Three waterfalls, a desolate crater, and a perilous peak: Ka’au Crater Hike.

This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment it 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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-1

We criss-crossed the creek several times, 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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-1-2

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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-1050287

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 hike completion of 2015. However, we were taking some awesome photos so we let ourselves off the hook for being passed by multiple groups.

We had been hiking for two and 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 third waterfall.

For 20 minutes we pulled ourselves up the side of the waterfall, aided by 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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-1050292

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 trail were bustling with hikers, but now we felt a sense of isolation and subsequently, vulnerability.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-05956

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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-4856

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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-05970


Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-05948


Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-4813

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 hike 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.

Ka'au Crater Trail Oahu, Hawaii-1-3

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.

Duration: 4-6 hours
Altitude: 2500 feet
Open: Sunrise (enforced by guard)
Closes: Sunset

{google_map}Ka’au Crater{/google_map}

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!








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2 Discussion to this post

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great photos! I wish I’d made it to the peak. I’m wondering how on earth the two women managed to get a bulldog up to the third waterfall? I remember there being many near-vertical sections up the first and second waterfalls. I ended up turning back at the start of the ridge, as it started unexpectedly raining, quite heavily. I’d read horror stories about doing the ridge in the rain, so I decided not to risk it. I did however have to encounter a stream many times bigger and faster than than when I crossed on the way up. I was alone, and did not dare cross it. All I could do was wait until it died down (potentially not until the next day). Crossing seemed like certain death. Luckily, (or not!), a group of 6 gungo-ho Californians arrived who had no fear in crossing the river together. Safety in numbers, they said. May-be! I decided to go with them, to avoid a potentially bankrupting airlift (I’d told my girlfriend to tell the police if I wasn’t back by 4PM). In hindsight, staying stafe might have been the wiser move, even if it meant a huge debt and a potential overnight camp in heavy rain and no shelter. We crossed together, holding hands for stability. At parts it nearly got as deep as our waist, particularly for the shorter people in the group (which I’ve later read is a complete and utter no-no for river crossings). We got past the 5 or so river crossings without getting swept away – not recommended!

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Jackson,
    you have whetted my appetite for this – I have a couple of weekends when I might be able to get there. I would be grateful if you could recommend a physical map (paper?) I can buy locally.

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