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Hiking Koko Head

Overview

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Hiking Koko Head
Tara Zirker

1,048 steps to the top, Koko Head is a regular tradition for many islanders. The trail follows the steep hill that summits 1,200 feet above Hawaii Kai and overlooks Hanauma Bay. It is estimated at 1.5 miles round-trip from the parking area, and is usually rated at a moderate to intermediate level.

Koko Head is often called nature's stairmaster, but humans helped the evolution of the incline by adding a railway during WWII in order to transport military personnel and supplies up to lookouts which were built at the top. Today, all that remains are remnants of the old lookouts and a trail lined with railroad ties.

The Hike

The hike itself shoots straight up the hillside. The first 500 stairs, or actually railroad ties, are set at a moderate incline. Rookies often make the mistake of hiking the first half of the trail at too fast a pace, only to burn out before the steeper ascent begins.

There is a bridge right around the 500th stair. If looking down makes you queasy, you can hop off the railway to the path around the bridge that can be found on the right. Otherwise, cross with care.

After the bridge, the grade is considerably steeper. One tactic for conquering the stairs is to take 10 or 20 steps and then break for a minute or so (which also serves as perfect opportunity to snap photos). Just make sure to step off the path so others can pass.

Descending can prove to to be somewhat challenging on knees. Taking it one step at a time and trying a side straddle down is one good strategy. Use whichever method provides a safe and comfortable descent, and be prepared to dodge sprinters as they come flying down the mountainside.

Don't be surprised to encounter a vast cross-section of hiking abilities on this hike. You'll find avid trail runners who sprint up three times a week in under 20 minutes and visitors to the island who take it a few leisurely steps at a time. Though good footwear is recommended, you may see the occasional veteran hiker doing it in slippers. Take precautions during inclement weather due to slippery railroad ties.

Bottom Line

No matter what your style or level, the vistas are worth the stairmaster-esque workout. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but you may be surprised at how quickly you will want to adopt it as a new tradition.
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