7 Tips for Hiking to the Peak of the Haiku Stairs (via Moanalua Ridge Trail)

An epic and unforgettable hike that comes with plenty of risk. Following these 7 tips will help maximize your preparation, safety and overall experience on your adventure to the Haiku Stairs Peak.

By: Michael Gabbert

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The intrigue around the Haiku Stairs has grown precipitously over the past few years. With its epic views, proximity to Honolulu, and technically illegal nature, the Haiku Stairs have taken on an almost mythical status for those looking to experience it. Unfortunately, this illegal status has made the experience rather difficult to pursue. Both a guard sitting at the bottom of the stairs and a large fence at the entrance add to this difficulty. While this hasn’t stopped people from taking the risk and skirting around the guard and fence, there is a better way (e.g: legal) to enjoy the stairs. The Moanalua Ridge Trail skirts up the ridge which leads to the backside of the Haiku Stairs peak. Albeit legal, this hike presents an even more challenging and strenuous path than the stairs themselves. In planning your trip, the following are 7 tips for maximizing your preparation, safety and overall experience of this epic and unforgettable hike.

1. Watch the Weather

The Moanalua Ridge trail is steep, skinny, and in many places quire precarious. In perfect weather, this is a strenuous, challenging hike. Fair to poor weather will only exacerbate the peril it presents. As you plan your trip and timing, keep close tabs on the weather. Not only should this include the day you plan to hike but take note of the 4-5 days prior as well. Any precipitation from days before will leave the trail muddy and will affect your ability to get up the ridge. If the weather is forecasted to be gnarly the day you are planning to hike, think twice about it. As fascinating and epic as the hike can be, inclement weather can make this hike a miserable experience.

2. Start Early

My strong suggestion would be to start hiking the trail early, super early. This means waking up before dawn and getting to the trail head slightly before or just as the sun is rising. With over two-thirds of the ridge being exposed to the elements and direct sunlight, the earlier start will reward you with much cooler temperatures. Additionally, it will give you a wide open trail and a hike with peaceful solitude. Furthermore, you increase the likelihood of enjoying the peak and the haiku stairs without interruption the earlier you set out. 

3. Do Your Research

While reading this article is a good start, there are several other resources out there which you should utilize if you plan to do this hike. The aforementioned weather reports are a must, but searching for recent trail reports to know the status of the route and conditions of the trail will be helpful as well. Alltrails & Google results are helpful resources yet rely on recent hikers and their propensity to write up a report. Lastly, ensure you’re familiar with the exact route of the hike. Once on the ridge, the path is straightforward. However, getting to the Middle Moanaula Ridge trail from the Moanalua Valley Trail requires knowledge on the length and exact entry place of that trailhead. A read of the Moanalua Middle Ridge Hike should do the trick.

4. Train & Dress Appropriately

You’re not climbing Kilimanjaro or running a marathon, yet with steep terrain and a round trip of 10.4 miles, you will need to be fit. Despite its medium length, the trail and ability to do this isn’t for the couch potato. Don’t be a doofus. If this is your first hike ever, this is probably not the hike for you. If this is your first hike in many years, it will be necessary to get something under your belt prior to tackling the ridge. If you haven’t hiked a similarly length/elevation trail recently, plan on doing so either in Hawaii or near your home to ensure it’s achievable. This is a gorgeous hike, but it comes with its risks. The less ready you are physically, the more issues you’ll innately run into.

Dressing and packing for the hike is just as important as training. Pack accordingly for the trail. Solid hiking boots are a must. Gloves aren’t required, but for the several ropes you will encounter to assist in scaling some of the steeper areas, they will be extremely helpful. A towel or two will also be a requirement as getting muddy is unavoidable. Lastly, don’t forget your camera. Bring the best one you have. The images along the hike and at the top are surreal. 

5. Bring Water, Lots of Water (3 to 4L)

With all of the prep and research into the hike, one aspect easy to overlook is the necessity for water. While water is an obvious thing to pack for each hike, it’s the amount of water which seems to be the biggest oversight of those who hike this trail. The length of the hike, exposure to the elements, and overall strenuous nature of it warrant 3 to 4L of water. I brought 32 ounces on the hike which I figured was more than enough. After ¾ of the hike up, I was out. Ultimately, pack more than you think you’ll need. 

6. Picnic at the Peak

There is a deep feeling of accomplishment as you reach the radio tower at the peak of the Haiku Stairs. That feeling of accomplishment is quickly replaced with one of awe as you overlook the city of Honolulu and the view of the Haiku stairs trailing down the steep ridges below. With this inspiring view, it’s important to soak it in. Don’t simply a take a couple of pictures for your Instagram and head back down. Bring a picnic, bring some adult beverages, and bring a camping chair to sit in and relax. It’s a unique view and one you won’t get to experience often. Each time I look back at photos I wish I had spent a couple more hours relishing in the moment. You can never have too much time at the top.

7. Experience the Stairs

If you haven’t heard already, the haiku stairs themselves are illegal :). Yet leaving this experience without setting foot on these famous stairs to see their sheer scale, slope and intrigue would be a crime (not a real one, but you get my point). In total, the Haiku stairs consist of 3992 steps. A stroll down 500-1000 steps should ultimately give you the full experience. One thing to keep in mind here is that with each stair you go down, you’ll have to ascend that same stair as you head back up to the peak. Be careful not to overextend yourself – especially with a difficult journey back down the Moanalua Middle Ridge still to come. 

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.