Koko Head Stairs Hike: Famous or Infamous?

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It’s no secret the Koko Head hike is one of Oahu’s most infamous hiking trails. Google is certainly not lacking in articles on the topic. Many articles will tell you it is a quick, moderate hike to a peak that can be completed in 20-60 minutes from parking lot to the top of the stairs. Koko Head Stairs is roughly a 1.5 mile round trip journey. However, although all those things are true, this article is my very different account of the day I decided to stop letting the Koko Head hike haunt me. Koko Head Stairs Hike There is no shortage of adventurous souls in the people I call my tribe. Daily, they are out adventuring and living life to the complete fullest. You can hear them chatting about how they spent the morning hiking some ridge or running Koko Head. It’s like child’s play for them. They often ask if I want to go for a morning run up the stairs. Of course, all I can do is laugh. I have always been down for the adventure, but the stairs were a hard no. Big girls like me don’t run stairs like Koko Head. The infamous “stairs” are railroad ties that make 1,048 steps of complete and utter defeat for me. My only answer has always been, “You’re out of your mind. No view is worth that pain.” Fast forward to a few days ago. I woke up with a new pep in my step because I got some great new workout clothes, which we all know comes with a side of “invincible” and a heaping helping of “I can do anything.” I decided that would be the day I would conquer the Koko Head hike. (Again, I cannot stress enough how much I loathe stairs.) My fanny pack was ready, some good tunes were in my ears, and I had a water bottle in hand. I was ready! For this trek, I decided to go alone so my friends wouldn’t shame me all the way up with their gazelle like ease navigating those stairs.

So the journey up the Koko Head hike begins…

Koko Head Stairs Hike I arrived early enough not to scorch in the sun and easily found my way to the Koko Head hike trail. It is a short walk from the parking lot to the beginning of the old military train track that now acts as one of Hawaii’s most hiked trails. The start was a small incline at the base of the stairs and it was manageable with just the average amount of cardio effort needed for a stair-master. I stopped to “take a few photos”, so people didn’t judge me for having to stop and take a moment to get my life together. I kept repeating, “I can do this.” Of course before too long, the incline got much steeper. It was about 400 steps in that I seriously started questioning my life choices. This would be a cardio nightmare. Several steps ahead of me I found a man laying down as though life was about to escape him. I got closer and decided to try to make the “”we got this pact” with him. He told me this was his first day visiting the island, and his wife told him he couldn’t finish the Koko Head hike. Of course, he had to prove her wrong. This man was just one of the many people I stopped to have conversations with along the way. As it turns out, stopping to chat with strangers is an excellent way to catch a quick break and keep the cardio under control, and keep a reminder that all kinds of folks, from all walks of life hike this peak everyday.

It’s not over yet!

About half way up Koko Head, there is a part where there is a 40ft drop under the railroad ties. My fear of heights kicked into overdrive. My thought was, “Great, the heart attack hasn’t got me yet, but I will most certainly fall through one of these gaps now. Go ahead and get the helicopter on stand by.” Luckily, I spotted a man drinking a beer on the other side, who was trying to coach me across. I couldn’t let the drunk guy do it and not do it myself, so I took his advice and wobbled on over. Side note: on the way back down, I crab walked over that portion. I hope it gave someone as much entertainment to watch as it does for me to remember it. Hot mess express right here! Koko Head Stairs Hike At this point in the journey, I had made it over 500 steps and the gauntlet of open railroad ties. My cardio workout for the day could end. It was about this time I eyed the donut someone left on the stairs. No, it wasn’t some illusion, it was a fake donut someone left on the stairs. I’m going to go assume it was a motivational tactic. For the record, it worked. It reminded me I was on a mission. I am here in this paradise to take full advantage of the fitness opportunities nature has to provide. Even though my heart was trying to escape my chest, I couldn’t just turn around and roll down, and the emergency hike rescue cost on Oahu is quite costly. I was able to pull it together and inch up the rest of the stairs, but not without considerable lengths of time used to talk to strangers, take photos and all around get my cardio under control. Finally, after about 70 minutes, I reached the top… alive!

I made it to the top of Koko Head!

When I began the journey, I had two overwhelming thoughts: 1) It will be a miracle if I make it. 2) No view is worth that amount of effort. I was wrong on both accounts. Even though there was considerable effort and my poor, defective heart was beating like crazy, the view at the top of Koko Head was worth every second of discomfort. The panoramic views of Oahu are stunning. I also got to enjoy the triumph of conquering the stairs with many other folks I met along the way up, including that man whose wife thought he couldn’t make it. Also, I did not need to phone in a miracle that day; I just needed to trust my own abilities for a bit. It was worth every step. Will I do it again? Absolutely, but I will cuss the whole way.

Things to Note About the Stairs:

  1. Bring plenty of water because it is hot and there is not much shade.
  2. Wear actual shoes because some of the stairs are not in the best shape, and quite slippery.
  3. There is a safe bypass for the stair portion that is open underneath. You don’t have to face your fear of heights if you don’t want to on that portion.
  4. Take breaks, have fun, make friends. You may just meet some of the friendliest people here.
  5. Please respect the land and take any trash you accumulate on your hike. This is very important in Hawaii.
  6. Trust your body. It isn’t so strenuous that you cannot do it. That goes for everyone.
  7. Don’t forget to leave a prayer in the Prayer Box at the top.
  8. It is worth the journey!

Getting to the stairs:

  1. Navigate to the Koko Head District Parking Lot.
  2. Walk to the right side of the baseball field, following the sidewalk.
  3. You will see an easily distinguishable path to the Koko Head hike. Look for the shoes on the power lines.
If you are planning a trip and would like to know the “insider” secrets to not looking like a tourist, click here!

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