The Moanalua Valley Trail to Haiku stairs hiking route is one of the most adventurous hikes on Oahu. The hike follows the Moanalua Valley Trail before connecting up the Moanalua Middle Ridge, which is the legal ‘backway’ to the Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs) satellite summit. While you can’t legally step foot on the stairs or satellite summit area, you can make it all the way up to that area so this route is a great alternative to the controversial and heavily regulated Haiku Stairs (the front way).
MOANALUA VALLEY TRAIL (STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN BACK WAY)
In this blog post, I will share with you all of the details about the Moanalua Valley Trail to Haiku Stairs including distance, elevation, legalities, what to bring, and how to avoid trouble on this route. I’ll also share my full experience and all of my photos including some epic shots from the summit so you can get an idea of why this was one of my favorite hikes on Oahu, Hawaii.
BLOG POST: If you are interested in my experience (many years ago) hiking the Stairway to Heaven the regular way you can check out my blog post here: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE ON OAHU, HAWAII: UPDATED 2021
OAHU HIKING GUIDE: I’ve written a guide for the top hikes on Oahu that I am sure you will find useful: TOP 10 HIKES ON OAHU, HAWAII
MOANALUA VALLEY TRAIL (MIDDLE RIDGE) HIKE DETAILS
- Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 17km (10.5 miles) out and back (return trip), which means you take the same route down as you hiked up.
- Hike Duration: This depends a lot on your speed and how much gear you are carrying. The ascent can be completed in about four hours and the descent can be completed in about 3 hours. This obviously depends on your ability to hike uphill with gear. Our total moving time was about six hours according to the Garmin, which doesn’t count any rest breaks or stops. However, including all of the rest stops and sightseeing at the summit we spent almost the entire day on this trail. Expect this hike to take you eight hours up and down unless you are on a mission to get it done quickly.
- Hike Difficulty: This trail is quite difficult due to the extreme incline and slippery conditions. Throughout the 17 kilometers, you will ascend more than 1500 meters. The terrain is rocky, dusty, and overgrown in some sections so you can expect to get muddy and dirty on this route. If it has rained any time in the days before your hike, the trail is very slippery and muddy. Despite the ropes available on the route, unless you have experience with difficult terrains this might be very challenging. There are many sections where you will need to be sure-footed but not any big drop-offs or moments of exposure that you should be worried about. The trail is almost always quite wide and well protected from the edge. There are no technical elements on this trail except for the moderate rope sections. I would say this trail is possible for those in good athletic shape who have completed other ridge hikes with more than 1000m+ vertical gain on the island of Oahu.
- Hike Incline: 1500 meters.
THE FOUR MOST POPULAR OAHU TOURS
- Doors-Off Oahu Helicopter Flight Tour: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off)and be blown away when you see Oahu from the air.
- North Shore Shark Cage Tour: The biggest adrenaline rush you can have in Hawaii is beneath the surface with sharks!
- Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Tour: One of the best experiences I had on Oahu was swimming with the beautiful spinner dolphins on this exact tour.
- Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran: The number 1 MOST POPULAR snorkel tour on Oahu. GUARANTEED Turtles!
HOW TO GET TO THE MOANALUA VALLEY TRAIL
The Moanalua Valley Trail begins at the end of the Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park. This is a small playground area for children and at the back of the grass area, the paved trail begins. This is the trailhead for the hike and you will follow this path until you reach the middle ridge. Please be quiet and respectful of the local residents as you are parking, packing, and reaching the trailhead.
IS THE MOANALUA VALLEY TRAIL LEGAL?
The trail is a legal hike and you should have no issues on the route towards the summit. However, don’t be confused by people who tell you this is the ‘legal’ way to visit the Haiku Stairs. It definitely is not legal to set foot on the Haiku Stairs or the satellite area at the summit. When people refer to it as the legal backway ‘to get to’ the Stairway to Heaven that refers to the legal route to the top of the Moanalua Valley Trail but you still aren’t allowed to actually go on the stairs or the satellite area.
Basically, when you reach the top of the Moanalua Middle Ridge trail you will have great views and are within a stone’s throw of the satellite at the summit. However, if you cross over and set foot on the platform of the satellite or venture onto the stairs you are now in an illegal area.
The police sometimes send an officer to hike up to the summit to give out fines and one time a police helicopter even landed up there. However, it is infrequent and often there is no one up there and you can explore if you choose to. The fine is reportedly $1000 if you are ticketed at the summit or on the stairs. You can go all the way up and assess the situation and make your decisions from there but even if you don’t want to venture onto the illegal area you will have great views so it is still worth the journey either way.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE MOANALUA VALLEY TRAIL
To begin the Moanalua Valley Trail you will first need to drive to the Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park and park in the streets nearby. I think it’s best to begin just after sunrise as it can be quite a hot, exposed trail if you leave it too late in the day for the ascent. The Moanalua Valley Trail isn’t as popular as the Haiku Stairs themselves but it is growing in popularity and the trail can get quite busy.
Once you are inside the Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park, you will find the trail at the back of the park. The trail is quite easy to follow for the first few miles with a wide path, winding you through lush forest and warming up your legs.
When you make it to the sign saying ‘Kulana’ahane‘ continue on for another few meters until you will find the pathway on your left, which leads you across the rocky riverbed. This is the trail that leads you up the Moanalua Ridge, also known as the ‘Moanalua Middle Ridge’. There’s a tree branch that has ‘Middle Ridge’ carved into it as a reference point.
Now that you have made it onto the Moanalua Middle Ridge, the trail is quite easy to follow as it basically follows the ridgeline all the way up to the summit. You just keep heading straight up and you will eventually reach the satellite dish at the summit. The trail becomes quite steep from this point on with lots of tree roots to scramble up, boulders to clamber over and small rope sections to navigate. We put on our microspikes at the riverbed and they were handy all the way to the summit.
If you are interested in climbing the back (legal) way up to the summit you can contact @mike.karas on Instagram and chat with him about when his next tour is running as he hikes the trail most weeks.
The trail becomes quite adventurous with many sections becoming quite narrow and requiring a rope to pull yourself up the slippery, gravel surface. The terrain can be quite crumbly, with steep drop-offs so you do need to keep your focus throughout this hike. Despite the drop-offs, the trail is quite well protected and unless it is a very windy day you should be fine unless you have little experience on ridges or with heights. The great part about this trail is that you have incredible views along the way and not just at the summit. Every time I turned around to look back towards the city, the view just kept getting better and better.
The final major rope section was a steep gravel wall at an aggressive angle that required you to pull yourself up with the rope. It’s possible to walk up without the rope but I suggest having some gloves as most people will be holding onto the rope the whole time. This was one of my favorite sections of the hike and the backdrop over the shoulder gave great views of the ridge we had just hiked up.
At the ‘peak’ of the Moanalua Middle Ridge Trail, you will catch your first glimpse of the radio tower/satellite. There are a few more rope sections and some very deep, muddy crevasses you will have to sneak through before you reach the top of this hike. The views are simply stunning and on a clear day, you can see all the way to Chinaman’s Hat near Kualoa Ranch and in the other direction, you can see all the way to Rabbit Island at Makapu’u. Once at the ‘summit’ of the Moanalua Valley Trail you will essentially enjoy the view and then turn back around and head down the way you came.
HAWAII HIKING PACKING LIST
Many people come unprepared for hiking on Oahu and that’s why there are so many rescues. Make sure you at least have the basics and you will be prepared for bad weather or any mishaps on the trail. A headlamp, rain jacket, and good hiking boots or shoes are the three main pieces of gear you need.
What are my favorite pieces of hiking gear?
There are four pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a hike. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my hiking essentials.
- Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
- Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
- Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.
If you do choose to continue on past the legal boundary and to the ‘illegal’ area of the radio tower and reach the Haiku Stairs, this is what you can expect. I explored the radio tower, Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven), and a set of abandoned, overgrown stairs. In this section, I will explain a little bit about each area and share with you the details for exploring this summit area. On my hike up the Moanalua Valley Trail, I went halfway down the stairs and back up just to explore and then returned via the Moanalua Valley Trail although I met some people who were going to try and exit via the stairs.
THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN ‘HAIKU STAIRS’
The Stairway to Heaven hike on Oahu, Hawaii, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island. A grueling 3,922 stairs lead up the imposing mountain ridge, often at an almost vertical incline, with only a handrail to catch you from falling into the valley below. It may sound dramatic but at times that is the situation. However, it is not the most dangerous hike on Oahu.
Originally the stairs were built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a top-secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships that were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. The stairs were then opened to the public until 1987 when they were deemed unsafe because of disrepair. Many residents of Oahu have fond memories of hiking up the Stairway to Heaven years ago (legally).
The city of Honolulu spent almost a million dollars repairing the stairs and was considering re-opening the stairs in 2002 but resident complaints and safety concerns halted the re-opening and the stairs have been closed ever since. Basically, politics and money got in the way of this epic hike. That hasn’t stopped locals, hikers, and tourists sneaking past a guard who is posted at the bottom of the stairs to experience the thrilling 4000ft long climb along an 18-inch wide staircase reaching heights of above 2000ft.
We explored a few hundred meters down an abandoned set of stairs, quite sketchy and not recommended before turning back and returning towards the radio tower.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Moanalua Valley Trail (backway to Stairway to Heaven) and have good luck and good weather on your journey!
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
- Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location.
- Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like you are living in a theme park.
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I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!
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