Ka'au Crater Hike: Oahu's Best Hike in 2021? (Photos)
Oahu, Hawaii is blessed with beautiful beaches, exotic food offerings, and excellent hiking. The later is one of the best reasons to visit Hawaii but unfortunately most don’t get out to explore more of the islands gems. If you’ve already tackled the big 3 and are looking for a memorable challenge, (Diamond Head, Koko Head, Lanikai Pillboxes) test your island courage at the Ka’au Crater Hike.
Ka'Au Crater Hike Disclaimer - PLEASE READ
This hike is not easy by any means. This hike should only be done by experienced hikers. It’s VERY EASY to slip or take one wrong step and pay for it. This is just a forewarning as the terrain can be extremely tough at times dependent on weather conditions. Now with that out of the way, here is an introduction to the Ka’au Crater Hike.
Ka'au Crater Hike Parking + Directions
Getting here is fairly easy if you have a car. It’s about a 20 minute drive or so from Chinatown. Parking for this hike is very limited. I mean VERY limited. There are only about 8 spots near the trail-head in an already squeezed residential area. If you can go, go midweek or early weekend mornings. Another option is to park lower in the area and walk up or taxi. The walk up wouldn’t be ideal as it’s
Ka'Au Crater Hike Trailhead
Starting the hike is a breeze. The trail-head is well marked and as many folks know, knowing whether or not you’re on the right trail is a headache. Just follow the signs and you’re golden pony boy.
Hike to First Waterfall
The first section of the hike is pretty easy and scenic. You’re immediately thrown into a lush, tropical setting and begin to meander upstream until you make a few stream crosses. I can remember saying to AJ a few minutes into the hike that this was already one of the coolest things I had done. The beginning section to waterfall one should take roughly 30 minutes. The trail will slightly gain in elevation while cruising mid ridge line of the mountain.
Waterfall one definitely is the best area to swim in and has a lovely canopy of bamboo that is nice to enjoy while wading in the water.
Hike to Waterfall Two
As lovely as waterfall one is, you gotta keep your feet moving on to bigger and better things. The next section of hiking leads you higher into the mountain range and takes you directly above waterfall one. The immediate departure is straight up with a rope but fairly basic. As always be cautious as a slip could be bad news bears.
If you forgot to pack food or some type of snack don’t worry! This hike has an abundance of guava ready to be consumed. At the base of waterfall one you will really notice but along the stream to waterfall 2 is a plethora of availability.
Third Waterfall of the Hike
The trail elevates quickly here to the right like one 1 to 2 but provides a rope to safely scale the hill. It’s an easy climb but does have its steepness too it. At this point in the hike we were mid hill when 2 people got air evacuated above us. Keep on till you reach the third waterfall.
Upon arrival the third waterfall you probably wont think much of it after seeing one and two. Don’t be fooled. This one is no joke. Unlike waterfall one and two, waterfall three doesn’t have much of a swimming section.
Scaling the Falls
This is where the hike REALLY starts. Everything before has been pretty easy and scenic but this is when the dial starts to turn. As stated above, the waterfall doesn’t look like much and not that scenic. Everything changes once you start scaling the roped rocks adjacent to the waterfall.
As you quickly move up the side of the waterfall you see that this point this flowing water stream doesn’t just stop where your eyes initially thought. Keep scaling, cross the stream, and scale more. This will last for awhile. Probably 20 minutes or so, depending on stream flow and slickness of rocks/ your climbing ability.
Reaching the Crater
Finally. After your ascent up the never ending waterfall, you have finally made it to the crater! You have 2 options here. Go right and scale the crater from the eastward route (correct way) or go left and loop like we did.
Whether you go right or left, you are going to end at the same spot. For the sake of what we did and your experience, you will go left and cut through a heavily brushed trail for about 15 minutes until you reach a major electric tower (excellent stopping and scenic spot).
Ridgeline Hiking to the Summit
Keep on and get ready for swampy and TOUGH TERRAIN. This is not easy by any means. The ridge is narrow, steep and for us, mudd. Good gripped shoes is a good idea for this section. Some sections of this part can be fatal as a slip or wrong footing could send you over the ridge into the crater or down the other side of the crater.
Stay at a comfortable and safe pace and focus on your next step/hand hold as most the time you will be in a 4 point stance. I can say at some points of this section I had my doubts. If you are in doubt stop and enjoy the scenery and recharge the batteries. The views from here are spectacular
Reaching the Summit
Reaching the unofficial top is a blessing. Perusing what you just scaled to get to this point and even further below is truly something. Our summit experience was interesting. We had brief moments of clear clouds behind us looking out to Wailua that was breathtaking and the majority of the remaining time was lost in the clouds.
This was my favorite part of the hike as the clouds opened up allowing us crater and distant city views. Maybe it was my favorite since I remember for a minute thinking I wasn’t going to make it up the opposite ridge line too. This section is also VERY STEEP with ropes tethered for most of the way down. If the ropes didn’t exist, this wouldn’t be possible.
With the right conditions, this is one of the best spots on the hike to capture photos as the perspective from here is stunning. Whatever your pace is going down this section you will eventually wind up to the fork above the waterfall where you meet the crater.
Back to Crater Split
The correct route is to continue straight and find the trail that leads down the mountain (Not sure where this is as we went back down the original trail that we entered on as we didn’t know.) I think this would have made this hike tremendously easier on the way down as all of us were gassed. And descending the third waterfall after 5 hours of hiking is not the ideal scenario.
Although our route was not the EXACT route it was close enough and memorable. I think any of you who are looking for one of Oahu’s best hikes need to give this one a go.
Ka'au Crater Hike FAQ
The Ka’au Crater Hike is a 7.3-mile round trip hike.
There are 3 waterfalls on the Ka’au Crater trail!
You can find the Ka’au crater at 3000 10th Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816. This is a residential area in Oahu’s foothills.
The Ka’au Crater Hike is only one of the many gems that Oahu has to offer. If you need more ideas on hikes Kimo has tons of options on his page or if you are heading to the North Shore you can check my 5 North Shore Stops You Want to Make
Have you done this hike before? Want to go hiking? Let me know!