Legal way up, illegal way down
The Stairway to Heaven in Oahu, Hawaii is illegal, and the only “legal” way to get to the stairs is through the Moanalua Valley Trail hike. If caught on the stairs, fines are up to $1,000, and yes, there is a guard by the bottom of the stairs. The stairs were originally built in the 40’s by the U.S. Navy as a top-secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships sailing in the Atlantic Ocean, and was opened to the public until it was finally closed off due to how unsafe they ultimately deemed it. Oddly enough, I found the stairs to be much safer than the alternative “legal” longer hike to get to the stairs.
The Moanalua Valley Trail hike to get to the stairs is almost 6 miles one way, with the elevation of over 2500 feet. It took me about 4.5 hours in rain and mud to hike up before I reached the Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven). This was undoubtedly one of the most taxing things I have ever done. Some parts of the trail had narrow sharp angled drop offs on either side, with wind blowing furiously and sheets of rain coming from all directions. I was completely drenched and so muddy, as some parts of the climb was a vertical climb up mud and rocks, and had to pull myself up with ropes. This experience would be less challenging without the rain, but definitely still not for the faint of heart. Spikes and gloves are vital on my journey with all the mud I had to climb through.
By the time I reached the summit and finally laid eyes on the Stairway to Heaven, I had no doubt in my mind that I was not about to attempt my way back the same way I came up. It was extremely foggy at the top, with little visibility past 10 feet. I was determined to get the prized photographs I came to Oahu for, so after struggling to eat a PB&J sandwich with my muddy hands, I started making my way down the stairs. Mind you, I was still entirely drenched from the rain, even with a waterproof jacket on, and so was my backpack. It started clearing up as I descended the Stairway to Heaven, and while the stairs were slippery, narrow, broken, and some parts of it was a straight, vertical decline and felt like never ending ladder, it was still entirely safer and less tedious than the route I took to get up to the stairs. The views were notably incredible. The stairs took me about 1.5 hours, with my ankles, knees, and thighs still trembling. Once I reached the end of the stairs, I had to go another long way (I opted through the bamboo forest), to dodge the guard.
Word of advice to those who attempt this: Try not to hike this trail when it’s raining, or if it has rained the day before. It will make for a more miserable hike than necessary. For the daring, definitely take the stairs. Dangerous or not, it still felt much safer than the hike, but that was just my experience. It also got really cold at the top, with the elevation rise and wind, so make sure to bring a jacket (waterproof preferable, in case it starts raining). It may not rain down on the island, but you may get rain up on the hike since the weather is so unpredictable.