Stairway to Heaven, the most epic Hawaiian hike 

When I saw a photo of the Haiku Stairs for the first time, I said myself : « No way, I have to get there one day ! » It was an epic view – so epic that it seemed almost unreal and I couldn’t help thinking the photo was photoshopped… But after watching a few videos I knew it wasn’t.

Hawaii, Stairway to Heaven, Haiku Stairs
The Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, is a hiking trail on the Oahu Island, Hawaii. In fact it’s a military object constructed during the Second World War and used to provide the fast access to the radio station on the top of the mountain. Today it’s not used by the army anymore and the staircase became one of the main tourist attractions on the island.

An important thing about the Haiku Stairs: this hike is illigal and one risks to get a fine for doing it. The amount of this fine isn’t quite clear, different people talk of the fines between 600 and 1500 US dollars. The reason is a long term dispute between the owner of the land and the local authorities. So formally hiking the Stairway to Heaven is prohibited and there’s a risk to be caught by police.

We were totally conscious of these facts when making a decision to climb the Haiku Stairs but two thoughts determined our choice. First, there’s no real harm to anybody caused by this hike – no damage to the nature or somebody’s property, no risk to life or health. Second, we didn’t find any stories about getting a fine told in the first person ; they’re always about « a friend of a friend ». For these two reasons we decided to take a risk and do the most incredible hike in our life !


Was it hard ? Yes, it was – we got up at 3a.m., drove to another side of the island (the exact destination point is 46475 Kuneki street, Kaneohe), found a way through the jungle, avoided the security guard and climbed for one hour and a half in the darkness, using only a head light. Some parts of the staircase are damaged and you have to be very careful when passing them. Another danger – humidity: the metal stairs and railings are covered with the night dew and very slippery! I didn’t take any gloves and regretted it badly.

You don’t need to be in a super shape to do this hike but it’s quite challenging. If you are not sure of your physical condition, better to plan at least two hours for getting to the top. I was out of breath when I reached the final point of the Haiku Stairs, even though I workout every day and get used to long joggings…

Does it worth the effort? My answer is yes, no doubts about that!

It was still night when we achieved the top. In the darkness we could only see the faint lights of the highway far below. We sat on the humid metal stairs and waited. The sky became clearer slowly and we began to perceive the coast. It was time to switch on my camera and start taking photos but I was so fascinated by the view that could only stay motionless and observe. Suddenly the golden light lit the mountainside and I finally woke up, grabbed my camera and started to shoot… It only lasted a few minutes, and immediately after sunrise the clouds covered the mountaintop, creating moody and mysterious atmosphere. We was incredibly lucky to catch both the sunrise and the cloudy weather ! I honestly can’t decide which one is better for the photos…

When I was looking at the stairs following the edge of the mountain, it suddenly struck my mind that initially they were an important military object. Have the soldiers who climbed those stairs during the war ever noticed the beauty of the landscape ? Have they ever felt the powerfulness of nature and the greatness of the World ? I’m sure they have, despite the danger and risk they were running. That view many years ago has filled, I thought, the fighters’ hearts with proudness for their Motherland. And today we feel the same admiration and marvel as they felt.

Going down is surprisingly harder than climbing up. First, by night you don’t see the emptiness behind you and second, it starts to get hot very quickly after 9a.m. I seriously wonder how some people manage to do this way during a bright time of the day – they should suffer a lot under the pitiless rays of sun !

The Stairway to Heaven hiking isn’t an ordinary thing to do on Hawaii. It’s a challenge, an adventure, an experience, a risk… But a chance to find yourself in a wonderland, even if for just a few hours, is priceless. That sunrise on the top of the Haiku Stairs is a prize trophy in my sunrise collection and if I lived on Oahu I know I would do this hike again and again, just to see the golden rays of sun on the mountaintop. 

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