Ask the Big Kahuna
“Answering the most common visitor questions”
Aloha! Do you have any information about the Haiku Stairs on Oahu, especially if it is legal to walk the stairs?
The Haiku Stairs, or Haiku Ladder, is located off Haiku Road in Kauku Valley on Oahu’s Windward (East) side. This locally famous 3,922-step stairway ascends to the summit of the Koolau mountain range. The stairs climb 2,800 feet up a nearly vertical cliff from the base of Haiku Valley to the summit of Puu Keahi a Kahoe, The ascent is so steep that sometimes the stairs disappear behind the climber into the clouds that blanket the sharp peaks. That is why some call the Haiku Stairs the “Stairway to Heaven.” The hike is extremely popular because it is easily accessible, and a thrilling adventure for those who do not suffer from the fear of heights.
The stairs were originally built during World War II to provide access to buildings at the top of the ridge, which was used as a lookout point and radio transmission station. The Coast Guard had a station at the bottom of the stairs and allowed public access to hikers into the 1980s. At the peak of their popularity, the stairs were swarmed by 1,000 sure-footed hikers a month. Apparently, an episode of “Magnum P.I.” featured the stairs, which caused an explosion in the number of visitors.
In 1987, vandals dismantled sections of the stairs and sent them crashing to the valley below. At that point, the stairs were closed to the public.
An $875,000 repair was completed in 2002, but the stairs have not been reopened because a way to legally get people to the base of the stairs has not been negotiated. Residents in the area have been upset by trespassers leaving garbage, making noise, and parking cars everywhere. There was a proposal to provide access through the Windward Community College and Hawaii State Hospital grounds, and the city has offered to transfer ownership to the state, which is better suited to administer the stairs as a hiking trail, but for now use of the stairs is illegal.
Friends of the Haiku Stairs, is a nonprofit group working to get this unique hike open to the public again. Their website is Friends of Haʻikū Stairs | Haiku Stairs | Stairway to Heaven.
Mahalo for writing, Erwin. I hope you and others have the chance to someday experience Hawaii’s “Stairway to Heaven.”