“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world!” When David McCullough Jr. spoke these words, it’s feasible that he didn’t realize quite the effect he would have on travelers like ourselves. Every aspect of this statement is true and certainly relatable to anyone that enjoys exploring the great outdoors. During our recent visit to Oahu, we embarked on the challenge of climbing Diamond Head, a crater in the heart of Honolulu. We want to share our experiences and challenges, while hopefully inspiring you to visit this incredibly popular attraction.
For those of you that are frequent hikers, I am sure there is very little difficulty in climbing to the summit of Diamond Head. However, for myself and Heather who rarely take the time to experience the beauty of hiking, it was an experience we were looking forward to though we had no idea what to expect.
I will admit that the hike itself is relatively easy and you can easily complete the hike to the top and back to the bottom in under two hours (this will give you enough time to enjoy the incredible views at the summit).
Let’s take a look at what you can expect when you start climbing Diamond Head State Monument.
Diamond Head State Monument Information
One of Hawaii’s most iconic natural landmarks, Diamond Head State Monument is understandably one of the most popular attractions for visitors and locals alike to experience. If you are interested in taking this climb to the summit, be sure to visit at the appropriate time otherwise you may leave disappointed.
Diamond Head is open from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily. The key time is 4:30 PM which is the LAST time that you can start hiking the trail to the summit. The gates to Diamond Head are locked at 6:00 PM daily and all visitors must be out of the park by that time.
Parking is very limited but if you are fortunate enough to find a space, you will be charged $5 admission fee for your vehicle and that includes all occupants.
If you are not quite as fortunate and you visit the parking lot when the “full” sign is shown, you will be required to drive about a half mile back through the tunnel and down the hill to find alternative parking. This is a catch-22 situation because you can find free parking and then only pay $1 admission fee per person but on the flip side, you have a pretty lengthy uphill hike just to reach the entrance.
Not only was this our first time visiting Diamond Head but we had the unfortunate experience of seeing the parking lot closed two vehicles in front of us, so our journey started from the very bottom. At least we could say we had the full experience of climbing Diamond Head!
Diamond Head offers an interpretive kiosk along with an opportunity for visitors to purchase memorabilia to remind them of their visit (and hopefully successful completion of!) to this iconic hike. Whether you are a magnet or postcard collector, you can be sure that there will be something here to provide the perfect memory of your time on the hike.
Be sure to wander over to the mobile van serving drinks and snacks because you might have the opportunity to enjoy a freshly cut pineapple or a piña colada inside a fresh coconut! You will deserve a refreshing beverage after this hike.
History of Diamond Head
Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic tuff cone located on Oahu and the crater was formed approximately 300,000 years ago after an explosive eruption sent ash and fine particles in the air. As the ash settled, it created a rocky perimeter for the crater that we see today.
In 1968, Diamond Head State Monument was recognized as a National Natural Landmark, while the crater was used as a strategic military lookout in the early 20th Century.
By the time you reach the summit of Diamond Head, you will be in for a real treat. The views across Oahu and the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking. In fact, there are no words to describe the stunning views that you can admire once you reach the highest point. Trust me, it’s worth the effort as you will see!
Let’s look at some of the facts of this climb:
- Total length of the trail is 0.8 miles in each direction;
- Elevation increase of 560 feet from the crater floor to the summit;
- Visitors will pass through a narrow tunnel measuring 225 feet with very little light available;
- 175 total stairs, all of which are narrow and probably the most challenging aspect of the whole trail.
Climbing Diamond Head Trail
Our journey started from the very bottom of the hill as we took our time walking up the side of the road and through the tunnel to the entrance of Diamond Head State Monument. There is ample free parking at either Diamond Head Memorial Park or the Kupuna Education Center so you may want to consider just parking here rather than wasting your time and effort driving further up.
After paying our admission fee, our adventure started! The first part of the hike starts relatively flat on a concrete walkway. However, it’s not long before the gradient starts to increase and you leave the perfectly maintained surface for an uneven, rocky trail that continues to narrow as you make your way up.
Although the climb isn’t particularly difficult, taking care of your footing is the most challenging along with watching hundreds of fellow hikers passing you in both directions. There are numerous spots along this trail where it’s only wide enough for single-file, so you may find yourself pushed up against a rock waiting for folks to move on through.
Although the majority of visitors will be enjoying the hike at a leisurely pace, there are plenty of locals that run this hike (and I literally mean run!) every day so be aware of your surroundings and let anyone wanting to pass by just move right along.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of spots along the trail where you can stop to enjoy the scenery. One of the intriguing aspects of this hike is that the shape of Diamond Head’s crater becomes more prominent the higher you climb.
As we reached the final section of climbing Diamond Head, this is certainly where it was the most challenging.
A Challenging Yet Rewarding Finale
After climbing a short yet steep staircase, we immediately entered a tunnel which I know Heather struggled with. The steep climbing of the stairs followed by a real sense of claustrophobia as there was zero light in this narrow space was definitely a challenge.
It doesn’t help that we are both tall but using our cell phones for light, we made our way through the tunnel and turning the final corner we were relieved to see sunlight as we approached the final climb.
The final climb is actually a staircase with 99 incredibly steep, narrow steps. Fortunately, there is a gorgeous spot between the tunnel and the staircase to catch your breath and enjoy some more epic panoramic views of Oahu. With only the final section to go, we realized we were almost there.
We started climbing the stairs and soon arrived at what we thought was the summit, only to find out there was yet another challenging part.
Clambering through the observation station that is at the top of Diamond Head is again not really suitable for taller visitors but you don’t climb all the way to the top without making that final push to complete the challenge.
Sliding through a narrow gap that required us to get on our hands and knees, we made it!
The views are incredible and you could easily spend hours up here appreciating this scenery.
There are a number of different viewing angles and higher points that you can enjoy but the scene overlooking Waikiki Beach and downtown Honolulu with the Pacific Ocean to the left is one that we will cherish for a long time.
By the way, the journey back to the bottom is much easier but I think that’s probably stating the obvious. Just be careful where you walk as it’s still easy to stumble if you are not aware of your surroundings.
Climbing Diamond Head was an amazing experience. I am incredibly proud of Heather for overcoming her fears inside the tunnel and I know that when we reached the top there was a real feeling of accomplishment. I think the quote below sums up our feelings as we contemplated the climb to the summit of Diamond Head.
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. (Earl Nightingale)
Don’t ever give up on any dream that you have. You can overcome any fear you have and you can accomplish anything.
Have you climbed Diamond Head State Monument? Do you enjoy hiking when you are traveling around the world? What other hikes do you recommend?