Hiking Stairway to Heaven on Oahu: A Guide to the Haiku Stairs

stairway to heaven oahu at sunrise
by Josh Larsen

The Stairway to Heaven on Oahu is one of the most breathtaking places I have had the opportunity to visit. 3,922 steps in total, the steel stairs will take you to the top of Puʻu Keahiakahoe (2,800 feet), a mountain in the Koʻolau range. On a clear day, you are rewarded with panoramic views of Oahu from the summit. Some say this is the craziest hike on Oahu and while it is a tough hike, I disagree. There are other hikes that are much more challenging, and much crazier than the stairway to heaven.

A Quick History of the Ha’ikū Stairs

The Haiku Stairs got their name from the nearby Haiku Valley. The Haiku Stairs were originally built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a means to access radio transmission towers at the top of Puʻu Keahiakahoe during World War II. After the navy abandoned the stairway in 1987, it became a popular spot for hikers and adventure seekers.

The Stairs May Be Torn Down For Good Soon

The Haiku Stairs are currently closed to the public due to safety concerns and are at risk of being torn down in order to stop trespassing hikers from disturbing the nearby neighborhood. The city council voted and it was decided that the stairs would indeed be torn down. However, they miscalculated on their budget (by a long shot), so there is still a chance that the stairs can be saved. If you want to support the Haiku Stairs, go sign the petition at savehaikustairs.com. They are working to protect the stairs, and prevent them from being torn down, but instead, turn them into a paid attraction.

Where Are the Haiku Stairs?

The Haiku Stairs are located on private property in the Haiku Valley on the east side of Oahu. There are several access points to get to the stairs, but the “best way” is always changing. The area is patrolled by police officers regularly, the Stairway to Heaven Trail has a guard on duty 24/7. If you are spotted in the neighborhood near the stairs, the residents will likely call the police. I’ve heard stories of people getting chased and threatened by the residents as well, so, if you decide to attempt the hike, just be as respectful (as respectful as you can while breaking the law).

You can scope out the area before going on Google Maps, I dropped a pin on the stairs that you can use to get a layout of the land. You can even follow the stairs all the way up to the radio station on Google Maps.

satellite view of the stairway to heaven hawaii hike oahu

I added another pin at the entrance where the guard can sometimes be found.

satellite view of the entrance to stairway to heaven hike oahu

What is the Best Way to Hike The Stairs?

The best way to hike the stairs, if you are willing to take the risk is to find a local who will go with you. The “best way” to hike the stairway to heaven Oahu is always changing, so I would not attempt it without someone who has done it before.

To find a local, just go to Instagram and search #stairwaytoheaven and you’ll find people who have done it recently. Slide into their DMs to see if they will take you (some will do it for free, others will not).

Are the Haiku Stairs Dangerous?

Hiking the Haiku Stairs is illegal and considered trespassing, so if you’re caught, you could be fined or arrested. In addition, the Haiku Stairs are in disrepair in some areas, which makes them dangerous. I would not attempt to hike them unless you are experienced in hiking and are comfortable with heights.

Have There Been Any Deaths on the Haiku Stairs?

In all of the years since the stairway to heaven Oahu has been up, there have never been any deaths recorded but tread lightly. It was closed to the public around the same time the Sacred Falls hike was closed due to a tragic rockslide that lead to several deaths.

The Legal Way to Hike the Stairway to Heaven Hike

If you want to see the stairway to heaven before it is torn down completely, AND you want to avoid breaking the law, then keep reading. There is a LEGAL way to get to the top of the Haiku Stairs. It is on the opposite side of the mountain range, so we always called it “the backside of stairway”.

Officially, it is called the Moanalua Valley Trail. Check it out on AllTrails.

Hiking the back side of stairway is harder (in my opinion) than taking the stairs. It is just over 9 miles long and features some intense ridges. The views are stunning as you climb up the steep mountain. This is not an easy hike, so be prepared before you go to the Moanalua valley trail.

Why You Shouldn’t Hike Stairway to Heaven Hike

Whichever way you decide to hike Stairway to Heaven, please be respectful of the area and the people who live there. Hiking is an activity that should be done with caution and preparation. If you are caught hiking the Haiku Stairs, you could be fined or arrested. In addition, the stairs are in disrepair in some areas, which makes them hard to climb in some spots. The biggest risk to climbing the Haiku Stairs is getting caught, and upsetting the local residents. So don’t get caught!

Why You Should Hike Stairway to Heaven Hike

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Stairway to Heaven is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to. Nothing beats watching the sunrise from heaven. Nothing. It’s an experience that you’ll be able to brag to your friends about for years to come, and you’ll leave with some pretty stunning photos at the end. Following are some of my experiences hiking the stairs over the years.

My Experience Hiking the Haiku Stairs

I’ve hiked the Stairway to Heaven hike 5 times from 2013-2018. Each time was equally incredible. I noticed the stairs deteriorate over the years, but still, we always made our way up to the top. Sometimes in the rain, sometimes we got lucky with clear skies.

Stairway to Heaven Round 1 – 2013

building on stairway to heaven oahu at sunrise

The first time I ever hiked the stairs was with my good friend Braden during our Freshman year of college. We were broke and had no car so we took the last bus from North Shore of Oahu down to Kaneohe, then walked the rest of the way to the entrance of the stairs. We read online that the guard didn’t stay all night long, so late night/early morning was the best time to go.

We were right! We strolled right up to the stairs without running into any guards or police officers. Apparently, dozens of other hikers got the same intel we did. I remember after climbing the first set of stairs, and looking behind me I saw DOZENS, if not well over 100 other hikers lighting the stairs with their headlamps. The entire hike was like sitting in stop and go traffic during rush hour. Occasionally we’d get to an opening where we could do a “sprint”, but only until we ran into more hikers. We made it to the top while it was still dark, and found a group of strangers huddled under the building trying to stay warm and dry, waiting for the sun to come up.

hiding from the rain stairway to heaven oahu

The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and we all ran over to the edge of the platform to see the sunrise. It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen in my life, and I knew at that moment that I would have to come back.

After the sun came up, and the clouds dispersed, we made our way back down and enjoyed the rest of our day napping on the beach.

hiking down the haiku stairs oahu

Stairway to Heaven Round 2 – 2013

hikeing up the haiku stairs oahu

During our second trip up the Haiku Stairs hike, we were smarter. We made more friends, friends with cars. Which was actually a big deal for college students in Hawaii. If you had a car, everyone wanted to be your friend.

This trip was not nearly as crowded as the first, so we made it up to the radio station a lot faster. Everyone but Joe. Joe decided it would be a good idea to hike the stairway to heaven after donating blood earlier that day. He was a trooper though and he made it.

cloudy day on the top of stairway to heaven hawaii hike

Stairway to Heaven Round 3 – 2014

Each time I did the stairway to heaven trail, it was with a different group of people, each wanting to check it off their bucket list. On my third trip, we were a group four, one of which was a good friend from high school who was visiting the island for a week.

We were lucky to have clear skies, no fog, and no rain on this trip which made for great views of Kaneohe bay at night.

kaneohe bay at night from the top of stairway to heaven hawaii hike

It also made for a killer sunrise in the morning.

Stairway to Heaven Round 4 – 2017

Each time I hiked the Haiku stairs hike, it seemed I was with a different group of people. By my fourth trip up the stairs, I didn’t care to take pictures (I’m regretting that now) so this is the only one I have worth posting.

cloudy day on the stairway to heaven hawaii hike

Stairway to Heaven Round 5 – 2018

2018 was the year I was leaving Hawaii, so when the opportunity presented itself one more time to climb the Haiku Stairs there was no other option but to say yes. A friend of a friend was visiting Oahu from Maui and wanted to check the hike off their bucket list.

By 2018 the old strategies of climbing the stairs in the wee hours of the morning no longer applied. They had a guard posted 24/7 and police regularly patrolled the area in an attempt to deter hikers. This time, we started our hike in the early afternoon which was an entirely new experience for me since I was used to hiking the stairs in the dark.

I don’t remember exactly which access point we took, but I remember passing a church and doing a bit of bushwhacking to finally make our way to the stairs.

As usual, the views were astonishing and totally worth the experience.

clear afternoon on the stairway to heaven

This time, instead of going up just in time to catch the sunrise, we made it up to catch the sunset on the opposite side of Oahu. It was rewarding to get an entirely new perspective during my 5th trip up the stairway to heaven.

Given the chance again to climb the Haiku Stairs, I’d be there in a heartbeat. It is such an amazing place.

Our Trip Down the Backside of Stairway (Moanalua valley trail)

On one occasion, we decided that we didn’t want to deal with the guards/police so instead of going up the haiku stairs, and back down to face the threat of fines, we hiked up the Stairway to heaven, and down the Moanalua valley trail. This was a unique experience because we got to see both sides of the Koolau mountain range. It was, no doubt a challenging hike, I’m just glad I didn’t have to go UP the Moanalua trail AKA Moanalua Valley Road Trail.

As you can see, it is quite steep. I was astonished to see a few people RUNNING this trail. Wild.

Planning On Going? Don’t Forget This Hiking Gear

If you’re planning on going on the Haiku Stairs hike, make sure you have all the necessary gear. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Hiking shoes
  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Jacket (it can get cold at the radio station on top!)
  • First Aid kit
  • Camera! (You’ll want to take plenty of pictures)

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for an adventure, and want to check the Haiku Stairs off your bucket list, I would highly recommend doing it sooner rather than later. The stairs are in a state of disrepair, and there’s no telling how much longer they will be open to the public.

So get out there and hike the Haiku Stairs while you still can! And when you do, make sure to come back and let me know how it went in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Happy hiking! Aloha!

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Josh Larsen


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