Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii - The Legal Way

Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii - The Legal Way

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

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, and this fine really exists! Therefore, we chose the more difficult and challenging trail through the Moanalua Valley to the Moanalua Ridge. Now mid-April 2022, it looks like the stairs are facing a shutdown in one latest two years. 

My husband on the Haiku Stairs
What a spectacular view from the top of the Haiku Stairs.

However, even trespassing the Haiku Stairs will be prosecuted. If the police are watching you trespassing the stairs, you get into trouble. An officer is sporadically posted at the top of the stairs, dropped off by helicopter. This is the information I got provided this April 2022, which was new to me. Obviously, when you reach the famous stairs, you want to access them and take the best snap of your whole vacation. I only recommend hiking up and down the Moanalua Ridge Trail, the legal way. Otherwise, you may get into serious trouble. We even saw a police helicopter while walking a part of the stairs.

Update Mid-April 2022

The middle part of the Haiku Stairs overgrown with native plants
The Haiku Stairs view to the top

Although the city council voted to leave the stairs where they are the mayor proclaimed to remove them. It will take another one or two years to tear them down. This is plenty of time for the "Friends of the Haiku Stairs" to continue striving for the preservation of the Haiku Stair. The costs for removal are increasing steadily the reason it is again on the city agenda. If you wish to support the "Friends of the Haiku Stairs"  follow the link. Lots of help is needed for a survival of this unique stairs and the best view of Hawaii!.

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 and drop off an officer at the top. Just to give you an idea of what can happen, in one week, 70 illegal hikers were identified while walking on the stairs, and 5 of them got arrested. The only way not to run into the police and avoid this $1.000 fine is the legal way on the Moanalua Track. However, trespassing on the stairs on the top is already illegal. A guide is unnecessary, but good preparation for the Moanalua Track is relevant! Check out my Packing List below. The Haiku Stairs teeters on the brink! 

Old concrete building at the middle of the Haiku Stairs
The radio antennae on top of the Haiku Stairs - View from the old building

There is a $ 1 million budget to remove the stairs soon but estimated to increase at least 1.5 million currently. While the "Friends of the Haiku Stairs" hoped to introduce a shuttle and a limit of 80 hikers daily. However, the biggest issue was getting the agreement of the abutting landowners which they didn't do for 30 years already. Parts of the trail are on land owned by the state department of Hawaii. They also discussed a compromise to relocate the stairs, but this wouldn't be the same, IMO. Many locals consider the view from the top to be the best of Hawaii and I agree.

An elderly man from the neighborhood on the Haiku Stairs
This elderly man was from the neighbourhood - He told me he frequently climbs the Haiku Stairs.

What the native Hawaiian people believe: "Because like every other Native Hawaiian, we want access to our mountains or oceans and our beaches." They hope for a middle ground to preserve the access.

Haiku Stairs view from the summit

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.

Steep muddy climb to the Haiku Stairs
The muddiest - most breathtaking - thrilling hike ever.

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 necessaro.

The Haiku Stairs winding down to Kaneohe Bay
A breathtaking view of the stairs like a "Dragon's Back" and to Kaneohe Bay

Do you like to do the hike and see these excellent views down the stairs? Then read all my insights on how to be prepared and experience one of the most thrilling hikes in your life. Any questions? Check out my About Me and write me an e-mail. 

Hiking Conditions and Crowds in Oahu - Hawaii

Steep climb up in the Moanalua Valley to Haiku Stairs
Me, climbing up the steep trail.

The Moanalua Valley, especially the ridge to the Keahiakahoe summit and 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, making hiking along the ridge more challenging. Read on for detailed tips by season.

Spring (Low Season; March-mid-June)

Muddy Hands from the Moanalua Valley Trail
Hang Loose used in Hawaii.

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 temperature along the trail is above 70°F, but it gets chilly on the ridge and the top due to the strong winStrong winds form the vegetation on the mountain ridge

Strong winds shaped the vegetation.
The vegetation on the mountain ridge is formed by strong winds.

The islands are not much crowded in spring. It starts to get busier in June but is 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)

Haiku Stairs - View out of the window from the concrete building down to the bay and sea
The concrete building full of graffiti in the middle of the Haiku Stairs

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 their highest, and hotels are booked to capacity. 

Autumn (Low Season; September-November) 

Almost at the top of Haiku Stairs, the end of the Moanalua Valley Hike
Clouds and rain are common in the hinterland and can change in minutes throughout the year

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)

Haiku Stairs in upcoming clouds

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.

The view up to the top of the overgrown Haiku Stairs
The narrow and overgrown Haiku Stairs

Again: Don't hike when heavy rainfall is forecasted!! 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, fewer crowds, but it is still busy.

 

Best Months to Visit

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Location and Tips

Hawaii, Oah'u
United States
United States

You want to climb the Haiku Stairs - Now or Never! The Haiku Stairs have been on our bucket list for years. We just figured out it's illegal when we were in Oahu, and that's why we decided to hike the legal trail from the other side into Moanalua Valley and up to the ridge and the Haiku Stairs. Overall I can't understand that the risky track is permitted, although the Haiku Stairs are so much safer.

On the ridge of the Moanalua Valley to the Haiku Stairs

People get forced to hike this risky, strenuous, and long day hike. Nevertheless, it was a thrilling and challenging trip and an outstanding end of our half a year journey around the world.

Have you seen these stairs on the television? They featured in an episode of "Magnum P.I." in the 1980s. TV and social media made this almost unknown tourist attraction popular, attracting thousands of hikers in Oahu annually. 

Trail Description of the Legal Way and Parking

Parking at the trailhead of Moanalua Valley to Haiku Stairs
Trailhead 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 rain showers. It was dry the night before, also important. The more it rains before, the muddier and slipperier the trail.

The mountains top where the Haiku Stairs are from the bottom of the valley
The views at the beginning are already promising.

We started the hike already at 7 am. We parked the car in the neighbourhood 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 beginning of the Moanalua Valley trail is wide and easy
The beginning of the Moanalua Trail.

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. 

Marked Trail to Haiku Stairs
Do you see the green H for Haiku on the right?

When you reach the Kulana’ahane Trail sign, don't follow it. Walk a few more seconds and 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.

The Moanalua Valley Trail leads through wild and untouched nature
The trail leads through wild and untouched nature.

We took out our crampons and were glad we bought them in Honolulu. Without them, it’s even more challenging and difficult to get up with such muddy and slippery soil. The landscape and views are fantastic. You hike though different microclimates with native plants. In the first part, you are protected by trees and bushes.

Moanalua exposed climb along a rope

Ropes are provided in the most challenging parts, but I would not count on it. We didn’t trust them too much, although sometimes you can’t get up without support. 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 continue the strenuous hike.

A rope assists hikers during the hard climb up
It's a steep climb - You should not fear heights.

The exposed ridge is nothing for people who fear heights and is also not suitable 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.

The exposed ridge on the trail to he Haikus Stairs
Expect strong winds on the mountain ridge.

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, and 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 neighbourhood. All of them hiked along the stairs up and down. 

The Haiku Stairs radio antennae on the summit

We walked several hundred meters on the stairs and met a party of ten or more people with Mike K, 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 for us 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! Nevertheless, I don't want to encourage you to trespass the Haiku Stairs; it is at your own risk if you do so.

Use a hiking app as we always do, and you don't get lost. Here is the entire legal trail by Locus Pro

Condition - Situation - History of the Haiku Stairs

Haiku Stairs shortly before they end - view to the HW

The Haiku Stairs, 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 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.

 

Panorama Haiku Stairs and view down to the bay
Panoramic view of the mountain ridge, HW H3, and Kaneohe plus bay


A landslide in 2015 damaged a tiny passage of the stairs. This part is tricky to walk but manageable. Passing other hikers is fun; 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 neighbourhood's gardens. Avoid this, and don't risk getting this exceedingly high fine!

The bamboo forest to the Haiku Stairs and back
The bamboo forest - picture provided by a friend

Walking back the "Stairway to Heaven" through the dark bamboo forest is often mentioned, but you are still on private land when you leave this forest. I am pretty sure the police know this forest as well.

Fern Tree and HW H3 view from the Haiku Stairs down
An incredible fern tree and the mountain ridge

A permit system and a high fee could regulate the number of hikers. Instead, people climbed the risky trail from the other side as we did. Hikers start to climb the stairs already at 2 am to avoid bumping into the security. There hasn't been any solution found for more than 30 years now. The biggest issue is the majority of the landowners around the stairs. The Haiku Stairs won't have a future as long as they disagree.

It is a sheer drop down on the Haiku Stairs
Two hikers are coming up the steep stairs.

I hope the Friends of the Haiku Stairs put it through their new solution. Recently  I had a correspondence with Dean, a guy from Honolulu; he is concerned although living so close, he never made it to the top, and perhaps he never will.

Packing List - 7 Essentials

Crampons are essential for the hike through the Moanalua Valley

  1. 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.
  2. Gloves - for more grip and to protect your hands while holding the ropes
  3. Carry an additional shirt during winter - it's cold on the summit, and you may like to change the wet one.
  4. Plenty of energy food - the hike is long and strenuous.
  5. Minimum 3 litres of water for each hiker - you will sweat a lot.
  6. Rain and windproof jacket - weather can change quickly, especially at a higher elevation.
  7. A good camera - for your most thrilling adventure
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