Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail on Oahu

Ka‘au Crater panoramic view
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Hiking the Ka’au Crater Trail on Oahu

Ka’au Crater Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu. Known for its spectacular views and challenging route, this is a favorite among visitors and residents alike. 

Those views are hard-earned, though, because the Ka‘au Loop Trail is every bit as dangerous as it is beautiful. But for the capable and prepared, its rewards are profound.

Ka’au Crater Quick Facts

Here are the most important details you’ll need to know about this Oahu Hike. 

Distance: 4.5 mile loop

Elevation Gain: 1,866 feet

Location: Southeast Oahu in the Palolo Valley 

Difficulty Level: Hard

Safety on the Ka’au Crater Trail

People have sadly died on Ka’au Crater Trail. There are steep, rocky, and perilously slick sections of the trail. 

It’s common to hear news stories of stranded hikers being plucked from the trail by a Honolulu Fire Department aerial rescue helicopter.

Ka’au Crater hike is not for novices. Those who find themselves in trouble on the Ka‘au Loop Trail are most often inexperienced and unprepared.

There are many hikes across Oahu for all levels, so skip this one if you have any doubts about your experience or abilities. 

If you do decide to take on this trek, have a route planned and pay attention to trail markers. As with many trails all over Hawaii, it’s easy to get lost. The best bet is to go with someone who knows the trail.

If hiking the Ka’au Crater isn’t for you, check out these two easy Oahu hikes here

What to Expect

The trail takes hikers past three cascading waterfalls. It features rope climbs and requires the sure-footedness of experienced trail seekers (or perhaps a mountain goat). 

It also runs along the rim of Ka‘au Crater and offers a bewildering, panoramic view of Windward and Central Oahu, all the way out to the Waianae Mountains on the western coast. 

The trail is nearly five miles long, steep and slippery up the three waterfalls. The ropes are there for a reason. Many sections of the route – up the waterfalls and along the crater rim – are queasily precipitous and require careful attention. 

Ka‘au Crater waterfall, close up

For those planning to hike the entire trail, plan on six hours start-to-finish. 

The views along the trail are unparalleled, and anyone who hikes it will want to take pictures. We recommend sticking with your phone’s camera. That new DSLR camera swinging from your neck will only be in the way. 

The Story of Ka’au Crater

According to Hawaiian legend, Ka‘au Crater was formed when the demigod Maui tried and failed to turn the islands of Oahu and Kauai into a single landmass by dragging them together with a hook and line (Maui is said to have pulled the islands from the sea the same way). The line snapped, but Ka‘au Crater is where Maui’s hook landed.

Final Words About Your Kaau Hike

As with any hiking excursion, bring a buddy and let someone know when and where you’re going. That cell phone in your pocket or pack could end up being a lifeline. 

Bring plenty of water, and pack some snacks if you plan on doing the entire five miles of the trail. And pack out what you pack in.

It’s hard, hungry work, the Ka‘au Crater Loop Trail. And it’s worth every step.