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Deep Dive: Demolished Trails in Hawaii

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If you’ve never hiked the Ha‘ikū Stairs trail on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu, you probably never will, because the stairs face demolition. It has been illegal to hike this path, sometimes called “the Stairway to Heaven,” for years, but people do it anyway. And that’s one reason the Honolulu government is taking the stairs down.

The city of Honolulu announced preparatory work on the Ha‘ikū Stairs removal project is officially underway. Workers will remove “more than 600 stair modules” comprising of 3,922 steel steps this month, according to a press release.

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The U.S. military built the narrow metal stair structure, which ascends 2,820 feet along the ridge line of the Koolau Mountains, during World War II. The stairs lead up to a radio tower the military used during the war to communicate with Navy ships operating in the Pacific. The hiking trail has been closed to the public since 1987, but visitors have continued to climb up the steep, unmaintained path, which is pretty sketchy in some places. A local news report suggests the Honolulu Fire Department has rescued 118 people who became stuck or injured on the path in the last 12 years.

Nowadays, there is often a guard at the trailhead, and hikers face a hefty fee if they’re caught climbing the stairs. But the danger, the fines, and the red tape don’t deter hikers who want to experience the famous hike for themselves—or who want to get that coveted photo for their Instagram feed.

Explore even more with this guide on Alaska.