Illegal Hikers in Hawai'i May Soon Have to Pay for Their Own Rescues

People who get stuck on the Stairway to Heaven trail could soon be stuck with the rescue bill.

Listen, there are so many laws I'm willing to break and even more I simply don't believe in. But, there are a select few I can acknowledge are made in the interest of public safety and ecological conservation, and they should be followed. My singular example at the moment is the law that makes it illegal for people to hike the Stairway to Heaven trail in Oahu and other hiking trails that are closed to the public.

The stairway is dangerous and many people who venture on the hike end up needing to be rescued by the Honolulu Fire Department. According to USA Today, there have been 188 people that have been rescued on the infamous steps between 2010 and 2022.

The first problem? These rescues can cost about $2,500 per hour, because a helicopter is required. Most rescues take two hours. The Honolulu Fire Department is responsible for making the rescue and the taxpayers of Hawai'i end up footing the bill. (The second problem is that flouting the laws of Hawai'i as a tourist is just disrespectful and a huge no-no.)

"The legislature finds that Hawaii is an outdoor playground world-renowned for its beautiful hikes through lush green forests and mountains. However, the coronavirus pandemic fueled a sustained surge of experienced and inexperienced hikers venturing outdoors," State Bill 786 states. "Occasionally, hikers ignore posted warning signs, intentionally leave a hiking trail, or enter property that is closed to the public. When one of these hikers needs to be rescued, it is the State that bears the burden of paying for the costs associated with the search or rescue."

The proposed legislation would ask guests of the island who disobey laws and require rescuing to pay the state back for the expenses. Similar bills have been passed in Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont, so Hawai'i is not reinventing the wheel with the proposal.

The proposal of SB 786 is still in its early stages, and has not yet been passed by the State House. The bill would also require the governor's signature before becoming law.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.