Koko Head Crater Hike – Tips for the Railway Trail in Oahu Hawaii

Koko Head Crater Hike – Tips for the Railway Trail in Oahu Hawaii

When Is the Best Time

Koko Head is a challenging hike, offering exceptional views, but definitely, you will break a sweat even if you are in good shape.

A hiker sweating in the afternoon sun on the railway track
You immediately start sweating on this steep trail.

This trail is famous by residents and tourists alike but less known and popular than Diamond Head Crater. On top, this hike is still permit-free, it is legal, and no fee is requested. Koko Head is a popular workout track by residents in the late afternoon and evening. It is a strenuous ascent with an elevation gain of 1043 ft/318 m, but you get rewarded with spectacular views from the top.

The view is already spectacular halfway up to another crater and the sea.
The higher you get, the better the view.

Koko Head is an old Railway Trail, and you either hike between the huge railroad ties like on stairs or next to them.

How Long Does It Take To Hike the Koko Head Trail?

One athlete running down and a normal visitor to the right.
The athlete to the left ran this track twice.
  • Duration – Hiking Time: 30 minutes up to two hours to reach the summit of the crater and back half an hour to one hour, depending on your balancing skills. 
  • Koko Trail Hike Length: Return hike to the viewpoint on the crater rim 1.86 miles - Locus Map Hiking Track
A woman hiker ascending between the railroad ties.
I hiked between the railroad ties.

This track is special short in distance but long in duration. If you are in good shape and used to climbing steep trails, you may need roughly 20 minutes to half an hour. It took us 40 minutes to the summit, although we live close to the Alps and are used to hiking steep descents and ascents.

A woman in sport dress running up the railway ties
Another resident on her workout route.

Occasional hikers may need 1.5 hours for this brutal steep ascent in high humidity and temperatures around 86 °F/30°C in the shade.

A mad tourist stands on a power pole to pose for photos
Not recommended to imitate this, but the view of Hanauma Bay is fantastic.

It is a great half-day tour for excellent views of Oahu and Honolulu. Carry plenty of water and a snack or fruits and soak in the beauty of this island from higher elevations.

Is Koko Head Trail Hard?

Two hikers resting on side of the railway ties
Even these guys took a break, although they looked super fit.

It is a short distance, less than two miles, but do not underestimate the elevation gain. It is a hard and challenging hike if you are not an athlete.

An exposed section of the Koko Head Crater Trail
This part can be bypassed.

However, Koko Head is doable; it just may take a bit longer. If you have any fear of heights, you may suffer on this track which is exposed in sections.

Best Time to Hike Koko Head Trail

Hikers on the Koko Head Trail in the late afternoon.
Late afternoon the trail is less exposed to the sun.

The best daytime for the Koko Head Trail regarding the temperature is early morning when the track is still in the shade, and the sunset from the top of the crater is spectacular. If you are an early riser, I recommend hiking early morning before it starts to heat up or even watching the sunrise from the top, but I go for the sunset. I am not a morning person 😄.

A reddish-orange sunset from Koko Head Crater
For me one of the best spots to watch the sunset.

I recommend late afternoon to early evening. Carry a picnic and beverages and watch the outstanding sunset from here. Bring a headlamp for the way back and enjoy one of the most breathtaking sunsets in Hawaii. 

The view to the northeast where visitors can watch the sunrise
The Koko Head Crater view from the crater rim where you can watch the sunrise.

That makes Koko Head in Oahu so unique you can watch the sunrise and the sunset from the crater. Sunrise-sunset times Oahu

A younger boy on the Koko Head Stairs Trail
This young boy had fun on this trail.

Please, avoid the midday heat; there is no shelter. If clouds or even a shower appear, wait for half an hour, and it may be a clear sky again. Weather Forecast Honolulu close to Koko Head Trail

A couple on the Koko Head Crater with great views to Hanauma Bay
We visited Hawaii for an entire month in June.

The best months for Oahu, Hawaii, regarding the weather-rainfall, are the drier months from April until September. Do you wish to know more about the hiking seasons in Oahu? Check out my detailed Haiku Stairs Guide.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Hawaii, Oahu, Honolulu

Koko Head Trail is located in the east of Oahu, offering stunning views up to Honolulu. The last eruption of the Koko Head Crater is estimated 7000 years ago.

View to Koko Head Crater and the steep stairs from the distance
View from the parking to Koko Head Mountain - to the left are the Koko Head Stairs.

There is plenty of parking at the baseball fields. The Koko Head District Park is open from 4 am until 11 pm. The car park is at the Koko Head District Park, therefore, restrooms are available.

A sign indicating the opening hours of Koko Head District Park

Summarize and Packing Checklist

A warning sign for the tramline hike and its risks
Please, take it seriously and carry plenty of water!
  • Go early or late
  • Carry plenty of water – It is a short but strenuous hike. Be careful with dehydration and put electrolytes into your water bottle. This will help a lot to get energy back.
  • Carry a picnic or snack like salty nuts or fruits
  • Shoes: trainers or hiking boots. I did well in my Nikes while Markus wore trail run shoes.
  • Sun protection; hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen – it is tough in the sun during the day.
  • If you plan to hike for the sunrise or sunset, carry a light jacket or windbreaker. It is usually windy on the top of Koko Head Mountain, and you quickly get a cold on the crater rim in a wet shirt.
  • A headlamp if you plan to watch the sunrise or sunset.
A compass with popular places in Oahu like Koko Head and other Hawaiian Islands.
An information board from Diamon Head Crater.

Support the local conservation efforts and donate if you appreciate their work. Currently, the track gets significant improvements making the climb safer for you. A QR code is placed on the trail.

Koko Head Trail vs Diamond Head Crater

View from Diamon Head Crater to the turquois sea and beach of Waikiki
The view from Diamond Head Crater to Waikiki Beach

We have done both and I highly recommend Koko Head Crater instead of Diamond Head. If you have plenty of time available I recommend visiting both places mid-week.

  • Koko Head entry and parking free of charge - Diamon Head entry and parking fee requested
  • Check the weather and visit Koko Head whenever you want - for Diamond Head you must book a time slot
  • Koko Head is busy but not overrun like Diamond Head. You frequently must park your car outside the parking lot of the State Monument.
  • You are able to watch the sunset at Koko Head - Diamond Head last entry at 4 pm and gate closure at 6 pm.
  • The view from Koko Head to Hanauma Bay and the crater is great but the view from Diamon Head is more spectacular to Waikiki Beach and Honolulu.

Contact me if you wish to use any of my photos, but I will take action against picture theft.

Nearby Places
Haiku Stairs in Oahu, Hawaii - The Legal Way - Latest Updates 2022
21 km
Haiku Stairs in Oahu, Hawaii - The Legal Way - Latest Updates 2022
You want to climb the Haiku Stairs - Now or Never! The Haiku Stairs have been…
Tips and Seasons for Laniakea Turtle Beach in Oahu - Hawaii
56 km
Tips and Seasons for Laniakea Turtle Beach in Oahu - Hawaii
There are several places in Oahu to see green sea turtles, but none of it is as…
Kilauea Lighthouse an Excellent Place for Birding
205 km
Kilauea Lighthouse an Excellent Place for Birding
The lighthouse is located on the north shore of Kauai at Kilauea Point, a rocky…
Kauai – Kalalau Trail - 7 Best Hikes and Waterfalls + Tips
210 km
Kauai – Kalalau Trail - 7 Best Hikes and Waterfalls + Tips
Kauai is the fourth biggest and oldest island of the volcanic Hawaiian…
Hawaii - Manta Dive and Snorkel Tour in Kona
255 km
Hawaii - Manta Dive and Snorkel Tour in Kona
Spotting manta rays up close was always on my bucket list. My friend Leif went…
Hawaii - Big Island - Best Snorkel Spots
271 km
Hawaii - Big Island - Best Snorkel Spots
Big Island is one of the best spots for snorkelling. I'd recommend staying in…
Hawaii - Volcanoes National Park
327 km
Hawaii - Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii. One…
Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
Micha Herber-Bleich
I am always open, curious about new…