If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the top of an extinct Hawaiian volcano – this hike is for you. Sure, you can join the thousands of other tourists climbing up the inside of Diamond Head – but if you want to climb the outside of a volcano, get away from the entrance fees, experience sweeping wild views of the rocky South Shore of Oahu the Pacific Ocean, and even the neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui – then climbing the Koko Head Stairs is for you.
It’s a funny name…but there is nothing funny about this hike. 1042 stairs up the vertical face of a volcano on Oahu. Koko Head is 1208 feet tall (368m). That’s the tall part with the stairs. There is a bit of confusion around the name because in fact, the stairs go up Koko Crater – Koko Head is actually the headland on the other side of Hanauama Bay – the peak (where the stairs go) is actually named Kohelepelepe. Confused yet? Don’t be – just do like everyone else and call the hike Koko Head Stairs.
Koko Head last erupted about 35,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about that happening while you hike. You just have to worry about finding your way to Koko Head Regional Park. Once there, park past the baseball diamond. The pop pop pop you hear is the Kokohead shooting range. It’s contained and no danger to hikers. You’ll see exhausted hikers strewn all around the parking area.
Follow the path past the baseball diamond to the base of the stairs. You’ll see hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes thrown onto the power lines as you approach the base of the stairs. I don’t know why people do that. Shoes are expensive.
The stairs are the remains of a funicular built by the U.S. military during World War II. A small train pulled troops and equipment up to pillboxes and bunkers on the top. You don’t get that option because the train is long gone. The railway ties, howeever, remain. Get ready for over a thousand lunges…big steps. Halfway up you will have to overcome any fear of heights as you cross the crumbling railway bridge and then you will go up the last near vertical section just as you think you can’t go any further.
Finally, you will reach the top and share smiles and congratulations for your amazing achievement – don’t let the fitness freaks who have run past you four times on your journey up take away from the moment (they went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down – freaks.) It’s not an easy hike. Many turn back. Many look up the stairs and don’t even try.
From the top you can find different views. The communities of Hawaii Kai and Portlock with Diamond Head in the distance. Hanauma Bay below you. The neighbor islands. And the interior of the Koko Crater which is filled with a desert botanical garden.
Hike up to the metal grate and take epic photos. Hydrate. And get ready for the hike down when your legs will turn to jelly.
Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water, wear breathable clothes, wear good shoes – this is not a flip flop or barefoot hike. Also take breaks if you need to and don’t be afraid to call it quits if it is too much. A hat isn’t a bad idea either.