Hawaii to destroy Instagrammer favourite ‘Stairway to Heaven’ trail as it’s too dangerous

Hawaii has decided to destroy its famous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ mountain trail over concerns that it has been popularised by Instagram (Made to Travel/YouTube)
Hawaii has decided to destroy its famous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ mountain trail over concerns that it has been popularised by Instagram (Made to Travel/YouTube)

Honolulu officials have decided to remove the Instagrammers’ favourite “Stairway to Heaven” or Haiku Stairs — as it is “dangerous” and “not worth the trouble” of maintaining.

The Honolulu City Council unanimously approved a resolution to remove the stairs — a steep series of 3,922 steps — and its “accessory structures, to stop trespassing, reduce disturbances to local neighbourhoods, increase public safety, remove potential liability to the city, and protect the environment”.

The “Stairway to Heaven” mountain trail draws around 4,000 hikers every year for its “Instagram-worthy” vistas – even though climbing them is against the law. Honolulu officials have set aside $1m for their demolition.

The stairs were built by the US Navy during the Second World War to provide access to a secret radio base. But the Coast Guard closed the trail in 1987 and it is illegal to climb or even access the site.

Trespassers could face $1,000 in fines, yet many remain undeterred.

Local reports said that Mayor Rick Blangardi is now going to finalise the move to destroy the site.

In 2019, officials had said that “if a solution for keeping Haiku Stairs cannot be achieved then the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (BWS) — which owns the picturesque stairs and surrounding land — will have no choice but to remove Haiku Stairs”.

The Stairway to Heaven mountain extends from the Haiku Valley up the ridges of Oahu’s Koolau Range.

In March this year, the Honolulu Police Department arrested six people and cited 93 for trespassing on the illegal tourist attraction during a roughly 10-day period.

The city was, at the time, still working on a plan to reopen the trail. But the police had said that “while we want residents and visitors to enjoy Oahu’s natural beauty, we encourage them to do so in a safe and responsible manner on legally accessible and well-maintained trails.”

There is believed to be only one documented death at the site — singer and comedian Fritz Hasenpusch, who had a heart attack while climbing the Haiku Stairs in 2012.

A report by Honolulu’s BWS had said that “with the advent of social media, instructions to illegally access Haiku Stairs are readily available, and prolific sharing of panoramic snapshots encourages people around the world to risk the climb. It is an ongoing need to stop trespassing and reduce disruptions in the adjacent residential neighbourhoods.”

The BWS spent about $250,000 each year on security services to prevent trespassing when it owned the site.

In 2016, the agency also spent $23,000 to remove a swing that was illegally installed on the ridgeline near the top of the stairs.

The site was also a burden on the local police and fire departments, the agency said.

In 2001, the then-mayor Jeremy Harris had invested $875,000 to fix the damaged portions of the stairs and renovate sections for safe public access. However, the plan to reopen the site never materialised.

Meanwhile, a group called “Friends of Haiku Stairs” protested outside the mayor’s office. “To lose the stairs would be a catastrophe,” Vernon Ansdell, the group’s president, said. “This is a priceless Windward treasure. And they must not be destroyed. This would be a huge loss to Oahu, the state of Oahu, and in particular to residents on the Windward side.”

The group, the KITV reported, hopes that the city can instead reopen the trail under what’s being called “managed access.”