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Haiku How-To: Hiking the Haiku Stairs and Moanalua Ridge in Oahu

Haiku How-To:  Hiking the Haiku Stairs and Moanalua Ridge in Oahu

Million Mile SecretsHaiku How-To:  Hiking the Haiku Stairs and Moanalua Ridge in OahuMillion Mile Secrets Team

I’m inspired to travel when I hear other people share stories of their adventures.  So here’s the next installment of our weekly series where the Million Mile Secrets team shares their travel successes (and failures) with you!

Joseph:   A few months ago I crossed off a bucket list item.  I finally climbed the Haiku Stairs in Oahu!

Similarly to perhaps everyone who has the same item on their must-do list, I was brimming with uncertainty…the danger, the difficulty…the legality.  But after completing it, I consider the Haiku Stairs to be one of my top travel memories.  And I’m considering visiting them again!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Climb a Scraggly Tattered Staircase for the Best Views in Oahu

I’ll share my experience, and tell you exactly how to make the hike yourself.

What Are the Haiku Stairs?

The original Haiku Stairs (also called “Stairway to Heaven”) were built in the early 1940s as a way to access Haiku Station, a radio tower serving US Navy ships sailing in the Pacific.  The station and the stairs were closed to the public in 1987, but they’ve received updates and repairs as recently as 2003.

The stairs are definitely showing their age, but they felt sturdy and completely safe.  Climbing them, however, is illegal.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Dilapidation Adds to the Charm of the Stairs

It’s my understanding that the fine for climbing the Haiku Stairs can be as high as $1,000, if the authorities choose to cite you.  But most hikers will tell you that the guards have no problem letting folks through.

I didn’t personally encounter a guard during my hike.  But those who did said he was friendly, and didn’t seem to have a problem granting them access.

I suppose your results may vary by the guard on duty.  Just know that they CAN call the police and have you fined.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
You’ll Have to Decide for Yourself Whether the Risk Is Worth It!

On the other hand, the Moanalua trail is completely legal, and leads to the top of the Haiku Stairs.  So if you want to see what’s at the top of the stairs, you can hike up the Moanalua trail and back down again.  Or choose (like I did) to hike up the Moanalua trail, and down the Haiku Stairs.

Quick Tips Before You Go

There are a few things you should know before setting out on of the most stunning hikes of your life!

1.  Both Hikes Can Be Physically Demanding

I live a highly sedentary lifestyle, and was able to complete both of these hikes.  If you’re in moderate shape, you’ll be fine.

The Moanalua trail is by far the harder trail.  With plenty of ropes to help you along the way, it’s a full body workout!  It’s insane that of the 2 hikes, THIS is the legal one.  It’s 100X more dangerous than the Haiku Stairs!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Moanalua Trail Is Dirty and Tiring

The Haiku Stairs are rarely very steep.  The picture below shows the most extreme angle along the trek.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
None of the Stairs Were Too Intimidating

2.  Don’t Wear Anything You Love

Moanalua mud will stain everything it touches.  I drastically underestimated the amount of time I’d be spending sidling along trees and crawling through mud.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Me Waiting for My Uber Driver

It did rain quite a bit for me, so it probably isn’t like this all of the time.

If I do it again, I’ll bring:

  • Actual hiking boots
  • Lots more food and water
  • Gloves to make the hand rails more comfortable
  • A change of clothes as a courtesy to my Uber driver 😉

How to Get There

These 2 hikes are on the island of Oahu.  I used 25,000 Korean Air miles to reserve a round-trip coach flight on Delta from Cincinnati to Honolulu.

Once you’re in Oahu, you can find the beginning of the Moanalua trail by typing 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu, into your GPS.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Head Northeast From the Parking Lot to Begin

It’s a park with a small parking lot.  So get there early before all the spots are taken!

You’ll find the beginning of the trail by walking Northeast past the parking lot toward a metal gate.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
There’s a Clear Trail Leading From the Parking Lot

There’s plenty of space to squeeze through the side of the gate.  From here, it’s ~5 miles until you reach the Haiku Stairs.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Just Because This Gate Is Closed Doesn’t Mean the Trail Is Off-Limits

The first 3 miles are pretty effortless, with little incline.  It shouldn’t be a problem for anyone capable of a leisurely walk.  You’ll occasionally see plaques giving random facts about the surroundings.

There are several forks along the way, which always connect again down the trail.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Don’t Worry About Getting Lost. The Forks Lead to the Same Place!

There are also a lot of ATV bridges in the first couple miles of the hike.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
These Concrete Slabs Are ATV Bridges

Some folks like to count these bridges as a way to gauge how far you’ve traveled.  This is a good idea, though your count may vary depending on which forks in the road you take.

I counted 13 ATV bridges before the path narrowed dramatically.  Don’t take that as gospel, but be on the lookout as you near that number!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Path Suddenly Becomes a Single-File Affair

You’ll eventually reach a sign in front of a riverbed to your left.  Do NOT cross the riverbed here.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Correct Trail Is 30 Feet Beyond These Signs

Keep walking for ~30 feet, and you’ll see another path in the tall grass to the left.  This is the way to the Moanalua Ridge!

When you get to the other side of the riverbed, you should see a branch that says “Middle Ridge.”

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
If You Don’t See This Branch Immediately After Crossing the Riverbed, You’re In the Wrong Place

Then begins the incline for what seems like years.  As you climb higher, you’ll find multiple ropes that others have tied to trees and roots to help fellow hikers scale the ridge.

It was raining intermittently during my climb, so it was very muddy and slippery.  I did NOT have proper hiking boots.  So without the ropes, I would’ve had no choice but to turn around.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Parts of the Ridge Are Unscalable Without Ropes

The most precarious climbs I did NOT take a picture of, because I was concentrating on living!

There are plenty of uncovered roots on the ground, and they can both save your life and end it.  They were tremendously helpful as footholds for steep and slippery ground.  But they can also lasso your feet and trip you up!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Most of the Moanalua Ridge Trail Was ~3 Feet Wide

The day I hiked, the wind was also strong.  Which I wasn’t expecting from watching other folks’ experiences on YouTube.  But multiple times I had to crouch down so I wouldn’t blow over.

As I climbed on I kept thinking for sure I was at the top of the ridge.  But it continued to ascend like some sick joke.  It would have been discouraging were it not for the gorgeous views along the way!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Beauty in Every Direction

The day was especially cloudy, too, and views from the top were horrible.  It was ~3.5 hours before I spotted the Haiku Station.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Finish Line for Both the Moanalua Trail and the Haiku Stairs

Don’t expect the top of the Haiku Stairs to be the climax of your trip!  I’m sure there are great views of the island when it’s not cloudy, but the Haiku Station itself is nothing special…at all.

The experience is definitely all about the journey!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Laaaame

There was a small group of hikers at the station, just hanging around and chatting.  After talking with them for a while, I started down the stairs.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Cloudy Day Ruined the Views, but Made the Stairs Feel Mysterious 😀

I met very few travelers on the stairs.  That was good, because the narrow stairs make it difficult to pass one another.  Fortunately, there are several rest stops with larger platforms perfect for chatting and passing.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Abandoned Structures Along the Way Are a Good Opportunity to Pass

I also met a shirtless older gentleman with wispy rainbow colored hair and leathery brown skin who says he does the hike every day (sometimes more than once!).  Not sure why I didn’t take a picture of him, but I reckon you’ll see him for yourself if you climb the stairs.

As I descended, the rain stopped, and I finally got some spectacular views!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
One of the Rare Moments of Sun

The random graffiti along the stairs and rails were fun to read.  Some written by excited hikers to inspire fellow travelers.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Kind of Cheesy but I’m Into It

And some were disparaging killjoys.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
I Honestly Have to Disagree With This One

There’s an area with ~60 rickety stairs, damaged from a 2015 storm.  It’s the most difficult part of the hike, but if you can get past it, the rest is no big deal.  There are some pretty steep areas, but they don’t last long.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Lots of Folks Seem to Be Concerned With This Section of the Hike. It’s NOT a Big Deal

Again, the stairs do NOT get routine maintenance, and they haven’t been repaired since 2003.  There are several areas where this is evident, but none of it feels unsafe.

Alternate Haiku Stairs Entrance and Exit (Avoiding the Guard)

Long before you reach end of the stairs, you’ll be able to see the guard post in a small clearing.  And he’ll be able to see you.

If he so chooses, he’s got a good 30 minutes to call the police, who will be waiting for you at the bottom.  The fine is said to be ~$1,000.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
You Can See the Guard’s Post and His Car in the Clearing

That’s a LOT of money, but in reading other hikers’ experiences, the guards actually couldn’t care less.

Still, I asked every hiker I passed about their experience with the guard.  And everyone who braved him had a similar story that went something like this:

Hiker:   Good morning!

Guard:   Good morning.  You know this is illegal, right?

Hiker:   Yep!

Guard:   Alright, have a good day!

I was reassured, but still didn’t want to risk it.  So when I met a few hikers who were planning to take an alternate route around the guard, I asked to tag along.

Note:   I used this route to exit the stairs.  You’ll have to reverse this information if you’re heading to the stairs.

Descending the stairs, you’ll eventually see a fence with a white sign.  When it comes into view, begin looking to the tree line on the right.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Exit the Stairs to the Right

You’ll see a tree with a ribbon wrapped around it.  Hop off the stairs and walk past the ribbon.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Enter the Trees Beside the Ribbon

Courteous hikers have tied rope between trees to help you traverse the steep hills.  Follow the ropes until you get to the bottom.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Rappel Down the Series of Ropes

Once you’ve reached the bottom, cross a channel and start heading up the hill to your right.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Walk to the Bottom of the Ravine, Then Climb Back Up the Right Side

Once at the top, you’ll again see ribbons wrapped around trees.  Pay attention to the ribbons and the natural contour of the path.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Mind the Ribbons

Soon, you’ll find yourself under the highway.  And you should continue seeing ribbons along the way.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Find the Highway

Shortly thereafter you’ll exit the forest, and find yourself on a paved road.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Leave the Forest and Cross the Road

Turn right, and walk until you see an opening in the fence on the left side of the road.  Then head into a bamboo forest.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Find the Entrance to the Trees on the Other Side of the Road

The path through this forest is clear.  Follow the trail until you reach an opening, and keep walking until you’re back in the trees.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Cross the Opening

You’ll then reach another paved road.  Turn right, and walk until you reach civilization!

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Exit Is to the Right

At the end of this road is a “Private Property” sign.  This gate is normally closed, but fortunately we didn’t have to get creative.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
We Were Relieved We Didn’t Have to Climb Any Fences

When you exit through the gate, turn right onto Kuneki Street.

This is a very nice neighborhood in the city of Kaneohe.  And the residents appreciate hikers with quiet and inconspicuous demeanors. 😉

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
Be Mindful of the Neighborhood Residents

The entire hike took me ~7.5 hours.   And from here, I called an Uber to take me back to my car at Moanalua Valley Park.

It took the guy forever to arrive, so I walked to Kahekili Highway to make it easier for him to find me.

Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
The Neighborhood Was Beautiful and Worth a Walk

The drive back was ~20 minutes and cost $27.  My driver was really into hiking himself, and recommended some other top-notch hikes (though I had no time to try them out).

If you’re uncomfortable climbing the Haiku Stairs, my Uber driver, Thomas, recommends:

  • Kuliouou Ridge Trail
  • Ka’u Crater
  • Lanikai Pillbox
Haiku How To Hiking The Haiku Stairs And Moanalua Ridge In Oahu
$27 for a Ride Back to My Car, and Plenty of Insight From a Hawaiian Hiker

Bottom Line

Team member Joseph recently satisfied his inextinguishable urge to climb the Haiku Stairs in Oahu.  And he has outlined exactly how to do it for folks who would like to try it themselves!

While the Haiku Stairs aren’t very dangerous, climbing them IS illegal.  And it’s possible you could get slapped with a large fine!  So you’ll have to decide for yourself whether it’s the risk.

If any of you have hiked the Haiku Stairs, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

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Board of Water Supply

AJ is correct that enforcement has increased. Also, there are fantastic trails throughout Hawaii that are open to the public. You can find current conditions on those trails by going to http://www.hawaiitrails.org.

The State of Hawaii has just replaced the security guards (that use to lend a blind eye to hikers) with law enforcement that are both issuing fines and arresting people. There are a lot of other good hiking trails on Oahu that does not carry the possibility of ruining your vacation.

Helpful data point, thanks AJ!

Thanks for sharing your experience! 🙂 Many people have this hike on their bucket list (from around the world) without really knowing the details. I appreciate you taking the time to spell out so thoroughly what it actually requires to complete it and the risks associated.

I figure those who aren't dissuaded by all the warnings, risks, etc. are going to do it regardless, so at least they have the information necessary to do it safely and somewhat respectfully. Thanks for the recommendations for other hikes as well!

Thanks for the ray of sunshine, J. Yeah, when I was researching the hike, I wanted desperately an article detailing everything (especially the alternate exit), so it was fun to catalog the journey.

I m all about sharing knowledge of these great hikes...But Please respect land and locals by following the no trespassing rule... Let us have a least this one.. Are island is full of other great hikes.. enough people that don't need to know about this already exploit it..Please respect the locals and don't take advantage of the aloha

It seems like a lot of folks hike the Haiku Stairs largely BECAUSE they are illegal, not IN SPITE OF them being illegal. I hope I didn't come across as the former.

Could you recommend an equally breathtaking hike for those visiting Oahu?

law abiding citizen

It's indeed against the law. If you're cited, the fine is somewhere north of $1,300. I'd advise readers to try some of the more sanctioned trails, many of which have equally great views.

$1,300, yeesh. That's higher than I've heard. Definitely quite a gamble for the hike. Could you recommend an alternate hike or two for anyone uncomfortable with the Haiku Stairs?

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