Diamond Head State Monument – Oahu, Hawaii
Diamond Head State Monument is an extremely popular destination for Oahu visitors as it is not a long hike that affords hikers an awesome view of Honolulu. Here is a good example of the impact of the pandemic and how it changed the accessibility of this trail. This was closed during most of the pandemic, opened for limited hours from Thursday to Sunday in December, and only on March 1 did it open all days expect for Wednesdays. Since I made the plans far in advance, I was working off of the December information and picked Friday or Saturday to complete this hike. It is really important – no matter how popular something is – to check that is is open to visitors when you travel.
Diamond Head State Monument is a state park with a separate entrance fee of $10 cash only per car for non- residents. As of writing this post, it is currently open 6AM – 4PM every day but Wednesday.
Diamond Head Crater (traditionally known as Le’ahi) was formed from a volcanic eruption over 300,000 years ago. The crater is 350 miles across – so expansive it is hard to tell when you are hiking that it is a crater. It got the name Diamond Head because explorers thought there were diamonds in the crater – not so – only Calcite crystals. Throughout the climb, there are obvious remnants of the military history. The high elevation with sweeping views gave it a great advantage for coastal defense. with a total of five batteries built into the crater.
The summit trail is just under 2 miles round trip with 560 feet elevation. The trail is mostly comprised of paved switch backs and stairs, a nice change from all the rock climbing, and about 99 steps. I have read people rate this as an easy to moderate climb depending on your fitness level.
I figured it would take us roughly two hours to complete, maybe a little less starting so early. We arrived a few minutes before 6AM to a line of cars maybe ten deep waiting for the light to turn green at the tunnel entrance.
I had no idea there was a tunnel here! It reminded us of our Alaska journey to Whittier – a one lane tunnel through a mountain that regulates traffic with lights. At 6AM, the light turned green and we processed through the short tunnel. On the other side, we paid the $10 cash fee (do not try and break any bills bigger than $20). People parked and ran out of their cars to start the climb – perhaps to see sunset? It certainly made us move a little faster.
It was pitch black out so once again my mini LED flashlight came in handy. While the trail was paved, there were a lot of potholes and uneven portions that without a light source would have been tricky. As people began to wear out from the climb and step aside, we continued to climb a with the remaining handful of people.
Eventually, a few stairs led to the entrance of a small tunnel that you must walk through and then opened to the other side of the mountain. The long set of stairs appeared before us…As it started to rain. Seriously, we can not catch a break this trip!
Since the stairs are metal, it got slippery fast so we had to take our time but we ended up making it to the top in 30 minutes was was pretty unexpected. The sun was clearly starting to come up but the rain made us have to rely on our imagination for what it could look like. The city of Honolulu was shrouded in a haze as the rain made it’s way through.
A small clearing in the distance made our journey down a bit brighter and we were able to get much better views of the surrounding area. It was only then did we realize where this hike took us – we now can see the crater! I know the crater is in the name but it did not connect that we were at the top of the crater. Super cool! Only on the way down did we realize we were climbing up the crater! It had been so dark and rainy that it was difficult to see. We got much better views going down.
We were back at the car by 7AM – an entire hour earlier than I allotted. I can imagine if it is sunny, hot, and mid day this hike is less fun but we found it to be pretty easy going and enjoyable, even with the rain. Highly recommend and go early! The lot was full of cars by the time we left so this is definitely a popular one.