizable hotel on the Island.
Why I recommend this hotel: It has its own private lagoon. While lots of people love the beach it is perfect for families. Kids can kayak, swim and snorkel with no worries. There are no currents, waves or sea creatures to worry about. The hotel is right on Waikiki Beach so don’t worry the beach is right there also.
Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach. The bar and nightclub at the Sheraton is a great place to relax after a long day of island adventures.
Why I recommend this hotel: The Sheraton is always exceptional no matter the location but imagine you are leaning over the edge of an infinity pool, the ocean is below you and you turn to your left and watch Diamond Head crater in the distance. That’s where you will be at the end of each day, having a Mai Tai cocktail in your infinity pool. Later on, in the evening Rumfire is a great bar venue, which is actually part of the Sheraton. It is open to the public and is one of the best high-end venues on Oahu. It has a small dance floor but is mostly standing and seating areas for drinks, chats and good times.
Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Hotels in Waikiki can be expensive. Deciding where to stay on Oahu can be difficult if you don’t have much cash. Luckily, there is an accommodation option on the edge of Waikiki that is excellent value.
Why do I recommend this hostel/hotel: This is the perfect hotel if you want location but are willing to sacrifice a pool and some luxury items to save up to $200 per night. All of the hotels in this area are minimum $300 per night and often much more. Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD. If you are like me, I never swim in the hotel pool anyway. Didn’t you come halfway across the world to swim in the beach!
Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location. Walking distance to Waikiki beach and a central location to base yourself for a week of adventures.
Why I recommend this hostel: Unfortunately Waikiki and Honolulu, in general, are not cheap. You can grab a dorm room for under $35 a night within walking distance to Waikiki surf beach. This location really is great. You are near a lot of attractions and can take public transport to a lot of great east coast beaches and hikes. It is the number one hostel in Waikiki and I’m sure you will meet other adventurers to go on hikes with!
Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like a theme park at times with just how many pools and activities are available. If you can afford it, this is the #1 place to stay for families on Oahu.
Why I recommend this hotel: Disney Aulani Resort combines luxury accommodation with family fun. A huge lazy river/tire tube lagoon is probably the highlight of the resort although the water slides and private beach aren’t too far behind. The kids club and massage center are just among a few of the many activities included in your stay. Attend ukelele lessons, free fire-pit story-telling at night and more and more! Your kids will never be bored and the quality of entertainment and facilities is just beyond amazing.
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 AND WHY
A helpful guide to choosing accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU: WHICH REGION IS BEST FOR YOU?
Most epic hike on Oahu: THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN OAHU, HAWAII: UPDATED 2018
The best Waterfalls: 11 AMAZING WATERFALLS ON OAHU, HAWAII
Ultimate Cliff Jumping Guide: 11 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON OAHU, HAWAII
Guide to Swimming with Sea Turtles: WHERE TO SEE TURTLES ON OAHU, HAWAII
The Best Hikes on Oahu: 10 BEST HIKES ON OAHU, HAWAII
My favorite experience on Oahu: AMAZING DOORS OFF HELICOPTER TOUR OF OAHU, HAWAII
The Ultimate Guide to Oahu: 80 THINGS TO DO ON OAHU – THE BUCKET LIST