Some people see a mountain and think how lovely it looks. Others see a peak and need to know the view from the top, no matter how steep the climb. Koko Head’s railway trail is definitely for those in the second category. With 1100 “steps” and over 800 feet of elevation gain, Koko Head is a challenging climb. But where did this pseudo-stairway come from?
During World War II, Oahu was a highly fortified island. Puu Mai, the highest peak at Koko Head Crater, was a military watch post. The U.S. military created a tram railway to transport troops and supplies to the summit post. After the war the rail line was abandoned leaving wooden planks that act as stairs all the way to the top.
Although many hiking websites classify this as a moderate hike, it’s fairly difficult, and should only be attempted by those healthy enough to ascend and descend over 1000 steep steps. The stairs start off on a relatively easy incline that sharpens drastically about one third of the way up.
One unique — and to some terrifying — trail feature is the bridge, a section of with no ground beneath each wooden slat. It’s a clear drop between steps. If that sounds a little harrowing, don’t worry: there’s an easy path off to the right side heading up that circumvents this section.
All hikers should be cautious during the climb as some of the wooden planks are in disrepair. Also be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, protective layers, insect repellent, a cell phone and camera to record panoramic views from the top. Always tell someone where you are going before embarking on a hike.
Access to the trailhead is on Koko Head State Park Rd. Take Highway 72 through Honolulu to Hawaii Kai then turn left on Lunalilo Home Rd. and right on Anapalau St. This will dead-end at the park entrance.
Also note that the stairs are not the only way to the top of the crater. It is possible to hike up the ocean side ridge trail past Hanauma Bay. Only experienced hikers should attempt this route.
Photos by Brett Uprichard