Updated: May 21, 2015
Top Things To Do in Honolulu - Climbing Diamond HeadOur Hike up Diamond Head...
If you've been to Honolulu or even seen pictures of Honolulu, you've seen it's familiar shape rising in the background behind Waikiki Beach. We're talking about Diamond Head, known to the locals as Le'ahi. Diamond Head is a round, inactive volcanic crater that rises to 760 feet in height along it's rim. Along with a visit to Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head ranks among the top 2 visitor attractions for those tourists brave enough to leave the beach and get out and see some local scenery. Diamond Head was an off-limits military reservation until 1976, but since then more than 1 million tourists per year visit. Even though there is a shave ice truck in the parking lot, people don't visit Diamond Head for the snacks -- they go to make the hike to the top, where sweeping vistas of Waikiki Beach and all of southeast Oahu await. This guide will cover what to expect when planning your Diamond Head hike - how long is the walk, how difficult, when to go, parking, flashlights, etc?
Diamond Head - Getting ThereAs the above picture shows, Diamond Head is a nearly circular, hollowed-out crater, even though it looks like a jagged mountain peak from the beach. Getting there is pretty simple. You follow Kalakaua Avenue along the south end of Waikiki Beach, then veer left onto Montsarrat Ave. as it crosses through Kapiolani Park. Stay on this road as it makes its way around the back of Diamond Head and turns into Diamond Head Rd. You'll turn right when you see the signs for Diamond Head Crater Park. Just stay on this road, drive through the tunnel that brings you to the crater interior, and pay your $5 to park. We saw people who walked here (2.3 miles from the south end of Waikiki Beach) or took a cab, but most people drive in. Parking is limited, so it is recommended that you go early in the morning both to beat the heat and the traffic.
The official state park brochure for Diamond Head is here.
View Diamond Head Hike in a larger map
The Hike up Diamond Head - What to Expect...The trailhead begins at the parking lot (the photo at right shows the beginning of the paved trail - the bump towards the left on top of the ridge is indeed the top, and the diagonal black line below it is the section of 99 steps), at an elevation of 200 feet, leaving you 561 vertical feet to climb to reach the summit along the coast. The actual distance you will walk is .7 miles each way, or about 1.5 miles roundtrip. The trail itself was built in the early 1900s when Diamond Head was used both as a lookout point and as a defensive gun battery, meant to protect Honolulu. The early part of the trail is paved, but as you begin to climb, it quickly becomes a dirt and rock trail. The first half of the hike has quite a number of switchbacks as you make your way up the interior wall of the crater.
There are metal railings and chain link fences along all exposed sections, so it is a safe climb even for children, though you'll still want to keep an eye on them. Eventually you come to the first staircase, which is 74 steps and leads you into your first tunnel. This tunnel is 225 feet long and can seem dark since your eyes take time to adjust from the bright daylight you just left behind -- however, there are small lights inside the tunnel and there is no need for a flashlight, though you will see some other guides suggesting them. The tunnel is large enough for 2-way traffic of hikers going up and down. Exiting the tunnel you come to another... staircase. This time almost 100 steps straight up. Take your time. Then another tunnel that really takes you into the final interior portion of the mountain, again lit by a few lights along the way. You end up at a metal, spiral staircase (it's a little tight, but there are areas to step aside and let people pass if needed) that climbs about 2 stories up, dumping you into a bunker room with slit windows opening out to the exterior. Duck your head as you climb on out and climb the final trail and stairs to the summit observation deck.
How long does it take to climb Diamond Head?The state park brochures and signs say you should allow up to 2 hours to make the ascent and descent. We arrived just after 8AM (the tunnel gate opens at 6AM and closes at 6PM, with the last hikers allowed to depart at 4:30PM, so forget about a sunset hike, you need to make your way back down while it is still light enough to see..), and even with a 9 year old in tow, we were back in the parking lot by 9AM, with two short breaks on the way up and about 10 minutes at the summit to take pictures. It is only 1.5 miles, though the first half is pretty steep, but as long as you are in decent physical condition you should be able to complete the hike in less than 90 minutes. Bring a bottle of water (and sunscreen and a hat!), take breaks as needed, and give yourself time to relax and enjoy the windy view at the top. While we saw people doing the hike in flip-flops, you're definitely better off with a pair of tennis shoes if you brought them. And it is a busy place -- you will likely be walking with dozens of other people, and there will probably be 30-100 at the top by the time you get there. The park is open every day of the year.
The view from the top of Diamond Head will quickly remind you why this hike is on most Oahu visitors Top 10 list. The map below is from the state park brochure.