The Koko Head Stairs have become extremely popular in recent years as a relatively quick hike and intense workout. Nicknamed the "stairmaster from hell," the trail has no shade and is rarely breezy. Crowds of people test their abilities on 1,048 stairs formed by remnant tramway ties to reach the summit of Koko Head Crater at 1,200 feet.
The tracks themselves were built in the early 1940s to allow access to a radar station at the summit, where a gasoline-powered winch pulled military personnel and supplies to the top. In the 1960s, the facilities were decommissioned and turned into a public park for recreational purposes. Today you can still see remnants of an old observation deck at the summit, the gasoline-powered winch house, and radar bunkers leading back into the hillside.
A mix of people climb the stairs every day. As you ascend, people will be panting, scrambling, sitting, or even running along the tracks. First timers, be sure to pace yourselves; the steepness sharply increases about halfway up. Those fearful of heights should avoid crossing the tram bridge over a deep pit that requires steady footing and calm wits. There is a trail that goes around to the right.
Somewhere along the way you are bound to question the decision that brought you to climb the seemingly never-ending stairs. Just remember, the view from the top is phenomenal! Sunset or sunrise views are even better!
At the top of the stairs is the winch platform; however, the true summit is a short scramble up the washed-out path. Here you will see the full panoramic views of the south side of O'ahu, Makapu'u, Sandy Beach, Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and the Ko'olau Mountains. Peer down into the crater to see the Koko Head Botanical Gardens, specializing in cacti and other arid-climate plant life. From the summit you can return the way you came for a knee-crunching descent to the parking lot or explore some the Koko Head Crater Rim Trail, which descends to the east and west along the ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides. If you continue along, be prepared to balance yourself along a narrow, steep ridgeline.
This is can be an extremely fatiguing adventure. The fire department has had to rescue numerous people in recent years. Make sure you bring at least a liter of water, preferably in a reusable container. Garbage has become a problem here. Bring a light to explore the bunker behind the winch platform or if you plan on descending after sunset.