Stairway to Heaven Hike – Oahu, Hawaii

The Stairway to Heaven, also known as Haiku Stairs, is made of 3,922 metal stairs that climb a steep, narrow ridge on the Ko’olau Mountains all the way to the summit. It’s one of the most popular places to go as a visitor or resident and for good reason: on either side of this narrow ascent are spectacular views of the mountain and ocean. It puts you as close to the mountain as possible on a seemingly impossibly steep ridge. There’s no other way to climb a mountain like this without the stairs in place and that’s what makes the hike unique

On either side are thousand foot cliffs. You’ll likely be greeted to the best sunrise of your life. The clouds move in and out with normal grace. You will feel elevated and on top of the world

Update 2019: The $1,000 trespassing fines are regularly given out by a now stronger police presence at the base of the stairs and at the entrance in the Kaneohe neighborhood. It’s a major gamble with knowing whether the guard will call the cops as you are climbing back down or not. I’ve had both experiences with the guard: once after hearing that he called the police, we just booked it through the forest as fast as possible. The other time, the guard was relaxed and turned a blind eye. As of now, July 2019, I don’t think the latter happens very often. Your best bet is to hike from the backside to the stairs.

Location:

There are the two options to hiking the Stairway to Heaven: #1 hike legally for 10+ hours, or #2 sneak through a neighborhood & avoid the guard and police on the frontside. Many other websites provide a good description of how to sneak through the neighborhood to avoid the guard at 2am in the morning to climb the front side of the stairs. You’ll have to refer to those websites for a detailed description of how to do this. Below is a description of how to hike the legal way, which I advocate you do.

The backside of Stairway to Heaven starts on the Moanalua Valley Trail. You’ll want to park your car outside the park at the end of the road, since they do close the gates at night. From there, you will hike the mostly flat Moanalua Valley Trail for about 2.5 miles. This trail passes over several concrete bridges above the river, and goes past a large red dirt opening in the middle of the valley – where the top of the mountain comes into sight. Eventually, you will see an offshoot going up the mountain on the left hand side of the river. This turns into the middle saddle ridge that climbs to the top of the mountain. If 10 minutes into this turn, you are climbing a narrow ridge, then you know you’re on the right trail. Otherwise, you’ve likely missed it and will have to retrace your steps.

From there, it is fairly straightforward – but not easy. Climb to the top of the mountain, summit it, and then use the trail that descends on the Kaneohe side to link up with the stairs. On the ascent, there are many steep, muddy sections, which you’ll need to clamber up and use some rock climbing skills. It’s pretty difficult and what takes up the most time. This part takes a couple hours. From summit to stairs should take around 10 or 15 minutes. This is where most people refer to a muddy trail, as it gets fairly gnarly towards the end. Then, you’ll be at the omega satellite station, and will easily see the stairs below.

The Stairway to Heaven Hike – Oahu, Hawaii:

The hike ascends 3,000ft and has many sections that require you to pull your body weight up the mountain, you’ll want to pack smart – meaning as light as possible, but still with the proper amount of gear.

 

Packing List for the Stairs:

Rain Jacket – Something that can break the wind, stop the rain, and keep you warm.

Spare change of clothes – to leave at the car after you finish the hike. This includes a pair of flip-flops.

Headlamp – to see the stairs in the morning.

3-4 liters of water – the hike is terribly hot and difficult. Hydrate the night beforehand as well.

Food & Snacks – pack something so you can enjoy it at the top.

Camera – make sure to bring a camera to capture all the memories.

 

Actually Hiking the Stairs:

The last time I climbed the Stairway to Heaven was in July 2018. During this time, the patrols were still going strong and the realization that you could get a stiff $1,000 fine was highly likely. I decided the best way to do the stairs was from the backside of the mountain. That way, there was no chance of getting a fine or getting thrown into jail. With a few friends visiting from out of state, and being my 25th birthday, I decided that I should attempt this 10 hour venture.

Which was crazy. This was the most brutal hike possible and the lore of getting cool photos at a staircase in the mountain wasn’t that appealing. Maybe for some, it has some attractiveness, but nowadays it’s mostly to fill Instagram feeds and fill people’s ego. Still, I’m always stoked to go hiking, but the main draw of the staircase, isn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. That being said, I would and will probably do it a few more times just as a test of endurance. Perhaps bring a tent?

 

Hopefully I will make it clear with this line: YOU SHOULDN’T DO THE STAIRWAY (front side) UNLESS YOU’RE OKAY WITH A $1000 FINE AND POTENTIAL JAIL TIME.

To do the Stairway to Heaven legally, you’ll have to be prepared for a 10-hour roundtrip, extreme and enduring – mud-slide of a hike. 

There are a few locals who set up tours to climb the stairway – the legal way. If you are not confident with your trail following abilities, or worried about getting lost or stuck, then make sure to join one of these outings. And if there is something not clear about the blog post, then please ask a clarifying question. Other than that, enjoy the stairs and I hope you have a great hike.

One last note: If you enjoy the Stairway to Heaven and want to preserve it, then please check out the Friends of Haiku Stair’s Website. This organization’s mission is dedicated to the protection of the historic Haiku Stairs and its environment for current and future generations. It’s worth making an effort to preserve what you enjoy. 

 

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