Hiking Diamond Head (Le’ahi)

Honolulu

If you enjoy hiking to a rewarding view, then you’ll love hiking to the top of Diamond Head on Oahu. The photo above shows the view of Honolulu from the top of the crater.  You can see all the photos we took from this trail here.

A Bit of History about Diamond Head (Le’ahi)
Hawaii-October-2008235The Hawaiian name of this crater is Le’ahi. Hawaiian legend says that Pele’s sister, Hi’iaka gave the name to the crater because the summit resembles the forehead (lae) of the ahi (tuna) fish. Another translation is “fire headland” which may refer to the fires that were lit on the summit to assist canoes traveling along the shoreline.

So, how did the crater get the name Diamond Head?  Western traders and explorers who came to Oahu in the lat 1700’s found rocks that resembled diamonds. They must have thought they’d struck it rich, but actually the rocks were only calcite crystals.

This historic trail was built in 1908 as part of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system. The view from the summit was ideal for identifying potential sea and air attacks. Diamond Head was fully prepared to defend Oahu from attack, but no artillery was ever fired during a war. The summit was also used as an fire observation station.

Getting There
Though the view of Diamond Head from Waikiki appears to be within walking distance, it would be a much longer trek than you’d realize. Access to the trail from the crater floor is actually somewhat on the other side of the crater from Waikiki.

If you have a rental car, I recommend that you drive it to the crater floor parking lot at the trail head. There are two ways around the crater.  I prefer the more scenic route that hugs the coastline.  That would be Kalakaua Avenue bearing right along the way to Diamond Head Road. (See this Google Map to better visualize this route.)

If you are using public transportation, you can get there on The Bus.  See this link and scroll down to the Diamond Head section for routes and more information. Also, see this post on using Google Transit to help you navigate Oahu.

Fees
If you walk in, the fee is $1 per person.  If you drive in the cost is $5 per vehicle. They accept cash only.

When to Get to the Trail
The park hours are from 6:00am until 6:00pm, with the last time to start the hike at 4:30pm.  I recommend that you hike the trail as early as possible to avoid crowds.  Another good reason to hike earlier in the day is that the summit area is very sunny and dry and can feel quite arid, so an earlier start will provide more comfortable hiking temperatures.

Advice for Hiking the Trail
Stairs, stairs, and more stairs along Diamond Head TrailThe trial is only 0.8 miles one-way, which at first sounds pretty simple, but climbing 560 feet in elevation, makes the trail a bit more strenuous. The trail includes sections of stairs. I believe there are over 225 stair-steps in total. Trust me, they will certainly get your heart pumping no matter how fit you are.

Here are some tips for hiking the trail:

  • Allow 1.5 to 2 hours for the hike and enjoying the views.
  • Wear the proper shoes. Though the trail isn’t very technical, I’d still advise you to wear proper hiking shoes if you have them.  At a minimum, wear sneakers. The trail is dusty and a bit rock, so if your shoes don’t have gripping tread, you’re more likely to slip. I did see some folks struggling in flip flops. In fact, I saw someone who was wearing flip flops have a very hard fall.
  • Though the start of the trail (0.2miles) is paved and looks very mild, the trail is not wheelchair or stroller accessible.
  • Stay on the designated trail.  Taking shortcuts can be dangerous and add to the erosion and falling rocks.Narrow Passage Way at Diamond Head
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Wear a hat or visor.
  • Bring plenty of water, at least a half-liter per person.
  • Do mind your step.  Take a look at the photo on the right.  One slip and….let’s not think about it.
  • From about mid-December through March, watch for humpback whales from the top of the summit.
  • Be aware that at the very top of this hike there’s a small opening that you’ll almost need to crawl through. Please watch your head. I got distracted and accidentally knocked my head into the concrete slab.  Ouch!

Have you hiked Diamond Head trail?  What did you think of it?


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

24 comments

  1. Great hike, check out the Mauanlani Heights hike too!
    Aloha,
    Keahi

  2. @ Keahi – too many trails…not enough time. :-)

  3. I had a good hike up Diamond Head. All the articles mention the 2 tortuous sets of stairs you must get up. I myself pulled my one knee going up and it took about a month for it to feel OK again. But nothing was said about the (almost) last set of stairs you encounter. Only a couple friends of mine told me about them—–a small set of metal ladder-like steps getting outside the bunker on top. It has a very tight opening you must almost crawl through to get out. And going back down!!!—you practically have to get on all fours and back down!! Now when my family was almost at the bottom of the trail, we saw a couple groups going up the hill, both with SENIORS, possibly WWII veterans. All I could think of was those steps and especially the last ones at the bunker. And they were starting up with just enough time to go up and back before the park would close. I sure hope they made it with no problems. All in all, though, I would highly recommend thid sight—the views are awesome from up there, and to say you did it gives you a wonderful feeling inside.

  4. Hi Joanne – You’re right, you do have a good sense of accomplishment knowing you completed the hike.

    On that last set of stairs that you mentioned, I didn’t see the sign warning you to watch your head…and guess what I did? I bumped the heck out of my head on that concrete bunker. I didn’t see the warning because I got distracted by the guy yelling out that he was selling certificates.

  5. I don’t think I saw any sign there , althgough I might have, but my friends from PA told me to watch out, so I had that in the back of my head when I got to the bunker. I guess you got your “souvenier” from Le’ahi, like I did, only mine was a bit further south. LOL

  6. This is on my list of things to do when I go in May. Thanks for the sneak preview.

  7. @ Joanne – I’ve just updated this post to advise that people should be aware of the small opening that you have to semi-crawl through at the top.

    @ Andrew – Great. It’s a good hike with an outstanding view. Let me know hoe you like it.

  8. I had read a lot about this trail and was going to take my 81 year old Dad who is very fit on the trail. By the end, I was happy he decided to sleep in. It does have some great views but may be a bit much for seniors especially tall ones as the bunker ladder is tight. Go early before the school groups set in. No one really mentions the 2 scam artists on the trail. The first one is not too far up. Asks for $20 to send you shirt like he is wearing. Signs at visitor booth will warn you but just so you know, you wont’t get the shirt. We went very early and the booth wasn’t open. Didn’t stop until we came back. Second one is at the top in the bunker and for $5.00 gives you a “I made it” certificate. Both may pose as helping to keep area clean, do trail maintenance, etc. but that is not true. Keep your money.

  9. @ Annette – wow, I didn’t know those were scammers. I didn’t see any warning signs at the visitors center. I wish I had so I could have taken a photo of it to include in this post. I had no interest in what they were selling, but the guy at the top selling those certificates got on my nerves because he was yelling at everyone at the top “recommending” that everyone buy a certificate. He’s the dude that distracted me when I bumped my head at the bunker opening. grrr!

    I’m actually surprised that vendors are allowed to set up scam shops like that on land managed by the Hawaii State Park system.

  10. FYI – Diamond Head will be closed February 18 and 19, 2009 for additional repairs. http://kgmb9.com/main/content/view/13789/76/

    • Hi Sheila,
      Thanks for the wonderful insight. I have a question. I will be visiting oahu next week and I am planning to take a trip to diamond head. My daughter (she is just 10 months old)is also accompanying us. Do you think its possible to take her and climb up the stairs at diamond head. I was planning to carry her in the baby backpack. Please let me know if you think that’s possible.
      Thanks,
      satya.

      • Hi Satya,

        I would say that if you get an early morning start (before it’s too hot), bring plenty of water, and resolve that you’ll stop to take breaks, you’ll be fine. I’m pretty sure I saw other parents carrying children in baby backpacks. Just take it slow, steady and sure footed. Hope that helps.

  11. Thanks for the scammer advise. I will try to take a picture of them when i be there next week.

  12. “Do mind your step. Take a look at the photo on the right. One slip and….let’s not think about it.”

    My 6 year old boy did just that today. This is where Shane fell under the fence. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2NwCpnly2k

    He was walking along the fence and and using the top rail as a handrail. He wasn’t watching his feet and slipped down a hole under the fence that was caused by erosion. He simply disappeared. It looked like a trap-door had opened under his feet. I had no idea how far he had fallen. Luckily – He grabbed a small tree with one hand and saved himself from falling farther down the steep hillside. (Cliff hanger – Hanging from a small branch – Like the movies) It took me and one other guy to pull him up. I pushed open the bottom of the fence and the other guy was able to reach down and pull him up to safety. SCARY stuff. My wife and I are still kind of shaken up about it.

    Its a great hike but keep the kids close and be careful.

  13. Hey Sheila! My husband,child, and I hiked Diamond Head and it took us like 3 hours though we took our time and stopped when possible to rest my knees. The stairs are what killed me but once to the top it was really worth it. I will be going again in September as my family is coming and I would like to share this with them. Thanks for your advise and the lists of things to do.

  14. when we were young there was no stupid fee or parking cost!!! what a bummer! The state has to do this kind of thing to make money!

  15. Many years ago I was in Hawaii on my honeymoon. We attempted to hike Diamondhead but then the heat became too unbearable for my wife so we only made it through a quarter of the hike….It probably didn’t help that we started out midday at the hottest point of the day!

    It just gives us an excuse to come back to Hawaii very soon and try it again! :) Aloha!

  16. I am wondering how small this “small opening” at the top that you have to crawl through really is? Do you have to go all the way to the top to see the beautiful view? If someone is afraid of heights, is this an impossible hike for them?

    • The opening was about 3 to 4 feet per memory.

      I know some improvements have been made to the trail in recent years…and since we last hiked the trail.

      Yes, you have to go all the way to the top to see the beautiful view of Honolulu and the Diamond Head Lighthouse.

      It depends on how afraid one is of heights. My husband has a slight fear of heights and he was fine.

      This photo shows one of the scariest points at the top of the trail. It may have been improved since our last hike.

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