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. Therefore, we had chosen the more difficult and dangerous trail through the Moanalua Valley. Anyhow, even trespassing will be prosecuted. Of course, when you reach the Haiku Stairs, you want to access them and take the best snap of your whole vacation.
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 trail. 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. Do you like to do to the hike? Read all our insights first 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 dangerous. 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 a low flow and fording or hopping from stone to stone is necessary a couple of times. This improves in June. Temps 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)
September is usually 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.
We spent a week in Oahu in June, and our main target was this once in a lifetime hike. The last day 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 outside in the neighborhood, not in the recreation park. Marked on google maps is the recreational park. The gate of the park closes at 7 pm. There are restrooms in the park. The first part is an easy 4.5 km / almost 3 miles hike through the Moanalua Valley. Of course, it’s muddy and don’t try to avoid it. Get used to it because 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.
We took out our crampons, and we were glad we bought them in Honolulu. Without them, it’s even more challenging and dangerous to get up with such a muddy and slippery soil. The landscape is awesome. You hike to different microclimates with native plants. In the first part, you are protected by trees and bushes. Ropes are provided at 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 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. You should be an experienced hiker, especially in strong winds. Sometimes there are ropes provided but not often. We almost crawled to get forward. It’s the sheer drop on either side. My husband turned his ankle. Now it was even more challenging 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. We met two guys from Miami and an elderly hiker from the Haiku neighborhood. They suggested going the stairs down, taking uber to get back to the car and not the dangerous trail back. It took us a while until we decided it might be better for his ankle.
On the way down we met a party of ten or more people and Mike K who is offering this hike guided each week. He told us we have to be careful not to get caught by the police. They patrol the roads frequently. A helicopter came along and circled all of us. We were not prepared for the Haiku Stairs. We decided to wait until someone gets back from this trip. It took us more than an hour until a nice Canadian guy came back the stairs. He was so kind he even offered us a lift back to our car. He was prepared and had known a way out. It's also a matter of luck that all of us didn't get a ticket.
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 very small 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. A permit system and a high fee could regulate the number of hikers. Instead, people climb the risky trail from the other side like we did. People start the hike at the stairs 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