‘This is a Historic Day’- Perilous Hawaiian Hiking Trail to Finally Be Demolished

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Apr 23, 2024

Visitors to Hawaii’s island of O‘ahu are often wildly impressed by its natural landscape, including the majestic green mountains and bright blue waters.

To get the best possible view of this incredible island, many decide to hike up the nearly 4,000 steps of the Haiku Stairs. These stairs have been off-limits for nearly four decades, but that hasn’t stopped risk-taking tourists from finding a way in. Now, the dangerous monument is finally being demolished once and for all.

The History of the Haiku Stairs

The Haiku Stairs, often referred to as the Stairway to Heaven, were built during World War II by the US Navy stationed in Honolulu, O‘ahu.

View of the abandoned Naval communications center on the top of Ko’olau Mountain

Source: iStock

The stairs led naval officers 2,800 feet up to the top of Ko’olau Mountain, where their secret communications facilities were located. After the war, the facilities were no longer needed and, therefore, abandoned. However, the stairs remained.

The Haiku Stairs Were Once a Popular Tourist Attraction

In the decades after the war, the Haiku Stairs were quite a popular tourist attraction. But local officials were worried about the growing crowds and the lack of safety precautions built into the 4,000-odd stairs.

A Naval officer hikes the Haiku Stairs in 1949

Source: Haiku Stairs

Consequently, they decided to close the stairs for public use in 1987, but unfortunately, many visitors since have simply ignored the “No Trespassing” signs and headed up the dangerous steps anyway.

Climbing the Stairway to Heaven Has Become Insta-Worthy

One of the reasons why these stairs have remained popular even though they are closed off is because of social media.

Screenshot of several photographs from Instagram of visitors to the Haiku Stairs

Source: @Haiku_Stairs/Instagram

On platforms like Instagram and TikTok, there are hundreds of eye-catching photographs of people walking up and at the top of the Stairway to Heaven. And of course, everyone wants to get their own inspiring picture to impress their own followers.

Several Blogs Promote Climbing the Stairs as a “Bucket List” Hike

There are also several travel blogs that promote the Haiku Stairs as a “bucket list” hike, which encourages travelers to take on the risky summit.

A map of the neighborhood alongside the Haiku Stairs with annotations on how to find hidden entrances

Source: 1lifeonearth

These blogs explain how to avoid the fines, break through residents’ yards, and other illegal activities that have caused immense frustration for the residents and local authorities in Honolulu.

Hawaiian Authorities Have Attempted to Deter Visitors

Over the years, local authorities in Honolulu have tried desperately to deter visitors by hiring security guards, adding warning signs, and even posting threats of large fines for those who attempt to take on the stairs.

A traffic sign that reads “Haiku Stairs Closed”

Source: Reddit

However, people continue to find ways and risk the fines in order to climb this thrilling landmark, including crossing the backyards of local residents and climbing dangerous barriers.


Not Everyone Makes It to the Top

Fortunately, no one has died while attempting to climb the Haiku Stairs, but many have found themselves in trouble. In fact, there have been several instances in which local authorities have had to rescue hikers in need.

Two US Coast Guard helicopters mid flight

Source: US Naval Institute

Just last year, in September 2023, one woman and her dog fell over 50 feet and had to be rescued by a helicopter as they could not get off the mountain safely on their own.


The Decision to Destroy the Stairs

Because visitors have flat out refused to obey the restrictions in place, Honolulu mayor Rick Blangiardi, finally announced that they will be dismantling the staircase in April 2024.

The mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii, Rick Blangiardi, smiles for the camera

Source: Honolulu.gov

Blangiardi said in a press conference, “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 aina (land), and our respect for both the future and the past history of the culture of the Haiku community.”


Taking Apart the Stairs Is a Big Project

Dismantling the Haiku Stairs is a time-consuming and dangerous undertaking in itself. The plan is to deploy six to eight workers at a time to remove 664 different sections.

Photograph from the top of the Haiku Stairs on the island of O’ahu

Source: Reddit

However, some of the terrain is exceptionally steep, so helicopters will be used to transport the sections when workers on the ground cannot safely do so.


The Mayor Begs Visitors to Stay Away While the Stairs Are Demolished

The demolition is set to begin at the end of April 2024, and Mayor Blangiardi has publicly asked that no tourist or resident attempts to climb the stairs “one last time” as they will be more dangerous than ever.

Photograph of a person hiking up the Haiku Stairs

Source: Reddit

As Mayor Blangiardi explained, “The last thing we want is for something tragic to happen” in the final days before the stairs are gone.


There Are Still Many Ways to Enjoy the Epic Views of Honolulu

It’s important to note that there are still dozens of incredible and awe-inspiring hikes around Honolulu where visitors can enjoy the epic views of the island.

View from the top of Ko’olau mountain on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu

Source: Reddit

The Lanikai Pillbox Trail awards hikers with 360 views of the island, and the Ko’olau Summit Trail leads tourists up the same mountain as the Haiku Stairs, but on a much safer trail.


Keeping O’ahu Safe for Everyone

While many may be disappointed by the removal of the historical and breathtaking Stairway to Heaven, the truth is that these stairs simply aren’t safe.

View of the mountains around Honolulu, O’ahu

Source: Adobe Stock

And the local authorities in O’ahu want to ensure they do everything they can to keep their visitors and residents out of harm’s way.