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KOKO CRATER RIM TRAIL ON OAHU, HAWAII

KOKO CRATER RIM TRAIL ON OAHU, HAWAII

The Koko Crater Rim Trail is an adventurous alternative to the Koko Head Crater Stairs. Starting at the base of the crater rim, the trail leads you up along the rim to the summit of the popular Koko Head Summit. Here you will hang out with all of the stair-climbers momentarily as you enjoy the views of Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay, and down the east coast of the island. The trail then continues on traversing down the coastal side of the crater rim before looping back to the entrance gate of the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens.

OAHU HIKING GUIDE: I’ve written a guide for the top hikes on Oahu that I am sure you will find useful: TOP 20 HIKES ON OAHU, HAWAII

KOKO CRATER RIM TRAIL DETAILS

  • Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 4km for the loop trail.
  • Hike Duration: The hike around the entire rim should take you about 2 hours including a few photo breaks and drink stops.
  • Hike Difficulty: The trail follows the rocky rim around the crater and has a number of moments with high exposure and big drop-offs. This trail is often quite windy and with some basic scrambling to be done up and over boulders, it can be a little dangerous although quite basic in terms of scrambling. I would not recommend this hike for beginner hikers and would suggest only experienced hikers with scrambling experience should hike along this trail.
  • Hike Incline: 350 meters incline on the trail around the rim
  • My Strava Map Upload: Sunrise on the Rim

HOW TO GET TO THE KOKO CRATER RIM TRAIL

The Koko Crater Rim Trail begins at the entrance to the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. There is limited parking nearby but many neighborhoods nearby with ample parking. I’ve pinned the trailhead location on the map below. It’s important to know that if you begin the hike before dusk, as I did, the front gate will be closed so you would have to walk around that if you are on a sunrise mission.

MY EXPERIENCE ON THE KOKO CRATER RIM TRAIL

The east coast of Oahu is where you want to be when the sun rises. Therefore, we made the plan to be hiking up on the Koko Crater Rim Trail as the sun broke over the horizon. Not every sunrise mission goes to plan and the sun had to battle a thick layer of clouds this morning but our adventure was a success nonetheless.

We drove from Waikiki at around 4:30 to reach the trailhead at the Koko Crater Botanical Gardens by 5:00 am and started hiking shortly thereafter. It’s a little hard to find the trail in the early moments of this route but you have my GPX via my Strava route linked above or you can use the AllTrails map, which I found helpful and accurate for this route. Having a headlamp helped to navigate this early section through the long grass and trees. Note that the entrance gate will be closed if you begin the hike before dusk.

The elevation on this trail is just over 300 meters but it all comes in the first couple of kilometers so you will be working from the first moment. The trail winds you up through some thick grass as you dodge small cacti and rogue branches until you break out of the undergrowth to emerge onto the trail. The path itself is quite worn so it’s relatively easy to follow in most parts and if you take the wrong way for a few steps you will quickly see it leads nowhere and re-join the correct path.

The 2-kilometer ascent to the summit overlooks the suburb of Hawaii Kai as you make your way across the rocky crater rim. You will encounter some basic scrambling and bouldering, but there is nothing extremely technical. You will need to have composure with drop-offs and heights as there are multiple occasions where the trail will be quite narrow with a sizeable drop to your side although usually you have protection on one side with a rock wall and are rarely exposed on both sides. I don’t want to scare you but it’s important for some hikers to know that this is not as basic and safe as the Koko Head Crater Stairs.

After two kilometers of scrambling and enjoying the views over our shoulder, we reached the summit. You can expect to enjoy the Koko Crater Rim Trail all to yourself but when you reach the summit, there will be a crowd of hikers. The stairs are immensely popular and hikers enjoy the view and regain their energy by resting at the collection of ex-military pillboxes scattered atop the crater. It’s fun to look around here and enjoy the views but also good to get back out on the trail away from the crowds and continue along the route.

That’s the halfway mark of the trail and you now have a fun descent down the coastal side of the crater rim. This track is slightly less sketchy than the ascent although you still need to concentrate on your footing as it can be a little slippery on the loose gravel. We did the hike on a dry day and I would suggest leaving this one alone in the wet.

This section of the hike is quite beautiful as you look down the east coast of Oahu at Cockroach Cove, Sandy’s Beach, and catch a view of Makapu’u in the distance. The ocean crashes into the cliff walls below you, as you take in an incredible overhead view of the coastal highway, which must be one of the most scenic in America.

The trail loops back down to your starting point at the entrance gate. I actually exited from the rim a little early and found myself inside the botanical gardens, which isn’t an issue but not my intention. It seemed as if the trail headed down inside the rim a few hundred meters before the actual crater rim finished but I must have missed the alternate path to continue on. Keep an eye on that.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Koko Crater Rim Trail and can enjoy this aerial image I took while on the helicopter tour while flying past Koko Crater.

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I hope you enjoyed this guide for the Koko Crater Rim hike on Oahu!

THE FOUR MOST POPULAR OAHU TOURS

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.

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!

Grace

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Hi Jackson! Loved reading all your Hawaii posts. I just wanted to inform you that I did the Koko head crater Rim trail with my friend yesterday after reading your post on it and it was extremely overgrown and felt very unsafe on the way to the top. There were times where there were virtually no places to hold onto or put your feet but very sketchy places with sheer drop offs. There are also two places to start the hike now that have signs saying not to enter and a marked grave as well. I would add a strong warning to any site you’ve posted about this trail as it truly should not be hiked anymore unless you are able to scramble rocks on the side of a very high cliff and hold on when there are parts where one wrong foot placement will send you off the edge. The second half after the peak was great! The first half leading there though was extremely dangerous and should not be attempted by regular hikers. An absolutely beautiful trail but definitely not an easy climb. More like one where you’re kind of scared for your life multiple times hahaha. Anyways, thought I would share the update on the trail and I don’t want anymore graves surrounding it. Thanks!

Jackson

Tuesday 24th of August 2021

Hi Grace, I tried to show this trail as it is. For me and my friend it was quite timid and definitely mentioned the small scrambling. Glad you enjoyed and survived the hike :)