A prominent feature of the Honolulu shoreline, it’s hard to miss Diamond Head. It’s no secret that the Hawaiian Islands were formed from volcanic activity over millions of years. The Diamond Head Crater, or Le’ahi Crater in native Hawaiian, is the undeniable evidence.
Today, it’s a protected state monument for its cultural and natural significance to Oahu. The Diamond Head Crater hike to the summit is short but steep, and absolutely worth it for the phenomenal views!
This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Why Hike Diamond Head?
Diamond Head is Oahu’s third largest attraction with over a million visitors per year, and for good reason!
The views from the crater summit are jaw-dropping. The water truly is every shade of aquamarine blue imaginable. Blue skies, white clouds, and that iconic view where the Honolulu skyline meets the coastline are worth the hike.
And don’t forget the historical significance as you climb through abandoned military bunkers and tunnels on your way to the top! These unrivaled views were once used to protect Oahu’s southern shore.
The Diamond Head Crater hike should be one of your top 5 must-do activities when visiting Oahu for the first time.
Brief History of Le’ahi, the Diamond Head Crater
Known simply as Le’ahi in Hawaiian, the native peoples of Oahu once held religious ceremonies in the crater. It wasn’t rechristened Diamond Head until Europeans showed up in the 1700’s, saw the calcite minerals in the rocks, and mistook them for diamonds.
Fast forward to 1893. The Hawaiian monarchy is overthrown (yes, there was a Hawaiian monarchy!), and the United States takes a significant interest in the still independent island nation.
In 1906, the United States buys Diamond Head Crater from the Hawaiian government and the first American military base is built into the side of the Diamond Head Crater.
In the 1940’s, Hawaii is still not yet a full-fledged American state, but Pearl Harbor is the headquarters for the American Pacific fleet.
Military bases and airfields pop up all over Oahu, including further development of facilities on Diamond Head.
The end of World War II and the rise of the Cold War sees the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This new technology renders the military bunkers on Diamond Head obsolete.
It takes a few decades, but eventually the majority of Diamond Head is transferred back to (the now state of) Hawaii’s care, rather than the military’s.
The entire site is declared a Hawaii state park to prohibit commercial development so the crater cannot be privatized.
The Diamond Head State Monument opens to the public, and the Diamond Head Crater trail quickly becomes one of the top must-see spots on the island.
The Diamond Head Crater Hike: What to Expect
I’m not gonna lie to you: there are some steep spots on this hiking trail, but it’s not all bad.
Plus, I’ve got the insider info to help make this a little easier overall. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The Diamond Head trailhead is on the crater floor, just past the small visitor center/gift shop, picnic shelter, and restrooms.
Out of state visitors must purchase a ticket from the kiosks near the parking lot.
A small guard shack shelters a park ranger who will check your ticket, or ID if a Hawaiian resident, and they’ll wave you through.
The trail begins as a wide paved path passing through a vegetated area of shrubs and tall grass. A pleasant walk that anyone can handle.
As you reach the side of the crater, the trail becomes a series of switchbacks to climb the craterside.
The ground is no longer paved, but rather uneven with roots and some loose gravel. Sturdy shoes are highly recommended.
Pause at the lookout for a taste of the incredible views to come. This next part is the steepest part of the trail. The majority of the elevation gain is in this next section.
When you’re ready, climb the first set of stairs.
Take your time. Don’t feel rushed if people are behind you.
This is a two-way staircase. If they’re in such a hurry, they can pass when there’s a free gap on the other side. The stairs will lead to the tunnel entrance.
If you need a breather before heading into the tunnel, there is a small spot on the right to pull over and catch your breath. Another good photo opportunity, too.
Next, climb through the tunnel.
The tunnel is lit, sort of, but it’s not recommended to pass people inside the tunnel, even though it is also a two-way path. There are no stairs here, just a steep incline. Again, take your time with it.
When you exit the tunnel at the top, DON’T PANIC.
You’re going to see another set of steep stairs to the right, but turn left and there is a lookout with some seating. If you need the break, turn left and take the break.
The recommended route per the state park brochure is to exit the tunnel and immediately climb the stairs to the right. They are trying to address congestion and create a one-way loop around the summit.
That’s all good and fine, but you can take a breather at the outlook to the left first if you need it.
When you’ve recovered, climb the second set of stairs into the bunker.
This is technically a fire control station, but it feels like a bunker and looks like a bunker. A short tunnel leads to a steel spiral staircase. Climb it to the observation level.
From here, you will better understand the military significance of Diamond Head to the coastal defense system. The observation level is open to the ocean but with a large concrete mushroom-top roof that’s covered with earth.
People inside the bunker can see out to sea for miles, but someone on a ship offshore would never know this observation bunker is here.
To the left is a small ladder to help you climb under the gap and out onto the side of the bunker. Watch your head!
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to climb through that gap, retrace your steps back down the spiral staircase, out of the bunker, and back down the steep steel staircase. From here you can continue straight and follow the stairs around to the summit.
From atop the fire control station, make your way to the official Diamond Head Crater Summit. This is where you’ll get that iconic shot of Waikiki, as well as 360° views around the crater. Hold on to your hats! It’s usually very windy up here!
Follow the stairs down the ridge, past the helicopter pad. Take note of the signs that declare this spot off limits. That won’t stop some people from being idiots, but you’re better than them.
At the bottom of these stairs, turn right for one more amazing overlook. This one showcases views to the east to Koko Head and beyond, on a clear day to the nearby islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui.
Once you’ve had your fill of views, walk back along the ridge, past the stairs to the summit, and you’ll end up at the overlook by the tunnel entrance.
From there, it’s all downhill to the crater floor. The walk down is always faster than the walk up!
Amenities at Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head State Monument is primarily here for the hiking trail. The crater floor entrance has a few basic amenities for hikers, but you’re unlikely to spend all day here.
The small parking lot, ticket kiosks, and visitor center/gift shop are in good condition.
Real restrooms are available. These aren’t just pit toilets, either; actual flushing toilets with several stalls. However, lines can be long on busy days.
A picnic shelter provides shade for a half dozen picnic tables, but you better believe those tables get snapped up quick for their shade.
Several benches and a few more picnic tables are scattered about this area, under trees for shade.
Enjoy a delicious pineapple dole whip from the local vendor, a well-deserved refreshment after all that hiking! Try to snag a spot under a tree, but please don’t feed the birds!
Before you go, stop at the Diamond Head Visitor Center for a small souvenir.
Tips for Hiking the Diamond Head Trail
- Sun protection. Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen. The trail is mostly exposed, little to no shade.
- Real shoes. I don’t understand people that hike in flip flops. This is not the trail for flip-flop hiking. Sneakers are sufficient.
- Go early to beat the heat and crowds, but know that it’ll still be hot. Gates open at 6am. I know that sounds early, but if you’re visiting from the east coast, that’s 11am back home. Do this hike one of your first days in town, before you adjust time zones, lol.
- Bring lots of water. This hike is no joke, and there are no facilities at the top. It is always hot in Hawaii. Always bring water.
- Not ADA accessible, nor suitable for strollers. Not like a handful of stairs that you and a partner could carry a stroller up. Like, A LOT of stairs. Don’t try it.
- Follow all warning signs. The summit includes old military bunkers built into the craterside. It is super fun to crawl around in them, but pay attention to all warning signs. You can smack your head if you don’t watch it. And you might think it’s a great photo on that helipad on the bunker roof, but it’s also a great way to fall to your death, or get seriously injured and force a rescue worker to put their life in danger to come get you off the side of a cliff. Don’t be an idiot.
- Bring some cash. Reward yourself after your hike with a pineapple dole whip or a refreshing drink from the nearby Pineapple Stand. The gift shop also has some souvenirs.
>> We didn’t realize how much Hawaiians prefer cash. Check out all our tips for visiting Oahu. <<
Diamond Head Crater Hike FAQ’s
Is there an entry fee for Diamond Head?
Yes, for out of state visitors. A $5 per person entry fee is charged to help the park keep up with the extra wear and tear from tourists. Children 3 and under are free.
Hawaii residents enjoy free entry because their state taxes cover their portion of the park maintenance.
If you drive, and manage to get a parking spot, parking is an additional $10 per car. However, there are other ways to get to the park, discussed below.
Always check the website for the most current pricing and policies.
How Long Does It Take to Hike the Diamond Head Summit Trail?
An average visit is at least 1.5-2 hours total, around 45-60 minutes to get to the summit. There are some switchbacks and a couple of serious stair sections at the top that will slow down an average hiker.
Take breaks as needed as you climb. I took photography breaks because there are good views inside the crater, but they also serve double duty and let me catch my breath before continuing to the next great viewpoint.
There are not a lot of places to sit and rest along the way. There are a couple of low walls and rocks that’ll work until you get higher up where there are a few benches for sitting and admiring the view.
How to Get to Diamond Head Crater
- Walking – honestly not a bad walk from Waikiki. Technically, the cheapest option. It is by necessity uphill on the way in but all downhill on the way out. However, it adds a minimum of 2 miles/30 minutes to both ends of your visit. More if you aren’t staying on the east end of Waikiki.
- The Bus or the Waikiki Trolley – Bus 23 and the Waikiki Trolley Blue Line both drop off at the bottom of the access road to Kahala Overlook and tunnel. From there, walk up the access road, through Kahala tunnel, and down into the crater. Get a bus day pass for $5.50 per person or a Waikiki Trolley Blue Line pass for $25 per person. The Bus is the cheapest option with least effort.
- Taxi/Rideshare – most will drop you off at the Kahala Overlook, right next to the tunnel. Saves you a walk uphill, but you’ll likely want to walk back down to the main road for a pickup when you’re done. Prices vary by time of day and on demand.
- Rental Car – better arrive early if you want a spot and don’t forget the $10 parking fee.
**Note: the state park service is in the process of changing the way visitors access the Diamond Head Crater. Visitors currently share the Kahala tunnel on the east side of the crater, by the Kahala Overlook, with pedestrians and vehicles using the tunnel at the same time.
The proposed project takes a phased approach with the first step being to open the Kapahulu tunnel on the north side for pedestrians only while vehicles continue to use the Kahala tunnel.
Eventually a rideshare drop-off area and parking lot will be built by the north side tunnel outside the crater, and vehicles will no longer be allowed inside the crater.
A “people-mover” tram car will transport those that don’t want to walk into the crater and will stop at the Kahala Overlook on the way out of the crater.**
Enjoy rewarding views of Waikiki from the Diamond Head Crater Hike Summit!
You can’t beat these views! The Diamond Head hike is worth the effort, and one of the best things to do in Waikiki.
Want to learn more about the military history of Oahu? You can’t miss visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.