Moanalua Valley to Haiku Stairs - Stairway to Heaven
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 exist! Therefore, we had chosen the more difficult and dangerous 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 of course, 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 trouble. We even saw a police helicopter while walking a part of the stairs.
Update Feb 2019: Don't even think of hiking up and down the Haiku Stairs. There is more security now and a regular police presence. Occasionally police helicopters check if people are on the stairs. A guide is not needed a good preparation for the Moanalua Track is relevant!
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. You can’t avoid getting dirty 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 the excellent view down the stairs? Read all our insights on how to be prepared and experience one of the most thrilling hikes ever.
Hiking Conditions and Crowds
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 difficult. Read on for detailed tips by season.
Spring (Low Season)
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. 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)
It’s drier but the humidity is higher, and it gets hot while hiking and climbing. If you can avoid, don’t travel to Oahu in July and August. Prices are at the highest and hotels are booked to capacity.
Autumn (Low Season)
Usually, September is the best month for the hike. 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 can’t recommend hiking in the rain.
Winter (Low and Peak Season)
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 at 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. 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 hotel rates are the highest.
The Haiku Stairs were on our bucket list for years. We just figured out it's illegal when we'd been in Oahu. That's the reason that we decided to hike the legal trail from the other side into Moanalua Valley. 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 finish for our journey.
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 in the night. 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; marked on google maps. The gate of the park closes at 7 pm. There are restrooms available.
The first part is an easy 4.5 km / almost 3 miles walk through the Moanalua Valley. Of course, it’s muddy and don’t try to avoid the mud. Get used to it; when you climb up, you get utterly dirty. 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. Follow the signs and pink ribbons on 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 both sides of the island. A break and a sandwich were necessary 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 to get forward due to the heavy wind. It’s the sheer drop on either side. It was challenging and strenuous to get to the summit. 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 patrol 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.
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 due to the unsafety and the "Friends of the Haiku Stairs" were formed. It's due to them that the stairs are in good shape and the trail is cleared. After 2000 the stairs got restored for almost 1 Million Dollar, 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 to get 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 to get this exceedingly high fine!
Soon after the highway the stairs and trail ends
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 in the morning just to avoid bumping into the security. There isn't any solution found for more than 30 years now. WHY?
What to Bring
- Enough energy food
- Minimum 3 liters of water for each hiker
- Rain and windproof jacket