Why Hiking Diamond Head Crater is an Oahu Must-Do

Honolulu View from Diamond Head

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The everything guide to Hawaii’s iconic crater hike. What to know before you do the Diamond Head hike.

Believed extinct for more than 150,000 years, the volcanic tuff cone known as Diamond Head Crater was formed about 300,000 years ago from a single, explosive eruption.

Diamond Head’s soaring jagged silhouette is Hawaii’s most recognizable landmark and defines the skyline of its most famous beach, Waikiki. 

But this U.S. State Monument is more than just the anchor to an iconic view, visitors to Oahu can hike the interior of Diamond Head crater up to the summit. And it’s one of my favorite must-do’s on Oahu.

Hiking Diamond Head Crater is a top Oahu experience. That’s why it’s on my list of The 7 Absolute Best Things to Do on Oahu (if time is short!).

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will likely blow on mai tais, poke, and shave ice.  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

And while it’s not free, it’s so cheap that it still makes my “honorable mention” list of 25 Awesome Things to Do on Oahu That Won’t Cost You a Dime🌺.

Diamond Head, or Lēʻahi as it’s known in Hawaiian, encompasses over 475 acres. The vast Diamond Head State Monument also includes the interior and outer slopes of the crater and the crater floor.

Hiking Diamond Head Crater Waikiki Hikes Oahu Hawaii
Diamond Head Crater, Waikiki

Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1908, the historic Diamond Head Summit trail features tunnels, underground command posts, and steep switchbacks along the mile-and-a-half journey to the top.

But hikers who persevere will be rewarded at the summit with sweeping views over the Pacific Ocean, Waikiki, and all of downtown Honolulu. 

If you only have time for one hike on your visit to Oahu, make it this one. 

So let’s get started…

History of Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head State Monument is a Hawaiian icon not just for its majestic beauty but for its rich geological and military significance.

The crater, part of Oahu’s coastal defense system, has stood the test of time, from its formation over 150,000 years ago to its role in protecting the island during World War II. 

Diamond Head Crater from Above Oahu Hawaii
Diamond Head Crater from Above

Its name, Diamond Head, traces back to the 19th century when British sailors mistook calcite crystals found in the crater for diamonds. Native Hawaiians, however, have always known it as Lē‘ahi, which translates as “brow of the tuna.”

Diamond Head’s tale is one of natural wonder and a key player in the military history that shaped Hawaii. It’s a must-visit for anyone looking to dive deep into the history of this island paradise. 

Diamond Head Trail Quick Facts

Location5 minute drive from most Waikiki hotels
Cost$5 (reservations required!)
HoursTrail open daily, 6am-6pm (last entry at 4pm)
Elevation Gain & Distance1.6-mile roundtrip, 560-foot elevation
Time1.5-2 hours
What You’ll SeeSprawling downtown Waikiki and the ocean 🌊
Honolulu View from Diamond Head
Views over Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

How to Get There

This is the closest hike to Waikiki Beach and it’s easy to reach. The entrance road to the crater is at the intersection of 18th Avenue and Diamond Head Road.

There are a few different ways to get there:

Walk – This is my favorite choice! From the Waikiki hotel zone, follow Kalakaua Ave toward the crater until it becomes Monsarrat Avenue and then Diamond Head Road. Fair warning, the walk is about 2 miles one way (depending on where you start in Waikiki) and it’s a gentle uphill slope.

On the plus side, it’s all downhill on the way back. But if you know the hike will be challenging for you, it’s best not to add the walk from Waikiki to your day. If you’re not sure, take an Uber/Lyft to the trailhead and walk back after, the walk back is much easier than the walk there.

Drive – You can also drive to Diamond Head and there is plenty of parking available for $10 for non-residents. This is one benefit of the new reservation system, the parking lot used to fill quickly but these days it’s a more manageable flow.

Waikiki Trolley – The Trolley’s Green Line will also get you there but not in time for sunrise, the first trolley arrives at 7:57am. It can also be challenging to time your trolley arrival with your reservation time. So walking, driving yourself, or taking an Uber or Lyft are better options.

When is the trail open?

​The Diamond Head Crater Trail is open daily from 6:00am – 6:00pm (last entry at 4:00pm). The trail is closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Parking and Facilities

The only good thing about the reservation system is that it ensures you won’t have trouble finding a parking place when you arrive. Parking must be reserved and paid for in advance so don’t forget to add parking to your reservation (more on that below).

Restrooms, a small kiosk for drinks and snacks, and a Visitor Center are located near the parking lot. The Visitor Center is open from 7:00am – 3:30pm.

This is the only place you can purchase official Diamond Head logo merchandise. You’ll also find maps, souvenirs, and all the information you need for your hike.

How to Get a Diamond Head Reservation

​Pre-Covid you could hike Diamond Head anytime you wanted without a reservation. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and now you’ll need to secure a timed reservation for Oahu’s most popular hike. 

But don’t worry, navigating the online reservation system is pretty straightforward. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance.

My family is coming next month and I just made reservations for 7 of us to hike on a Saturday morning so we can hit the KCC Farmer’s Market after (more on that in a moment!).

I booked 30 days out but all times were easily available. This isn’t like Hanauma Bay where the reservations sell out in minutes once they open.

However, if you’ve got your heart set on a sunrise hike, make your reservation as far in advance as possible, the earliest times sell out first each day. 

The entry fee for non-Hawaii residents is $5. Children 3 and under are free but everyone else needs a reservation. Parking is an additional $10 and both entry and parking reservations must be paid in advance online (there’s also a $1.40 processing fee). 

Important Note: If you arrive without a reservation, you will be turned away. There’s no standby waitlist here like at Hanuama Bay or Pearl Harbor. 

Here’s the link to make your reservation: Diamond Head State Monument Reservations 

When I made the reservation this week, I noticed the system has recently changed from 6 available 2-hour time slots.

It’s now been reduced to 1-hour time slots so you’ll need to be more precise in your arrival time. (I don’t love that, but what can you do?)

Don’t worry, you only need to arrive within that window, you don’t have to complete the hike in an hour.

The current reservation times are:

Diamond Head Reservation System Oahu Hawaii
A sneak peek at the reservations system

Note that you must arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation time so don’t plan anything else beforehand unless you’re sure you can make it to Diamond Head in time.

For sunrise, you’ll want the 6:00am – 7:00am time slot.

And by far, the most popular two time slots are the first four and I would advise choosing among them. Anytime after 10:00am be prepared for sun, heat, and humidity. 

If you don’t care about what time you go and just want to do the hike, it’s easy to get a reservation a few days in advance or even the day before.

How far in advance do you need to book to get a sunrise time slot?

Honestly, a week in advance is probably fine (unless it’s around the busy holiday season or the popular summer months). But if you have your heart set on a certain day for sunrise book 2-3 weeks out at least.

Remember, this is one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii, so plan ahead. 

What to Bring

Here’s a checklist to ensure you have everything you need to conquer one of Hawaii’s most popular hikes:

  • Water: Don’t underestimate the Hawaiian sun. A round trip on the Diamond Head Crater Trail can really work up a thirst, so bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. 
  • Sun Protection: With little shade along the path, a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are your best friends against the powerful rays, especially if you start the trail in the late morning or afternoon. 
  • Appropriate Footwear: The terrain varies, with paved trail sections easing you in before confronting steep stairs and steep sections. Good shoes with proper grip are non-negotiable to navigate these parts safely. Don’t try this hike in flip-flops.
  • Leave nothing behind: Pack out what you pack in. Bring those empty water bottles back out with you and dispose of your trash and waste. Help keep Hawaii’s natural areas pristine.

Best Time for Hiking Diamond Head Crater

I love the Diamond Head Crater hike for sunrise, I think it’s one of Oahu’s most memorable experiences.

In fact, this hike is super special to my husband and me because we got engaged at the top at sunrise. So sunrise at the Diamond Head summit is especially memorable for us!

If you can get a sunrise reservation (the 6:00am-8:00am time slot), I highly recommend it.

Get there just before 6:00am and make the hike to the summit just in time to start your day in paradise with a perfect Hawaiian sunrise.

Diamond Head Crater Sunrise Views Oahu Hawaii
Sunrise view from the summit

But if you can’t get the early reservation or you’re not an early riser, the 8:00am – 10:00am time slot is lovely, too. It’s still nice and cool and less crowded than at sunrise. 

How hard is the Diamond Head Hike?

I don’t consider this one a difficult hike. Instead, it gets my vote as one of the Best Easy Hikes on Oahu. Though it’s not paved all the way up like the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, there are helpful handrails along the parts with uneven surfaces (which is most of the trail). 

The slope is gradual and winding for most of the trail which makes it manageable for most fitness levels. The section close to the top, though, includes steep sections that will test your stamina, and steep stairs that require some agility. 

Diamond Head Crater Easy Oahu Hikes
More views from the Diamond Head trail

What to Expect on the Trail

The .8 mile trail from the trail head to the summit starts off on a gently sloped paved path for the first .2 miles. This is a nice way to ease into the trail which soon shifts to a natural tuff surface similar to a gravel hiking trail.

This portion of the trail has a series of switchbacks through a rugged landscape with helpful handrails for stability and safety. 

The path does include some uneven, sloping inclines that will test your endurance. 

The Stairs & Tunnel

The most challenging part of the Diamond Head State Monument trail involves a steep staircase of 99 stairs straight up mid-way through. And then there’s another 76 stairs to reach the top.

I won’t lie to you, the stairs suck.

But they don’t suck as bad as the grueling Koko Head Crater Stairs Hike (if you hate these stairs, do not, under any circumstances, attempt Koko Head.)

Just take them at your own pace and you’ll be fine.

The stairs lead to a dim, narrow 225-foot tunnel that can feel somewhat claustrophobic with two-way foot traffic. This tunnel leads you to the old fire control station built in 1911, a remnant of Diamond Head’s past as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system. 

Diamond Head Crater Hike Tunnel Oahu Hawaii
The tunnel

Ultimately, the Diamond Head trail opens up to breathtaking lookout points that offer unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and Waikiki Beach.

Views from the Crater Summit

Once you finally reach the top of the crater, the hustle and bustle of the city of Honolulu seems a world away.

From here, the panoramic views are your well-deserved reward for those awful stairs. You’ll see old military bunkers and the beautiful Diamond Head Lighthouse built in 1917.

Diamond Head Lighthouse Views from the Summit Oahu Hawaii
Diamond Head Lighthouse View from the Summit

The panoramic views from the summit are nothing short of mesmerizing, offering a 360-degree glimpse into paradise. The vast Pacific Ocean unfolds before you and if it’s whale season, you might even spot a humpback whale cruising by!

To the east, amazing sunrise views (if you hike early) To the west, an amazing view of the iconic curves of Waikiki Beach and the high rises of Honolulu.

Don’t forget…leave nothing behind – Pack out what you pack in. Bring those empty water bottles back out with you and dispose of your trash and waste. Help keep Hawaii’s natural areas pristine.

Hike on Saturday & hit the KCC Farmer’s Market

If you’re hiking Diamond Head Crater on a Saturday morning, there’s no better way to cap off your triumphant conquest than by visiting the KCC Farmer’s Market afterward. 

Conveniently situated just across the street from the turnoff to Diamond Head, this bustling Saturday farmer’s market is the perfect place to unwind and reward yourself with a fresh tropical fruit smoothie.

KCC Farmer's Market Free Things to Do Oahu Hawaii
Saturday morning at the KCC Farmer’s Market

From freshly picked tropical fruits to artisanal products, there’s an abundance of treats to discover at the KCC Farmer’s Market. Open every Saturday morning from 7:30am – 11:00am, it’s a weekly tradition that attracts both locals and tourists alike. 

Are there any island tours that include the Diamond Head hike?

To be clear, you don’t need to book a tour to hike Diamond Head, it’s easy to do on your own.

However, if you want to book an island tour that includes time to hike Diamond Head (instead of the “pass-by” offered by most Circle Island tours), this one is the best choice:

My Pick
Diamond Head Crater Hike Oahu Hawaii

Diamond Head Hiking & Oahu Island Experience

This full-day Oahu island tour begins with a sunrise hike at Diamond Head is a great way to see the best of Oahu in a single day.

What to do after hiking Diamond Head Crater?

If you worked up a serious appetite with all that hiking, I can help you with that:

7 Divinely Delicious Waikiki Breakfast Spots You Just Have to Try

The 10 Best Cheap Eats in Waikiki (#4 is literally a hidden gem!)

Hiking Diamond Head Crater Oahu Hawaii
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And for more great things to do on Oahu, start here:

Escape the Oahu Crowds with a Visit to the Byodo-In Temple

A Guide to Oahu’s Insta-Famous Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

The Foolproof Guide to Hanauma Bay for Snorkeling

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