April 5, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Haiku Stairs, Hawaii


The Haiku Stairs

The Haiku Stairs—also known as the Stairway to Heaven—is an majestic hike that leads those who dare to climb its thousands of stairs into one of the highest peaks of the Koolau Mountains.

Though the views are nothing short of amazing, the climb itself is a risk that only few are willing to take.

haiku stairs split image

Where are the Haiku Stairs?

The Haiku Stairs are located in Oahu, Hawaii, about 15 miles from Waikiki. The staircase ascends up from the Valley of Haiku, and across the Ko’olau range.

Walking The Haiku StairsKalen Emsley kalenemsley, Wikimedia Commons

What are they named after?

The Haiku Stairs were once called the Haiku Ladder. The massive staircase was built in the ancient land section of Haʻikū back in 1942.

Haʻikū is Hawaiian for “talk abruptly” or “sharp break.”

The Haiku Stairs - HawaiKirinwizard, Wikimedia Commons

Why were they given a nickname?

The Haiku Stairs are affectionally called The Stairway to Heaven because of its intense vertical climb that seemingly takes you up into the heavenly sky.

Walking The Haiku StairsHawai Foto, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

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How many steps are there?

The daring climb takes you up nearly 4,000 steps along the mountain ridge, with an almost completely vertical incline in most parts.

Walking The Haiku StairsKalen Emsley kalenemsley, Wikimedia Commons

How long does it take to climb them?

The hike can take anywhere from 4-7 hours, depending on your skill level, endurance, and the weather conditions.

Man Hiking Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs) on Oahu, Hawaii.Noah Zastrow, Shutterstock

Where does the staircase take you?

The staircase takes you up 2000-feet, to the top of the highest peak of the Oahu Ko’olau mountain range. At the summit, you’ll find an old communication tower and cabin.

Stairway to Heaven and CCL Building bunker at the top of Koolau mountain in Oahu island in HawaiiIva photos, Shutterstock

What is the staircase made of?

The staircase is mostly an 18-inch-wide steel structure. The final stretch of the hike has boards rather than stairs, that create a catwalk 2000-feet in the air on top of a sharp ridge.

There is a thin metal railing on both sides.

Haiku stairs in HawaiiLukas Kostal, Shutterstock

What can you find along the hike?

Aside from the stunning views of the valley below, you will also find stunning viewing platforms that sit right among the clouds, as well as abandoned ruins of a small old building—giving a brief look into the history of the stairs original purpose.

Old place ruins.Albert Huynh, Flickr

Why were the stairs originally built?

The staircase was originally built in 1942 as a top-secret facility that was used to transmit radio signals to Navy ships.

Aerial view of CCL Building bunker at the top of Stairway to Heaven or Haiku StairsSvetlanaSF, Shutterstock

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Why did it have to go so high?

The antennae capabilities required an immense height—which is why the highest peak was chosen for the tower.

The Stairway to Heaven on Oahu, Hawaii, The Haiku Stairs Hike TrailNervevana, Shutterstock

What is so impressive about the hike?

The views. Many visitors have referred to this hike as one of the many wonders of the world, as it offers stunning views unlike any other in the world.

But that’s not the only thing that makes people eager to make the climb.

The Haiku Stairs - Hawaifreeship, Flickr

Are the Haiku Stairs open to the public?

Not anymore. In fact, they haven’t been for a long time. The US Coast Guard closed the stairs in 1987 after they deemed it to be too dangerous for tourists.

The forbidden stairway on Oahu.Shawn Clover, Flickr

How do they ensure no one goes on them?

The Bureau of Water Supply—who owns the land the staircase is on—pays security guards to sit at the bottom of the stairs, stopping tourists from making the dangerous climb.

But that doesn’t seem to stop people.

Stairway to Heaven, Haiku Stairs, Hawaii, Oahu, USAtravellife18, Shutterstock

Do people still do it?

Although there are no trespassing signs, and literally a human guard stopping people, hikers still find a way to sneak their way up the stairs to get that majestic view they hear people rave about.

Fit man standing on the edge of cliff holding onto stairs.Light and Vision, Shutterstock

Will the stairs eventually be demolished?

Apparently, a demolition has been in store for decades—but no one has ever followed through. It is said that the cost of removal could be upwards of $2.5 million.

Not to mention, some people have an issue with this idea.

The Stairs of Stairway to Heavenilya dvilyanski, Shutterstock

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Who is against the demolition?

There is a volunteer group called Friends of Haiku Stairs that aims to preserve the historical trail any way they possibly can. They’ve managed to delay demolition to this day.

One of the leveling sections on the climb of illegal Haiku Stairs.Kelsie DiPerna, Flickr

Is it unlawful to climb the stairs?

Yes. Not only is it not encouraged, it is actually unlawful and visitors who do it anywhere can face a pretty steep fine—minimum $1,000.

Hiker on a lush a ridge trail on Oahu.Allen.G, Shutterstock

How many people have been in trouble for climbing the stairs?

In 2014, 135 people were issued citations for unlawfully climbing the stairs, and another 100 were given warnings. Six people were apprehended by authorities.

Hikers on the Haiku stairs, otherwise known as Stairway to HeaveAllen.G, Shutterstock

How many people still make the climb anyway?

Even though there can be serious consequences for climbing the now-dangerous Stairway to Heaven, officials claim there are still about 150 people a week who unlawfully climb the Haiku stairs.

Some accept the fines. Others somehow make it in and out without being caught.

Walking on The Haiku StairsMichael Keany, Flickr

What makes the stairs unsafe?

The nearly vertical heights for most of the climb are what caused a concern originally, along with the deterioration of the staircase in general.

In fact, there were several incidents that ultimately led to the complete closure of the Haiku Stairs.

Walking on The Haiku Stairsfreeship, Flickr

Fatalities

The only fatality on the Haiku Stairs was in August of 2012, when a Don Tiki show singer and comedian named Fritz Hasenpusch lost his life during his Haiku Stairs climb.

He succumbed to a heart attack partway up the stairs.

Ambulance Parked On Side Of A RoadRDNE Stock project, Pexels

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A Mysterious Disappearance

In 2015, an 18-year-old male, Daylenn Moke Pua, disappeared mysteriously after he went hiking up the Haiku Stairs. The man had posted a photo to social media while he was up at the top, which happened to have a mysterious man in the picture.

Guy takes photos at the top of the Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs) hike. Oahu, Hawaii.Nick Clark Creative, Shutterstock

A Mysterious Disappearance: Cont’d

No one knows who the man was, or if he was involved in the young man’s disappearance—but Pua had not been since his hike. To date, there is no evidence of his demise, or of him being alive.

The Haiku Stairs - HawaiMax van der Storm, Shutterstock

A Booby-Trap

Another incident occurred in 2018, when a hiker climbed a fence to get to the Haiku Stairs, slipped and fell, impaling his neck on what he described as a “booby trap”—a wooden box with screws sticking out.

A Kid Climbing a Wire Fence.cottonbro studio, Pexels

A Booby-Trap: Cont’d

Apparently, this incident happened on private property directly beside the staircase, so the hiker was trespassing and chose not to investigate the incident further.

Private Property signNick Beer, Shutterstock

An Airlift Rescue

In 2021, a 24-year-old hiker injured his knee while hiking the stairs. The injury was so severe that he had to be airlifted out by a rescue team.

Flying Red and White HelicopterEngin Akyurt, Pexels

Another Airlift Rescue

In 2022, a female hiker in her 20s was hurt near the top of the staircase. The Honolulu Fire Department dispatched five units, each staffed with 16 firefighters, to the scene.

Firefighter Talking on a radioAnna Shvets, Pexels

Another Airlift Rescue: Cont’d

Her injuries were so severe that the medical team had to carry her part way back down and then airlift her the rest of the way.

Two People Rappelling Near Grey Rocks- airliftPixabay, Pexels

A Dog Rescue

Another devastating incident occurred more recently in 2023, when a woman was hiking with her 55-pound dog and the dog fell over the edge down a 50-foot drop.

Rescuers were thankfully able to rescue both the dog and the woman who went down the hill after her pooch.

Photo of Person Holding Black And White DogBekka Mongeau, Pexels

Other Incidents

There have been numerous reported incidents of injuries happening on the Haiku Stairs. Many of which resulted in airlift rescues—which are extremely costly.

Helicopter rescue.Inge Wallumrød, Pexels

How many rescues have taken place?

In the past 12 years alone there have been 121 reported rescues for injured hikers on the Haiku Stairs.

The Haiku Stairs - HawaiMichael Keany, Flickr

How do injuries happen?

Typically, injuries happen due to the strenuous hike itself, as well as the compromised state of the old stairs themselves.

The cloud formations that form during various weather conditions can make the route slippery and challenging to see.

Man helping another man with leg injury.Boys in Bristol Photography, Pexels

Is there a way around the legalities?

Actually, yes. According to some sources, there is a route to the stairs that is permitted for use—however it takes hours longer and requires a more challenging hike. It also does not have signs or trails.

Parts of this alternate route may be on private property, depending on where you choose to walk.

Fit man walking on Stairway to heaven in Hawaii, Haiku Stairs TrailMarek Pelikan, Shutterstock

What is the future like for the Haiku Stairs?

In 2023, the mayor of Honolulu vowed that “Haiku stairs are going to come down.” This is in response to the recent increase in injuries, and the fact that upwards of 4,000 hikers each year continue to make the unlawful climb.

Hiker on a lush a ridge trail on Oahu,Allen.G, Shutterstock

Haiku Stairs on Social Media

With the emergence of social media platforms in recent years, such as Tik Tok, visitors have willingly been reporting themselves by posting photos and videos of their unlawful ascend above the clouds, causing government officials to want to pull the plug even sooner.

The Haiku Stairs - HawaiMichael Keany, Flickr

An Increase in Attention

What was once a beautiful hidden gem, has now become a popular tourist attraction.

Not only is this a problem because it is not allowed, but it has also caused an increase in vandalism, causing severe damage to many parts of the staircase.

Woman standing on the peak of a mountain on the Haiku Stairway to Heaven in HawaiiKaveex, Shutterstock

Consequences

So, because people can’t keep some things to themselves, we may now lose this beautiful stretch of paradise that we lovingly once called The Stairway to Heaven.

Social media has a way of ruining things, doesn’t it?

Hike Stairway to Heaven, Haiku Stairs, Hawaii, Oahu, USARightFramePhotoVideo, Shutterstock

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


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