KOKO HEAD STAIRS HIKE: 1,048 TORTUROUS STEPS

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The Koko Head stairs are a grueling test of will that guarantees to leave you drenched in sweat and turn your legs to jell-o.

TEXT BY JESSICA BLACKMUN // IMAGES BY JACKSON GROVES & JESSICA BLACKMUN

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There are several hikes we always do when we have visitors to push them out of the comfort zone during their vacation: Diamond Head, Lanikai Pillbox Trail, and Koko Head. Diamond Head is the most touristy as it is very close to Waikiki but it has a great view and is easy for all levels of hikers. Lanikai Pillboxes is a little less crowded and is amazing for sunrise but if you’re looking for a challenge you should definitely attempt the Koko Head stairs. 

Hiking up the Koko Head stairs is a great workout that will make your legs feel like jell-o and get you so drenched in your own sweat that you will be able to wring your clothes out at the top. This hike is popular among athletes and locals because it’s such a great workout with gorgeous views to reward you at the top. People who do it regularly even time themselves running up. Jackson’s best time is 12:15 and mine is 13:22.

If this isn’t enough stairs for you, check out the Haiku Stairs of Oahu

koko head stairs oahu

Exhausted hikers sitting on the ground mark the entrance to the hike in Koko Head Park, Hawaii Kai. Follow the partially paved foot path behind the baseball diamond to the start of the railway. This is the part of the hike where some people get a little bit intimidated. After looking up at the railway and barely making out the ant-sized figures slowly making their way towards the summit is often enough to have most people second guessing themselves.

koko head stairs hike

During World War II, the military several built bunkers at the summit of Koko Head crater. They also constructed Koko Head Railway (now the Koko Head stairs) to move personnel and supplies up and down.

There are 1,048 railroad ties (steps) to the end of the railway then another 30 or so feet of walking to get to the look out points. The Koko Head stairs aren’t shaped evenly and are almost double the width of a normal stair so unless you are extremely tall, this could mean that you are either taking two steps for every railway tie or doing lunges up the whole way. Some of the ‘steps’ are very worn down as well so there are some makeshift steps and other areas where the dusty ground can be quite slippery.

About half way up, is the railway bridge. It is a small section where the ground disappears out from under the track, replaced by green foliage. Here, you are literally crossing a railway bridge to the next section. The railway ties in this area are placed much closer together and for the most part it is safe as long as you walk slowly and step carefully. If you have a fear of heights you can take a detour into the bushes until you pass this section.

koko head stairs hike

After the exhilarating bridge section the hike gets exponentially steeper. On the plus side, for the short people out there, this is where the Koko Head stairs begin to get shorter!

About three fourths of the way up you start to get a preview of the view that you’ll see from the top. Turning around you can see the gorgeous blue waters of Hanauma Bay, the overhead view of Hawaii Kai, and the shooting range near the base of the crater. This is also the part of the hike where people on their way down start offering words of encouragement about getting to the top.

koko head stairs hike

Once you finally make it to the top of the railway, there’s a few perfectly placed trees where many of the hikers choose to stop and catch their breath. This high up there is more of a breeze and the shade from the trees help you to cool off quickly. This is the point that we usually stop the timer and see if we’ve beaten our personal record.

The end of the railway isn’t the top of Koko Crater though. In order to get the real view and to access what it considered the top of Koko Crater Railway Trail, you weave your way up towards the metal grate platform.

koko head stairs hike

The platform is an epic place to take photos. From here you can see Hawaii Kai and the Makapu’u Light House Trail.

koko head stairs hike

This is an out and back trail, so when you’ve cooled off and taken the pictures to prove you made it up the Koko Head stairs, you head back down the railway tracks. If you thought the railway ties were slippery on the way up, they are ten times worse going down. So place your feet carefully and don’t be afraid to go a bit slower.

There is an alternate way down. If you head along the ridge of the crater towards the ocean you will encounter the trail that takes you to the Koko Crater Arch. This is a picturesque hike on its own due to the large rock formation and oceanic views. However, if you choose to take this route you will need a second vehicle to get back to the Koko Head Park parking lot.

 

koko head stairs hike

TIP: When you attempt Koko Crater Railway trail make sure to wear grippy shoes and breathable workout clothes. A hat can also be a lifesaver as the sun can be quite harsh.

Also don’t forget your water bottle, camera, and sunscreen!

koko head stairs hike

koko head stairs oahu

DISTANCE: 1.4 miles total

ALTITUDE: 690 feet

Where to stay on Oahu?

Here are a few of the most popular hotels on Oahu:

  • Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (High-end): 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.
  • Sheraton Waikiki (High-end): 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.
  • Ramada Plaza Waikiki (Mid Range): The perfect way to enjoy Oahu in a beautiful hotel without blowing the bank. This hotel has a rooftop pool and a restaurant but will only set you back around $100.
  • Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget): 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.

Search for your dream accommodation on Oahu



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{google_map}Koko Crater Trail{/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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11 Discussion to this post

  1. […] planned to do either the Lanikai Pillbox (which is currently closed for trail repairs) or Koko Head Stairs hike this day but we were too tired for more physical […]

  2. […] Koko Head Crater (Hawaii Kai) – Intermediate […]

  3. […] Day 1: On your first day you should explore the Waikiki/Honolulu area! There is so much to do and see in this area and hey- it’s the sunny side of the island! We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani http://www.princess-kaiulani.com/ and loved it! It was great because it was in the heart of the Waikiki area and walking distance to so many restaurants and bars (we loved Maui Brewing Co. down the street). You also get access to the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel right across the street which is located on Waikiki beach by staying in the sister property. I also recommend checking out Arvo Cafe! https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/1027561246/arvo/ It’s so adorable and has so many great healthy eats! There are also two hikes that are closeby to the hotel-Diamond Head and Koko Crater! Diamond head is paved and a relatively short and easy hike. Koko Crater takes much longer and has “stairs” (1,048 steps). The stairs are actually part of an old railway system that used to be there. Before we started this hike I had read quite a few reviews and to be honest, thought it would be relatively easy since it had stairs and wasn’t a rugged trail. It was only 1.5 miles round trip and so I thought this would be one of our “easier” hikes as we hike often. However, I was wrong! This hike will have your legs shaking by the end of it and make sure you bring lots of water! We did this hike at sunset and I think it’s a spectacular hike for it! To read more about this hike, I recommend reading this blog post https://www.journeyera.com/koko-head-stairs/ […]

  4. […] March 16: On your first day you should explore the Waikiki/Honolulu area! There is so much to do and see in this area and hey- it’s the sunny side of the island! We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani http://www.princess-kaiulani.com/ and loved it! It was great because it was in the heart of the Waikiki area and walking distance to so many restaurants and bars (we loved Maui Brewing Co. down the street). You also get access to the Westin Moana Surfrider Hotel r right across the street which is located on Waikiki beach by staying in the sister property. I also recommend checking out Arvo Cafe! https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/1027561246/arvo/ It’s so adorable and has so many great healthy eats! There are also two hikes that are closeby to the hotel-Diamond Head and Koko Crater! Diamond head is paved and a relatively short and easy hike. Koko Crater takes much longer and has “stairs” (1,048 steps). The stairs are actually part of an old railway system that used to be there. Before we started this hike I had read quite a few reviews and to be honest, thought it would be relatively easy since it had stairs and wasn’t a rugged trail. It was only 1.5 miles round trip and so I thought this would be one of our “easier” hikes as we hike often. However, I was wrong! This hike will have your legs shaking by the end of it and make sure you bring lots of water! We did this hike at sunset and I think it’s a spectacular hike for it! To read more about this hike, I recommend reading this blog post https://www.journeyera.com/koko-head-stairs/ […]

  5. Emily Witty says:

    So what’s the deal with taking the alternate route back but needing a second car to get back to the parking lot? Would it put you that far away? Seems a shame to miss that view on the way down. Thanks!

  6. Lucy says:

    Is the distance that you mentioned (1.4 miles) return trip (so to the top and then back down)?
    Thanks 🙂

  7. Woww! I bet you need a good pair of comfortable shoes, walking on stairs like that! 😉 Although the view from there is amazing and most definitely worth it! Thanks for sharing this inspiring post!

    • Jackson & Jessie says:

      Yes, comfortable shoes with good grip really help going both up and especially down this one! Thank you so much for taking the time to read our post!

  8. Very cool! There is a very similar trail just out side of Colorado Springs, CO. Same old abandoned railcar track. TALL and STEEP!

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