Moanalua Valley Trail is gaining popularity as it offers a “legal” route to the top of the iconic Stairway to Heaven Trail on O’ahu.
While Moanalua Valley Trail doesn’t actually have hikers traversing the metal stairs, it does lead hikers up the backside of the ridge with unobstructed views of the stairway and the east side of the island.
This alternate route is longer and more grueling than the staircase, but worth the extra time and effort. Moanalua Valley Trail may not have the reputation of the Haiku Stairs but it is still one of the best hikes on O’ahu.
If you’re looking for a challenging, adventurous, and breathtaking trail on O’ahu, look no further.
In this guide, I cover what to expect hiking Moanalua Valley Trail, the legalities surrounding the Stairway to Heaven, where to park, distance, difficulty, and more.
Table of Contents
Guide to Hiking Moanalua Valley Trail
Moanalua Valley Trail Stats
Distance: 10.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,029 feet
Time: 8 – 10 hours
Dogs: Yes (However, I do not recommend bringing a dog)
History of the Haiku Stairs– a.k.a “Stairway to Heaven”
The Haiku Stairs, more commonly referred to as the Stairway to Heaven, is comprised of nearly 4,000 steps. The stairs were built in 1942 to be used by the United States Navy. The station building at the top of the stairs was constructed in secret to be used for transmitting radio signals to boats.
Once the station was no longer being used by the U.S. Navy it was briefly opened for public use. However, in 1987 the stairs were closed after traffic on the stairs became frequent and safety become an issue.
In 2003, another effort to reopen the Stairway to Heaven Trail was proposed and resulted in the stairs being repaired. However, efforts were later halted by displeased neighboring residents. There are no future plans to open the stairs to the public.
The Stairway to Heaven path has continued to gain popularity over the years despite its closed status and is still revered as the must-do hike on O’ahu.
Is It Illegal to Hike the Stairway to Heaven on Oahu?
Unfortunately, it is illegal to set foot on the Haiku Stairs.
You may be tempted to try your luck and complete the Stairway to Heaven trail anyways, but know that there is a security guard who parks at the trailhead. The guard will call the cops and you will get cited if caught.
Ask me how I know…
The citation comes with a hefty price of up to $1000 and a court appearance.
Do people sneak past the security guard, get lucky with arrival times, or happen upon days one isn’t present? Absolutely. Do I recommend risking it? Absolutely not.
Understand that if you choose to proceed with hiking the Stairway to Heaven Trail you are doing so at your own discretion and risk.
Is Moanalua Valley Trail Legal?
It’s not all bad news — Moanalua Valley Trail is open and a”legal” way to access the Haiku Stairs on O’ahu.
Do note that, I am purposefully placing “legal” in parenthesis as hikers are technically still not permitted to set foot on the stairs.
While the stairs themselves remain off-limits, Moanalua Valley Trail leads hikes to the top of the Ko’olau Mountain Range with a stunning view of the Haiku Stairs.
What you choose to do once you reach the top of the stairs, is your business.
Where Do I Park for Moanalua Valley Trail?
There is no official parking for Moanalua Valley Trail. Look for parking along Ala Aolani Street or nearby streets. Please be considerate of residents when parking and preparing to start the trail.
Make sure your vehicle is legally parked and not blocking residents’ driveways. If beginning the trail early or ending late, be mindful that you are in a residential area and keep noise to a minimum.
As with all hikes on O’ahu, do not leave any valuables in your car during the hike. Vehicle break-ins are common.
How Long Does Moanalua Valley Trail Take?
Moanalua Valley Trail is one of the longest hikes, if not the longest, on O’ahu. The trail is long, just over 10 miles, and covers an incredible amount of elevation. The trail to the top of the famed Stairway to Heaven can take anywhere from 8-10 hours, give or take.
Your timing will depend on your own endurance, comfort in navigating steep ridges and ropes, trail conditions, weather, and traffic on the trail.
With the trail traversing the Ko’olau Mountain Range, wet and muddy conditions are common and likely to slow down the pace of even the most experienced and fittest of hikers.
Start with the sun and prepare for Moanalua Valley Trail to consume your entire day. We started the trail in the dark with headlamps so we could witness the sun rising from the trail and it’s an experience I will remember forever.
What to Expect Hiking Moanalua Valley Trail
Getting to the Trailhead
Moanalua Valley Trail is located roughly 25 minutes outside of Waikiki. To access the trailhead from downtown, get on I-H-1 West, before following signs onto I-H-201 West.
From the 201, take exit 2 for Moanalua Valley. Once you exit, turn left on Ala Aolani Street. Follow Ala Aolani Street until the road dead ends at Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park.
Look for parking along the street — it’s not uncommon to have to park a ways from the trailhead. The trail begins past the community park. The park will be on your right with a social trail leading to a gate at the edge of the forest.
Walk through the gate to begin the trail.
Moanalua Valley Trail begins on a flat paved path. The first two miles of the trail are deceivingly easy.
The trail is wide, level, and well-groomed. Use this section of trail as a warm-up: stretch your legs, find your groove, and mentally prepare for the incline ahead.
Most of the trail is straightforward except for one veer-off that’s easy to miss. Just before the elevation ramps up and the trail becomes more adventurous, look for a trail veering off to the left over a dry river bed crossing.
Cross the riverbed here and continue on the trail.
As always, I recommend downloading an offline trail map to ensure you stay on course and don’t miss the split.
After the veer, the real fun starts.
From here on out the trail is steep, scrambly, and rooty. Prepare to get dirty, use your hands and knees, pull yourself up using ropes, tree roots, and rocks, and stop for breathers.
Over the next three miles, you’ll stumble upon several open dirt platforms with sweeping views and narrow exposed ridge lines. The Stairway to Heaven Trail may be more popular, but I’d argue that Moanalua Valley Trail is an even more stunning route.
Everywhere you look are towering mountains, vibrant foliage, and 360° views. Remember to pause every now and then just to soak it in.
The last push to the summit is the most difficult with the elevation grade reaching 55%. Use what you have left in the tank knowing that the breathtaking view of the Stairway to Heaven awaits for you at the top.
Once you’ve made it to the top you’ll see a concrete structure and a large satellite dish. This structure marks the end of both the Moanalua Valley Trail and the Stairway to Heaven Trail.
Proceeding past this point would put you on the stairs and officially in the “illegal” zone.
If you’re lucky with the weather and timed it correctly, you just might witness a spectacular sunrise over the Stairway to Heaven and one of the best views on the entire island.
Hiking the Stairway to Heaven on Oahu
I hiked the Stairway to Heaven Trail many years ago.
I do not recommend ignoring the law or risking a citation but I’m aware that people will read this guide with the intention of doing so anyways, so I will briefly share my experience hiking the iconic trail.
We began the trail around 3:00 a.m. We dimmed our headlights while parking so we wouldn’t disturb any residents, kept our headlamps turned off and didn’t speak until we were past the houses.
There was no security guard when we began the trail. We climbed the majority of the Haiku Stairs in the dark using headlamps. The stairs were fun and unique and easy to manage, despite rumors of them being dangerous.
The stairway follows the ridge line all the way to the top of the satellite station. Truthfully, climbing the stairs was easier and safer than managing most ridge trails on the island thanks to the sturdy metal railing.
With that being said, there were a couple of sections where the stairs became more of a ladder or the stairs had washed out altogether. We took our time maneuvering through these sections and proceeded without issue.
Once daylight broke we found ourselves completely encompassed by clouds. You always run the risk of getting a cloudy whiteout when hiking in the Ko’olau Mountain Range. The weather can change in an instant.
We didn’t spend much time at the top since our view was obstructed. However, as soon as we started our descent down the Haiku Stairs, the clouds parted and we witness an incredible sunrise over the east side of the island.
The bliss didn’t last long, unfortunately, because we were greeted at the bottom of the stairs by a disgruntled security guard who informed us that he had already called the cops.
Whether he was trying to scare us or we got lucky and left before the cops arrived, we aren’t sure but we thankfully made it out of there without a citation.
Safety Tips While Hiking on O’ahu
Weather on O’ahu is unpredictable and even more so when exploring the Ko’olau Mountains. Make sure to check the weather before hitting the trail.
If it has rained in the last couple of days, expect the trail to be extremely muddy and slippery. Remember, even if it’s not raining in town, it may be in the mountains. A quick glance at the mountain range will give you a better idea of the current weather status as opposed to a weather app will.
If the weather turns while you are hiking and the rain picks up, consider turning around. Conditions change quickly on trails like Moanalua Valley and can get ugly quickly. Entire waterfalls form down the trails in extreme conditions due to their steepness.
If the rains persist, this trail is the last place you want to be.
There are several rope sections scattered about Moanalua Valley Trail. Make sure to always test the condition of the ropes as well as their anchor points before trusting them with your life.
An important practice to also follow is making sure that only one hiker is on a rope at a time. If more than one person is attempting to use the same rope it can throw someone off balance.
Get in the habit of calling “off rope” to let your hiking buddies know when they can latch on.
Moanalua Valley Trail is an extremely challenging trail. The trail is both mentally and physically taxing due to its length and technicality.
Know your personal limits and hiking experience when determining if this trail is right for you and everyone in your hiking party. 10.5 miles in Hawai’i is not the same as hiking 10.5 miles on the mainland. The elevation gain is intense and will test your endurance in ways that are hard to explain.
Again, 10.5 miles on Moanalua Valley Trail will take you longer than a typical 10.5-mile trail. Make sure to allow enough time to get the trail done before sundown.
Start early — the earlier the better and make sure to pack a long headlamp, snacks, and sufficient amounts of water, just in case.
Oh yeah, and lastly, have fun.
Similar Hikes on O’ahu
No other trails on O’ahu have the uniqueness of the Haiku Stairs, but many share the same level of difficulty, adventure, and views as the Moanalua Valley Trail.
Best Overall Trail: Ka’au Crater Trail
Best View: Kuli’ou’ou West Loop Trail
Most Adventurous Trail: Olomana Trail “Three Peaks”
Most Beautiful: Pu’u Konahuanui Peak Trail via the Kalawahine Trail “K2 and K1”
Make sure to check out my other O’ahu guides to help plan your trip or fill your weekend with adventure. If you have any questions about hiking Moanalua Valley Trail versus the Stairway to Heaven Trail, leave me a comment in the section below.
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