One Of Hawaii's Most Iconic Hikes Is Getting Permanently Shut Down

Since the late 1980s, tourists have risked their safety and legal repercussions by climbing Oahu's Stairway to Heaven. It's hard to imagine why so many tourists would take such a risk, but the beautiful views observed from the top of the dangerous staircase, also known as the Haʻikū Stairs, made the perilous climb worth it for some. Despite its illegal status, the hike became one of the most popular unofficial tourist attractions for adventurers and thrill seekers to visit during their trips to Oahu, which is one of the most budget-friendly Hawaiian Islands. The hike was further popularized during the age of social media. It is estimated that around 4,000 people attempted the hike each year, to the frustration of local property owners.

Now, Hawaiian officials say they are forced to remove the staircase once and for all. The decision is a controversial one, with groups like Friends of the Haʻikū Stairs arguing that the staircase should be protected as a historical landmark and an iconic hiking experience.

In a press statement, Mayor Rick Blangiardi said that the decision was not an easy one but that it was long overdue. He said that originally, he hoped for a way to save the stairs. "I can promise you that this was not a capricious decision," he said. The initial phases of the project to remove the stairs are already underway, with removal to begin at the end of April 2024.

History and controversy surrounding Oahu's Stairway to Heaven

The Haʻikū Stairs were originally constructed during WWII by the United States Navy. The stairs offered access to a radio station on the top of the cliffs that offered long-range radio transmissions. The first people to make the grueling ascent (pre-stairs) were Bill Adams and Louis Otto, and it took them 21 days to complete the hike. The Haʻikū Stairs run 4,000 feet along a mountainous ridgeline and includes 3,922 steps.

The stairs officially closed to the public in 1987, but before that, they attracted about 20,000 visitors per year. The stairs were popularized after being featured in an episode of "Magnum P.I." in 1981. Safety and upkeep costs are one of the main reasons the stairs closed, despite community efforts to repair and reopen them to the public. Friends of the Haʻikū Stairs argue that over the years, there haven't been any deaths resulting from falls along the route. Trespassing is another concern, as there is currently no way for the public to access the stairs without encroaching on private property.

"This decision that was made was predicated upon our respect for the people who live in and around the entrance to the stairs," said Mayor Rick Blangiardi in his press statement. Friends of the Haʻikū Stairs argue that removing the stairs is not the answer and that it will be an expensive cost that negatively impacts the environment. They believe managed access is the correct path forward.

Bidding farewell to one of Oahu's epic hikes

The iconic Stairway to Heaven will be dismantled in modules, the first of which will come down starting the last week of April 2024. The team overseeing the project is already making preparations on-site. Despite warnings, hikers are arriving at the stairs in throngs, attempting to embark on one last climb before the stairs are torn down. According to Hawaii News Now, police issued 60 warnings to hikers along with 25 parking violations over the weekend of April 20, 2024, and 37 citations for second-degree trespassing. They plan to continue to crack down.

"On top of it being illegal, it's an active worksite. There's heavy machinery. The helicopter is working back and forth, so it's dangerous for people to be up there in the first place. It's a closed site. It's a work environment," an officer told Hawaii News Now.

Tourists won't be able to risk the Stairway to Heaven hike any longer, but luckily, Oahu is full of other amazing hiking trails and serene beaches that you can enjoy during your trip to Hawaii that allow you to see all the best parts of Oahu. And as an added bonus — they're legal! The Koko Crater Tramway to Kokohead Lookout is a challenging hike near Honolulu that ends in stunning panoramic views.