Hawaii’s Iconic “Stairway to Heaven” is Being Removed

Posted by
Keith Langston
April 29, 2024

Oahu's iconic (and infamous) Stairway to Heaven
Oahu's iconic (and infamous) Stairway to Heaven - Photo: Cayleigh Myrrh

Oahu’s famous Haiku Stairs – better known as the Stairway to Heaven – are officially being torn down. One of the most famous hiking trails on Oahu, the stairs were built by the US Navy during World War II and led up to a secret radio station at the top of a mountain. In the following decades, the stairs became a popular hiking spot thanks to the breathtaking views, eventually earning it the Stairway to Heaven moniker.

But then came social media. The captivating images fueled hiker interest, with everyone hoping to capture some great photos and videos. However, officials say the steps have fallen into disrepair and now pose a significant risk to hikers — and they probably aren’t wrong. Between 2010-2022, the Honolulu fire department had to perform 118 rescues from the stairs. The high number of visitors also put a strain on the neighborhood at the base of the trail, with residents constantly forced to battle the endless traffic and litter of hikers.

Preservation Instead of Destruction?

The stairs’ iconic status and gorgeous views have many feeling like the steps should be preserved instead of removed.  The Friends of Haiku Stairs formed to fight back against the dismantling. “The Haiku Stairs are an important part of Hawaii’s heritage. Demolishing them is a senseless waste of taxpayer money and an act of vandalism,” the group said in a statement to Hawaii News Now. 

Melissa Pae, an Oahu-based physician assistant who has hiked the stairs many times over the years, confirmed  that many others want to see the Stairway to Heaven preserved. “It’s iconic, it’s historic,” she said. Pae also offered a solution to overcrowding in the neighborhood, suggesting that officials could permit the stairs to limit the crowds but still allow hikers. “A lot of National Parks do that, and it had been talked about for years…that’ll generate money to handle repairs and the emergency rescues. It can appease the neighborhood too by cutting down on the conga line of traffic.” 

“It’s iconic, it’s historic.”

Pae also stated that there has never been a death from the trail as far as she knows, nor has the city ever been sued by anyone who injured themselves on the trail. 

The Haiku Stairs
The Haiku Stairs (p/Allen G)

Removal Has Begun

News of the stairs’ removal brought a tidal wave of visitors, all hoping to get one last glimpse of the stunning views before the demolition begins. This has led to confrontations with the police. The HPD stated that in just the last few weeks they’ve made seven arrests and issued 56 citations and 60 warnings to hikers trespassing on the stairs. 

In the latest update to the story, work crews have now arrived to start preparing the stairs for removal. This could further complicate and endanger hikers who are now trying to navigate their way through an active construction site. “On top of it being illegal, it’s an active worksite,” the HDP told Hawaii News Now. “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.”

Luckily, there’s a chance that hikers will still be able to climb the iconic Stairway to Heaven — just in a different location. The nearby tourist attraction Kualoa Ranch (famous for the filming of Jurassic Park) has expressed interest in purchasing the stairs and installing them on one of their mountainsides. So while the view might change, there’s still hope the stairs will greet visitors once again. 

Pae says that moving the stairs could be a “happy medium”, but that moving them will also ruin the hike for locals. “To be honest, Kualoa Ranch is expensive,” she said. “It’s kinda meant for tourists, so locals don’t really go there, and it’ll be another piece of Hawaii that becomes for tourists.” 

Seen in: Hawaii, News

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