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Hawaii’s Perilous Stairway to Heaven

The second landing with Kaneohe in the background. The first half of the stairs is the hardest. I was almost dead when I got to the first landing (halfway), but I don’t think I even stopped at the second landing.

Photo courtesy Brock Roseberry/Flickr Creative Commons

This story originally appeared in Business Insider.

The Haiku Stairs—also known as “The Stairway To Heaven”—is one of the most extreme and beautiful hikes Hawaii (and America) has to offer.

For the last 26 years, the hike up the 4,000-step ladder has also been illegal, but that hasn’t stopped people—dozens a day—from making the trek up and down the steel steps that were once operated by the Coast Guard to catch a glimpse of the view at the top of Puu Keahi a Kahoe on the island of Oahu.

The step ladder was built in 1943 during World War II to “provide access to buildings at the top of the ridge, used as transmission stations,” according to a tourism site called Best Places Hawaii. 

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

The ladder scales “nearly vertical” heights over 2,500 feet from Haiku Valley to the top of Puu Keahi a Kahoe, so high that there are points in the hike where the peaks rise above clouds.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

It was a popular hiking trail in the 1980s, operated by the coast guard, until 1987 when it was deemed too dangerous for the public.

Despite making the hike illegal, tourists (and some locals) attempt to scale the Stairway To Heaven everyday. 

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the Huffington Post reports, “has jurisdiction over the hike and requires that anyone who goes up it sign waivers and present a $1 million liability insurance policy.”

In October 2013, a man named Samuel Nowack went to the Haiku Stairs with a video camera to film their adventure.

They were dying to see the view, and weren’t discouraged by heights or the illegality of the hike.

The team left for the stairs at 2:15am, in hopes of catching a sunrise. Finding the stairs in the dark proved to be a challenge, but everyone had a headlight on.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

When they reached the summit around 4am, it was foggy. And the fun part of the hike was underway.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

Parts of the ladder are extremely steep. Just watching the video makes your hands sweat. Those afraid of heights, beware.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

Some parts of the hike require you to climb down the ladder backwards.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

The views seem to be worth it.

There are a few platforms along the way, allowing hikers to take a break and take in the sights.

Haiku Stairs/Vimeo

According to travel site ToHawaii, a guard had been posted at the base of the stairs in December of 2013, but “the guard frequently had not been there in the early months of 2014 and a small tent which had been erected for the guard to use had been dismantled in early February, 2014.”


In early 2013, a group formed to petition the city to reopen the stairs to the public, but the stairs still remain closed.

You can watch the entire 8-minute video cut of Nowack’s hike on the Haiku Stairs here.

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