Stairway to heaven legal way: Ultimate detailed guide 2022 – Denny & Nikki

Stairway to heaven legal way

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The hike that is on everyone’s bucket list when they visit Hawaii. The famous pictures of the Haiku stairs with fog and clouds all around it. Do the stairs really lead to heaven? It certainly looks like it! To walk the Haiku stairs is illegal and not recommended. The better option is to take the longer route, which takes you to the top of the mountain, and the Haiku stairs. The trail is long and strenuous, but offers amazing views of the Moanalua valley. Avoid fines and mini-heart attacks when you see police, and hike the legal way up instead. This post has all the information you need to hike the stairway to heaven the legal way.

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Will the Haiku stairs be removed? *2022 Update*

The Haiku Stairs used to be owned by the Board of Water Supply. But they transferred the ownership to the city of Honolulu in 2020.

Recently, the city council voted against keeping the Haiku Stairs and 1 million dollars has been set aside for the removal of the stairs. When this will happen is not known yet.

This post is about hiking the Moanalua Valley trail, which leads you to the top of the mountain (where the Haiku stairs are). You can still hike this beautiful trail, as we think the views on this trail are better than the actual Haiku stairs.

General information

Distance: 10.3 mi / 16.6 km

Duration: 8-10 hours

Classification: strenuous

Elevation gain: 3,212 ft / 980 m

Best time to hike: year round (But it’s extra muddy and slippery during the winter months, which have more rain)

History of the Haiku Stairs

The Ha’ikū stairs (aka Haiku stairs) were built in 1942 for the secret project of a US naval radio station. The stairs were needed to maintain the large antenna system. The stairs are in the Ha’ikū valley, which has the shape of an amphitheater. That makes for a perfect environment for communications. The stairs were initially made of wood and later replaced with steel. Read more about the history of the Haiku stairs. 

Where is the stairway to heaven in Hawaii?

The stairway to heaven is on the east side of the island of Oahu in Hawaii. The Haiku Stairs were built on the Ko’olau mountains, meaning ‘windward side’ (that’s how the east side of Oahu is called). These mountains look like a green curtain as they are incredibly high. You will often see clouds that cover the tops of the mountain. Perhaps the stairs do lead to heaven?

Moanalua ValleyThe Moanalua Valley, the view you have on your hike

Why is the stairway to heaven illegal?

The current state of the Haiku stairs is not safe as the stairs have not been maintained for years (loose steps and railings, lots of vegetation on the steps). A storm in 2015 has damaged parts of the Haiku stairs as well. 

The city of Honolulu might have plans to reopen the Haiku Stairs to the public. They have spent a big chunk of money to repair the stairs and railings. The stairs closed to the public in 1987.

On top of that, most residents are not too happy about trespassing hikers who sometimes end up in their backyard. We do encourage to respect the privacy of the residents of Oahu and therefore hike the legal way up. You can still see the beautiful Haiku Stairs, just hike the other way!

The stairway to heaven legal wayThis hike feels extremely unique

What happens when you hike the illegal Haiku Stairs?

The Haiku stairs used to be private property, so you will be trespassing when stepping onto the stairs.

There is a $1000 fine if you hike (or step on) the stairs. Guards patrol at the bottom of the stairs and police helicopters have been seen flying around the Haiku stairs. 

We couldn’t resist walking a short distance down the stairs, after hiking the long way up. Our hearts dropped when we actually saw a helicopter fly right beside us!

Other hikers filmed the helicopter that was trying to land. You could see most of the people run away in the video that stepped foot on the stairs!

So use your best judgement when it comes to the Haiku stairs. The stairs are in bad shape with very steep parts. So if you do need to be fast… you probably can’t (it will not be safe). Another reason to hike the stairway to heaven the legal way!

How many steps to heaven?

The Haiku stairs have 3,922 steps! But you will hike the stairway to heaven the legal way, of course…

Get inspired to do more hikes on Oahu, we’ve compiled the 10 best ones for you!

What to expect on the stairway to heaven legal way hike

We have hiked the entire way up to the stairs, and noticed different parts on the hike. So, we have divided the entire hike into four parts.

Part 1 – Flat ground

You will hike the Moanalua Valley Trail. You can easily find the location on google maps or enter these coordinates to find the exact starting point: 21.37415, -157.87963

There is parking in the Moanalua Valley Neighborhood park, however, parking space is limited. Keep in mind that the park opens at 7AM and closes at 7PM. 

Stairway to heaven legal way entranceThe parking lot at the entrance

We decided to park our car in the neighborhood that lies just before the entrance of the park. This way we could start the hike early. You are able to enter the park by foot before the official opening time.

You will walk about 3 miles on flat ground. There are many forks in the road, but they all lead to the same path. Don’t worry about taking the wrong path in this part of the hike. 

Forks in the road on the stairway to heaven legal way hikeTwo forks in the roadStart of the stairway to heaven legal way hikePaved path on the Moanalua valley trail

You will slowly transition to paths that are unmaintained. The grass grows high and can overgrow the path, but you will be able to see a direction of where to go. 

Overgrown grass on the stairway to heaven legal way hike

Walk until you see the signs depicted on the picture below. Do NOT continue straight, you will cross the riverbed instead.

There might be water flowing depending on which month you are hiking the legal way to the stairway to heaven. You will make an immediate right after you crossed the riverbed.

Do not turn left! 

Directions for the stairway to heaven legal way hikeLook out for these signs!

Reach out to us anytime if you have questions about the directions

Look out for signs that are marked on trees after you cross the riverbed. The signs are not obvious. 

An arrow and ‘SWY’ are painted on the tree

Part 2 – Never ending way up

You will start to notice the elevation that does not seem to end. You will walk through this enchanted forest where you will find guava fruit on trees. Look out for the yellow colored guava, these are delicious! A great power snack to keep you going on the steep mountain. 

There are lots of roots in this part of the hike, which offer great support (sometimes) as you climb your way to the top. 

Different vegetation on the trailMagical forest on the trail
Guava berries on the trail
Guava berries on the Haiku stairs trail
Guava fruit on the Moanalua Valley trail

Part 3 – The ridgeline

On the ridgeline is where you will find the scary parts of this trail. Steep parts with only mud, sand and a rope to hold onto. 

Some ropes feel sturdy and thick, others do not… 

Denny on the stairway to heaven legal way trailRidgeline with views of the Moanalua valley

There can be lots of wind when you walk on the ridgeline. The wind is so strong at times, that you feel like it will blow you off the ridgeline. We made ourselves small by ducking down when the wind was blowing just a little too hard. 

ridgeline hike to the top of the stairway to heaven legal wayNotice the steep drop off!

There are parts with a steep drop off, but overall the sides of the mountain are covered with plants and trees. If you fall, your fall might be broken by a tree. I don’t know if that makes you feel any better… or worse!

Eventually you will see the radio station somewhere in the fog and then it’s only a matter of minutes before you’re at the stairs! 

US naval radio stationThe US naval radio station is in sight!

Part 4 – The Haiku stairs

The haiku stairs

You will arrive at the same spot as hikers who hike the illegal way, to the top of the mountain and the Haiku stairs. You will see hikers resting on top of the radio station as well as hikers who decide to walk the stairs down.

Beware that you exit at a different spot if you hike down the Haiku stairs. You will not arrive at the entrance of the Moanalua Valley neighborhood park and you will have to find your way to your car (Uber?).

The haiku stairsThe top of the Haiku StairsRadio station on top of the Ko’olau mountains

Gear to wear

Good shoes! We wear Merrell shoes for hiking, as they also offer minimalist shoes with awesome grip and traction. They also have regular shoes with normal padding (not minimal) which is Denny’s go to.

A lightweight daypack to carry all your essentials. We have an osprey backpack and a REI daypack.

We have seen people wear chains on their shoes to help with traction on the muddy and slippery mountain. In hindsight, this would’ve been a great addition for our hiking gear on the stairway to heaven. They are lightweight and help you feel more stable and secure on your climb.

Comfortable clothing. We would recommend long pants, as there are many branches and plants that cut and scrape your legs. You will be climbing, sliding and pulling on ropes. Wear clothes that allow you the full range of motion on this hike!

What to bring

  • Water. Bring plenty of water and electrolytes (such as sports drinks). We brought 5 liters/170 oz for both of us on the hike.
  • Food. We brought 4 cliff bars, 2 bananas, licorice, cashew nuts and sandwiches.
  • First aid kit. Pack a small medical kit, such as bandaids, gauze and tape. There are plenty of opportunities to slip and fall or cut yourself on a limb or rock on this trail.
  • Directions. We used the Alltrails app, which tracks your GPS location offline. This way you can follow directions without needing cell service (there is minimal to no cell service in the mountains!).
  • Flashlight. Just in case! This is a long hike and you might get lost. A flashlight will be extremely helpful as it turns dark early in Hawaii.

Let yourself be heard!

Let us know if this hike is on your bucket list! Have you ever hiked the stairway to heaven? We would like to know!

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