North America Outdoors

Haiku Stairs: Hiking The Stairway To Heaven

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.

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 illegal 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.

I was totally conscious of these facts when making my decision to climb the Haiku Stairs but two thoughts determined my 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, I 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 I decided to take a risk and do the most incredible hike in my life!

Was it hard ? Yes, it was – I 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 jogs…

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

It was still night when I achieved the top. In the darkness I could only see the faint lights of the highway far below. I sat on the humid metal stairs and waited. The sky became clearer slowly and I 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. I 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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  • Zhanna July 28, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Anna, it’s one of the best blog posts I’ve read for the past 3 weeks. I absolutely love it. Your pictures are also incredible. Were you climbing the stairs by yourself or were you hiking with somebody else who helped you take those gorgeous pictures?

    • Anna Cossack July 29, 2017 at 12:39 am

      Oh thank you so much Zhanna!! I hiked with my boyfriend who took the photos – otherwise it would be difficult to have the photos other than selfies because it’s impossible to install the tripod on the stairs:)) I’m glad to share this experience because it’s really unique!

  • TheWickedSoul August 4, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Such an amazing post! I haven’t been to any international trip yet, but whenever I do I am sure this hike would be part of that list!
    Thanks Anna for sharing a beautiful experience and those tips. Incredible pictures 🙂

    • Anna Cossack August 7, 2017 at 12:03 am

      Thanks a lot! This hiking was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done – a kind of experience which you will remember forever… Hope you’ll have a chance to do it one day!!

      • Kam August 23, 2017 at 6:29 pm

        Hi Anna, do you have any comments on someone that may be willing to be a guide/assist me with this hike – thank you,


  • Mo April 2, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Hi there, I’m going to Oahu to visit the Stairways to Heaven in Mid May. I appreciate if you introduce a local guide to me .

    • Anna Cossack April 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Hello Mo,
      Unfortunately I have no advice concerning the guide – I did this hiking with my boyfriend and we didn’t take any guide. Since it’s an illegal hike – which I explain in my article – there’s no tour agency which provides the guides for it… Sorry that I cannot be any help!

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