Koko Crater Railway Trail and Park

Koko Crater Railway Trailhead: Tackle Honolulu's Most Exciting Rail-to-Trail Adventure
The Bottom Line:

Situated along a former railway, the Koko Crater Railway Trailhead is rich in history. This challenging journey involves climbing up a notoriously steep hill while using railroad ties as stairs. The view at the top is astounding, so this is an excellent option for adventurous types with a lot of stamina. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Trail Difficulty: Hard

Round Trip Hours: 1.5 Hrs

Round Trip Miles: 1.6 Mi

Elevation Gain: 885 Ft

If you prefer to combine your Hawaii hiking expeditions with history lessons, you’re in luck. The Koko Crater Railway Trailhead provides a great workout, a history lesson, and stunning views. This trail is short, but strenuous at times, with a steep grade keeping many would-be hikers away. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find that this hike takes you to some of the best vistas near Honolulu.

Want to get an accurate sense of the challenges that lie ahead? It’s best to think of this expedition not as a conventional hiking trail, but rather, as a series of stairs. For this reason, many people refer to the hike as the “Koko Head Stairs.”

Koko Crater Railway Trail is always an impressive option for getting your daily steps. Yet, even more, meaningful if you understand the history. What is now a steep series of steps began as a World War II tramway. It was intended to shuttle supplies to the lookout pillbox bunkers situated on Koko Crater. The base for this railway was located at what is now known as Koko Head District Park. 

After the war, the summit became the site of the Koko Crater Air Force Station. For nearly two decades, this was one of Oahu’s most important radar sites. As new satellite technology took over, however, there was no longer a strong need for a station at Koko Crater. As such, the tram and the land surrounding it were turned over to the city of Honolulu.

Over time, the train ties on this hill began to succumb to erosion and rot. Now that this has become one of the area’s most popular treks, many of these ties have been repaired. Still, given the origins of the steps, it’s important to use caution while navigating them.

If you decide to take this historic expedition and head for the summit, you’ll begin your adventure at the aforementioned Koko Head District Park. There you’ll find a decently sized parking lot and other facilities. A short path will take you to the bottom of the steps. If you’re not sure where to go, simply follow the other visitors. As one of the area’s busiest hikes, the Koko Crater Railway Trailhead is nearly always bustling.

At first glance, the stairs might not seem so difficult. However, don’t be surprised if you change your mind halfway up. Feel free to stop for breaks. You can always step to the side to let the other hikers pass as you sip on water and prepare for another several dozen steps.

While the entire journey can be invigorating, there is no denying that the real reward lies at the top of the stairs. This is where you’ll find a mesmerizing view of the city. Take your time and enjoy the scenery, especially if you arrive near sunrise or sunset. Take care if you visit during this time. As the already tough footing becomes that much more challenging when it’s even slightly dark.

No matter how or when you tackle the Koko Crater Railway Trail, you’ll enjoy a true sense of accomplishment as you reach the peak and make your way back down. This hike definitely isn’t for everyone. Still, it’s worth trying if you’re in great shape and want the ultimate in Honolulu bragging rights.

Insider Tips:
-Watch your footing, as some of the steps on this stairway can be deceptively dangerous. Many locals enjoy running at least a portion of the stairs. However, you’re strongly advised to walk if you’re attempting this climb for the first time. This includes the path down. While those endorphins may have you tempted to jog your way to the bottom of the hill, you’re far better off taking your time and actually enjoying your descent. 
-It should go without saying, but you’ll need lots of water on hand. Especially if you tackle the Koko Crater on a hot day. Many visitors underestimate their need for hydration and end up feeling miserable as a result. 
-Bring a flashlight (or better yet, a headlamp) if you anticipate hiking near sunset; if you spend more time than anticipated taking in the sweeping views, you’ll want extra light on your way down.
-The parking lot gets crowded on the weekend. Arrive early to find a spot.