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Hawaii to Remove Infamous ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Hiking Trail

Officially closed for decades, the Ha‘ikū Stairs trail continues to see hikers tackling it illegally, creating problems for rescuers, taxpayers, and the environment.

haiku stairs hawaiiThe 'Stairway to Heaven' in Hawaii, otherwise known as the Ha‘ikū Stairs, will soon be removed; (photo/Shutterstock)
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While this hiking trail may have an attractive name, it’s anything but popular among many Hawaiians. Oahu’s Ha‘ikū Stairs, otherwise known as the “Stairway to Heaven” hiking trail, will be permanently removed over the next 6 months. State and local officials made the decision last week. The goal of the removal is to finally stop the flow of tourists hiking the trail illegally.

Originally built in 1947 to access a military radio station, the stairs have been officially closed since 1987. But heavy use has continued nevertheless, and in recent years it has ballooned. The trail includes 3,922 steel steps ascending the spiny ridges of the island’s Koolau Mountain Range.

haiku stairs
A wide view of the Ha‘ikū Stairs; (photo/Shutterstock)

As the photos make clear, the trail offers spectacular views. That’s why hikers have continued to risk a $1,000 fine just to walk up. Hawaiian officials say that illegal use of the trail is causing problems, with many visitors leaving trash, urinating in public, and trespassing on private property at all times of the night.

Dangerous rescues have become commonplace, resulting in millions of taxpayer dollars every year to save lost hikers on a closed trail, Hawaii News Now reported. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the decision to finally remove the stairs was “long overdue.”

“I can promise you that this was not a capricious decision,” Blangiardi said in a news release. “This decision that was made was predicated upon our respect for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs, our respect for our ʻāina [‘love of the land’], and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haʻikū community.”

Ha‘ikū Stairs: A Longstanding Controversy

Hawaiian locals have long complained about illegal hikers on the Ha‘ikū Stairs. However, the issue has become more severe in recent years. The trail became even more popular after the pandemic, with dozens of videos from TikTokers raking in hundreds of thousands of views.

Some TikTok creators criticized fellow influencers for traveling up the stairs. The influx of hikers continued, though. Local nonprofit Friends of Haiku Stairs has tried to prevent the closure, arguing for managed access instead of a complete ban. The group has filed an appeal to try to stop government officials from removing the stairs, which have historical significance, as they were built during World War II.

A large majority of local residents want the trail and the stairs to remain available, the group said.

“They offer a unique, world-class hiking experience, treasured for generations,” Friends of Haiku Stairs said in a statement. “It would be tragic to lose them.”

Government officials have a different perspective. In 2021, the Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution 21-154. That resolution urged the stairs’ removal and outlined the various ways the trail continues to negatively impact local residents.

Removal will finally begin this month through a third-party contract with The Nakoa Companies, Inc. The contractor will take direction from a biologist to protect native species and prevent erosion. It will also take responsibility for revegetating areas with sensitive native plants.

With work on the removal project now underway, local officials said the stairway is an active work site and should be considered extremely dangerous.

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