Having family on Oahu, I’ve visited Hawaii many times, and hiking the Haiku Stairs has always been on my bucket list. Finally, during my most recent visit, I plucked up the courage and did it. Despite feeling like I might pee my pants the whole time, it was the most incredible hike – adrenaline pumping with some stunning views. It was a terrifying, sneaky, and unforgettable experience.
So, here’s some background:
The US Navy originally constructed the Haiku Stairs in 1942 as a means to build a secret radio station atop the Ko’olau mountain range intended to transmit signals to various ships in the area. Once the station and corresponding cable car were completed, the stairs were seldom used. The station was deactivated in 1958 and was eventually taken over by the Coast Guard. After much media attention in the early 80’s, hikers began crowding the stairs. Vandalism, littering, and neighborhood disruption ensued, closing the stairs for good in 1987.
*Tip: So yes, hiking the stairs is illegal! You can face trespassing charges and a hefty fine should the security guards or neighbors choose to call the cops on you. With that said, many people still do it. Is it worth the risk? We said yes and didn’t regret it. However, we’re writing this guide not to encourage trespassing or illegal activity, but to help those that will do it anyway be quicker, quieter, and more respectful to the residents that live there.
So, should you choose to continue on this stealthy and potentially very pricey endeavor, here’s how it’s done:
*Tip: Bring a snack, sunscreen, bug spray, and plenty of water. If you choose to start the hike at night to get up in time for sunrise, be sure to have a jacket and flashlight. Also, wear some shoes you don’t mind getting dirty – tromping through the woods is quite muddy!
1. Getting There and Parking
First of all, if you’re getting there at 2 a.m. just so you can avoid the guard, save yourself some grouchiness and sleep a few more hours. There’s a guard there 24/7 now, so it doesn’t matter what time you go – you’ll have to talk with him. If you’re driving, set yourself a pin on either Makena Street or Kuneki Street in Kaneohe. Once you reach this little neighborhood, be careful where you park. DO NOT park in front of a driveway, mailbox, or anything else that looks important. The neighbors can make life very difficult for you if they want to, so be quiet, polite, and don’t do anything to annoy anyone. Better yet, take a taxi if you can. There are two common routes to get to the foot of the stairs. We chose the less woodsy, less complicated, and quicker of the two. Walk to the corner of Makena and Kuneki Streets where you’ll see a large wire, metal gate with a sign clearly telling you not to trespass (which you’ll obviously have to ignore). The gate will be closed if you start in the wee hours of the morning – in which case, you’ll have to finagle around it. Otherwise, during the day, it will be open. And through the gate you go to begin your illegal journey!
2. Finding the Guard
After the gate, you’ll follow the concrete road for a bit until you reach a fork – GO LEFT. Continue on this road until you see a second fork – GO RIGHT. Now, keep an eye out on the left-hand side of the road. After walking about 5-10 minutes, you’ll spot a man-made-ish path leading into the woods. You can tell it’s the right one by a dark, wooden plank, almost like a step, that marks the foot of the path – the board has clearly been put there – it’s not just a random piece of wood. If you hit a third fork before spotting the plank and path, you’ve gone too far. Follow this little, windy trail up through the woods for a few minutes until you hit a fence. There will be a hole in the fence you can easily slip through. Just after the fence, you’ll see a 4-way intersection with a clear, dirt path running to your left and right. With the fence at your back, GO LEFT. Just up ahead, the dirt path turns into a paved one, and you’ll see the guard and his car. Give yourself a good 45 minutes from the time you park to the time you reach the guard.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we followed a different set of directions, went straight at the 4-way, and found ourselves totally lost in the woods for about 30 minutes. We somehow ended up halfway up a ridge, above the freeway. After backtracking several times, stumbling and even rolling down the mountainside, we finally found our way back to the 4-way intersection. Elated that we now knew where we were, we decided to go left just for the heck of it, and ended up running into the guard through sheer luck. So friends, save yourself some scraped hands and dirty backsides and just stick to the directions above!
3. The Guard
It was one of the more awkward moments of my life. Here we are – the anxiety is totally palpable – two girls, covered in dirt, heads down, sheepishly walking up to this guard. He’s an intimidating dude with arms folded and a look on his face that says, “I know you know I know what you’re doing.” We were terrified. He informed us that he’d been waiting for us after someone had radioed ahead that we were coming up (we never saw anyone, but I suspect the neighbors keep an eye out). We told him that this fact was really comforting to hear after almost getting lost in the woods with no cell service. He went through his spiel about how we could be fined $600 for trespassing or even face jail time. He said he’d already called the cops on the early morning hikers at the beginning of his shift. We believed him. We were almost scared off until he said, “but if it were me, and I’d come all this way, I’d keep going.” He then said the guard coming to replace him (who we’d meet on the way down) was the nice one. So we took our chances, and I’m so glad we did!
4. The Stairs
The base of the stairs is just off to the right of the guard. Hop over the railing and around the last fence with a “no trespassing” sign, and you’ve done it! Sort of . . . at least if you do get fined now, it’ll be on the way down, and who really cares at that point? It’ll be worth it! You’ll have conquered one of the most unique and beautiful hikes in the world. Depending on fitness, the stairs will take you an hour to two hours to ascend. Going down will take half the time. There was only one spot where the stairs were a bit tricky, but still nothing too difficult. You’ll hit several platforms on the way that provide good places to stop for a drink or a snack. However, if heights or ladders scare you, I do not recommend this hike. The “stairs” are nothing more than metal rungs most of the time. On the way down, we had to turn around quite a bit to take the steps like a ladder. That being said, the views are well worth it. The top is absolutely stunning.
*Tip: Hiking after lunch provides the clearest view of the surrounding area. Hiking in the early morning for sunrise will be quite misty – the ridge line is shrouded in cloud cover. You won’t be able to see as well as you would in the afternoon, but it’s an equally stunning experience – just a different kind of beauty.
This hike was one of my favorites I’ve ever done (and we hike a lot!). I can’t wait to go back and do it again for sunrise. Good luck!
Questions? Comment below. We’d love to hear about your Haiku experience!
Travel on, Beaches 🙂