Oahu Locals Want to Charge $100 for This Gorgeous Illegal Hike

The “Stairway to Heaven” hike on Oahu is technically illegal, but locals would like to preserve it by charging visitors $100 to climb it. (Marvin Chandra/Flickr)

Would you pay $100 just to take a hike? In an attempt to save a beloved landmark, Oahu, Hawaii, residents are proposing to charge the tourists who come to climb the famed “Haiku stairs" in their state’s capital.

The ”Stairway To Heaven,“ as it has been nicknamed by locals, has nearly 4,000 steps that lead to the summit of Puu Keahi a Kahoe. It has been officially closed for nearly 30 years now, but the laws haven't stopped massive amounts of tourists and locals from making the trek.

It’s definitely not easy — those who dare to pass have to avoid guards and make their way around guarded fences.

Earlier this year, the stairs were damaged during a storm, and now a decision must be made about what to do with them. The Hawaiian government has proposed tearing them down, but they’re facing heavy opposition. A counter plan proposes charging tourists $100 to hike the stairs, with a much more modest fee of between $5 and $20 for locals.

View of the Ko’olaue mountain range from atop the stairway. (Photo: Kevin McCarthy / Flickr)

With views like these, it's clear why people are fighting to keep it.

Originally wooden, the stairs were built as an access path during World War II, leading up 2,000 feet to a naval antenna that was one of the largest of its kind at the time.

Steel replaced wood in the 1950s, and a U.S. Coast Guard navigation station was established at the top where the stairs would lead. The station closed in 1987, and the stairs were officially marked off-limits.

For Hawaii residents, the hike would cost from $5 to $20. (Photo: sandra.elizbeth/Instagram)

The city reportedly invested nearly $1 million in the early 2000s to revamp the trail so that it could legally open up to the public. Unfortunately, the city never followed through on its promise, and the grounds remained private.

It has been a hotly contested issue in the community, involving both city and government institutions.  

To tear it down now could cost the city of Honolulu up to $5 million. 

A group of locals are making it their mission to keep the stairs intact. Friends of Haiku Stairs is a nonprofit organization that has helped preserve and maintain the area — picking up trash and removing extraneous plants — through city-approved admission to the site.

But now, with the damages this year, it's fighting for the stairs in a new way: keeping them from being torn down. It wants to instead fix the damages and then implement a new moneymaking strategy for the stairs.

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Penalties for being caught on the stairs include fines up to $600 and even prison time. (Photo: Marvin Chandra/Flickr)

With this proposal, it would finally be open to the public — but it would not be free. 

For tourists, it would cost $100 to hike, and for local Hawaii residents, it would cost between $5 and $20. 

The plan’s ultimate goal takes these fees into account — using the funds to go toward repair costs, and eventually, to pay for continued, everyday maintenance.

According to a report from Hawaii News Now, the Friends of Haiku Stairs organization said this plan could bring in as much as $1.7 million in yearly revenue.

While there is a risk of losing those hikers who find an illegal activity much more exciting than a $100 hike, opening up the stairs would draw families and hikers who may have been too hesitant to venture up the stairs before. 

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The Friends of Haiku Stairs rationalizes its proposed price by pointing out the potential penalties the current hikers risk: anywhere up to $600 and/or as many as six months in prison. And people still choose to hike it illegally anyway.

The penalties are so extreme because, according to property owners, the area underneath the stairs is protected watershed land containing multiple sets of streams and rivers that go into a bigger body of water.

There were just over a hundred citations and five actual arrests between January and May of this year. A security guard sits at the entrance during the majority of the day, and he or she will call the police if trespassers are spotted. 

At the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to keep this view accessible? Long live the "Stairway To Heaven” — even if it means that getting in will come with a big price.

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