Yes, we’ve been on a LOT of epic hikes in our lives together. The Haiku Stairs also known as The Stairway to Heaven in Oahu Hawaii has far surpassed any other hiking experience we’ve ever attempted. With the Haiku Stairs you basically have all the elements of an insane hike combined into one bad ass mother of a hike. The hike is intense and somewhat dangerous. The views are OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD. And it’s Illegal.
But is it worth it?
((Read our full story and experience on the hike here, or scroll down to the bottom for FAQ and Tips. No hurt feelings if you’re just here for the tips, but the story is pretty entertaining ;))
On our first trip to Hawaii together in 2011, we rented a jeep and drove the whole island of Oahu looking for turtles, adventure, and shrimp trucks. Spotted while driving along the highway on the North East side of the island, was a mystery metal staircase partially covered in jungle greens that led up along a steep ridge, to an ominous looking stone structure. We were immediately enthralled. The photo below marks our obsession with the Haiku Stairs that wasn’t satisfied until an entire 4 years had passed and we finally conquered that hike!!
When we saw the stairs, random google searches ensued until we found the only thing available to us in 2011… Yelp! It’s few reviews explained it was illegal, but NOT impossible. Did you even know a hike could be illegal?
Reviews explained that you need to get to the trailhead at the crack of dawn to beat the guards(!), hop a barbed wire fence and tackle the stairway mostly in the dark.
Sadly, our flight home was the very next morning…
Cut to 4 years later, we flew back to Hawaii in October of 2015 for the sole (or soul) purpose of hiking the Haiku Stairs. We’d researched what to bring, how to enter, and all the obstacles. We visited the trailhead the day before to see it in the daylight and make our master plan. None of this fully prepared us for what we actually encountered.
The Haiku Stairs was built in 1943 during WWII to provide access to the buildings at the top of the ridge which were used as transmission stations. In the 1980’s it was a popular tourist destination, but the high costs to maintain it and protect visitors led the government to defund the project and close and barricade the 4,000 step-ladder in 1988.
Though illegal, the 2,500′ nearly vertical climb is still widely accessed (daily) and guards are stationed round the clock to ensure it’s not accessed.
Upon our attempt in 2015 the risks were as follows: $600 fines, broken stairway railings, security guards, etc. These risks were slightly part of the thrill, and we’ve also read that the guards were “cool” and more of a deterrent than an actual security. We were driven forward by the views. All packed (camel packs, hiking gloves, and food) we headed out to the trail head at 4am.
In the neighborhood below we parked, careful not to slam doors or make loud noises. The residents of the neighborhood have been big proponents in keeping this hike illegal as not to turn their home into a tourist trap. We stealthily walked to the gate access at the other end of the neighborhood. We just needed to hop over the gate and then run to the trailhead before the guard arrived at 4:45am. We were like ninjas.
We were not expecting the neighbor’s dog who began barking uncontrollably to alert his owner.
We were not expecting the neighbor to come out yelling at us with high powered flashlights.
We were not expecting to the neighbor to chase us out of the neighborhood with his camera.
So, we ran back to our car with our tails between our legs looking overly guilty, and drove away.
In a grocery store parking lot at 5am we sat, defeated. And then, we pivoted. We found another hike on the other side of the island. Instead of taking the Haiku Stairs up and then back down, this other trail lead across the back ridge to the top of the Haiku stairs and then led you down them. It’s less illegal… if that’s a thing. The Maonalua Middle Ridge Trail to the Haiku Stairs or “the back way” is how we accomplished our journey.
The Maonalua Middle Ridge trail extends your journey from approx 2 miles (up and down the stairs) to 9.5 miles (from the back side all the way up and over to the top of the stairs)
It’s extremely dangerous.
It’s often very muddy and slippery.
But it gets the job done, and it’s arguably more impressive because it’s way harder!
We were told repeatedly by locals that this time of year was too wet to hike the middle ridge and it would be too dangerous. Advice we ignored but completely understood a few miles in waist deep in mud sliding all over the exposed ridge line.
Many manmade ropes and makeshift ladders assisted us up slippery ridges. Huge gusts of wind threatened to send one of us careening off cliffsides. We continually slipped and fell in this sticky slidey goopy mud, brushed knees and butts. Hours and miles had past without seeing another human. Multiple times we questioned our sanity and questioned continuing forward. Until we finally came across other people as crazy as we were and all our questioning faded away. Sometimes you need to see other people doing the crazy things you’re doing to know you can continue forward on your path.
Its indescribable the feeling you get upon finally seeing the Haiku stairs in person. 10 for 10 we would do it all over again to experienced that feeling and those 360 views.
Hiking down the Haiku stairs is v challenging after hiking up the giant 7+ mile Middle Ridge. Knees wobbly, shoes muddy, socks soaked through. Thankful for the guardrails, however many steps on the stairway were missing and a the staircase was damaged in a couple areas making us practice our matrix bullet dodging moves.
When we finally reached the bottom, we saw walked right past the guard. He barely glanced at us when he said “officials are on the way”. Something in his tone led us not to believe him. He didn’t seem to give any fucks.
Covered in mud, we apologized to our uber driver who took us back to our car on the other side of the island. WE DID IT!
HIKE TIPS & FAQ
Moananlua Middle Ridge To Haiku Stairs:
Time: 7+ Hours
Status: Illegal, but less so than hiking up the Haiku Stairs
This is the route we took and what we’d suggest. The additional length and danger factor makes this access point our preferred point of entry. Use this post to find the access point and step by step trail info. (Thanks to @theoutbound)
Google Maps Address: Ala Alolani St Honolulu, HI 96819
Haiku Stairs Only:
Time: 4+ Hours
Status: Illegal. Need to passthrough angry neighborhood, security guard, potential fines and potential arrests.
Be respectful of the residents if you decide to attempt the Haiku Stairs from the min entrance. Use this blog post for more detailed tips on entry (Thanks to @1lifeonearth for providing such detailed content, we have no such patience).
Google Maps Address: Makena St Kaneohe, HI 96744
Research: We can’t stress this enough because conditions and restrictions are ever changing as the public is continually battling the residents for access to this breathtaking hike. Additionally, as the stairway is unmaintained by the government the condition of the stairs can be dangerous. As new storms come though the stairway gets damaged and other hikers come along to fix it. A large piece of the stairway was tangled and twisted in 2015, making it difficult to manage.Reading numerous blog posts on the subject is suggested. We also followed #haikustairs on Instagram for a few weeks prior. We’d check it almost daily for new posts and then comment on the post asking if they ran into security, what time they went, and what entrance they used. They were all very willing to help others get on the hike.
Send us an email or DM on Instagram for more tips!
- All the water
- All the snacks
- Gloves – Railings of stairway and ropes climbing the ridge substantially easier with gloves
- Hiking boots – Possible in sneakers, better in hiking boots for extra traction.
- Towel – so much mud
- Light Rain Jacket