Ever since we saw photos of the Haiku Stairs, it found its way to the very top of our bucket list. I have seen many articles about debates regarding removing the stairs. Whether that will happen or not, we knew that we needed to go and see it for ourselves.
Moanalua Valley Middle Ridge is the legal back way to go to the top of Haiku Stairs. Keep in mind, it is illegal to be on Haiku Stairs, so proceed at your own risk. You can check out a quick history about the Haiku Stairs here.
Since the trailhead for Moanalua Valley Middle Ridge is about an hour from our Airbnb in North Shore, we got up at 4 AM to get an early start. It’s best to get your hike in early since it is a long hike, and it can get very warm. Also, you definitely don’t want to get caught in the dark on your way back.
The trail can get very muddy and slippery if there has been recent rain. Exposed tree roots and crazy winds can make this hike very dangerous. For a big portion of the hike, you will be walking on an exposed ridgeline at least 1000 ft high and about 2 feet wide, so be careful and take your time. It is a long hike. It took us 10.5 hours total from start to finish. Of course, we were a lot slower since we took our time to take lots of photos. However, the average is from 8-10 hours so plan accordingly. Crampons (metal spikes that attach to your shoes) are definitely recommended. You won’t need them as much on the way up, although, they’ll make the scrambling up a lot easier. On the way down, especially when the trail is wet, those crampons are a godsend! You don’t need expensive ones. We bought ours for less than $20 and they worked perfectly.
Where: Moanalua Valley Park – 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, HI 96819
Hours: 7am – 7pm
Distance: 10 miles R.T.
Elevation: 2585 ft
Ideal Weather: Calm wind, sunny days. Don’t go if there’s rain the day before. The trail would be very muddy and slippery. Wind can be a big factor since you will be on an exposed ridgeline while in the valley.
The trail starts at the Moanalua Valley Park. The parking for the trailhead is at the end of the road. It is limited parking, so either go early or park outside. Make sure you obey all the street signs and be respectful to the residents. You will see basketball courts on the left and restrooms on your right.
After you park, head toward the trail that is going up the hill. After a 1/4 mile or so, you’ll see a green gate. This is the start of the trail. The first 2.5 miles are fairly straightforward and mostly flat, with the elevation gain of about 400 ft. The path is wide. All the forks on the road will all come back to the same main trail, so don’t worry about getting lost. You will go over a few concrete slabs, crossing over the river bed. From the time you start to the Middle Ridge Trailhead, there should be about 17 water crossings. Watch your step, they are slippery and quite deep. Try to keep your shoes from getting wet as much as possible. It is a long hike already, without having wet shoes. Our shoes got wet on the way back and it was a pretty miserable experience!
You will make your way through a dense, overgrown forest area before getting back on the main trail, right before the Kulana’ahane Trail sign on the left. I kind of lost count of the crossings as we went on. It is easier for me to estimate the miles and pay attention for the sign for Kulana’ahane Trail (note: DO NOT take this trail!!). Instead, walk another 15 feet further, and you’ll see a small, unsigned trail on your left-hand side. DON’T FORGET TO WALK THAT EXTRA 15 FT TO THE UNMARKED TRAIL. Although small and unmarked, it’s an obvious trail (there should be a pink ribbon on a tree). You will cross the stream bed immediately. After you cross, there is a tree branch that curves over the trail with the word “Middle Ridge” engraved on it. You can start putting on your crampons at this point, as elevation gain starts here. We opted to use our crampons later on since there are a lot of exposed tree roots along the trail.
The first mile of this trail has about 1100 ft gain in elevation and is mainly through trees. There are a lot of exposed tree roots on this trail so again, make sure you watch your footing as tripping is the biggest risk as you climb. Since you have shelter between the trees for this part, the wind won’t be a big issue. However, the second mile of this hike climbs another 950 ft or so in elevation and is far more exposed, with sharp drop-offs on both sides. We were lucky that the trail was fairly dry even though it rained a few days before. However, the wind picked up tremendously, which added to the difficulty and risk to the hike. There were a couple of occasions where Dustin had to grab on to my Camelback just to make sure that I didn’t blow off the side, one of the fun things of being 5ft tall … Just make sure you take your time and watch where you’re going, you’ll be fine.
Along the trail, there are ropes to help with the steeper hills. Don’t forget to bring your gloves! These ropes are extremely helpful, especially on your way down, or when the trail is even the slightest bit muddy or wet. Don’t forget to wear your crampons at this point. They will save your life. On the way back, we got caught in the rain. The trail got very slippery. We were definitely thankful for those crampons.
Once you get to the peak of the Middle Ridge Trail, you’ll see the Haiku Stairs radio tower opening up to your left. There’s a short, rusty metal pole (pictured) with a ribbon wrapped around it to mark the end of the Moanalua Valley Ridge Trail. The total hike is about 5.2 miles with about 2500 ft elevation with most of the gain starting at the last 2 miles. From here, it is another 0.5 mile to go to the radio tower. This 0.5 mile is a whole other challenge and is very deceiving. This short trail is a lot muddier and much more slippery with more exposed roots as well. On top of it, there are several inclines and declines with poor footing. There are also more ropes, which was significantly helpful to get down or up some of the slopes. Make sure you watch your step. A few hundred yards from the radio tower, the trail eases up and you will begin to see the breathtaking panoramic views over Honolulu and Southern Oahu.
When we arrived at the radio tower, there was already a small group of people on top of the building, enjoying lunch and the gorgeous view. We figured we would join them. We both have some rock climbing experience and it certainly came in handy! If you choose to head up to the roof, the easiest way that we found is to climb up using the window. It can be a little bit sketchy and awkward, so having someone to spot you might not be a horrible idea. It also helps if you’re taller than 5 ft. The view from the tower is spectacular. This is the best spot to enjoy your delicious lunch and take a break. The hike down the Stairway to Heaven is illegal and subject to fine.
Being such a huge item on both of our bucket lists, we couldn’t help but go down a couple flights of the stairs. I can see why they don’t want people on the stairs. The steps are rickety and very narrow. If you decide to go down the stairs PLEASE be careful. We decided not to go any further than the first concrete building. Here are some pictures we took from the stairs. Do NOT take this route back. Make sure to go back the way you came from.
The way back was very challenging. If you think climbing up is tricky, you are going to be tested on the way down. Once again, PUT ON YOUR CRAMPONS! We saw several people that didn’t have the crampons struggling on their way back down. Luckily most of the very challenging hills on the way down have ropes. Be mindful when using these ropes though, since you don’t know what condition they are in. Also, try not to step on the large roots when you have your crampons on. It will not provide any extra traction and can, in fact, be a little more slippery at times. The weather can change very quickly on the trail. We were at the bottom of the first large hill when we saw what appeared to be fog rolling into the canyon like a huge wave. We knew that it might make the way down more challenging, but it was so beautiful that we couldn’t help but take a second to watch it engulf the canyon. Little did we know, the fog brought over rain and even stronger winds. But for some reason, we were both ok with it! Our Patagonia Houdini windbreakers were an awesome investment for this type of trail and weather. They weigh almost nothing and kept us dry from the constant wind and pouring rain. It wasn’t until we reached the trees at the bottom half of the trail, that we had any type of semi-dry ground or shelter from the elements. Once you get back down to the main flat trail, you’re not done yet. You still have to walk another 2.5 miles until you reach the parking lot. This last part is so much easier since it is mostly flat. However, since we were both tired, it felt like an eternity, especially in wet shoes. Yet, we would gladly do this amazing hike again in a heartbeat. Maybe after a big warm bowl of ramen and a good night sleep, though. If you’re up for other adventures in Oahu, check out our blogs on Makapu’u Tide Pools, Lulumahu Falls, Kaena Point Hike, or Sunrise at Lanikai Pillbox,
Don’t forget to check out our Recommended Gear section as well.
we use the Springk traction cleats.
• Windbreaker or light rain jacket.
It gets windy up there. We both had our Patagonia Houdini Windbreakers. They worked great. They weight almost nothing and can be packed up into a little ball that you can hang from your pack!
• Headlight or flashlight (just in case).
We both used the Black Diamond Cosmo.
• At least one full lunch and plenty of snacks
• Sunscreen: We use eco-friendly, reef safe sunscreen. Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen.
• At least 100 oz. of water.
Vy uses the Camelback L.U.X.E. Dustin uses the Clik Small pack (sadly Clik is no longer around)
• Gloves (We used $2 work gloves from Harbor Freight)
• First aid kit