Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii
Without question, hiking to the summit of the Diamond Head Hike is one of the most popular things to do in Honolulu. I first caught a glimpse of the iconic volcano crater from my window seat as the aircraft circled Honolulu while preparing to land. It’s an impressive landmark that dominates Waikiki’s coastline.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Oahu airport, we were greeted by a strong tropical storm with lots and lots of rain. The storm lasted for 4 days, which is the same amount of time we had allocated to stay at Waikiki Beach before moving to Ko Olina Beach.
The torrential rain would come and go, giving us brief moments to explore Waikiki Beach. Each time we walked on Kalakaua Avenue I could see Diamond Head in the distance, reminding me that hiking to the Diamond Head Summit was not in the cards for this trip to Oahu.
However, as luck (or fate?) would have it, our flight home was cancelled – more on that story here.
We opted to spend an additional night at Waikiki Beach. The new flight departure time was 4:30 PM, which meant I had time to do the Diamond Head hike after all.
In this post, we share our experience hiking the Diamond Head Crater Trail.
Before we get started, I should point out that only Braydon and I (Cameron) did the hike. Nicole and Connor opted for a lazy morning at the hotel pool instead.
Diamond Head State Monument is one of Hawaii’s most famous landmarks.
It’s said to have been formed more than 100,000 years ago. In the early 1900’s it was actually used as a military lookout, given Hawaii’s strategic location in the Pacific Ocean. In 1968 it was recognized as a National Natural Landmark.
Learn more about the fascinating history of Diamond Head State Monument here.
The morning hike did not start well
I booked an Uber before leaving the hotel room at Marriott Waikiki Beach Resort. The meeting point for the driver is to be on the street corner in front of the hotel on Kalakaua Ave.
As soon as we walk outside, I notice the street is blocked off. There are no cars on this normally busy road. However, the sidewalks are full of pedestrians. “What’s going on here?” I ask myself.
An athlete walks past me and I notice a bib on his chest. Then I see another. And another. I see people wearing medals around their necks.
Then I realize what’s happening.
We are attempting to catch an Uber on Kalakaua Ave during the Honolulu Marathon. Good luck with that!
The Uber driver attempts to navigate the one way streets of Waikiki Beach, but it’s not happening this morning. He cancels the trip.
So, we walk a few blocks from the closed streets and try again. We are successful this time and make our way towards the Diamond Head Visitor Center. Unfortunately, the trip is cut short because the road near the entrance to the park is also blocked due to the marathon.
The Uber driver informs us that we are only one mile from the Diamond Head State Monument parking lot. With no other options available, we get out of the car and start walking. We’re here to hike, so an extra mile of walking is not a big deal.
The uphill walk eventually leads us to the Diamond Head Tunnel, pictured above. It’s a single lane road with a pedestrian walkway. The tunnel passes through thick volcanic rock that surrounds Diamond Head Crater.
Although it looks like any old tunnel, we took a moment to appreciate the fact that we were literally walking through a volcano wall. How cool is that?
Our walk continues until we are inside the crater, pictured above. We pay the park admission at the ticket booth and grab a bottle of water before starting the hike.
The first part of this well-marked trail is paved with stone. It’s an easy slope that cuts through the forest.
Views of the terrain from about half way to the Diamond Head Summit. If you look closely, you’ll see a few people in the center of the photo. The tiny figures give you a sense of scale.
At first glance, this looks like a typical mountain hike in a dry climate. But then you realize you’re actually hiking inside an old volcanic crater. It’s a unique hiking experience.
The Diamond Head hike has multiple lookout points on the trail. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait your turn to capture a photo. It’s a popular hike and everyone wants a photo to remember the moment.
Honolulu is a big city! You can see the urban sprawl consuming the mountains in the distance.
Witness the cone-shaped crater from this viewpoint. The landscapes from this vantage point are amazing.
The steep stairs on the Diamond Head hike are a solid leg burner. If you don’t like heights, like me, just keep looking up. The stairs are quite high and can be dizzying if you’re prone to vertigo. You may need to wait your turn, depending on the flow of foot traffic going up or down.
Before you reach the summit, you must first pass through a long tunnel that’s carved into the volcano. The air it thin in here, so take your time. It was empty on our way up, as you can see in the above photo. However, this thin long tunnel was full of people on the way down.
More stairs! This section is steep.
The final set of stairs are a windy spiral staircase. At this point, you are now walking inside an old military bunker. In 1904, the United States government purchased Diamond Head and it used it for military purposes. They constructed several tunnels, bunkers and observation lookouts, like the one picture below.
Learn about Diamond Head’s military history here.
Views of Oahu’s beautiful south shore from inside an abandoned military bunker.
The above photo shows an outside view of the Diamond Head bunker and observation deck.
Summit of Diamond Head Crater
The views from the Diamond Head Summit are spectacular and well worth the effort to hike the popular Diamond Head trail. There is an observation deck (pictured above) to view the Honolulu skyline and surrounding coastline.
It’s not a very big platform so it can get quite busy during peak times. You’ll may have to wait your turn to get that Instagram-worthy shot of the Honolulu skyline.
Can you see the small rainbow above the abandoned bunker?
While it may look like a tracked path leading up to that old bunker, this area is out of bounds and not open to the public. There is a park ranger at the summit who monitors hikers and makes sure people stay on the appropriate paths. There are steep cliffs up here, so you need to be careful.
Braydon soaking up the stunning views of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu.
We did it! Braydon is very proud of himself for reaching the Diamond Head Summit. It’s not a very strenuous hike, so it’s very doable for kids. He’s 10 years old at the time.
Obligatory father-son photo from the top of the Diamond Head Summit trail.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to see a whale from up here?”
Literally 3 seconds after Braydon made that comment, a huge humpback whale breached about 200 feet from the shore. Incredible timing! The whale seemed to float in slow motion as it turned mid-air and flashed its white belly before splashing into the ocean.
“I totally called that!” Braydon shouted with amazement. He did! What are the odds of that happening? We focused our eyes on the spot where the whale breached but it did not surface again.
Descending from the Summit of Diamond Head. When you come down, you will take a different path than the one coming up, creating a small loop.
Given that it’s a heavily trafficked trail, most of the steep sections have stairs, making it easy to navigate.
The trail zig-zags along the side of the crater. You can see a couple of hikers in the above photo.
Is the Diamond Head Hike worth it?
Yes. I would say that the Diamond Head hike is worth doing. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in Honolulu for a reason. The views at the top are incredible.
However, if you’re looking for a more a challenging hike, there are better options. This is not a quiet nature hike with waterfalls and lush vegetation. It’s very popular and heavily trafficked, so you will not feel alone in nature on this hike.
How hard is Diamond Head hike?
It’s difficult to answer this question because “hard” is subjective. It depends on your fitness level. I would say that it’s not a difficult hike. Braydon, who is 10 years old at the time, did not have any issues and did not find it difficult.
It’s a well marked trail, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost or taking a wrong turn. Some sections of the trail are paved, but there are also loose rocks and uneven sections, too.
There are a lot of steep stairs on the upper part of the trail. So, if you’ve got bad knees or injuries, you may want to skip this one.
How long is the hike to Diamond Head Summit?
The Diamond Head hike time will vary depending on your fitness level. However, it generally takes about 1.5 to 2 hours round-trip, including a few short breaks and 10 minutes at the summit.
It’s an out-and-back trail, so once you get to the top, you retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Total distance is 2.9 kilometres (or 1.7 miles). Elevation gain is 560 feet.
View the Diamond Head trail map here.
How much does it cost to hike Diamond Head Trail?
Non-residents pay a $5 entrance fee to the park. Hawaii residents are free.
You must purchase your entrance fee from the ticket booth. Credit card only.
Cash is not accepted. There is nobody there to sell you tickets – it’s a machine.
More info about Diamond Head Summit Trail here.
Can you walk to Diamond Head trailhead?
Google maps shows the walk is approx. 45 minutes from these hotels to the park entrance. So, if you’ve got the time and energy, it is doable to walk to Diamond Head State Monument from Waikiki Beach. It would probably take 3-4 hours in total.
Can you drive up to Diamond Head Summit?
No. You must hike to the Summit of Diamond Head. There are no roads to the summit.
Is there parking at Diamond Head trail?
Parking at Diamond Head State Monument is limited. It costs $10 per vehicle.
Depending on when you arrive, it may be difficult to find a parking spot. To avoid a stressful situation, consider taking a taxi or ride-share like Uber (that’s what we did).
You can also take the Waikiki Trolley service. This hop-on, hop-off tour makes a stop at Diamond Head. However, if you choose this option, you will want to look at the schedule and plan accordingly.
When is the best time to hike Diamond Head Crater?
There is much debate about the best time to do the Diamond Head hike. Some people feel that sunrise is best, while others suggest that it’s too busy in the morning because everybody wants to catch the sunrise.
We did the hike on a Sunday morning at 10:00 AM. It wasn’t too busy, or too hot.
The park is open daily, from 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The gates closes at 6:00 PM.
Before you leave, grab a fresh pineapple juice or smoothie from the popular Honolulu Pineapple Co. vendor. It’s located directly beside the Diamond Head Visitor Center. You can also purchase bottled water here (in case you forget to bring your own water bottle).
Read more blog posts from Hawaii:
- Should you STAY at Waikiki Beach when you visit Oahu?
- What it’s like to travel to Oahu right now (during the pandemic)
- Photos from our stay at Marriott Ko Olina Beach Club in Oahu
- Travel to Molokai – What to Do and What Not to Do
- Riding Mules Down the World’s Tallest Sea Cliffs in Hawaii
Have you visited Oahu? Did you do the Diamond Head Hike?
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