Stairway to Heaven (AKA the Haiku Stairs) is one of the most photographed trails in all of Hawaii. Unfortunately, hiking the traditional stairway route is illegal. The back route up via the Moanalua Valley Trail (not hiking up the actual stairs) does lead you to the Haiku Stairs viewpoint, although it’s a much more challenging route. This is a famous destination so I felt like it needed to be included, however it is not my favorite trail, and I avoid it because of the crowds. Please note that Moanalua Valley to Stairway to Heaven is a very sensitive trail that that is prone to erosion and for that reason I recommend skipping it, but the history here is very complex and fascinating.
Originally built in 1942 by the U.S as a facility for transmitting radio signals to ships in the Pacific, 3,922 stairs make the way up a mountain ridge to form the Stairway to Heaven. It is a trail with a fascinating story that leads to some of the best views of the island. Unfortunately, access to the stairs has been prohibited since 1987 for safety reasons. The Stairway to Heaven has since become a heated topic, and while locals hikers who have been using the stairs long before they were closed continue to do so, it remains illegal and is not recommended.
There are talks about tearing down the stairs, which by some estimates would be more costly than simply repairing them and opening them to the public. My personal opinion is that the stairs should be repaired and opened to the public, possibly for a small fee. The situation is escalating and changing at all times. No matter what your stance on this issue is, the hike remains illegal. If you are a first time visitor, I advise you to avoid the $1000 fine, a run in with the cops, and disturbing the local people. When the cops are called, when people jump over the fence, they disrupt Hawaiian neighborhoods, so please be respectful of these communities.
The alternative way to the viewpoint begins at the Moanalua Valley trailhead and is a 9.3-mile round trip that will take you all day to hike out and back. It is a tough trek since there are multiple sections with rope climbs and very steep ascents. Hiking this back route will take you to the same exact viewpoint at the top as the actual stairs would, but please note, the back way is not really permitted either. At one point on the trail, close to the stairs, police can fine you even if you are not on the steps because you are trespassing on the land. So even on this back route, you need to know the rules and you really should follow them. I’m of the opinion that even though this might be one of Oahu’s best hikes, you should consider skipping it for now until the issue is resolved.