Moanalua Valley to Haiku Stairs - Stairway to Heaven
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First of all, hiking on the Haiku Stairs is illegal, and the stairs are officially closed! A $1000 fine and an appearance in court was something we wanted to circumvent. This fine really exists! Therefore, we had chosen the more difficult and challenging trail through the Moanalua Valley. However, even trespassing the Haiku Stairs will be prosecuted, but usually, there isn't any police at the top. And obviously, when you reach the popular stairs, you want to access them and take the best snap of your whole vacation. We only recommend to hike up and down the legal way. Otherwise, you may get into serious trouble. We even saw a police helicopter while walking a part of the stairs.
Update March 2020: Hiking up and down the Haiku Stairs is still illegal. There is more security now and a regular police presence. Occasionally police helicopters check if people are on the stairs. The only way not running into police and to avoid this $1.000 fine is the legal way on the Moanalua Track. A guide is not necessary, but good preparation for the Moanalua Track is relevant! Check out our Packing List below.
Most important for the hike is the weather. Pick out the day with the most stable weather and if it was dry the day before even better. Although Honolulu is dry rain may occur in the valley and on the ridge. The weather is more changeable, the higher you get. You can’t avoid getting muddy brown-red on this adventurous path. Don’t underestimate the trail difficulties. Much needed for the steep ascent and descent back through muddy and slippery soil are “mini” crampons. If you want to use the provided ropes gloves may be necessary, too. Do you like to do the hike and see these excellent views down the stairs? Then read all our insights on how to be prepared and experience one of the most thrilling hikes in your life.
Hiking Conditions and Crowds on Oahu - Hawaii
The Moanalua Valley, especially the ridge to the Keahiakahoe summit and also the Haiku Stairs, experience a lot of rain even during the drier season in summer. The exhausting hike can be done all year, but it’s easier to cope with all difficulties in the drier season. There is often a strong wind and fog, which makes hiking along the ridge more challenging. Read on for detailed tips by season.
Spring (Low Season; March-mid-June)
It starts to get drier, but the trail is still extremely muddy and slippery. The Moanalua stream may have low flow and fording or hopping from stone to stone is necessary a couple of times. This improves in June, and the stream may be dried out. This is what we experienced. The temp along the trail is above 70°F, but it gets chilly on the ridge and the top due to the strong wind. The islands are not much crowded in spring. It starts to get busier in June, but still acceptable. June is one of the best months for this hike. Nevertheless, always check the weather forecast before; flooding can happen.
Summer (Peak Season; late June-August)
It’s drier, but the humidity is higher. It gets hot while hiking and climbing and you may sweat a lot. If possible don’t travel to Oahu in July and August. Prices are at the highest and hotels are booked to capacity.
Autumn (Low Season; September-November)
Usually, September is also one of the best months for this adventure. The stream may be dried out, and it’s easy to walk the first 2.8 miles / 4.5 km. It’s less busy on the island, and the temps are pleasant. October is fine as well. November gets wetter, and trail conditions are getting worse. Monitor the clouds on the mountain ridge. It may be possible to hike, but it’s even more difficult and dangerous in rain and clouds. We don't recommend hiking in the rain.
Winter (Shoulder and Peak Season; December-February)
Expect more rain during the winter. It’s more likely that the Moanalua stream gets flooded. The north and east experience more rainfall. It’s the coldest time of the year but still up to 80°F in Honolulu in the daytime. It's possible to hike the trail but expect the worst conditions when climbing up. The way back is even more slippery than usual. Again: don't hike in rain and clouds!! The first part of December is still not too busy, but it gets crowded from the second half of December and in January. Although it’s not the best time for Hawaii hotels are fully booked, and the sky is the limit for hotel rates. In February crowds improve but still busy.
The Haiku Stairs were on our bucket list for years. We just figured out it's illegal when we were in Oahu. That's the reason that we decided to hike the legal trail from the other side into Moanalua Valley and up to the Haiku Stairs. Overall we can't understand that the risky trail is legal although the Haiku Stairs are so much safer. People get forced to risk their lives on this trail. However, it was a difficult and thrilling trip and an outstanding end of our journey.
Trail Description the Legal Way and Parking
We spent a week in Oahu in June, and our main target was this once in a lifetime adventure. The last day of our week on the island was the first without too many clouds, and it was dry the night before. The more it rains before, the muddier and slipperier is the trail. We started the hike already at 7 am. We parked the car in the neighborhood before the park gate. There is a parking lot in the Neighborhood Park; Google Maps Link. The gate of the park closes at 7 pm. There are restrooms available. Start early and hike safely; take all the time you need!
The first part is an easy 4.5 km / almost 3 miles walk through the Moanalua Valley. Of course, it’s muddy, so don’t try to avoid getting dirty. Get used to it; when you climb up, you will have mud aömost everywhere except it was dry for a couple of days. When you reach the Kulana’ahane Trail sign, don't follow it. Walk a few more seconds and have a look to the left for a sprayed "H" in green on a tree. Follow the signs and pink ribbons on the branches. Using Locus Pro or any other app on your mobile is pretty helpful.
We took out our crampons and were glad we bought them in Honolulu. Without them, it’s even more challenging and dangerous to get up with such muddy and slippery soil. The landscape and views are awesome. You hike to different microclimates with native plants. In the first part, you are protected by trees and bushes. Ropes are provided in the most challenging parts. We didn’t trust them too much, although sometimes you can’t get up without them. When you reach the ridge, the views are spectacular – mind-blowing. We could see the ocean on either side of the island. A break and a sandwich were necessary to recharge the batteries and to continue the strenuous hike.
The exposed ridge is nothing for people with a fear of heights and also not for children. You should be an experienced hiker, especially in strong winds. Sometimes there are ropes provided but not often. We almost crawled along the ridge to get forward due to the heavy wind. It’s a sheer drop on either side. It was challenging and strenuous to get to the summit but worth all the effort. We were relieved when we finally saw the radio antennae. It took us 4 hours, 8.4 km / 5.2 miles, 890 m / 2.920 feet in elevation to reach the top. The summit was covered in clouds when we arrived. We met two guys from Miami and an elderly hiker from the Haiku neighborhood. All of them hiked along the stairs up and down.
We walked several hundred meters on the stairs and met a party of ten or more people with Mike K, who is offering this hike guided each week. He approved that the police patrols the roads frequently. A helicopter came along and circled all of us. It was time to go back to the top and the Moanalua Valley Trail to our car. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely, and we would do it immediately again!
The Condition and the Situation of the Stairs
The Haiku Stairs, nowadays a steel staircase of 3.992 steps, were constructed from wood during WWII in 1942. Later on, it was used as a hiking trail. The stairs got closed in 1987 because of the unsafety. The reason that the "Friends of the Haiku Stairs" were formed. Due to their efforts, the stairs are in good shape, and the trail is cleared. After 2000 the stairs got restored for almost 1 Million Dollars, but the stairs have been closed ever since. A landslide in 2015 damaged a tiny passage of the stairs. This part is tricky to walk but manageable. Passing other hikers is difficult, but no one worries about getting close to each other. We asked ourselves why hikers get forced to break the law. If the roads to the trailhead of the stairs are closed, people walk through the gardens of the neighborhood. Avoid this, and don't risk getting this exceedingly high fine! It is often mentioned walk back the "Stairway to Heaven" through the dark bamboo forest, but when you leave this forest you are still on private land. I am pretty sure the police know this forest as well.
A permit system and a high fee could regulate the number of hikers. Instead, people climb the risky trail from the other side as we did. Hikers start to climb the stairs already at 2 am just to avoid bumping into the security. There isn't any solution found for more than 30 years now. WHY?
- Crampons - otherwise, the soil is too muddy and slippery on the steeper parts.
Tip: The outdoor shop in Oahu sells crampons for hiking. They are usually used in snow and ice.
- Gloves - for more grip and to protect your hands while holding the ropes
- Carry an additional shirt during winter - it's cold on the summit and you may like to change the wet one
- Plenty of energy food - the hike is long and strenuous
- Minimum 3 liters of water for each hiker - you will sweat a lot
- Rain and windproof jacket - weather can change quickly especially in higher elevation
- A good camera - for your most thrilling adventure