Hike to Honolulu State Monument
Diamond Head offers a sensational view of the capital Honolulu and the lively district of Waikiki. It is the landmark of Oahu and a postcard motif par excellence. In Hawaiian, it is also called Lēʻahi. The volcano is a 232 m high tuff formation.
Its English name comes from 19th century sailors who mistook the limestone pebbles for diamonds. Between Diamond Head to the west and Koko Head to the east is Maunalua Bay, a white sand beach with shallow water. Oahu has formed 2.5 to 3 million years ago from the eruption of two volcanoes. What remained were the Koʻolau and Waiʻanae ranges.
After the volcanoes had been inactive for about 2 million years and were therefore considered dormant, two eruptions occurred at the southeastern end of Koʻolau. These eruptions took place near the ocean, where the magma was split into ash and fine particles with the addition of water and steam. As a result, Diamond Head has formed in a single eruption about 300,000 years ago.
Honolulu's most popular and famous monument stands on top of Diamond Head crater and offers a fascinating view from the crater's summit. Just a few minutes east of Waikiki is Diamond Head State Park, which is easy for visitors to reach by bus, rental car or even on foot from Waikiki for hiking enthusiasts. The hike up to the rim of the volcano crater is not too difficult and can be done by anyone regardless of fitness level. The serpentine trail to the rim of the volcano starts at the base of the crater. 175 steps wind their way up among the breathtaking scenery. Beginning amid nature, the trail leads to a first viewpoint, continues winding through dark, narrow tunnels past old military bunkers and ends with a breathtaking viewing platform at the crater's summit. In addition to a beautiful panoramic view over the green nature of Oahu, the city of Honolulu, the turquoise blue south coast as well as the island of Molokai, which is not far from Waikiki, is visible on a clear day.
History and military importance of Diamond Head crater
Diamond Head crater is part of the mighty Ko'olau volcanic chain on Oahu. It is monogenetic which means that the crater was created by only one volcanic eruption below sea level. However, the formation of tuff was not always called Diamond Head: the created crater got its name from sailors in the 19th century. The sailors mistook the existing calcite crystallization on the slopes of the crater for natural diamonds and consequently named the crater Diamond Head.
Around 1905, the crater and surrounding area were developed by the military into Fort Ruger and used as a vantage point for strategic platoons.
The crater was ideal for placing cannons on the slopes. After World War II, anti-aircraft batteries were placed on the rim of the crater in addition to cannons. Fort Ruger was the first military reservation in all of Hawaii, and some of the old structures remain today, such as the Birkhimer Tunnel and one of the bunker batteries. The associated trail, which still provides access to the viewing platform today, had the purpose of transporting materials to the top and providing access to the crater summit for both humans and livestock. It was not until about 50 years later that the area was designated Diamond Head State Park by the City of Honolulu.
Good to know - preparation for the hike to the monument
In order to visit Honolulu's most famous monument, there is some important info that visitors should know before the hike. Although the tour only takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and can therefore be completed relatively quickly, nevertheless, weather, shoes or food should not be disregarded. The opening hours also play an important role.
The hike to the top of the crater is one of the easiest hiking routes in Hawaii and can be done in any weather. However, it is best and also most beautiful to tackle the trail in the sunshine. Dry steps as well as a clear view are only 2 of the points that speak for a hike in good weather. To avoid the midday sun, the option is to do the climb in the early morning or around the afternoon. The last option has the great advantage of experiencing a breathtaking sunset on nice days.
Outfit and sun protection
If you take the path to the summit, you will always see people who manage the path in sandals, flip-flops or even Sunday clothes. However, this should be avoided. Most of the hike to the crater summit consists of steps and narrow paths, which wind up like serpentines. The paths are mostly cobblestone and there is also a railing. Secure footwear and freedom of movement still play an important role. Athletic shoes and loose clothing are a good choice to tackle the Diamond Head Trail. Sunscreen should also be considered. There are shady sections but also some sections that are fully exposed to sunlight.
You should pack enough water for the hike. If you want, you can bring just one empty bottle and fill it up at a free water cooler in the picnic area. This saves you from carrying the full bottles on the way to the state park. Since the hike is relatively short, food is not essential. However, you can pack snacks and unpack your lunch at either one of the viewpoints or in the picnic area while enjoying the vast breathtaking landscape.
Opening hours and entrance to Diamond Head crater
The state park is open 365 days a year from 6 am to 6 pm. The last chance to enter the trail is at 4:30 p.m., leaving 1.5 hours to climb up, admire the view, including the sunset, and get back to the exit in time. Visitors who want to avoid the biggest crowds should come at lunchtime, but keep in mind that this is the hottest time of the day. Admission, no matter what time of day, is $1 for Hawaii residents, $5 for tourists and $10 per car.
Parking and arrival
Visitors are offered many different ways to get to the state park which is also the start of the trail. Besides Uber, the easiest of the options is probably by bus from Waikiki. Bus number 23 drives directly from Kuhio Av. at the beach to the crater. Exit the bus at the Diamond Head State Monument stop.
Another option is to arrive in your rental car. In front of the Kahala Tunnel, there are few free parking spaces, which are only empty with a lot of luck. At the foot of the crater, paid parking is offered. Visitors who want to arrive by rental car but want to avoid the $10 parking fee, can try their luck in front of the Kahala Tunnel or park near the bus stop on the side of the road.
Fitness enthusiasts or avid hikers can also walk the distance to the crater or use rented bicycles. Be careful, bicycles are prohibited in the state park and must be parked beforehand.
Let's go to Oahu's most popular monument - start of the trail
Visitors who choose to arrive by rental car, are right at the start of the trail and already have a spectacular view over the crater from here. On the other hand, those who park on the road, arrive by bus, on foot or by bike, have to cover a small distance of about 15 minutes to reach the start of the trail. However, this does not have to be a disadvantage. Starting at the bus stop, the Fort Ruger Pathway takes you a short distance uphill directly to Kahala Lookout Point. Relatively low, but no less beautiful, a first view over the green landscape to the coast is offered here. You continue through the Kahala Tunnel and after a few minutes, you reach the entrance to Diamond Head. This is where you have to pay the entrance fee and you are ready to go. If you want, you can have a snack at the picnic area, fill up your water supply at the drinking fountain or use the washrooms. Once everything is done, you are ready to start the trail.
It begins with paved paths that border the mountain on one side and are equipped with a railing on the other - the start of the trail is quite easy to master. Slowly, the trail serpentines up the crater in narrow paths and the surface is not solid everywhere. There are sections of uneven rock or loose gravel stones again and again. These sections can be mastered with good sneakers without problems. After a few meters of altitude, the first part of the stairs has to be mastered. Step by step, the staircase leads higher and higher up the rock and stops at the first of the two viewing platforms. There is nothing to be said about taking a pause and it is also worth taking a few souvenir photos here. From here, visitors get a fascinating view of Oahu. Take a breath, drink a sip and continue the ascent. Now follows the second part of the steps and 99 steps lead through an old tunnel, one of the remnants of the military, up to the second viewing platform of the crater. Depending on the number of visitors and flashlights, it can be very dark in the tunnel. To avoid having to pass through the tunnel in the dark, having your flashlight is not a disadvantage. Once at the top, visitors are rewarded with a majestic view and an old US Army bunker. However, this fascinating panoramic view can be topped. For this, 54 more steps have to be mastered which leads to the crater summit. The trail requires some effort, but the wide view over Honolulu, the lush green landscape with the Diamond Head Lighthouse and the turquoise-blue coastline will reward you in no time.