While the calcite crystals in its volcanic “tuff cone” exterior sparkled like diamonds and led sailors to name Diamond Head accordingly, the iconic crater known by Native Hawaiians as Leahi (“brow of the ahi” yellowfin tuna) has become a crown jewel in Hawaii’s collection of engaging hikes.
Diamond Head has become an iconic landmark recognized around the world as a fitting backdrop to Waikiki Beach and its alluring resorts and restaurants. The trail offers an elevation gain of 560 feet and was originally constructed in 1908 as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system. The moderately difficult walk gives hikers a glimpse at the geologically and historically significant crater. The ascent, which includes steep stairs and a 225-foot lighted tunnel, eventually opens to showcase bunkers on the crater rim, and a navigational lighthouse below that was built in 1917. Leahi also carries historical significance for Native Hawaiians as the site was home to a luakini heiau, a ceremonial structure dedicated to the war god Ku that was used for worship and human sacrifice.
Hiking Diamond Head has become a must-do item on many travel itineraries for malahini (visitors, newcomers), and it also serves as a regular locale for kamaaina (locals) to traverse for both exercise and to enjoy the panoramic views available atop the dormant volcano. Upon reaching the lookout point at the crater’s apex, it is possible to look down at Waikiki and out across Honolulu to the Waianae Mountains. On a clear day, you can observe a vast vision plane that spans from the Koolau Mountains that bisects Oahu all the way to Molokai, Lanai and Maui along the horizon when facing east.
Hikers are advised to wear comfortable walking or athletic shoes when making their way up Diamond Head, a trail that usually takes roughly two hours to walk, not including time spent at the top taking in the awe-inspiring views. It is also a good idea to wear sunscreen and a hat as the heat, humidity and direct sunlight can cause sunburn rather quickly. Conversely, pack a light jacket in case of strong winds or the occasional rain shower, and bring snacks or a small lunch as there are no concession stands along the hike. Hikers are advised to remain on the marked trail as Diamond Head’s dry terrain is prone to give way as loose rocks and sand-like soil erode over the years. As a reminder, pets are not allowed in the state park (except for service animals).
When enjoying the view from atop Leahi during the winter months, keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales in the deep blue ocean as the large mammals migrate to the 50th State in search of warmer tropical waters. Make time to traverse Diamond Head when visiting Oahu, and be sure to bring a charged cell phone and camera to capture the sights and sounds of the journey.
Diamond Head Summit Trail
Entrance to the parking lot is off Diamond Head Road between Makapuu Avenue and 18th Avenue in Honolulu.
Trail is open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and gates close at 6 p.m.
Reservations: All out-of-state visitors must make an advanced reservation of $5 per person; reservations may be made 14 days in advance. Hawaii residents can access the site for free without reservations, but entry depends on parking availability.
The trailhead begins within the Diamond Head State Monument, and an entry fee of $10 per non-resident vehicle. Credit card only.
For more details and to make reservations, visit the Hawaii State Parks System.