There has been a lot of chatter, lately, about the City and County of Honolulu reopening the popular hiking trail known as Haiku Stairs, or Stairway to Heaven. This comes after the recent citation of two visitors from Florida, who needed to be rescued from the trail. According to the Honolulu StarAdvertiser, a 32-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman spent the night on the Moanalua side of the mountains while en route to the summit of Haiku Stairs. Just a day later, recently elected Honolulu Mayor, Kirk Caldwell, stated that he would eventually like to see Haiku Stairs eventually re-opened (see video) and made accessible to the public again.
Mayor Caldwell is considering the possibility of reopening Haiku Stairs. Original (this one is modified) photo by HPU Kalamalama Staff.
The famous Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven). Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Standing at one of the platforms. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The thought of reopening the popular trail, which was originally closed in the 1987 and then rebuilt between 2002-2003 at a cost of $875,000, has produced mixed reactions not just from the hiking community, but throughout the state. Community residents living in Haiku Valley are especially sensitive to this topic. Many have reported rowdy behavior during the late night or early morning, vandalism, and even people walking through private residential property in order to access the stairs.
So is it worth opening Haiku Stairs? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:
A fan of the Exploration: Hawaii Facebook page recently asked for day hike suggestions for an upcoming trip to Oahu. I gave the question some thought and came up with what I think are five exemplary hikes. Each of the suggested trails offer very unique and differing views of the island. One could easily spend 8 hours or more on each of these hikes (with the exception of Kahekili-Manamana). Each hike also comes with its own set of dangers and can be very taxing for even the most veteran of hikers, especially those who are not familiar with Hawaii’s volcanic and often times crumbly terrain.
With that said, here are 5 great day hikes on Oahu. Below each description, I provide estimates for time and distance, a few tips, and trailhead directions. Each of these hikes were also previously mentioned in depth here and I have provided links to those posts as well. Have a suggestion for a great day hike? Leave it in the comments!
This is Part 4 of Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike Personal Recap, posted with his permission. Please be sure to read the warning at the bottom of this post before attempting such a hike. This 8 day journey is the result of years of preparation. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 can be found here.
Day 6 (03/30/12)
N. Haiku-Wilson Tunnel Building 6.5 hrs 5 miles
Total Pack Weight: 24.6125 lb.
This begins the saddles. There were a couple of eroded sections in the beginning. Three I think. Then the eroded dike. The ridge isn’t too narrow here but you always slip at the second section. Take your time and tie off if needed. Reach the eroded dike(contour leeward) Gain ridge and reach trail junction. Descend 30 minutes to collect water. Refill all containers. Regain trail and immediately it turns back to serious mode. Three problems face you. Remember contour left when you don’t think to and contour right to use the root to climb. Remember to not go too far right and never to climb without veg unless on root. Use two ropes (1 in each hand) to get past the third problem. Soon you will see the pre-Stairs stairs. Climb up to the radar structure. Time depending, go inside for a snack and short break. You have about 1 1/2 hr along the summit ridge until the camp spot. Continue along the summit towards bowman. Reach Bowman terminus and snack. You will not have many more chances until the power lines. Reach eroded dike and drop leeward to contour. Reach 2nd Triangle and descend using rope slightly leeward. Similar with the next triangle. Lower yourself past the witch’s hat and then windward contour when needed. Reach power lines. Descend power line trail to camp spot at power line pole.
On this day last attempt I had fallen off the saddle and cracked my head causing an abrupt end to my plans. This was in my head all day and hard to shake.
Is it morning yet!!?!? After the worst night of sleep on this trip, at the first sign of dawn I jumped out of my cocoon and checked to make sure everything was still in good enough condition before packing it all up. This was the first morning I’ve woken in socked in conditions and slight rain so I was a little happy with myself being in the shack. I decided to wait and see if the clouds would clear so pulled out my cooking system and made some hot coffee and toasted my flatten bagel with Nutella.
Day 6 face.
After about 45 minutes the clouds lifted and the saddle began to show itself in full profile. Taking this as a sign, I grabbed my belongings and began walking along the extremely rusty stairs. Every time I am here I cannot get over the obvious impact exposure to the elements has on metal. If the stairs have a bush blocking it, then they have an almost brand new look but a few inches past the bush the metal resembles a creepy rusty dagger ready to impale you.
Passed Halawa and Red hill fairly quickly and was moving with the same sort of speed that had carried me through the previous days. There looks to be good camping at Halawa right before the summit for one small shelter setup. Might consider that if ever near this section and don’t want to sleep in the shack nor descend the saddle.
Began the descent down to the state trail at the middle of the saddle around 9:15 am. Personally, I enjoy this descent compared to other saddle descents. There are two or three eroded areas but the words of my mother the night before to “take it slow and I would get through it safely” rang through my head often during the following days. It is only at one section where I have to lower myself down an eroded spot and a tree is there for hand holds but no matter what I do I always end up having to let go of the tree and fall a foot or so which causes me to slide down the crap rock and catch myself in the vegetation. Always. Every trip. I considered using my guy line cord to lower myself but knew I would need it for other parts on the Kalihi saddle. So sliding I went and everything went smoothly. Reached the eroded dike and dropped down then contour leeward to get past it. After the dike it is basically smooth sailing to the flat area that marks the trail terminus. Reached it at 10 am and dropped my gear and put my front pack around my waist to descend down to the stream to collect water. Man, going from summit conditions to state trail is a little overwhelming at first and I proceeded to run down the trail. Reached the stream within 10 minutes and smacked my forehead as I saw all the beautiful camping spots that lay around the stream. Next time, next time! I was tempted to take a quick bath but just threw some water on my face, filled up all my water containers and proceeded to run back up the trail ready to get past the obstacle that put me out last trip.
I reached the trail terminus at 10:30 am and got ready to tackle the three challenges of the Moanalua saddle to Haiku. Weather was perfect for this attempt and just told myself take it slow and I knew how to do this. First challenge is just rock climbing with a windward contour and was handled with ease. The second challenge, my previous downfall, is to leeward contour but only slightly. Too far and one will begin to ascend with very little vegetation and will likely slip at some point. With this in mind I slight contoured and began to climb the obvious vegetation. This area really could do with a rope if people are actually doing this section as often as seems to be indicated. Had to climb using trees and vegetation until the root needed to gain the ridge appeared and then shifted right until I could reach it. No problems this time and was sitting upon the ridge with smiles on my face.
Honestly, throughout this entire trip, that was the most fear I will encounter because of the mental block caused by my old mistake. There is a little voice inside my head that knows when something does not feel right and in November I ignored that voice with the thought that “If I can just reach that spot right ther…..e”. This trip I strongly feel was successful because probably 6-7 times that voice began yelling at me and this time I listened, stopped and reattempted the problem from a different angle. It sounds like common sense but sometimes when all you need to do is get to a spot 2 feet away, it can be easy to quiet that voice and think it is just 2 feet away!!! One of many hard lessons I’ve had to come to learn on the trail.
This is Part 3 of Chase Norton’s Koolau Summit 8 Day Thru Hike Personal Recap, posted with his permission. Please be sure to read the warning at the bottom of this post before attempting such a hike. This 8 day journey is the result of years of preparation. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found here.
Day 3 (03/27/12)
Poamoho-Kipapa Sugi Pines 5 miles 5 hr
Total Pack Weight: 30.6125 lb.
Enjoy today! This is one of the quicker days so I would suggest the trip’s only warm breakfast. Enjoy yourself and make sure you refill all water containers. Leave by 9 a.m. after cleaning up, signing the log, and boarding the place up. I did not find any water after the cabin to Kipapa. If you find it, take it. You will arrive at the Pauao terminus within 30 minutes of leaving the cabin. Enjoy the beauty around you! This is the most enjoyable section of the KST. Around you is Kahana Valley. The S/W junction comes too soon as you know a long leeward stretch is coming up from Waikane to Waiahole Uka. Don’t forget to look for the pink ribbon rusty pole on the right. If you ever look up and see a contour, turn around and find the junction. Remember the set up on the side ridge to the right. Reach sugi pines and decide if want to continue 20 minutes up the landslide to reach true Kipapa terminus. Ascend landslide and look below you on the right for the contour. Supposedly, one can turn down Kipapa trail and campsite ~45min down near a possible waterfall. I tried this and found the overgrowth on Kipapa to be too much of a deterrent. I see this as a waste of 1hr 30min. Remember last camp spot sucked but the new one is amazing – it is located about 5 minutes before the summit right off the trail on the right.
Poamoho-S/W 2hr 1/2min-3hr
S/W-Waikane junction 30min
Waikane – Ka’aumakua 30min
Kaaumakua-Waiahole Uka 2hr 15min-3 hr
Waiahole Uka-Sugi Pines 15min
Sugi Pines to Kipapa Trail Terminus 20min
Camp near wind protected Sugi Pines, at old cabin structure or off Kipapa trail.
Bail S/W, Waikane, Waiahole Uka
Woke up early today around 6 am to the sound of rain tapping away on the roof of the cabin. I rolled off the top bunk with an enthusiasm for the start of a great day. This day is hands down my favorite section of the entire trip with the long stretches of windward contouring. On one side is a tall carved out wall in the mountain and on the other is the vast expanse of the hiker playground known as Kahana valley. I was eager to get on the trail but knew that I did not want to arrive at Kipapa too early. So a warm breakfast and cup of coffee were enjoyed watching the rising sun. A very soothing morning as the rain began to settle down, the birds came out chirping and the sun began to show itself above the horizon. This place is and hopefully will always be a place I enjoy to come and find the peace and calm lacking in other areas of my life. It is amazing to live in a cabin with no electricity and disconnected from society as every problem fades and activities are planned around the rising and setting of the sun. I question if we really are progressing as society and the praises of certain innovations. With my soul in check, I packed and cleaned up, signed the log and said my good byes as I hit the trail by 8:30am.
The old saying is that “The Bowman Trail doesn’t build character, Bowman reveals it.” And that was just the 1st HALF of the hike that we did last Saturday (8/6/2011). From the Bowman summit we then we did the Bowman Terminus Trail – basically RIDGE hiking and climbing on a semi-unmarked trail to the top of Haiku stairs. It was insane, dangerous, scary and extremely stupid. After that, trekking down the near vertical Stairway to Heaven was a peace of joyous cake. NOTE: Only a handful of people have completed and documented this hike. So as Marvin likes to say, we earned some bragging rights by completing the Bowman to Bowman Terminus to Haiku Stairs Trail.
This old concrete building that Ahnate is inspecting marks the start of the Bowman Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The day started pretty early and was very eventful from the get-go. Since this hike is about 10 miles long, it is useful to use two cars (one to be left at the end of the trail in Haiku Village and one to be used to drive to the start of the trail in Kalihi). With this in mind, the Oahu Adventure Dudes (group name pending, hah!) met up at Yogurtland in Manoa at 7am sharp. On the way to Yogurtland, one of the cars ran over a screw which resulted in a flat tire. Luckily, one of the explorers sprung right into action and changed the tire – thanks Jeremy!
With the tire fixed, we made our way to Haiku Village in Kaneohe. This would be the end point of the trail and so we decided to leave one of the cars here. If you do decide to do this, please be mindful of the community. There have been a lot of complaints about Stairway to Heaven hikers in the Haiku Village area. The residents have been known to call the Honolulu Police Department and even smear animal poop on fences and even cars. Yikes! Tip: Park far from the trail and be quite!
We then drove off to the start of the trail, which is located at Kalihi Elementary. After you park on Na’ai Street, walk toward the back of the basketball courts. There you will find the trailhead. Look for a ribbon – the day we were there, a pink ribbon was present and marked the start of the trail. The initial ascent is tough and quite vertical – no ropes here. Once to the top of the initial accent you will reach Radar Hill Road – follow this road until you reach an old concrete building – the official start of the Bowman trail begins to the left of this old concrete building.
The trail is pretty straightforward from here. Keep on following in the ribbon markers until you reach the Bowman Summit. Before you reach the Bowman summit, you will be greeted with two tricky rope climbing sections of the trail. This is were gloves come in mighty handy. You’ll also encounter a ton of Ohia trees after you ascent the second tricky rope climb section. It took us approximately 5 hours to reach the summit of the Bowman Trail. At this point, you will get a lovely view of Kaneohe Bay. It really does feel like you’re on top of the world. This is a great place to relax and enjoy your lunch – which for us was cliff bars!
Hanging out on a cliff just before the deadly rope climb to the summit of the Bowman Trail. Photo by Ahnate Lim.
View from the summit of the Bowman Trail. Photo by Marvin Chandra.
At this point, we’ve completed just a third of the hike. The next portion involved getting to the top of Haiku Stairs, better known as Stairway to Heaven. This third of the hike is known as the Bowman Terminus Trail and will lead you straight to Stairway To Heaven (the last third of the hike). I was led to believe this part of the hike would be a piece of cake. However, for me at least, this was the scariest part of the entire hike! I’m not kidding when I say that there are portions of the ridge that are just a foots width. Add in ferocious winds and you’ve got yourself an adventure.
Making our way on the ridge (Bowman Terminus Trail). When you click on the larger version you can see Coty, Joel, and Ahnate to the right. Photo by Marvin Chandra.
A bunch of these Army Men were found along the trail! Photo by Coty Gonzales.
There are four main landmarks that yo will reach when doing the Terminus hike – two powerlines and two radar dishes. A large chunk of the Terminus Trail I spend on my hands and knees and wondering what the heck I was doing at 2000+ feet elevation. It was thrilling to say the least. Once you reach the last radar dish you’ve reached the top of Haiku Stairs. You are officially in Heaven. At this point, me and the rest of the Oahu Adventure Dudes took time to enjoy the view and snap a ton of photos. Take everything in as you walk from Heaven back to Earth – it is all amazing. In total, it took about 11.5 hours to reach the end (or trailhead) of Stairway To Heaven. Having completed this hike was an amazing accomplishment.
Getting closer to Stairway To Heaven (Bowman Terminus Trail). Photo by Marvin Chandra.
Joel and Coty making their way to Haiku Stairs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Walking in the Clouds (Top of Haiku Stairs). Photo by Marvin Chandra.
Jeremy doing some gymnastics at the top of Haiku Stairs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Artifacts at Haiku Stairs. Photo by Ahnate Lim.
Welcome to Exploration: Hawaii. This is your new guide to some of the most exciting and thrilling things that you can do in the 50th state. Here you will find in-depth discussions of some of the most thrilling hikes, beautiful beaches, and exciting attractions in Hawaii.
Being an explorer can be a dangerous thing. Hiking the trails of Hawaii and swimming in her shores can be risky business. All of the adventures posted on this blog are the personal choice and personal responsibility of those who participated. If you choose to participate in any of the listed adventures, you do so at your own risk. Be mindful of your environment, be smart and do your research. Most of all, know your limits. Exploration: Hawaii assumes no responsibility, including but not limited to injury, loss or death due to the use of information, or participation in the activities found on this site.