Hiking on a 49% Grade: Koko Head Crater Trail

If you’re ever on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, take time away from the beach to hike Oahu’s many trails. Each are beautifully unique, providing you access into the mountains or a path to breathtaking views. One of the most unique hikes you’ll ever experience is the Koko Head Crater Trail. Created by the military during World War II, this trail is a perfectly-straight line up the face of an ancient volcanic crater. The higher you go, the steeper the trail becomes.

The trail is actually a former tram railway, where you’ll step on 1,050 railroad ties.  Due to the extreme slope, each railroad tie is essentially a stair, providing a relatively safe, but exhausting climb to the summit. As the slope increases, each stair is substantially higher than a normal, seven-inch stair that you’re used to. Plan on 12-18” of gain with each step as you approach the top. Our Strava recorded a 49% grade for the entire top section of the rail trail. Forty-nine percent.


You’ll definitely want to feel each railroad tie, safely below your foot, before you transfer your weight and step up. We loved the stability and light-weight simplicity of our DayLite Hikers, protecting our feet from the scorching-hot surface of the old railroad ties, while providing the flexibility needed for our feet to feel their way to the top of the climb. The ankle support and protection of the DayLite Hiker was also a huge advantage, as we asked our legs to do things they normally don’t do.

There is one short section where the railroad ties are elevated. Don’t look down as you cross 50’ above the ground, stepping from one railroad tie to the next! This section of the trail is one of the flatter parts, and it will be over before you know it.

Facing south with some head-tall vegetation, the trail is very exposed. We recommend an early-morning start to beat the heat and beat the crowds. Take more water along than you’d normally hike with. We’d definitely recommend a pack-mounted hydration system, since you’ll almost-certainly be scrambling on all fours on certain parts of your trek.

Take several breaks going up—especially as you near the top. It may take you 20-45 minutes but it’s worth every step. Once you arrive at the top of the trail, explore the concrete remains of the World War II mountain-top military installation. You won’t be at the summit, but you can easily get there by climbing another 50-75 feet of elevation as you walk along the concrete structures and the connecting dirt paths. Known as a pillbox, these WWII-era, concrete structures are located on strategic viewpoints throughout the island, and are the destination for several dozen trails.

The view at the top is spectacular, with 360-degree views of the surrounding area. Most impressive is the view of the trail itself, as you see a straight line descending below your feet back to the parking lot. In 0.7 miles of climbing, you will gain nearly 1,100 feet of elevation, and the return walk is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

The Koko Head Crater Trail is easy to access, located near Hanauma Bay and the city of Hawaii Kai. Parking and the trail are free, but are quickly growing in popularity. Get an early start, stay hydrated, and be prepared for a unique experience that your legs will never forget.


Chris & Roxy

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.