If someone challenged you to climb 1,048 steps made out of railway ties in the excruciating heat of Hawaii with no shade, what would be your response?
What if this little excursion required climbing these stairs up to 1208′ in elevation? What if I told you this railway which was turned into a hike was built decades ago to deliver supplies to a military lookout at the top which was used in World War II and was a bit rickety with some railway ties missing? That there was a section of this railway that was like a “bridge” with openings between the ties giving you a gander at the ground several feet below you…
Lastly, what if I told you it was nick-named by locals the “Stairs of Doom?”
What if you were promised a 360 degree view of the island? A chance to see 3 other islands (on a clear day)? Would that change your mind?
It did mine!
I had lived on the island of Oahu for about 7 months when I quickly realized this was the most talked about hike on the island! I heard so many horror stories about how challenging it is and how it is several people’s’ “one and done” hike-meaning they will NEVER do it again!
For some strange reason, I had this voice in my head saying, “DO IT!” I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going with a group of people and not being able to complete it. So, I waited for my bestie to come visit from Florida. The day after she arrived, I said, “hey! Do you wanna go hiking? I’ve heard about this amazing hike!” Gullable as she was, she agreed to join me! It is now a “must do” hike anytime I have company visit me on the island! And, for those of you concerned about my bestie, she survived and even wanted to do it again when she came back for a second visit a few months later!
What’s that? You’re wondering if it was as bad as I heard? Well, you’re in luck…here’s the play-by-play on not only how I survived it, but how I continue to do it with my kids in tow:
For starters, this hike gets very hot because there is no shade. I suggest you always go in the early morning or for a sunset hike (plan ahead with headlamps or flashlights for the way back down because it gets dark fast and also is a very steep downgrade). Also, ALWAYS bring water, water and more water! It’s so important to stay hydrated during a hot, sweaty hike! I always use a Camelback which is great because it leaves my hands empty to catch myself if I were to trip and/or to hold my kid’s hands (yes-they’ve both hiked this several times since they were 3 and 6 years old! They are champs!).
One tip I have for you if you are taking this challenge on with kids, is to bring a bag for trash with you. My kids have gotten to where they love picking up any trash they see on our way up. I’ve noticed it keeps them busy and distracts them from the grueling hike we are doing. Not only this, but it teaches them to respect the trails and is a way for us to give back to the island we have come to love so much.
With all of that said, let’s begin!
The trailhead for the Koko Crater Railway Hike (oftentimes called Kokohead) is located in Kokohead State Park. There is usually ample parking even though it is a very popular hike. There are restrooms located by the baseball fields before you reach the parking lot for the hike.
From the parking lot, you will see a dirt path leading up towards a paved road. This path and road will lead you to the actual trail head which is a little bit further. Don’t let the view of the stairs intimidate you as you approach!
As you begin your climb up the railway, you may be thinking to yourself, “this isn’t so bad!” Don’t be fooled. My biggest piece of advice is to just take it slowly. This is a hike of “accomplishment” rather than a “race.” I’ve hiked this 8 or 9 times now and I can tell you from my own experience that I would much rather take it slowly than feel light-headed halfway up. Because of this, I let the kids go at their own pace (with a little bit of necessary “let’s keep going!” prompting)
One of my favorite things about this trail is that you see so many people of all different ages and fitness levels. We are all out for one goal: conquring the Stairs of Doom. No matter how hard you are struggling, you will always get encouragment from others. I love how you hear, “way to go! You got this! Keep going! Just a little but further! It’s so worth it!” as you climb. You definitetly feel the Aloha here!
About halfway up, you will approach the “bridge” section I mentioned earlier where the railway is no longer touching the ground and you are litterally walking on the railway ties while you balance to the safety of the other side. If you have small children (or don’t care for heights), luckily for you, there is an alternate path which by-passes the “bridge” section completely. We were lucky enough to bump into the First Lady, Michelle Obama and her daughters at this point of the trail once! I might add-THEY even did the side route rather than the “bridge” section so don’t be ashamed of this! You will see this path to the right of the base of the “bridge”. Just follow that trail up and around and it will lead you right back to the railway.
Once you pass the “bridge” section, you will notice the railway gets much steeper and the railways feel further apart. At this point especailly, be sure you are taking time to turn around and take in the view behind you! The view only gets better and it always motivates me to keep going to the top!
Once you reach the top of the railway, you can either stop here OR continue up a path to the actual top of the summit. If you choose to push on to the top, you will be rewarded with some of the best views of the island! Not only that, you will have accomplished Koko Crater Railway! Take some time to enjoy the view, eat a snack or picnic lunch and rest before you start your descent back down the railway!