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

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

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Stairway to Heaven Hawaii Update 2021: 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 Hawaii hike 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 Hawaii 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.

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

Stairway To Heaven Hawaii: A Quick History

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!

How To Do The (Illegal) Stairway To Heaven Hike in Hawaii
The Stairway to Heaven looking down onto Oahu

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!

One thing you MUST also pack is blister plasters! I highly recommend these Compeed plasters– they act like a second skin and allow you to keep walking even if you have a blister. They have saved my feet many times while out hiking!

Click here to buy a packet on Amazon.

Ensure you pack some sunscreen too. The Stairway to Heaven Hawaii 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 Do The (Illegal) Stairway To Heaven Hike in Hawaii
The view of the top of the Stairway to Heaven, Oahu

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!

>> Click to read: 7 Amazing Things to Do in Oahu, Hawaii

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.

>> Read more: 17 things to do in Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula

Tips for Hiking the Stairway to Heaven

Wear comfortable shoes with a good grip. My legs were shaking on the climb down- even though I was pretty fit at the time! Footwear really is everything if you’re going to attempt this hike. Plus, if you do need to run away if you’re spotted by the security guards, bear in mind you will be limited physically!

Take lots of water. Again, pack lots of water! This is a grueling hike, and Hawaii has very hot weather.

Have a hearty breakfast. You will need the carbs and the energy- trust me on this one! One of the toughest things about this hike is actually having the brain power to concentrate on going up, up, up.

Pack carb-dense snacks. Once you are on the stairs there are a few places to stop and rest and have a snack. You’ll be sweating a lot, so make sure you are putting energy and electrolytes back into your body.

Check the weather before you go. Hiking the Stairway to Heaven is already pretty dangerous, and hiking it in the rain or fog makes it even more so! Check the forecast before you go and unless you have perfect conditions, don’t attempt it.

Stretch after the hike. You already know you won’t be able to walk the next day, so rather than being out of action for even longer, have a nice stretch session. There are some epic yoga classes in Honolulu too- head along to an easy class!

Eat a little protein too. Your muscles will thank you for it, believe me!

I hoped you enjoyed my guide on how to hike the Stairway to Heaven Hawaii. Have you hiked the stairway? Drop me a message on Instagram at @wayfaringkiwi11 and let me know how you got on so I can update this article with the latest information!

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Hello, I’m Yvette and I’m from New Zealand. In 2016 I left home to travel the world; I met my husband after hiking the length of Scotland, and now we live in a wee Scottish village with our pup, Angus. I’m a full-time blogger and travel Scotland for a living! Read more about me here.



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