Ka’au Crater Trail: Lots of Mud and Three Beautiful Waterfalls

Note: Kaau Crater trail is a closed trail and is not open to the public. As our disclaimer partially reads: “I’m not your daddy, these are dangerous as sh*t hikes, even the simple ones, if you got [insert applicable disorder, disease, or physical impairment] don’t even think about it yo.” Also, consider these tips on Hiking Safely In Hawaii. Mahalo.

My regular hiking buddy, Joel, was the one that first told me about the Ka’au Crater Trail. With the Bowman to Haiku Stairs Trail on my mind (this was before we proceded with the Bowman to Haiku Trail), I wasn’t really interested in this hike. However, he sold me when he said that if we complete this hike then we would have completed all three of the volcanic craters on the island of Oahu. Cool – I was in.

Now, for the uninitiated, the other two volcanic craters on Oahu are Diamond Head (a tourist trap with a great view of Waikiki) and Koko Head Crater (a great place to get a good cardio workout – who needs an elliptical when you’ve got a crater to climb). Diamond Head is quite easy on the hiking scale (I could run up this trail if I wanted). Koko Head, on the other hand, is a bit more strenuous for those who do not regularly spend 30-45 minutes at a time traversing a set of 1,048 vertical steps. I’ve become quite adept to Koko Head – I did it a few times this past June for fun trying to cut my time up the crater down to a respectable 30 minutes. With that in mind, I gave no thought to Ka’au Crater – it would be another easy crater hike.

Man was I wrong.

Ka’au Crater is a different kind of beast. It’s muddy as hell and it’s wet as hell. It would be useful to wear a pair of waterproof shoes (I myself have a great pair of Merrell Chameleon 3 Ventilator GORE-TEX Hiking Shoes that work like a charm).

Kapu refers to the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. In this case, it means keep the fuck out. And it makes you want to go on the trail even more!

Once you reach the bottom, it will seem as if you’ve just been transported to some mythical land with elves – it’s pretty awesome. The trail is actually maintained quite well, with clear paths and ribbons to follow and guide you. From the start you will be following the Wai’oma’o Stream. Eventually, you will encounter a pipe. This pipe is maintained by the Board of Water Supply. The trail just got a whole lot easier because now all you need to do is follow the pipe and it will lead you to the first major waterfall of Ka’au Crater.

This is what you’ll see when you start your journey through this lush trail.

From memory, I believe it took us about 2 hours to get to the first waterfall. It’s a beautiful sight. From there you will climb rope up to the second waterfall which is not too far away – maybe about 10-15 minutes from the first waterfall. Enjoy the second waterfall because this is now where things will get a bit hairy. In order to get to the third waterfall you will need to climb up the left side of the second waterfall. You will see rope that you will need to climb. This ascent is again very wet so be careful. And if you thought that was tricky, you will then be forced to make a decision – traverse a dangerous portion near the top of the second waterfall of pass on seeing the third waterfall and the top of the crater. The dangerous portion that I speak of is a part of the trail in which you’re basically clinging to the side of the crater and stepping on exposed tree root – there is no trail here you just need to attempt to cross this portion. There is rope to assist but again, you’re clinging to the side of the mountain. If you fall, you will tumblr straight down the second waterfall – not fun at all.

View of the first waterfall.

This is Joel enjoying the majestic first waterfall.

We encountered this Hawaiian Frog at the first waterfall.

This is the most dangerous part of the trail. The trail here is broken and so you’ll need to cling to the side of the second waterfall to get to the other side. If you fall here then you will tumble straight down the second waterfall.

If you made it pass the second waterfall – awesome! The third waterfall is not very far. Unfortunately for us, when we reached the third waterfall, Mother Nature decided to shower us with heavy rains. Bummer. Because of this, we weren’t able to climb up the third waterfall to the summit of Ka’au Crater. We’ll save that for another day and another post. Anyway, at this point, we were pretty worried. It had begun to rain heavily and so we would no have to do the two aforementioned tricky climbs now with the element of rain pouring down.

Fortunately for us, we made it out. When you’re faced with a tough situation you just need to push through, and that’s what we did. It took us a good 5 hours to finish this hike. I will again repeat that Ka’au Crater is a different beast when compared to the other two craters on Oahu. However, if you do decide to do this one, you will be treated with three amazing waterfalls and a very lush scenery. Would I do this hike again to reach the summit? Hell yes.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii, Blogger, Hiker, Foodie, Apple Aficionado, T-Shirt Enthusiast, Psychologist, and Rogue Scientist.


  1. Is it okay to do a trail on private roads? I want to do this hike on my trip to hawaii soon but i am concerned that we may get in trouble for doing this hike. do you think two tourists will draw too much attention?

    • Hey AM, there are to trailheads. One is accessible via the private road. If you look at the last photo of me, in the background you see the mailboxes and the road going beyond those mailboxes – that road is private. The road that I am standing on is public. The trailhead that I used was located right behind those mailboxes – it’s nicknamed the Rabbit Hole because it’s a steep and slippery descent (but with rope to help you). This trailhead should be fine. Maybe try and go when none of the residents are out and about. Be discreet about it. However, do keep in mind that this is a closed trail. With that said, there are a handful of people that hike this trail on a weekly basis.

  2. I completed the kau crater trail with george,calin,and terry selig a spokeman for fire department and a resident on that private road; there were 7 waterfalls to climb to get kau crater.the crater reminded us the movie african queen.I did not feel safe going back down the waterfalls terry recommended.we agreed on walking around the rim of the crater to the summit. we basically mabe our own trail throug the thick vegetation.we went across the top and came down saint louis heights trail.Bruce

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