stairway to heaven

Stairway to Heaven Hike on Oahu, Hawaii | The Crazy Scary Untold Story

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The Stairway to Heaven is located on Oahu, Hawaii, also known as the Haiku stairs. Is it dangerous? What to expect? Here's how to best prepare!

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I’ve hiked the Stairway to Heaven several times, and have also gone the back way to the stairs. In this article, I’ll share with you safety tips, what I recommend, how to prepare, and what to expect!

This hike is illegal, so my goal is to help inform you and keep you safe, updated if you are deciding to hike the Stairway to Heaven! Despite it being illegal, many people do this hike everyday, so might as well be informed. I am not encouraging anyone to do this hike, just sharing my good and bad experiences of this hike. Be sure to check out my top 12 things to do on Oahu!

stairway to heaven

The Stairway to Heaven Hike on Oahu, Hawaii | What are they & what’s the history?

The “famous” Stairway to Heaven is located on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. There are a total of 3,922 stairs up a steep incline to the summit! There are several platforms to stop at and take breaks, but most of the hike is very steep and the only thing holding you from falling off the ridge is a metal handrail.

The Haiku Stairs were built in 1948 by the U.S. Navy used to signal ships in the Pacific Ocean from their “top secret” location at the top of the stairs. The stairs were open to the public in 1987. Then, they closed because they were deemed “unsafe” and in need of repairs.

In 2002, the city of Honolulu poured almost one million dollars into repairing the stairs. To then ultimately come to a halt because of the residents in the neighborhoods below and general safety concerns. Ever since, the stairs have been closed to the public.

Now you can expect to find a guard waiting at the bottom of the stairs ready to call the police, and have them give each person a fine of $1,000 USD. There have been reports of the police officers even being at the top of the stairs awaiting unfortunate hikers. These experiences have not happened to me, but I will share what DID happen and I think everyone should know!

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven

How long is the Stairway to Heaven Hike?

Distance: 2 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Hard

Length of time: 2-5 hours (depending how many times you stop to take photos or break)

Elevation Gain: 2,820 ft

Cliff notes: Once you find the stairs, the toughest part is the first 1/3 of the hike. After you’re past the first platform, it’s not too bad from there and not as steep until you get to the very last bit of stairs before the summit.

Sunrise climbing the stairway to heaven

Is the Stairway to Heaven safe?

Okay here is my honest opinion… Not the popular opinion by the way but I hope to keep more people SAFE. Safety is my biggest concern here!

Going up the stairs is BY FAR safer than going the “back way” to the stairs taking the Moanalua Middle Ridge (9.2 miles roundtrip hike). I’ll tell you why if you read “my crazy Stairway to Heaven Hiking story”. Long story short, I got stuck overnight on the ridge following some blog… So I want to prevent things like that from happening to anyone else.

If you do happen to want to take the Moanalua Middle Ridge, use All Trails, and not another blog source. Trust me, this screwed me up last time.. hint to the crazy story at the end of this article you don’t want to miss!

Sunrise climbing the stairway to heaven
Sunrise climbing the stairway to heaven

How to prepare hiking the Stairway to Heaven:

Hiking in Hawaii is on another level and you should be best prepared. I was not aware of this when the crazy story happened to me, so I hope this can help the next person 🙂

Here’s what you need:

  • GOOD grip hiking shoes (waterproof preferred)
  • waterproof gloves (I got some from Target – helps when rails are slippery)
  • Waterproof rain jacket (light)
  • Head lamp
  • Water and snacks
  • Waterproof backpack
  • Camera
  • Phone

We started at 4:00am and it’s pitch dark! Head lamps help a ton and so do the gloves with the morning dew on the rails. The first part of the stairs is the hardest and most steep. One spot in particular (which can be seen from the H3 Highway) is like climbing a ladder. Once you’re past that and to the first platform, it’s smooth after that! The steepest part after that is the very top right before the summit.

Sunrise climbing the stairway to heaven
Sunrise climbing the stairway to heaven

Is the Stairway to Heaven worth the risk?

Honestly it’s up to you! People are going to do it if it’s illegal or not, because it’s so popular. I just want to warn everyone of the high-risks here. You can face a fine of up to $1,000. But, you get a once in a lifetime experience of the most epic views in the world.

How do I get to the Stairway to Heaven?

I can share with you some hints and the ways not to go to the Stairway to Heaven!

I do not advise going through the Haiku neighborhood. There’s been too many disrespectful people that have ruined it for everyone, and the neighbors will call the police if they see you! Also I don’t advise the Moanalua Middle Ridge (the back way) unless you’re an expert or very advanced hiker.

You can look up on the Google Maps satellite option to find the stairs, and multiple options for getting there. If you find yourself hiking through ridges at night, or climbing a sketchy ladder on the side of a cliff… You’re at the wrong location.

Google maps does make it easy to find and safe. There’s a bamboo forest area right before the stairs and you’ll know you’re close if you find that and a giant orange/red reflector sign at the bottom of the stairs too. However you’ll want to go a little bit around this area once you come down the stairs, because the guard will be waiting there at the bottom for you.

I’ve had a few experiences climbing the stairs let me share with you two of them.. the last is the crazy one.

We started our hike at 4:00am with our group, and head lamps. It was a very dark morning through the bushes, following the trail. I saw a cane spider on one of the branches and my friend said, “I think it just winked at you.” EW!

We kept hiking and finally saw the stairs. We climbed over the railing and began our steep ascend.

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven Oahu, Hawaii

The first stretch is the HARDEST. It feels like you’re climbing a ladder. If you’re hiking in the dark the plus side is you won’t see below you, so you can’t freak yourself out by seeing how high you actually are!

Then once we reached the first platform, it was time for a drink break. We watched the sun rise over the Ko’Olau mountains. It was breathtaking! There are a total of five platforms on this hike to the summit.

stairway to heaven

There was a lot of fog over the stairs which made it look like Jurassic Park, and I felt like a pterodactyl was about fly out towards me lol! It was so mystical and beautiful. A little eerie, but in a good way.

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven

We kept hiking and came across the rest of the platforms. The clouds begin to cover after the third platform, so if you wanted to watch sunrise then I’d suggest stopping there to watch it. Otherwise, if you’re at the very top it might be covered in clouds (which looks cool too, like an orange glow surrounding you). It’s up to you!

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven

We’ve nearly reached the top! This is the home stretch to the radio tower! It’s sooo beautiful.

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven

Now it’s time to start our descent! We took lots of photos and videos, got a snack and some water. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to hike down. Much faster going down!!

stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven
stairway to heaven

Once we got to the bottom, before we were at the VERY bottom we hopped over the railing and followed the little path through the bamboo forest and out to the other side, avoiding the guard.

My BAD experience hiking the Stairway to Heaven… this is a crazy story!

My friend and I were living on the Big Island of Hawaii about 7 years ago, and we were traveling for work together for a few days on Oahu. It was both of our first time’s to Oahu!

I always wanted to do the “famous” Stairway to Heaven hike! Once I learned it was illegal, I wanted to find an alternative route. The night before our hike, I found a random blog online giving directions going the back way.

I knew I wouldn’t have service, so I screenshot all the directions and photos of where we were supposed to go.

The blog said it was a “5.5 hour hike roundtrip”. LOL why did I believe this? Read on…

Nevertheless, we started the hike at 11:00am. We had two bottles of water, a rice Krispie treat and a bag of peanuts. We were wearing shorts, a light rain jacket and tennis shoes (not hiking shoes).

We quickly realized that the ridges on Oahu were STEEP and intense compared to Big Island hikes! There were times I was crawling across the ridge.

The wind began to pick up.

We were crouching behind bushes to block ourselves from all the wind. We thought if we were back down the way we came, it would be way more dangerous! We kept hiking and hiking, and I was about to have several panic attacks. There were times all that was holding me up were tuffs of grass or random roots. Not safe! There were a few ropes here and there, but they were slim and very slippery. Hard to hold on to.

We reached an abandoned radio tower.

We thought it was the stairway!! But… we saw no stairs. We searched all around… no stairs. We even watched the sun set. Still, no stairs. It was beginning to become dark.

Our phones died. We were stuck. Lost. Tired. Hungry. Freaking the heck out.

We saw a tiny rope going down the front slope of the ridge. We thought, “Surely, the stairway has to be at the end of this rope. If we can just get to the stairs, we will be safe!”

We both started to climb down the rope, down the front steep slope of the ridge. Basically repelling! I looked down and saw the H3 highway below. What the actual heck.

I had a panic attack, violently shaking with fear and crying hysterically. My friend went further down the rope to see if he could find the stairs.

He was gone!! I waited a horrendous 15 minutes (when you’re dangling from a rope off a cliff that’s a long freaking time).

He finally came up and said, “Abb, there are no stairs! Go back up.”

Full panic attack mode. But now in survival mode. I grudgingly climbed up towards the abandoned radio tower. We knew we needed to find shelter or somewhere to sleep.

We slept curled around a metal electric pole, on a bed of dead grasses. My friend covered me up in more grasses. It was full survival mode. That night I had the first stage of hypothermia, because it rained on us and was freezing. I felt like my entire body was literally on fire, burning. All I could picture is us falling off a ridge the next morning and dying. Awful right? Your mind plays weird tricks on you when you’re in a scary situation like that, I discovered.

The sun rose! We had to wait for it to get high enough to warm out bodies so we could move.

We climbed the toughest and steepest part after the abandoned tower. It was the absolute scariest climb of my life. A grass ladder with hundreds of feet of drop offs around me. I was praying to God the entire time!

We hiked for two more hours. Finally we saw the second radio tower, which is the actual stairway to Heaven! God saved us that day.

A group of locals were at the top, and said we looked terrible. Covered in mud, scrapes and bruises. We said we stayed the night and were lost. They said, “You are LUCKY to be alive. People go missing back in those mountains! We knew a guy that just went missing, and he was hiking alone to shoot off his drone… Never to be found again.”

It was a God story that He saved us. The locals gave us water, food, and a ride back to our rental car. Truly angels!

I hope this story spreads so that more people don’t end up in a scary situation because of wanting to do something they saw on social media. Be safe and careful out there!



abby hawaii


We are Abby & Nash Hagen, a married couple who lives in Hawaii and loves to travel the world! Our goal is to help you with your travels, and inspire you to get outside to see God’s beautiful world! :)

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