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Diamond Head Hike – A Fantastic Climb On Oahu

On the Diamond Head hike in Oahu, Hawaii

The Diamond Head hike is a rewarding experience and with good reason. Diamond Head is a dormant crater made from a tuff cone.

While it’s a beautiful backdrop to Oahu’s capital, the top of the mountain offers amazing views of Honolulu and Sunset Beach below.

The Diamond Head hike difficulty is relatively low. It is suitable for children, the elderly, and almost anyone who does not participate in regular exercise.

The elevation gain of the hike is 560 feet, and the distance is 1.6 miles roundtrip. For those visiting Oahu on a budget, the walk makes for an inexpensive Oahu activity with the most significant rewards.

Diamond Head History

The Hawaiian people know Diamond Head as Leahi (brow of the tuna). It was named by the British almost 200 years ago when they thought they uncovered diamonds in the carter.

Part of the Ko’olau Range, it’s now a dormant volcano with no activity for 150,000 years. The Diamond Head crater was purchased around 1905 by the US Federal Government to use for military purposes.

They paid a mere USD 3,300, which is an incredible bargain. Today, Diamond Head is a state park and no longer used for military purposes, although visitors can see the old war bunkers high on the hill.

Diamond Head Hike Reservations

The Diamond Head crater hike has become so popular in recent years that the government implemented a reservation system. Now, hikers must book a one-hour time slot for entry or entry and parking.

Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance. The park charges a USD 5 entry fee and a USD 10 parking fee should you need it. Fees are paid online and are refundable if the cancelation is made 15 days before entry.

A visit to Oahu is not complete without hiking the Diamond Head trail. The Diamond Head crater is an easy hike suitable for all ages. At the top, visitors are treated to amazing views of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head lighthouse, and the Pacific Ocean. #hawaii #oahu #diamondhead #statepark #waikiki

The earliest time is 6 am to 7 am, and the last entry is 4 pm. Booked visitors are required to arrive within the first 30 minutes of their time slot. If you’re late, you may be denied entry and will not receive a refund.

How To Get to Diamond Head

If you’re arriving by car and staying in downtown Waikiki, drive Kalakaua Ave to the end of the road. It will turn into Monsarrat Ave and then Diamond Head Road. You’ll enter Diamond Head State Park from the east side.

The way is well marked and a short 10 to 15-minute drive from downtown Waikiki. You’ll need to drive through a short vehicle tunnel before arriving at Diamond Head State Monument. Be sure to drive with caution as many pedestrians walk through the narrow tunnel.

Without a vehicle, catch the #2 local bus to Diamond Head from Kuhio Ave to Diamond Head Rd. The Diamond Head bus stop is outside of the state park.

As a result, you’ll have to walk the rest of the way through the tunnel to the Diamond Head entrance. The walk is about 10 minutes.

If you purchase the Go City (formerly the Go Oahu Card), the pass includes transportation, the entrance fee, a self-guided hike, and a bottle of water.

If you plan to hike late and watch a sunset, be sure to park your vehicle outside the park gate.

Preparing For The Hike

Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu

The most important thing to remember is it’s scorching hot in Hawaii, and the hiking trail offers no protection from the sun. So, the best time to hike Diamond Head is in the early hours of the morning.

If you’re spending 7 days on Oahu, check the weather forecast and pick a day when the heat is tolerable.

Since the early morning is the best time to hike, it’s also the busiest time. Be prepared for a crowd and learn to exercise some patience.

It’s best to wear a sun hat, sunscreen, and carry both water and a snack. There is a food truck, vending machines, bathrooms, and a fountain to fill your collapsible water bottles at the park’s entrance.

Once on the trail, there are no bathrooms or garbage cans along the way. So, to preserve the environment, carry out whatever you take with you.

At the visitor center, you have the option to purchase an audio tour for USD 4. The audio provides an enriching experience, detailing the plant life, history, culture, and why the locals consider it a sacred place.

I arrived at around 8:30 in the morning, and the parking lot was almost full. After reading the crater’s history and checking out the gift shop, Brian and I started our hike to the Diamond Head summit.

We wore t-shirts, shorts, and a hat and carried water and granola bars. Brian used a cellphone camera, and I brought a DSLR camera.

What To Expect

As we left the parking area, the Diamond Head crater trail started with a cement, flat pathway. On either side of the walkway, the grass was long, and we enjoyed admiring the vegetation and views of the surrounding crater.

Paved part of Diamond Head summit trail
Diamond Head trail begins with a cement pathway

Don’t be deceived by this flat section of the trail because the uphill climb is yet to come. Once we reached the crater rim, the cement path disappeared and was replaced by a dirt pathway.

It’s essential to wear suitable footwear for this hike as there are many loose rocks on the trail. I was surprised at the number of hikers in sandals and flip-flops. Whatever you do, DON’T wear flip-flops.

As I started our climb, the switchback pathway meandered up the mountain and included some steps. The path is broad, and a handrail allows for extra support.

Switchback section of the Diamond Head hike
The switchback trail is on dirt and rock

During the climb, I often stopped to admire the views of the crater floor behind me. The size of this crater is quite spectacular, and the scenery of the surrounding area is quite picturesque.

Should you get tired, there are lots of places to rest and allow other hikers to pass.

Diamond Head Tunnel

As I neared the top of the Diamond Head crater, I reached a narrow 225-foot tunnel. It’s dark and has a low ceiling, so if you’re tall, be careful not to bang your head.

Being five feet tall, I could walk the tunnel with ease. I guess being short has its benefits, sometimes!

Diamond Head trail includes a narrow 225-foot tunnel
Diamond Head trail includes a narrow 225-foot tunnel

If you’re climbing to the summit to watch the sunset, it’s best to use your cellphone’s light or bring a flashlight to guide you through this dark tunnel once the sun goes down.

On the other side of the tunnel, I reached the Diamond Head staircase, aka the stairs of doom. While the long flight of steep stairs looks ominous, there is another option.

Instead of taking the stairs, turn left to see the World War II bunker. If you’re not into punishment or a Stairmaster junkie, go left! Take my word for it.

While there are more steps, the stairs are broken up into a switchback path and offer resting spots. The stairs of doom consist of 99 stairs steep stairs with no room to rest. The left way also offers better views of the surrounding area.

Stairs of doom at Diamond Head, Oahu
Arriving at the stairs of doom

No matter which route you choose, they both loop around and meet each other. So, either way, you complete the circle, either clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Having read some Diamond Head hike reviews, I chose to go left. While the Grouse Grind trail is my local Stairmaster hike, I was on vacation and not at a fitness retreat.

Diamond Head Summit

As I climbed the Diamond Head trail, I savored the spectacular views and took a lot of photos. Near the top, I could appreciate the massive crater’s size and the stunning Waikiki Beach.

It started to rain a little near the summit, and I was unprepared for the weather change. While it wasn’t cold, I did not carry a dry bag for the camera, so I ended up using a plastic bag to keep it dry.

The rain made the rocks slippery and water puddled on the trail quickly. Now I understood the benefits of having support railings on the trail.

Once I reached the old war bunker, I scrambled inside to stay dry. The doorway into the bunker is small and requires bending down to climb inside.

Diamond Head WW II bunker
Arriving at the WW II military bunker

The bunker’s interior is dark and gloomy, and I couldn’t imagine spending hours there during the war. At the back of the shelter is a narrow spiral staircase.

I climbed down, and outside the building, the pathway leads to another set of stairs (54 steps) and the Diamond Head lookout. Here, I could see Koko Head, the Diamond Head Lighthouse, and panoramic views in all directions.

Bunker spiral staircase
Spiral staircase inside the bunker

A word of warning; during busy times and especially in the morning, this area attracts a large crowd. Be patient and wait your turn to capture your selfies and those gorgeous photos of Waikiki.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the top of this 300,000-year-old cone crater.

Descending The Diamond Head Summit Trail

Since we reached the summit by the left route, we descended by the right path and down the stairs of doom. It was so much easier to walk down, and I was thankful we chose not to walk up that way.

The stairs were surprisingly empty as we walked down, and it was a perfect opportunity to capture some shots of these stairs. Now, you’d think the walk down was more straightforward, but not so after the rainfall.

Climbing down Diamond Head in Oahu
Hiking down from Diamond Head Summit

The pathway became very slippery as the smooth rocks were wet. Sometimes, I had to hang onto the handrail to prevent slipping. At this point, I was thankful I wore running shoes with a good grip.

The walk down provided great views of the meandering trail, and we could see new groups of people beginning the hike. I noted some of them were wearing the dreaded flip-flops.

The hike generally takes 1-1/2 hours round trip. Although we stopped many times to photograph our journey, hiking Diamond Head took us 1 hour and 10-minutes round trip.

By the time we got back to the parking lot, the temperature had climbed significantly, and I was thankful we had hiked Diamond Head before the hottest part of the day.

After the hike, stop at the Diamond Head interpretive kiosk. Built by the Division of State Parks, it provides visitors with information about the cultural and natural history of the Diamond Head crater.

Besides, it sells souvenirs, sunscreens, and t-shirts to commemorate your Diamond Head crater hike. Nearby, reward yourself with a delicious pineapple smoothie from the local food truck.

All in all, we enjoyed the hike and the rewarding views from the edge of the summit. If you’re looking for an inexpensive Oahu activity, the Diamond Head hike is an absolute must.

Since Diamond Head takes less than two hours, consider combining the climb with a snorkel at Hanauma Bay. Alternatively, enjoy the rest of the day at Kualoa Ranch, a 4000-acre private nature reserve and movie set to Jurassic Park.

Diamond Head crater is a popular attraction close to Waikiki Beach in Oahu. The hike is a must as the summit offers spectacular views of Honolulu, Diamond Head lighthouse and the crater itself. #hawaii #oahu #diamondhead #statepark #waikiki