One of Oahu’s Most Iconic Hikes Will Be Destroyed This Month

One of Oahu’s Most Iconic Hikes Will Be Destroyed This Month
This adventure has become one of Oahu’s most iconic. Photo: Kalen Emsley//Unsplash

When I think of Oahu, my brain is flooded with images of its North Shore reefs and the notorious waves they produce. But I also picture the island’s dramatic mountain landscapes. As a hiker, my social media algorithms have often fed me images of one of the island’s trails, an  oh-so-Instagrammable narrow staircase ascending up a breathtakingly steep, narrow mountain ridge. I haven’t been to Oahu since I was eight, but I sure as hell know that hike – Haiku Stairs, also coined as Stairway to Heaven. It’s become iconic and synonymous with adventure on Oahu.

But starting this month, the hike will no longer exist. As ordered by the City and County of Honolulu, work will commence to remove the historic, 3,922-step staircase.

Built in 1942 to transmit radio signals to ships during World War II, the staircase was subsequently opened to the public for hiking until 1987 when it was closed due to disrepair and safety concerns. Over the years, pushes to repair and revive the trail sprung up, including nearly a million dollars shelled out by the city to repair the stairs in 2003, but ultimately it never fully caught on. 

Now, those caught illegally hiking the trail are tagged with a $1,000 fine. During one operation to curtail hiking attempts between March 14 and March 23, 2021, 93 citations were given out for trespassing on state property and six arrests were made. Despite all that, it hasn’t stopped people from breaking the rules to soak in the views. While the popular hiking app AllTrails clearly labels this hike as “closed,” it still provides the GPS coordinates of the trail and has 1,900 reviews and 2,200 photos uploaded. As recently as two weeks ago, people who completed the hike left their rave reviews, while others commented to express their disappointment in the staircase removal. 

The City and County passed the resolution to remove the staircase back in 2021. According to the resolution, the decision was made “to stop trespassing, reduce disturbances to local neighborhoods, increase public safety, remove potential liability to the city, and protect the environment.”

The resolution states that between August 2017 and March 2020, 11,427 hikers and 3,610 vehicles were turned away by police officers. And between 2010 and 2022, more than 188 people were rescued from the hike, often by helicopter, and paid for by taxpayers.

Removing the stairs will be no easy task. The project is slated to cost $2.6 million and take six months to complete. It will largely require helicopters to remove each section of staircase where it will then be disassembled off the mountain. 

“Over the course of months, and meeting with all kinds of people and discovery and the effort we put into it, I can promise you this was not a capricious decision, and we knew at the time that we were making it, it would not necessarily be a popular decision with some people,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi at a news conference. 

One group, Friends of Haiku Stairs, is putting up an attempt to stop the dismantling of the stairs, filing a lawsuit in August of 2023. They argue that it will be a major loss of a historic asset for the people of Oahu, be a waste of public funds, cause harm to the environment, and become a nuisance for residents with the constant helicopter flyovers. They also level accusations that there are undisclosed plans to transfer the land to private property for exclusive commercial use.  

The lawsuit doesn’t seem to have made much headway, as the recent press conference by the local government indicates that the process to remove the staircase begins this month. Soon the staircase hike will be just a memory of the past.



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