How To Do The (Illegal) Stairway To Heaven Hike in Oahu, Hawaii

The view from the top of the magical Stairway to Heaven hike or Haiku Stairs

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Updated 2019: Since writing this post I have been informed security at the main and secret entrances has increased massively. Security are now checking the drain entrance to the Stairway to Heaven hike in Oahu, Hawaii as early as 4am, however some hikers have managed to get access to the drain at around 9am.

In March 2018, two hikers were airlifted out from a steep clearing on the Stairway to Heaven; if you are afraid of heights or unsure of your hiking/climbing ability, there is a alternative legal route that takes you to the top of the stairs from the backside. 

In 2018 a man was injured after climbing over a booby-trapped fence to get to the trail. Make sure you use your common sense if attempting this hike- the people living next to the Stairway to Heaven hike are extremely hostile towards anyone attempting it. 

Picture this: You’re on your third glass of wine, you’ve just arrived on a tropical island, and you meet a group of people who promise you an amazing adventure…

This is exactly how I ended up agreeing to the Stairway To Heaven hike.

The morning of the hike, I wasn’t exactly prepared. I was hungover, I was dehydrated and I was jet-lagged. In fact, this article should probably be titled how NOT to hike the Stairway To Heaven. Fortunately for me, I completed the hike, but I ran into every kind of disaster while doing so. Which I guess makes me more of an expert on the things that can go wrong, and how to avoid them.

A Short History Of The Stairway To Heaven Hike

The Stairway To Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs was built during World War II as a way for soldiers to access the radio antenna that sits at the top.

In 2015 a storm damaged some parts of the stairs. Instead of fixing the damage, the stairway was fenced off and deemed highly dangerous and illegal to climb.

Is It Really That Dangerous?

Yes and no. To be honest, I was expecting it to be a lot more dangerous than what it was, so I was relieved when I found that only 10 feet of the stairs had been damaged from the storm. If you hold the hand railing and concentrate on where you put your feet you should be fine.

If there has been rain recently, be aware there is moss on the stairs and this can make them very slippery. Always hold on to the railing!

What Is The Length Of The Stairway To Heaven?

So how long is the Stairway to Heaven? It is exactly 3,922 steps! It will take you anywhere between 2-5 hours to complete. It is much quicker on the way down, but beware of leg fatigue!

What To Pack When Hiking The Haiku Stairs

Take a backpack and bring plenty of water- this is a tough hike. You will climb 4,000 steps and some of these are at a 30 degree angle. In parts, you are basically climbing a ladder. Now is also the time to pack high energy food. You will need it!

Ensure you pack some sunscreen too. The hike can take up to 3-4 hours to complete and there is very little shade. Also make sure you bring a camera and your phone is fully charged- you will want to take many photos.

How To Get To Haiku Stairs / Stairway to Heaven Hike

To access the Haiku stairs, you need to sneak in. There are three main access points, however I’ll discuss the one that we used to get in. Whatever you do, do not walk directly to the entrance. There are police patrolling the road that leads to the entrance, and there is a guard at the entrance also. You will actually meet the stairs a little after they start. Many people choose to break in as early as 4am in the morning to avoid the guard.

The safest way to gain access to the stairway is to go via the drainage ditch (see photo below for the exact location). Once you jump the fence and go down into the drain (it’s clean, don’t worry) you will then climb through bush until you reach a security fence. The trial is vaguely marked- be careful you don’t get lost! Once you reach the security fence, you will have to climb over. It is marked with barbed wire, however there is a section where the wire has come loose so you can climb over without tearing a hole in your leg.

Map of access point to the Stairway to Heaven hike aka Haiku Stairs

Try Not To Get Caught- But It Doesn’t Reeeally Matter

You will then cross a road into even more bush- be careful when crossing the road. We actually got caught by the police when we were crossing the road. Fortunately, they turned a blind eye when they saw us! I have heard this story a few times- there are so many people trying to do the hike that the guards can’t do much. They do hand out the odd fine- it’s just luck of the draw if they let you past or not.

This is where it gets more challenging. The track isn’t as easily marked here, but when you go into the bush you want to start heading right. You will have to climb up some steep areas; you will grip onto vines, and you’ll get on your hands and knees to crawl.

Once you reach the stairs- it’s time to start climbing! The steepest part of the hike is at the beginning, so once you get through that it does get a little easier. Welcome to heaven (and hell- for your legs!).

The view from the top is 100% worth it, though!

Coming Back Down To Earth

When you go back down the stairs, you will be able to see the guard and he will be able to see you. Luckily, there is a security fence separating you and the guard. You will want to go the same way out as you came in, just in case.

My legs were shaking pretty violently on the descent. This made me quite unsteady at times, and if we did get caught by the guard or police at the bottom I very much doubt I’d have been able to run away!

The locals living in the neighborhood surrounding the Haiku Stairs really do not like the tourists hiking it. Do not be surprised if they yell abuse at you- just be polite, and keep walking. It is a privilege to hike the Stairway To Heaven.

Lastly, why not make a donation to a place such as the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve? This isn’t going to change the fact you broke the law by hiking the Stairway To Heaven, but it’s still good karma to put some money back into the island.

I hoped you enjoyed my guide on how to hike the Stairway to Heaven in Oahu, Hawaii. Have you hiked the stairway? Do you have any other tips on how to climb it?

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23 thoughts on “How To Do The (Illegal) Stairway To Heaven Hike in Oahu, Hawaii”

  1. What an awesome story! I’ve seen pictures from friends and have yet to do it but it’s on my bucklist. Hopefully I won’t get caught

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      It gets the adrenaline going, that’s for sure. Good luck and if you follow my tips you will be fine! 🙂

  2. I love illicit adventures like these, thanks for sharing! The scenery is fantastic and I’d definitely do this if I get to Hawaii one day.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      Hawaii is one of my favourite places on the planet- you must visit!

        1. Yvette Morrissey

          It’s very hard to say. We got caught and were let off, and then we hid in the bushes and tried again, so we got through. You have to ask yourself- is the fine worth the adventure?

          It really depends on the guard too. Some will fine you, others turn a blind eye. This is part of the fun though! Good luck!

  3. 4000 steps with royal purple shoes. I admire that. 😉 And you don’t look hungover or dehydrated at all.
    The Stairway to Heaven is now on my bucket list. Thanks for posting.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      I may have sweated out any lingering alcohol by the time I took those photos ha ha!

  4. WoW that must have been so cool! Great pictures too ?? XX Bonnie

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      It was probably one of the best life experiences I’ve had to date 🙂

  5. Cristina

    THOSE are the kind of blogposts that I like to read! Don’t stop exploring, girl!

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      Thanks! It’s adrenaline bursts like these that make me feel alive

  6. ARIANA DEL RIO

    I love the last part about KARMA!!! looks incredible and adventurous. I did many hikes on Oahu (though not this one). Must be a bit scarier during the rainy season.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      It is quite steep in some parts so hiking it when wet would not be the best idea. Luckily it was a beautiful day when I hiked the stairs. I did feel a little bad about breaking the law, hence why I made a donation to Hanauma, but I feel it’s our as right as human beings to be able to see and experience the beauty in the world

  7. What a coolexperience! To be honest, I would love to try it but don’t think i wouldn’t have courage to hike it lol

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      My heart was hammering in my chest the WHOLE time! It wasn’t until we were in a taxi back to Waikiki that I could relax!

  8. Megan Johnson

    I had no idea this was illegal, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to do it! It look amazing and 100% worth it!

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      I’m surprised they don’t just fix the steps that are broken! I would think that it would cost less to do that than pay for a guard and police to staff it. I know a lot of the locals are rallying for it. Fingers crossed they make it legal again one day

  9. Anonymous

    Amazing blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally confused ..

    Any ideas? Cheers!

  10. Albert Trotter

    advent ours post it is..thanks for sharing the road map for hiking and the smart guidelines..i will plan to go there with my family coming august for sure.. will it be fine to there in august???

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      I assume it will be fine- I hiked it in November last year. It was pretty warm then, so I’d say it will be very hot in August! Just be careful to avoid the guards, take plenty of water and you’ll be fine 🙂

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ABOUT YVETTE

Hello, I’m Yvette! Originally from New Zealand, I now call Scotland home. I left New Zealand three years ago to go on an adventure around the world. I help people to go on their own adventures, whether it’s travelling to a new country, hiking or outdoor activities.

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