Hiking the Diamond Head Summit Trail in Oahu

It’s not hard to find a good hike on any of the Hawaiian Islands, and Oahu is no exception. It has more hiking trails than you can realistically conquer during a two week holiday. If like us, you’re a hiker, you may find it tricky to choose from them all. But, on the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline, lies one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks, the Diamond Head Crater. While staying in Waikiki, the lure of Diamond Head in the distance really enticed us. Hiking to the top of an extinct volcano would definitely be an experience. So we had to go and conquer it!

Diamond Head sitting in the background of Waikiki Beach.
Diamond Head sitting in the background of Waikiki Beach.

What is Diamond Head?

Diamond Head Crater (Le’ahi in Hawaiian) was formed 300,000 years ago during an explosive volcanic eruption that sent ash and other fine particles flying into the air. When the debris settled, it cemented together, forming a rock called tuff, and creating the crater you see today. After the Pearl Harbour attacks, the military used Diamond Head as a lookout and installed pillboxes and foxholes to prevent future attacks on Hawaii. Nowadays, Diamond Head is a popular historic hiking trail, offering visitors a historical narrative, together with spectacular views over Honolulu and Oahu’s coastline.

The Diamond Head Crater from the air.
The Diamond Head Crater from the air.

How to get to the trailhead?

There are a few options to get there:

The bus

You can take bus numbers 2, 23, 24 from Waikiki. All stop at the entrance to the Diamond Head Crater. They cost $2.50 one-way. When you get off the bus, walk from the bus stop to the entrance of the tunnel that passes through the side of the crater. Once you pass through that tunnel to the crater interior, you’ll reach the start of the trail.

The First tunnel to enter the crater.
The First tunnel into the crater. Photo credit: Eugene Kim Flickr 
Inside the first tunnel.
Inside the first tunnel.

The Waikiki trolley

The Waikiki Trolley is a hop-on, hop-off bus. If you are planning on exploring Waikiki and Honolulu, you might decide to buy a day pass for the trolley. If you do, you can take the Green Line trolley to Diamond Head. It leaves from the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, and along the way, it stops at many tourists attractions. A single line pass costs $25 per day, so it’s only more affordable than the bus if you plan on using it again.

By car

If you hire a rental car, then the easiest option is to drive to Diamond Head State Park yourself. It’s a ten-minute drive, and you can park inside the crater.

The entrance sign.
The entrance sign.

How long does it take?

The trail is a 1.6-mile round-trip, and it ascends 560 feet from the crater floor. It is considered a moderate hike, and how long it takes you really depends on your level of fitness. Some locals and visiting fitness fanatics complete it in under thirty minutes. Some take three hours. The state park recommends allowing two-hours for the return trip. It took us just over an hour, which included pausing for numerous photos, and waiting in places due to the crowds.

How much does it cost?

The entrance fee is $1 for pedestrians, or $5 for cars if you are driving. Make sure you bring cash, as they don’t accept cards.

The Hike to the top

After paying our entrance fee, and after a short flat walk across the crater floor, we began the trail with a steep climb up the inside slope of the crater for just over half a mile. The first stretch is a switchback trail, with the crater wall on one side and a handrail on the other.

The easy part.
The easy part.
The switchbacks.
The switchback trail.
Nice views from the start.

After reaching the first concrete landing, which is also a lookout point, the trail headed steeply upwards via a set of stairs, passing through narrow tunnels. The second set of stairs was by far the toughest with ninety-nine steps to conquer.

The view from the first lookout.
The view from the first lookout.

The worst thing about those steps is that they aren’t wide enough for people to pass by each other. So if you slow down or stop for a bit, you’ll hold up everyone behind you! A few people in front of us were struggling, so we had to stop a few times while they caught their breath. At the top of the ninety-nine stairs, we reached the lowest level of the four-level Fire Control Station. We then climbed three levels of the station’s spiral staircase, before exiting to yet another set of stairs and finally reaching the World War II bunker.

The last tunnel.
The last tunnel. Photo credit: Daniel Ramirez
The final steps before the top.
The final steps before the top.

The summit

From there, we were rewarded with 360-degree views of the Southeast coast, from the Koko Head crater to the Wai’anae mountain range, including the best views of Honolulu and Waikiki. It made the effort all worthwhile! Apparently, on a clear day, you can even see the islands of Molokai and Lanai.

We've made it!
We’ve made it!
Beautiful view over Waikiki and Honolulu
Beautiful view over Waikiki and Honolulu

After spending some time at the top, taking in the incredible views, we followed the trail along the rim and headed back down another set of stairs. This trail took us back to the first tunnel. Walking back down the hill, our legs felt lighter than ever. We were sweaty and disgusting but were very glad we’d tackled it. Great hikes always give you a tremendous sense of achievement.


Tips for hiking Diamond Head

• Start the hike early in the morning, or the late afternoon to beat the crowds and the heat. There isn’t much shade on the trail and it gets very hot. The park opens daily at 6 am and closes at 6 pm (last entry is 4.30pm).

• Bring a lot of water with you, you’ll need it!

• Use the bathroom before the hike as there aren’t any bathrooms along the way.

• The trail is uneven, so make sure you wear sturdy shoes (no flip-flops).

• If you are claustrophobic, this might not be the hike for you as there is a steep uphill tunnel which is almost pitch black inside.

• Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.

Have you hiked Diamond Head before? Feel free to comment below and let us know about your experience. And if you know of any other great hikes on Oahu, we’d love to hear about them for our next time in Hawaii.


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