3 Stunning Oahu Crater Hikes — Easy, Medium, and Hard
Some of the most mind blowing hikes in Oahu are the ones where you get to hike up a dormant volcano and peer into the crater below. Here are 3 Oahu crater hikes for every level — all with insane views…
Fun facts about these crater hikes…
If you want to get real technical, these three aren’t technically volcanoes. They’re volcanic tuff cones. That’s means lava flowed into the Pacific Ocean, which created a steam explosion that sent ash and fine particles up into the air. When they settled on the ground, they eventually hardened and formed what we now know as Diamond Head, Koko Crater, and Ka’au Crater. Kinda cool, right?
Diamond Head, Koko Head Crater, and Punchbowl Crater were formed by a series of eruptions that probably happened over just a few days.
Distance: 1.6 mi roundtrip
Time Estimate: 1.5 - 2 hrs
Price: $5 entrance fee (free for Hawaii residents) and $10 parking fee (also free for Hawaii residents)
Diamond Head is one of the most popular hikes in Hawaii and one of the most recognizable landmarks in Oahu. It’s easy to get to, easy to navigate, won’t take up your whole day, and it’s close to Waikiki. The trail is well maintained and aside from a couple steep parts, overall it’s pretty laid back.
Everyone’s here for the sweeping views from the top — Honolulu to your right, Koko Head Crater to your left, and endless Pacific Ocean. As you hike up higher and higher, you’ll have a good view of the crater that was formed about 300,000 years ago during a single, explosive eruption. You’ll see remnants of how the military used it to defend Oahu’s southern shores during WW2 as you walk through dimly lit underground tunnels and bunkers. It became a National Natural Landmark in 1968.
The only catch is that with its popularity comes big crowds for most of the day, so try to get there as early as possible to avoid the rush (and the heat).
The KCC Farmers Market is right across the street every Saturday morning. Stop by for Local coffee, tropical fruit, mac nuts, honey, and chocolate along with plate lunches, mochi, and local restaurant pop ups.
What to pack:
You don’t need much. Water, sunscreen, good walking shoes, and a hat should do.
Here’s everything you want to know before hiking Diamond Head.
Distance: 1.8 mi roundtrip
Time Estimate: Plan at least 30-45 minutes to get to the top
Koko Crater is short, but intense. From the base of the trail, you’ll climb 1048 steps up a dormant volcano — and a good bit of it (especially the last part) feels like you’re hiking straight up. There's about 1 foot of elevation for every 2 feet of distance. That's what makes it so brutal. The steps are actually old railroad ties from WW2 when the military built a railway to bring supplies to the military bunkers at the top.
It’s not hard to navigate because it’s a straight shot from the bottom to the top. When you reach the summit, the first thing you’ll notice is exhausted hikers, sprawled out on the ground trying to catch their breath. Luckily there’s a nice breeze up there. Go a couple steps further and take in the sweeping views of the eastern coastline below. You’ll be able to see the Honolulu skyline, Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, Sandy Beach, and Makapu’u Lighthouse. You’ve also got a bird’s eye view of Koko Crater Botanical Garden.
It can be crowded any time of day. Even if you get there before sunset, you probably won’t be alone.
Find the wooden prayer box at the top of the hike. It’s tucked away in a tree, just behind the graffitied military bunker. There’s a pencil case and papers attached so you write your own and leave it in the locked box.
This is also one of the most beautiful sunrise hikes (plus you’ll beat the heat the earlier you go). Start about an hour before sunrise and bring a headlamp. FYI that if you get there before sunrise, the gate to the parking lot may be closed. Just park nearby, and walk the rest of the way.
The hike is steepest after the bridge.
What to pack:
Hiking boots or sneakers. Something with good traction.
Sunscreen and a hat. There’s not much shade.
Water Bottle. The hike is short, but strenuous.
A headlamp if you want to make it to the summit in time to catch the sunrise. You might drain your phone battery if you use it as a flashlight and you’ll need 2 hands to make it across the bridge.
A backpack is handy. Especially if you're carrying a water bottle or decide to strip off some layers as you climb. There are a couple spots where it's nice to have both hands free.
Here’s everything you want to know before hiking Koko Crater Trail.
Difficulty: Intermediate / Advanced
Distance: About 5 miles roundtrip
Time Estimate: About 5-6 hrs
Ka’au Crater is the least known of Oahu’s crater hikes, but the most beautiful. It takes you through lush rainforest, past 3 waterfalls, and along the ridge of a huge crater with one of the most insane views on the island. Here you’ll mostly find locals and serious hikers only so it still feels undiscovered.
Heads up, this is not an easy hike. It’ll take about 5-6 hours and you’ll navigate several advanced parts (like a steep rope climb up the side of a waterfall) with slippery rocks and muddy inclines. But the upside to that is that it deters tourists and there are zero crowds here. Plus, the views are unmatched.
For the ascent up to the ridgeline, you’ll actually climb up the side of a waterfall with ropes, and from the top you can peer into the crater and the marsh below. The panoramic view is incredible — misty mountains, Diamond Head, Kaneohe Sandbar, the Honolulu skyline, and the Windward Coast.
This hike is unreal — partly because it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Oahu and partly because you feel like you have it all to yourself while you’re there.
This is not for novice hikers. There’s 1942 ft elevation gain. It’s a wet, muddy trail with steep ascents and descents — some of which you’ll use ropes to climb. There are also some narrow ridges.
You could make this a beginner hike by heading back after reaching the 1st waterfall, but hiking along the ridgeline and to the summit is advanced and should only be attempted by experienced hikers.
Don’t half ass this one or attempt the full hike unless you’re an experienced hiker and have really looked into everything about the trail before you go. Plenty of people have been airlifted out of here.
What to pack:
Good hiking shoes with great tread. Ones that you don’t mind getting real muddy. (Opt for hiking shoes over sneakers.)
A change of clothes for after the hike and a garbage bag to throw your wet / muddy stuff in.
Lots of water. At least 2-3 liters. Bring more than you think you’ll need. A Camelbak is helpful if you have one.
Lunch and snacks. Energy snacks like power bars, nuts, etc. are good.
Wear long pants so your legs don’t get scratched up by low lying shrubs.
Download the map from AllTrails so you have access to it when you’re offline. The trail isn’t clearly marked so the offline map will help keep you on track. (Head’s up, you’ll need the paid version of AllTrails for this.)
Hiking backpack. You’ll need free hands at several points.
The Honolulu Fire Department recommends bringing a cell phone with a full battery and an external charger just in case.
Here’s everything you need to know before hiking Ka’au Crater, including our step-by-step guide to navigating the trail.