I have hiked the Stairway to Heaven Trail on Oahu, Hawaii and I have several friends who hike it regularly. This blog post will be updated regularly with information that many people share with me about the topic so that you can be best prepared for your hike up the infamous Stairway to Heaven hike on Oahu, Hawaii. Know that this route is also known as the Haiku Stairs.
In this blog post, I will cover everything you need to know about the Haiku Stairs hike including its history, alternate routes, current status, security, incline, height, distance, best weather conditions, the gear you’ll need, and how to get there.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE UPDATES
UPDATED 1/1/2022: Fines have been reported as approximately $1000, with people receiving them recently. Security has been upgraded and there is now not only security but also a frequent (but not constant) police presence. Police waiting at the top of the hike to book hikers is very uncommon but has happened on a few occasions. Basically, it is a high-risk hike, illegal and you may get fined.
*This post was originally written in 2016 and the situation has changed since then regarding security, fines, the condition of the stairs but I update the post frequently based on reports from locals.
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!
THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE ON OAHU, HAWAII
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 of all the hikes on Oahu.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE/HAIKU STAIRS – A SHORT HISTORY
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.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE/ HAIKU STAIRS DETAILS
- Distance: 2 miles or 3 km roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 2,630 feet or 800m
- Duration: 2-3 hrs up, 1-2 hrs down
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE: IS IT WORTH THE RISK?
I had been on Oahu for over a year and despite contemplating the hike many times, the rumor of a $600 possible fine (now increased to $1000) had scared me off. I was a college student trying to pay rent and that kind of fine could incur real financial trouble for me. I listened time after time as my friends would recount their experience of an amazing sunrise hike on the stairs or about how they managed to sneak past the guard through the bamboo forest. I was also enticed by the many photos I had seen highlighting this extraordinary climb and views. I didn’t want to miss the unique opportunity of experiencing the Haiku Stairs and taking my own photos of this unbelievably scenic hike before I left Hawaii, despite knowing it would be breaking the law.
As time passed, the instances of the $600 fines being handed out seemed to have become more commonplace. More and more hikers began meeting the police at the bottom of the hike after they had descended back down the stairs. My nervousness about being caught kept my desire to attempt the hike at bay.
I had two friends visit and had promised them if the opportunity arose we would try and do the craziest hike they could imagine so they were already pumped for the Stairway to Heaven. One fateful night, the weather seemed perfect and we made a last-minute decision to go for it.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING UP THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN ON OAHU
We were dropped off in the neighborhood at 2 am in the morning on a very clear night, only a few light clouds hovered over the mountains looming above. As soon as we stepped out of the car a neighbor came rushing out of his front yard yelling at us with his phone pressed angrily to his ear. Startled by the old man walking towards us we quickly shuffled away to the “main entrance” only to find someone jumping out beaming a flashlight at us. This was chaos.
Well, that was an interesting start! We crept off in the opposite direction toward an alternate entry point, well aware that the old man had been on the phone to the guard or quite possibly the police, warning them of our arrival. This heightened our sense of adventure and fear considerably.
Walking through the neighborhood with our crew of six, as quietly as possible, our presence soon became blatantly obvious as a chain reaction of barking dogs blew our cover. With no other choice, we hurried down the street to a small lane that led up a hill. We had to clamber over a barbed-wire fence one by one that was very close to a neighboring home. I can definitely understand why neighbors would be annoyed with people jumping this fence every night. I did feel some remorse for the neighbor trying to get a good night’s sleep but our mission was going ahead despite the barbed wire fence.
From here we had to sneak our way through knee-high undergrowth as quietly as six, tired and anxious people in the dark can. A silhouetted figure appeared in the foliage twenty yards behind us and began yelling but we quickly scuttled towards the path and out of the shrubbery. We were now approaching the guard and we could make out a car in the distance. Already on private property and having passed multiple no trespassing signs we were understandably quite nervous.
No one was standing by the car so we walked straight past it and towards the stairs. I felt a huge relief as we began our ascent up the stairs as it is commonly known that the guards and police don’t usually climb the stairs to confront people. It felt like we were safe and could now enjoy our 3 am hike up the Stairway to Heaven.
In 2015 a huge storm damaged several sections of the stairs to the point where they were severely mangled. It isn’t incredibly dangerous but it definitely makes things interesting. A number of the stairs are loose and each step had to be taken with that in mind.
We hiked without headlamps and the full moon guided us up the narrow, damp staircase. I stopped frequently to peer down at the Highway that continually got smaller and smaller as we climbed towards platform one.
The full moon illuminated the stairs ahead of us and the smell of damp metal covered our hands as we made sure to always have a good grasp on the slippery railing. We continued to make our way carefully up towards platform two, where we found an abandoned cabin with old machinery lying inside. It felt as if we were on a post-apocalyptic movie, the last survivors searching for any other signs of life.
After almost two hours we were moments from reaching the summit. The final section of the hike has boards rather than stairs, which create a catwalk 2000 ft in the air on top of a sharp ridge.
THE TOP OF THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE!
At the summit, we found another old cabin with huge antennae on top. We wandered around, investigating our playground in the clouds before we returned to the warmth of the bunker to wait for the sun to rise. Packing a spare change of clothes was a game-changer. Being able to put on a dry shirt and jacket made a huge difference in combating the wind at the summit.
After a short wait, the sky began to glow a pale blue, then a purple, and all of a sudden the sun attempted to break through the haze. It wasn’t the sunrise of the year but it shone yellow and orange throughout Haiku Valley and lit up the stairway we had just climbed.
More than thirty people witnessed the sunrise with us and we watched them begin the descent down the group by group. We began to contemplate when we should head down and which way we should go. The Moanalua Trail, is a 6-mile route down that would help you avoid the guards but you would also miss the views of the stairway on the way down and it would take 3-4 times as long.
THE JOURNEY BACK DOWN THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
We decided to follow the crowd and headed down the stairs, only one old man remained at the summit when we left. The hike down was a photographer’s dream with hundreds of prime photo opportunities. We weren’t in a rush so I decided to hike most of the descent by myself so I could enjoy composing and setting up different shots.
It is amazing to walk up in the dark and then see where you hiked as you descend down in the daylight. It took us less than two hours to make it to the beginning of the stairs. We could see the guard’s red truck parked at the foot of the stairs where it was in the morning but we decided to take the risk.
MEETING THE GUARD ON THE WAY DOWN
In the end, we didn’t clamber through the bamboo forest as many others do, we took a deep breath and walked straight up to the guard. He smiled, exhaled his cigarette smoke as he smirked, “I’ve called the cops, they must not have come,” as he began laughing to himself.
It was his response that made us feel better about the whole situation. Even the guard knows it is a bunch of politics stopping adventurers from hiking this trail. He had probably hiked it a bunch back in the day and kind of just sent us on our way with a ‘hurry up and get out of here’ kind of look. Keep in mind the situation has escalated a lot over the years and I’m sure the guard in 2021 maybe a little less casual.
Winding our way in and out of bamboo shoots we emerged from the forest inside an elementary school to the dismay of a worker, who had clearly seen it all before. We apologized and put our heads down and followed his orders to take the gate out. We were almost free.
Making our way towards the final gate, we spilled into the neighborhood and saw no signs of any police or angry neighbors. We knew we were now literally out of the woods. I couldn’t believe we had just hiked the Stairway to Heaven.
This is truly one of the wonders of the world and makes you feel incredibly small, almost like an ant climbing a hill. The atmosphere of the hike is dreamy, eerie, and feels like Jurassic Park. It is definitely something you should attempt when visiting Honolulu if you are up for the challenge.
I recommend that if you do this hike, try as hard as possible to attempt it with someone who has been before. Show respect for the neighbors as much as possible and know that you are likely trespassing and breaking the law.
ALTERNATE ROUTE: THE BACKWAY OF STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
As I mentioned earlier in the blog post, there is an alternate route down and therefore, also an alternate route up. You can completely avoid the guards and security at the start of the trailhead if you follow the Moanalua Trail. The hike begins at the Moanalua Valley road trail and is a 9.3-mile round trip. You will get muddy and it is not an easy hike. Click that link above to read my full blog post about that trail.
Although it is legal, it is still a tough hike. There are multiple sections with rope climbs and very steep, muddy ascents. However, it is still technically illegal to be up on the top platform at the satellite even though that is the top of the legal Moanalua Ridge Trail. Classic bureaucracy at play as that makes zero sense.
Once you reach the top you can walk down the stairs and get some cool photos. In fact, you can go quite a far way down the stairs because the guards and police usually only wait at the bottom. I think they are too lazy to chase people up the stairs every morning.
So, for the photographers out there, you can get all of the angles and shots you have dreamed about… legally. This route also does a good job of not waking up the neighbors as you jump fences and sneak around at 3 am. Keep in mind, according to the rules, if you step foot on the summit you are breaking the law. So you just can’t get caught at the summit and you are all good. I’ve only heard a few instances where an undercover cop was at the summit and fined everybody who set foot there. It’s ridiculous but that’s a head’s up on the rules I’m aware of.
I highly advise you guys to hike Stairway to heaven this way. You will avoid a possible fine of up to $1000 and not risk getting involved with the police. You won’t piss off the poor neighbors who have to deal with everyone running around their neighborhood each morning. You will still get the same shots of the stairs as you would going the other way just with a bit more effort. You also get to hike Moanalua Trail, which is an awesome hike too!
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.
SHOULD THE STAIRS BE PULLED DOWN?
There have been several possible solutions thrown around about the future of Stairway to Heaven on Oahu, Hawaii. How could it be possible to make the hike open to the public and also respect the neighbor’s right to privacy and safety in their own yard? Here are the options that have been discussed so far in the media, forums, and by the state.
In late 2021, a bill was passed to tear them down despite overwhelming public support from local residents and even the neighbors to find a different solution that works for everyone. But the suits in the city decided to tear it down instead of repairing it despite it being one of the most popular attractions on the island.
- 1. Charge tourists/out of state visitors $50-100 to hike the stairs while the hike remains free for residents of Hawaii. The money can be spent on creating a small parking lot, maintaining the trail and creating a safe entrance and exit points.
- 2. Require all people to purchase a permit for $10 from the Parks and Recreation Department before hiking the Stairway to Heaven. This paper would need to be shown at the entrance to the stairs or checked at any time during the hike. This would take the liability away from the state and is similar to the rules and regulations for camping grounds.
- 3. Paid tours with guides could remove the liability from the state and put the responsibility on tour companies who would need to act responsibly and safely with their clients. This isn’t a great option for residents who don’t necessarily want a guide.
- 4. Close the hike, pull down the stairs and the liability is then gone. Unfortunately, this won’t ever work because people will still hike up to the summit and without the stairs, there may be a higher risk of injuries or fatalities for hikers.
- 5. Use a lottery system similar to other national parks, which allow only a small number of lucky lottery winners into the park each month.
What do you think the best solution could be? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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.
WHERE IS THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN?
This map below shows the pin location of the satellite at the top of the stairway to heaven on Oahu. From here you will have to decide on whether you trespass and jump fences or attempt the Stairway to Heaven trail from the back entrance. I highly encourage the latter.
SAVE THIS POST TO PINTEREST FOR LATER
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.
MORE OAHU BLOG POSTS
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!
- What to pack for Hawaii: THE HAWAII PACKING LIST: WHAT TO PACK
- A helpful guide to choosing accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Most epic hike on Oahu: THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN OAHU, HAWAII
- The best Waterfalls: AMAZING WATERFALLS ON OAHU, HAWAII
- Ultimate Cliff Jumping Guide: 11 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON OAHU
- Guide to Swimming with Sea Turtles: WHERE TO SEE TURTLES ON OAHU
- The best Waterfall Hikes: TOP WATERFALL HIKES ON OAHU
- Best Tours: 20 BEST TOURS ON OAHU
- The Ultimate Guide to Oahu: 80 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON OAHU