Time: 6+ HOURS
Distance: 9 MILES
Elevation: 2500 FEET
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Narrow ridges with sharp dropoffs, Steep scrambles, Often muddy and slippery
Sights: Haiku Stairs, Windward Side, Moanalua Valley
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Water (>2L), Snack/Lunch
Often called "Middle Ridge" or "Backside to Stairway," this increasingly popular trail is the primary alternate route to the infamous and controversial Haiku Stairs AKA "Stairway to Heaven". While the stairs are no doubt the highlight, this ridge has plenty of its own excitement to offer with narrow ridges, steep scrambles, and epic valley views. Even if you're just looking for the stairs, this adventure is sure to deliver for those who are up for the challenge.
I'm definitely getting the miles in this Thanksgiving. After revisiting the Pali Notches yesterday, the same crew (plus one Katie) was already ready for another hiking adventure. Today's hike--Moanalua Middle to Haiku. Despite the popularity of this trail, I had never taken this route up to the Stairs (I had only descended Middle Ridge). My other routes to the Stairs were a bit more uh creative. So I was excited for a bit more direct approach to one of the most iconic places on Oahu.
This hike is broken into three parts. First a flat walk through the valley, then the climb up Moanalua Middle to the Ko'olau Summit Trail, and finally a short trek on the KST up to (and including if you desire) the famous stairs.
We got an an early 7:30am start to try and beat some of the heat. There is a parking lot at Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park where you can leave your car. This park is clutch because there's a bathroom and a hose, a rare thing fo most Oahu hikes. However, it does have a gate that gets locked around sunset, so be cognizant of your time. If the lot is full (which is often), there's plenty of street parking along Ala Aolani Street.
Off we go! The first part of the journey is a leisurely, relatively flat 2.5 miles through the valley as you alternate between trail and some paved sections, crossing over few river spilloffs. Personally, if I could skip this section, I would, it's just a bit boring compared to the rest of the hike. But there's no way to get through here any faster, so it's all part of the journey.
Eventually, the valley road comes to an end, and you will be forced to take a left into the trees. This is the main part of the trail you will need to pay attention, because it is possible to get lost.
Shortly after entering the trees, you will come to a junction. This tree is in front of the left fork, but you should follow (where that whittled arrow is pointing) the right fork.
After following the trail through the trees for a few minutes, you will come across this sign. Head this way where you will cross a (likely) dry stream bed. Once on the other side, follow the trail to the right. If you end up crossing more stream beds, then you accidentally continued along the Kulan'ahane Trail (still a great hike).
And soon after, you should begin the ascent up Moanalua Middle Ridge. Now that you're here, no need to worry about directions. Because there's only one way to go... up.
Luckily, those valley views start pretty early with some openings in the trees. A great way to maximize those breaks.
The ridge starts out mostly in the trees.
But eventually transforms into mostly open ridgeline. This is when the fun begins.
The ridge narrows, and gets steeper, requiring some short little scrambles.
If it's been raining, it makes these scrambles significantly harder because the dirt becomes a muddy mess. Both times I've descended this ridge, it was in those muddy, sloppy conditions. There are several ropes on the ridge to help, but I always caution relying on them with your full weight.
Luckily for us, it had been pretty dry recently so the ascent was more of a fun little workout.
And now the big one...
This is the steepest climb of the entire hike. From the bottom, it looks nearly vertical.
Since we didn't want to tailgate the couple using the rope, we hung out at the base of the climb, waiting our turn. A nice little view and water break as the strong wind whipped our faces.
Our turn! I scrambled up first to grab some shots of the rest of the group climbing. We went one by one so we didn't have multiple people using the rope. That is the safe move, although I've seen plenty of groups with multiple people using it at once.
One by one, we successfully made the climb.
Shortly after that ascent, we got our first full views of the windward side.
But they will be even better from the top. That tower on the left marks the top of the stairs.
Just one more obstacle. This section is where the ridge narrows pretty significantly, with dropoffs on both sides. It was also where the wind picked up drastically, with gusts probably around 30+mph. Narrow ridges and strong winds... not the best combo. It forced each of us to bear crawl across this stretch of ridge.
All safely across, we hiked the last few minutes to the intersection of Moanalua Middle and the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST). The KST is the crest of the Ko'olau Mountain Range and stretches from Oahu's North Shore all the way to it's most southern point. The entire thing is hikeable (although very few have done it in its entirety). Catch it on a clear day, and it offers 360 degree views of the island. While it was a bit gray, the clouds were high enough that we got some of those unimpeded views.
But we're not quite at our destination. We have to head left (north) along the KST for another 5 minutes to reach the top of the stairs.
Ta da! Aloha Haiku Stairs and beautiful windward side!
And what was waiting for us at the top, (relatively) cold beer! Indre and Joey surprised the rest of us by pulling 5 beers out of their bag to enjoy at the summit. Pretty awesome treat to enjoy at this amazing spot.
To fully "experience" the stairs, you really do need to descend them a little ways. Something about the way these stairs weave over the ridge is so alluring.
This stairs were built back in WWII to provide an access route to a Top Secret radio transmission station at the top of the Ko'olaus, used to send signals far out into the Pacific. Can you imagine hiking up this to work every day? Your calves would be huge!
The descent is broken up by various flat platformed areas. It's an awesome way to experience different perspectives.
Most people who set foot on the stairs from this direction pick a turnaround point when they've had their fill. The stairs actually go all the way down to that neighborhood, but that is of course where all the controversy of these stairs is. It's very possible that in a few years, these stairs will no longer exist. But for now, we can continue to enjoy this beautiful piece of history.
What goes down, must go back up. In case you can't tell from this shot, some sections of the stairs (especially farther down) are incredibly steep. It's basically like climbing a ladder. This trek is a leg day workout for sure.
But after all that stuffing and gravy from Thanksgiving, all of us needed a way to work off those calories. And I can't think of a better spot to do it. Can you?
Enjoy this post? Leave a comment below!
Also Check Out:
- My previous adventure to the stairs
- My video of the stairs and Moanalua Middle ridge