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One of Hawai'i's Most Popular Hikes Will Be Permanently Destroyed This Month

Hawaii News Hiking
by Matador Creators Apr 15, 2024

One of the most popular — and dangerous — hikes in Hawaii will soon be gone forever, the City and County of Oahu announced earlier this week. The announcement cited safety issues related to the aging stairs, environmental concerns, and concerns of nearby neighbors about the heavy influx of trespassers as justification for dismantling the route.

The now-infamous “Stairway to Heaven” hike, officially called the “Haiku Stairs,” is a 2.3-mile out-and-back hike, much of which is along a 600-count metal staircase. It gains about 2,400 feet of elevation as it brings hikers from the trailhead in Kaneohe to the summit high in the Ko’olau mountains. The metal stairs were built in 1942 by the US Navy during WWII to bring soldiers to what was then a top-secret radio listening station. The remote location and high altitude meant radio signals had a high transmission range, allowing for communication with ships on the Pacific Ocean. The steps were originally made from wood, but Hawaii’s wet and rainy climate necessitated quickly replacing them with metal.

Initially, the hike was open to the public after the war. But it was closed in 1987 due to safety concerns arising from the stairs’ state of disrepair and the risk of climbing on the steep, narrow ridge. Despite the closure, and the fines of up to $1,000 for anyone trespassing on the steps, it continued to be one of the most popular hikes on Oahu.

The process of removing the Haiku stairs will take about six months and will be under the direction of a biologist, the county announced. Before removing each stair, the biologist will evaluate the land under the stair and make recommendations about any necessary additional work to prevent erosion or protect any sensitive species. Hawai’i currently has 366 plant species considered threatened or endangered.

Alternatives to the Haiku Stairs

Olomana Three Peaks Trail oahu, hawaii - alternative to the haiku steps

A woman on Oahu’s Olomana Three Peaks Trail. Photo: Jakub Maculewicz/Shutterstock

If you’re following the law, the Haiku Stairs haven’t been an option since 1987. But now, with construction starting to remove them, they’re definitely not an option.

Fortunately, Oahu’s two major mountain ranges — the western Wai’anae Range and the Ko’olau Range on the eastern part of the island — create plenty of opportunities for equally steep, gorgeous hikes. Like the Haiku Stairs, the hikes below are all advanced and recommended for experienced hikers. Check out Matador’s guide to family-friendly hikes on Oahu if you’re looking for something a little more beginner-friendly.

  • Olomana Three Peaks Trail: This challenging 4.5-mile, out-and-back hike takes hikers up three peaks for panoramic views of the Koʻolau Mountains and the Windward Coast. The ridgeline sections can be narrow and exposed, making it a thrilling alternative to the Stairway to Heaven. Like the Haiku Stairs, it’s narrow and exposed, and can be dangerous. Have shoes with good grip and do your research before making an attempt.
  • Koko Head Crater Hike: This 1.8-mile, out-and-back hike is along a former rail route used to transport materials for building a bunker during WWII, making a nice alternative if it’s the history of the Haiku Stairs you find interesting. It’s nicknamed “Koko Head,” and has more than 1,000 steps to the top of the crater rim, with rewarding views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline.
  • Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail: Wilwilinui Ridge is a 5.8-mile, out-and-back trail leads to a ridgeline with stunning views of the Koʻolau Mountains and the windward side of the island. The trail is narrow and exposed in some sections, so be sure to be in good shape and comfortable with heights. Parking starts in a gated community and is limited, so try to avoid weekends, arrive early, or hike in the off-season.

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