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Koko Head Trail Hike: a 1048-step challenge

Koko Head Trail Hike: a 1048-step challenge

I like my life simple, with challenges. Same reason that I like Koko Head Trail, located on the island of Oahu; it is a simple, straight upward, and a challenging hike. It was an automatic choice for me to take my friend to when she came to visit me.

Koko Head Trail, also known as Koko Crater Trail, is located inside the Koko Head District Park at 423 Kaumakani St, Honolulu, HI 96825. It is a short ten-minute drive from Waikiki. There are ample parking spots available, and a restroom next to the parking lot. The neighborhood is safe and quiet. But the parking can get crowded during the weekends and when the little league sports are in session.

The view on the Koko Head Trail railroad track from the bottom up
Koko Head trail is an old WWII railway with steep incline

You can see the entire Koko Head trail from afar; straight up without any curves or roundabouts, from the beginning to the end. Yet, a simple trail doesn’t mean an easy hike. The trail itself was an old abandoned railway, and you are hiking up the old wooden ties.

This railway was built during WWII to transport military personnel and supplies to the top. Today, the wooden support pieces are deteriorated. Pieces of large rocks and concrete blocks were added to make the steep steps easier to hike. This is the “Oahu StairMaster,” with over 1,000 steps to reach the summit; a fantastic workout!

I decided to take my friend to hike the Koko Head trail, and reward her with the extraordinary panoramic ocean and mountain view on top.

View of Hanauma Bay from the top of Koko Head Trail
View of Hanauma Bay from the top of Koko Head Trail

I told my friend that the trail is about a one-mile round trip, and it takes me approximately 30 minutes to go to the top. Please bring water, a hat, sunglasses, and wear a pair of sturdy hiking shoes. I wanted to surprise her, and see how a city girl from China could handle a trail like Koko Head.

On the day of the hike, my friend was super excited about our excursion. She brought her water bottle, sunglasses and a hat. We parked at the big parking lot inside the Koko Head Trail park.

As we headed from the car to the beginning of the trail, I saw her looking at the trail with disbelief. The smile and the excitement disappear from her face, and replaced with surprise and concern.

View of Hawaii Kai from the top of Koko Head Trail
Summit view of Hawaii Kai

To ease my friend’s concern, I told her: “Take your time, when you are tired, take a break, turn around and enjoy the beautiful view.” To be honest, even as a six-time full marathon finisher and a triathlete, Koko Head was not an easy hike for me: it is a simple, straightforward challenge!

What makes Koko Head Trail difficult are the steep incline and the big gaps between the steps. Those steps seemed to never end! Some of these big stairs were so high that I had to use my hands and legs to lift myself up to the next step. The first half of the incline is about 15%, and the second half of the incline is about 25%. Descend was also difficult with tired, shaky legs.

The overhang section of railway about 12 minutes into the hike; a few feet above the ground
The overhang section of railway about 12 minutes into the hike; a few feet above the ground

Within the first ten minutes of the hike, there were hollow railroad tracks hanging twenty feet above the ground. Extreme caution needed to be taken when you walk on them. One slip could mean that you could fall several feet under. Not a pretty scene. Some hikers were crawling on their hands and feet to pass through this challenging area. People with vertigo can take an alternative route.

When I get tired, I start counting. For example, I would tell myself to hike ten stairs at a time, rest, and start again. I repeat the process until I reach the top. I used the same method for the marathons as well. Counting stops the negative thoughts and pushes the body forward. This method was simple, efficient, and helped me accomplish my goals. People were friendly and encouraging as you pass them, which makes a great atmosphere.

Summit view of Sandy Beach Park, Oahu
Summit view of Sandy Beach Park

The panoramic view on top of Koko Head was magnificent, you can see Sandy Beach Park, Hanauma Bay, and Hawaii Kai. It is windy on top; the cool breezes dries up sweat and cools the body. The color of the blue ocean was dreamy. As I was sitting on the old concrete structure decorated with artsy graffiti to catch my breath, I was mesmerized by the view, I could see my friend coming up the railway track with bright red cheeks. I knew she would be proud of herself for accomplishing this challenge.

The Koko Head summit with panoramic ocean view
The Koko Head summit with panoramic ocean view

It took me 23:59 minutes to reach the top, and once on top, I wanted to stay as long as possible. But the sun was going down. I congratulated my friend on getting through this tough challenge, and told her that she completed one of the most challenging hikes on Oahu. She said she will never forget the beautiful views and the fresh ocean air. She looks forward to returning.

More Oahu Hikes

Manoa Falls and Maunawili Falls – Two Great hikes in Honolulu Watershed Forest
Oahu Hikes: Laie Falls Trail and Kaiwa Ridge Trail
Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls – One of the Best Easy Hikes in Oahu
Crouching Lion Hike: a Walk Through the Jungle
Lanikai Pillbox Hike

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