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The Stairway to Heaven in Hawaii, also known as the Haʻikū Stairs, is one of the most famous and controversial hiking trails in Hawaii. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: the Stairway to Heaven is located on the island of O’ahu, near Kaneohe on the windward side of the Ko’olau mountain range.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about the location, history, controversy, and current status of the iconic Stairway to Heaven hike in Hawaii.

Exact Location of the Stairway to Heaven Hawaii

Latitude and Longitude Coordinates

The Stairway to Heaven hike is located at 21°21’57.6″N 157°48’03.5″W in the Ko’olau Mountain Range on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. This corresponds to an elevation of approximately 1,048 feet (320 meters) above sea level on the southeast flank of the Koolau mountains.

The trailhead parking area, which sits at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the hike, is situated off Kalihi Street in residential Honolulu, around 1 mile from downtown Kaneohe. Using GPS or mapping software, the trailhead coordinates are confirmed to be 21.366002, -157.800959.

Nearby Cities and Landmarks

The famous Haiku Stairs, as the hike is also known, is located closest to the town of Kaneohe on Windward Oahu, about 30 minutes by car from the tourism hub of Waikiki in Honolulu.

Key surrounding suburbs and neighborhoods include Kailua, Waimanalo, Ahuimanu, and Maunawili. The trail ascends near the popular Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, home to scenic cliffside vistas.

Other notable landmarks and natural features in proximity to Stairway to Heaven include:

  • Kaneohe Bay – 5 miles north
  • Koolau Mountains – trail traverses this mountain range
  • Pacific Ocean – 4 miles north (Windward Coast)
  • Kaneohe Marine Corps Base – 5 miles north
City Distance from Stairway to Heaven
Kaneohe 3.5 miles southwest
Kailua 4.7 miles southwest
Honolulu (Waikiki) 18 miles southwest

Use the coordinates, details, and comparisons above to pinpoint the restricted Stairway to Heaven Hawaii, which has been closed since 1987 due to liability concerns. Adventurous hikers still illegally access the epic 4,000 step climb down the mountain regularly with the risk of citations.

History and Background of the Stairway to Heaven

The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haʻikū Stairs, is an epic hiking trail on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. This storied path was originally built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy to provide access to a secret military communication facility located atop the steep cliffs of the Ko’olau Mountain Range.

At over 3,900 steps spanning across steep O’ahu terrain, the Stairway to Heaven is considered one of the most physically demanding hiking trails in Hawaii. However, the payoff is big – those who brave the grueling climb are rewarded with unparalleled 360-degree views of the Windward Coast and Kane’ohe town.

Early Beginnings as a Navy Access Trail

The Stairway to Heaven was constructed using wooden railway ties early on in World War II. Its purpose was to provide Navy personnel access to long-distance radio antennas that had been installed on top of the Ko’olau Ridge to transmit radio signals to Navy ships across the Pacific.

For 17 years, the Haʻikū Stairs served critical military communication functions until 1959 when the antenna equipment was removed after becoming obsolete. The City and County of Honolulu then took ownership of the stairs and continued to provide public access to hikers seeking epic ridge-line views.

Closure and Controversies

Despite its popularity among thrill-seeking outdoor enthusiasts, the Stairway to Heaven has seen its fair share of controversy over the decades. There have been numerous injuries and even some fatalities on the unforgiving terrain, ultimately leading the City to close the trail indefinitely in 1987 citing liability concerns.

However, the imposing Haʻikū Stairs structure remains intact, and some still make the grueling trek illegally to experience breathtaking vistas. There have been proposals to reopen the trail in some capacity, but complications around environmental impact, costs, and liability have stalled any definitive plans thus far.

The Stairway to Heaven continues to hold an intriguing lure for Hawaii residents and visitors craving adventure. While its future remains uncertain, its legendary status in Hawaiian hiking lore is firmly cemented for generations to come.

Controversy and Closures Over the Years

Introduce the controversies and closures related to the “Stairway to Heaven” hike in Hawaii over time. Explain when the trail was opened, when issues started arising, and key events that led to temporary or long-term closures.

Early Popularity and First Closures

Detail the early popularity of the hike in the 1900s/2000s and what led to the first closures by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. Explain the rationale behind early closures.

Recent Lawsuits and Restricted Access

Discuss the high-profile lawsuit from 2015-2019 that brought more attention to the hike. Explain the outcome of the lawsuit and how it has maintained restrictions to public access.

Current Status and Future Outlook

Provide an update on the current status of the trail as of 2023. Is access still restricted? Is there talk of reopening access under certain conditions? Provide expert opinions on the future prospects of this controversial hike.

Current Status and Accessibility of the Hike

The famous Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, in Hawaii have been closed to the public since 1987. However, this has not stopped hordes of adventurous and often ill-prepared hikers from attempting the grueling 3,922 step journey up the steep mountain face.

Despite barricades, security patrols, and signs warning about significant fines for trespassing, an estimated 4,000 people still climb the Stairway to Heaven each year. This has caused major issues around overcrowding, rescues, liability, and environmental impact to the area.

Barricades and Security

In order to deter trespassers, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply has installed barricades and employs 24 hour security patrols. However, creative rule-breakers have found ways to circumvent the barricades and sneak past guards. This cat and mouse game seems unlikely to end any time soon.

Fines and Legal Issues

Technically, the punishment for hiking the closed Stairway to Heaven is a fine of up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail. But in recent years, no one has actually been prosecuted. Still, trespassers run the risk of legal trouble if caught by authorities.

Rescues and Accidents

Due to the treacherous terrain, poorly prepared climbers, bad weather, or simple exhaustion, over 130 rescue missions have occurred on the Stairway to Heaven since 2014. Sadly, a number of climbers have also fallen to their deaths over the years. Clearly, safety remains a huge concern.

Environmental Impact

The droves of people climbing the stairs have caused soil erosion, habitat disruption, and damage to native plant species in the area. Human waste and general refuse have also become a problem. Some environmentalists argue that closing access is the only way to protect this ecologically sensitive region.

While the debate continues around whether to re-open access to the Stairway to Heaven, the real question is how to balance public recreation with legal, safety, and environmental concerns. Creative solutions could allow limited, permitted access to this iconic Hawaiian landmark.

But for now, don’t try this hike unless you’re prepared to face the consequences!

Safety Concerns and Restrictions

Visiting the Haʻikū Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, in Hawaii comes with considerable safety risks and legal restrictions that adventurers should take seriously. Though the views from the stairs are undoubtedly stunning, attempting to access them illegally can result in injuries, fines, or even jail time.

Physical Hazards

The dilapidated Haʻikū Stairs stretch nearly 4,000 feet up the southern face of the Koʻolau Mountain Range on O’ahu, climbing over half a mile in elevation through steep, overgrown terrain. While advanced hikers revel in the challenge, the unmaintained stairs have suffered considerable decay over the decades.

Rusty steps might give way underfoot, landslides frequently cover sections of stairs with debris, and large gaps require tricky climbing maneuvers. Even for experienced outdoor enthusiasts, safely traversing the stairs requires great caution.

Trespassing Issues

Despite the popularity of the Haʻikū Stairs as an adventurous hike, the City and County of Honolulu has banned public access since 1987. The stairs sit on private property, passing through neighborhoods and over private backyards. Hikers accessing them are guilty of trespassing.

Police, private security guards, and some angry homeowners vigilantly patrol the base of the stairs, prepared to slap violators with citations carrying fines of $1,000 or more. Repeat offenders may even face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail.

Injury Evacuation Difficulties

Should an accident or injury occur on the stairs themselves, safely evacuating the victim poses major challenges. The decaying, narrow stairs allow no room for stretchers or rescue equipment. Instead, an air ambulance helicopter must hoist injured hikers up in a rescue basket or ladder – an extremely tricky and dangerous procedure requiring optimum weather conditions.

And in the case of extreme weather, nightfall, or other preventing flight restrictions, an evacuation by ground takes nearly 8 grueling hours round trip.

Considering the extreme risks involved, authorities strongly advise against attempting to access the Haʻikū Stairs illegally. While the natural beauty of the landscape understandably compels adventure seekers, the potential consequences simply aren’t worth the lawbreaking required.

For stunning Oʻahu mountain views without the threat of death, fines, or jail time, numerous sanctioned hikes around the island offer safer alternatives.


The Stairway to Heaven in Hawaii has an intriguing history, from its origins as a secret military access route to its current status as a highly controversial and restricted hiking trail. While the iconic stairs are now off-limits to the public, there are ways you can still catch views of this engineering marvel and learn about its significance in Hawaiian culture if you know where to look and who to ask.

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