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Have you ever heard of the Stairway to Heaven? No, I’m not talking about the song by Led Zepplin. I’m talking about the infamous hike in Oahu, Hawaii. The official name is “Haiku Stairs” and it is technically illegal only because the beginning of it starts on private property, not because it is hazardous. With that said, dozens of people do it every day. Why? Because of all the breathtaking views that you will be rewarded with the entire way up. We can assure you that your efforts will be well rewarded.
A quick bit of clarification from when we did the hike. There is a guard that stands at the base of these nearly vertical stairs. If you get caught, there could be a fine and the amount of that fine depends on how that police officer is feeling that day. Now, back in 2015, there was a mudslide that ran over a section of the stairs about a third of the way up. Some may try to argue that this makes it dangerous, but whether this is your first hike on the island or you are a mountain goat by nature, you will see that this hike is actually quite safe and doable. There was even a swing at the top of the stairs! It only lasted for a short time though because the state didn’t want anyone to get hurt, which would have been a big problem.
The Stairway To Heaven (Haiku Stairs) is 3,922 steps of pure adrenaline and WE CONQUERED THEM
As mentioned before, it is illegal because you are trespassing on private property owned by a water treatment facility at the start. So the fine is for trespassing, not the hike. Once you’re past the guard and on the first few steps of the stairs, they can’t stop you. The challenge is coming down and getting past the guard shack. Given that it is a water treatment facility, I understand why it is an issue that so many people trespass. With that said, people just want to get to the hike, that is all. Also be aware that when leaving the private property to the residential area, police love to sit and wait there as well to catch people leaving. I know it sounds bad that we did something illegal, but we assessed the situation and saw that the risk was worth the reward. We also knew why it was illegal and we know that in reality, we didn’t do anything wrong.
Now, as for the hike, The Stairway to Heaven gets a bad rap. I have done countless hikes in Hawaii that were much more dangerous than this hike based on difficulty. On Stairway, you are climbing up nearly vertical stairs, but you have hand-rails to hold on to. I never once felt like I was going to fall or felt like I was in danger. I felt more danger hiking Mt. Ka’ala, 3 peaks, and the crouching lion, but those are legal!
The Stairway to Heaven is #1 on multiple bucket lists and #1 on Venture The Islands Top 10 Best Hikes in Oahu. The fact that it was technically illegal didn’t scare us off because we went with someone who has done the hike before and they knew what they were doing. Please, I only recommend this hike if you are with someone who has gone before and you are used to these types of hikes. I go hiking regularly in Hawaii and I was sore for a week to the point where it hurt to walk. BE PREPARED
We went super early in the morning. We woke up at 4 a.m and it was pitch black when we started this hike. We parked in a neighborhood and started walking underneath the interstate. Try imagining this: you barely have the moonlight to see where you are going. You don’t use flashlights because you don’t want to be seen and caught. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re just following the person in front of you because you can’t see anything, and you’re trying not to trip over rocks and roots through a bamboo forest. Want to know what’s crazy? This was the scariest part of the hike.
So we finally made it to the base of the stairs. And then we start….1…2…3…4…5… It’s a long way to 3,922. About 1,000 steps in I start to use my arms more because my legs are feeling weak. Then when we start creeping up to the 2,000 mark and we are taking more frequent stops. It felt like a never-ending stair climber. They call this the stairway to heaven? More like the stairway to hell. What did we get ourselves into? Then we stopped at a little peak and all of a sudden I forgot I was in pain. To turn and see this…this is why it is called The Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs). This view. Right Here.
Suddenly, I had the strength to continue on. I wanted that glorious view from the top. If you catch this hike on a clear day, I consider you lucky. The summit is roughly 2500 feet and we ended up being in the clouds and rain. I was actually cold! IN HAWAII!! It was a total bummer because at the top we couldn’t see any views. We were stuck in a big cloud. Now, as you can see in the picture, there is a giant antenna up there that actually looks a bit spooky in the haze of a cloud. This antenna was built after the bombing of Kaneohe Bay (commonly known as K-Bay) which was actually bombed first when the Japanese attacked the Island. It was used for long-range detection and communication. The really crazy part is those wonderful stairs we just conquered were built so that military personnel could make the climb…every day. Could you imagine working up there?!?!? At least you would never need leg day in the gym again.
We may have been becoming one with all of those little water molecules in the sky, but this didn’t stop us from having some fun though! We were one of the lucky ones who ended up getting to try out the swing at the top. How many people can say they got to swing on a mountain in the clouds? I was scared, of course, but I conquered my fears and now I have this amazing memory!!
In the end, I think the Stairway to Heaven is worth doing if you’ve done your research. I’ve heard of people walking right past the guard shack and the guard not doing anything. So I’m not sure if this is one of those things that’s “illegal”, but not really. We were just extra careful and took the long way around the guard shack.
This hike doesn’t deserve to be illegal. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Hawaii and in reality one of the safest hikes there is. It has one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. I’m so incredibly proud and excited to say that I was able to experience the Stairway To Heaven. If you get the chance to do this hike and you understand the risks involved, take the time to plan and prepare for this adventure that will be an experience of a lifetime.
Want to see a swing in the clouds??? Watch this short clip below!
Written By: Allyson Spieler