Looking for a challenging workout that packs a big reward? Hiking the railroad tie staircase of Koko Head Crater is just the thing.
The Hike: Getting Started
You’ll want to go up the hill of the parking lot to the very back baseball diamond, right before the parking lot ends. From there, you can find the well-worn trailhead behind the baseball field. The very beginning of the trail is not paved but once you get up a tiny dirt incline, a paved access road leads to the base of Koko Head .
The paved segment of the trail doesn’t last long…
The Hike: The Challenges
Kohelepelepe (Koko for short, also known as Puʻu Mai) is an ancient tuff cone volcano that rises up 1,208 feet. It’s a steep, vertical rise. The series of gunshots echoing through the valley from a nearby shooting range could have been a warning sign…
The “trail” is a WWII-era abandoned railroad. What’s left of the railroad ties forms the trail. “What’s left” isn’t an exaggeration. There are 1,048 railroad tie stairs leading up to the crater’s peak. There should be about 3,000. The hike is unstable, challenging and loads of fun!
The initial ascent gives hikers plenty of opportunity to acclimate to the demands of the climb before reaching The Bridge. The Bridge is where the earth has eroded, dropping about 30 feet below the trail. The railroad remains suspended in the air.
Many attempt to cross The Bridge on foot. Everyone I saw used their hands occasionally. Since I’m pregnant, I spider crawled up the wrecked railroad ties.
If you opt out of The Bridge, there is an equally precarious climb that veers towards the right. The ground is damp, slick, and eroded there, too—one portion looked impassible to me—so I recommend taking your chances with The Bridge.
After The Bridge, the vertical incline becomes drastically steeper. The trail basically becomes an A-ladder. This portion is killer for the glutes, hammies, and your cardiorespiratory system. (In a good way!)
The Hike: The Rewards
Don’t stop at the steep incline no matter how much you want to! Just beyond the most vertical portion of the trail awaits your sweet reward.
Several platforms form a series of outlooks. As long as there is ground above you, there are more platforms offering 360° views including the popular Hanauma Bay, Koko Marina, Kuapa Pond and Kahauloa Cove.
The majestic vistas make it all worthwhile!
Details Worth Knowing
• Leave your dog at home. There is no water along the trail and no great place to stop and give your pet a drink without holding up other hikers. On The Bridge, the railroad ties are spaced far apart with a void underneath. I saw two dogs of different sizes lose their shit trying to cross The Bridge and catch up with their owners. Consider you pet and not just your desire for a companion.
• During cloudy days, you’re likely to feel mist or drizzling rain at the summit. It can help cool you off but if there is a threat of serious rain, you may want to postpone the hike. The descent is a beast when wet!