Koko Crater: Mauka Side Rim Trail Ascend

In our quest to fully explore Koko Crater, we decided to ascend the mauka side of the crater rim. Mauka refers to an area toward the mountain, while makai refers to an area toward the ocean. If you remember, a few weeks ago Marvin and I did the makai side of the crater rim (see accompanying video). We started that off by trekking up the Koko Crater stairs trail and the descending down the makai side of the crater. It was a fun trail, with a few intense sections (narrow ridges) at the initial descent. The rest of that trail was pretty much a piece of cake.

The mauka side of the Koko Head crater rim is a different beast.

First of all, you will need to trespass in order to access the trail head. And speaking of the trail head, it’s more of a makeshift trail head. We actually parked across the street of the crater in a residential area (see directions below) and then hopped over a fence into the perimeter of the Koko Head botanical gardens. From there, you basically work your way up towards the crater. There are no ribbons, and the trail toward the crater isn’t really defined. Eventually, you will hit the lower portion of the mauka rim. Once you’re there, work your way up towards the crater lookout.

Earlier I mentioned that the mauka side is a different beast from the makai side. It really is. You’ll encounter not just narrow ridges but also sections of the trail that will involve some free climbing. See the video and photos below for some examples.

I have to say that I had a great time doing the mauka rim trail. The narrow sections and rock climbing made my heart pound while the sunset added that extra thrill of trying to finish before it became too dark. Speaking of the sunset, it made the entire trail that much more beautiful.

Koko Head Crater – Mauka Side Rim Trail Tips:

  • Start either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. There’s no shade so this trail will get hot. The experience will be better if you go when it’s cool.
  • You’ll encounter a lot of dry bush and cacti on the trail and because of this I suggest wearing a pair of long pants. I didn’t and therefore suffered a few scratches and cuts to my legs.
  • Allot yourself about 1.5 hours to do this trail. It will take about 30 minutes to get from your car and then work your way through the bushes towards the start of the crater rim trail. From there, it should take about an hour to reach the lookout point at the top of Koko Head Crater.
  • It would be useful to bring two cars, if not then you’ll end up walking some distance. If you want to go up the mauka side and then go down the stairs then I would suggest having someone park in the resident area for the trail head and then have someone else park at the bottom of the Koko Head Crater stairs. Alternatively, you can have the second car park at Sandy Beach if you decide to do the entire crater rim and go down the makai side. Or, to make this trail even more challenging, you can go down the same you went up. I’ve read that going down the mauka side is more difficult than going up it.
  • If you do decide to use just one car and decide to park in the residential then you will have to do some trespassing. Continue reading below below for more information.

The original plan was for us to do the entire crater rim – up mauka side and then down makai side. We ended up hitting the trail a bit later than expected and by the time we made it to the lookout the sun had pretty much set. So going down the other side of the rim was out of the question. Instead, we decided to go down the stairs and then walk back to the car located in Hawaii Kai Drive. And this is where things went from fun to sort of thrilling.

Going down the stairs was, by all accounts, standard fare. Except we did it in pitch dark. To help us make our way down we used both flashlights and headlamps. When we finally reached the bottom, we found ourselves in a slight dillema. The walk back to the car was pretty far. In fact, it would be a total of 2.5 miles from Koko Head District Park to Kekaa Street off of Hawaii Kai Drive (where we parked). Armed with the Maps app on my iPhone, we forged our own route that basically cut through Kaiser High School. To do this, you would theoretically (I say theoretically because, of course, we didn’t trespass and of course we turned around and walked back to the designated public route) need to follow the road to the right (rather than left) once you reach he bottom of the stairs. Follow the path far enough and you will reach the end of the paved road leading to a dirt path. This dirt path will lead you to a ditch located in the back of residential housing. From there, we theoretically followed the ditch until we theoretically reached a farm that was not gated, and one that we could cut through. We later found out that the farm was actually Otsuji Farms. Cut through the farm and you will reach a public road that theoretically led us to Kaiser High School. Sweet. We then theoretically cut through Kaiser High School and then theoretically found ourselves back on Lunalilo Home Road had we done this. It was a long walk to Hawaii Kai Drive, but the theoretical short cut made it a bit easier to tolerate. It was a mini adventure within an adventure.

Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, and Joel Sabugo.

Koko Crater Mauka Rim Panorama. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Coty relaxing and waiting for Joel and Marvin to work their way up. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Marvin prepped and ready to go with the GoPro. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You’ll see a lot of cacti as you work your way up the crater rim. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The journey up Koko Crater. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Ahnate’s chills in the Puka while Coty tries his best to be Spider-Man. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Ahnate and Coty hang on for dear life. Joel smiles for the camera. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Coty goes first. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The view form within the mauka rim side. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

The traditional OWLing post. Coty’s trademark. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Directions: To start on the Mauka side of Koko Crater, we parked on Kekaa Street. From Lunalilo Home Road, you will turn right onto Hawaii Kai Drive. Follow Hawaii Kai Drive and then you will turn left into Mokuhana Street and then make quick right on Kekaa Street. We parked along this street. Remember, this is a residential area so try and be as quiet and discreet as possible. Also, remember to park at least 5 feet from any driveways or your car may get towed.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

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