21 Questions About Diamond Head Hike Answered: Oahu, Hawaii

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If you are heading to Oahu, one of the most popular sites is Diamond Head. But before your visit, there are some important things you will need to know. Especially if you plan on doing the Diamond Head hike.

Diamond Head Hike is especially popular with visitors who choose to stay on Waikiki as it is within walking distance. It is also part of many island tours available to book.

View of Waikiki from the Diamond Head Summit at top of the diamond head hike

My friend Jessica, from The Happiest Blog On Earth, recently went to Oahu, and when planning her visit to Diamond Head, was shocked to not find answers to important questions.

Jessica has helped me put together this article after her hike to help others be as prepared as possible for visiting Diamond Head and doing the famous hike… including answering if you really have to climb 99 stairs for the final ascent.

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What is Diamond Head?

Diamond Head on Oahu in Hawaii is a crater that has been an iconic sight for many centuries. It was first named Lē‘ahi by Hawaiians, meaning “brow of the tuna”, and dates back to an eruption more than 300,000 years ago.

It is now a State Monument and a popular tourist attraction with beautiful trails, stunning views of the ocean and Waikiki beach, and ancient history.

A Brief History of Diamond Head

Before becoming the symbol it is today, Diamond Head was formed during a single violent volcanic eruption over 300,000 years ago. This event created the mountain we see today and left behind large bright yellow olivine crystals found in its walls.

According to Hawaiian folklore, this crystal is believed to be the tears of Pele – the goddess of fire and volcanoes in local mythology.

In the early 1900s, Diamond Head was transformed into an important military fortification by U.S Army Engineers as part of their defense strategy for Honolulu Harbor during World War II. The fort was made up of tunnels dug through the solid rock which served as ammunition bunkers and access points for artillery posts at the summit of the Diamond Head crater.

Today, Diamond Head remains a major tourist attraction on Oahu and offers visitors a glimpse into Hawaii’s fascinating history with its archaeological sites and cultural significance.

There are many guided hikes available at Diamond Head that provide information about its eruptions and formation as well as its subsequent use as a fortification during WWII. Along with breathtaking views from the summit of this spectacular crater-turned-fortress, visitors can learn more about this unique part of Hawaii’s past.

Answers To Questions About Diamond Head Hike on Oahu

Before you put on your hiking shoes and head to Diamond Head State Monument, there are some things you will need to know. From how long the hike is, to the elevation gain, and even info about bathrooms and food options, we have you covered.

Do I Need Reservations To Visit Diamond Head and Do the Hike?

Entry and parking reservations are required for non-residents (as of May 12th, 2022). The last entrance to hike the trail is at 4:00 pm. The gates are locked at 6:00 pm daily and all visitors must be out of the park by this time.

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Guests are asked to arrive within the first 30 minutes of their reservation time or they may be denied entry and no refunds will be given.

Reservations are available 30 days in advance and can be made on the Hawaii State Park website here.

Choosing the earliest time possible will help you avoid crowds and also the possible heat, or mid-afternoon rain shower, later in the day.

Is there a fee or permit required to hike the trail?

Yes, a small fee paid to the Hawaii State Parks when you make your reservation. It is also cheaper if you walk in rather than drive in. There also might be more availability as a walk-in because parking is limited.

Fees are (at the time of this publishing) $5/person ages 4+ (Children 3 and under are free).

If you are visiting the state monument as part of a tour group, verify that they have paid the fee for you.

There is no permit required for groups of less than 25 for the Diamond Head Summit Hike.

What is The Cost Of Parking at Diamond Head on Oahu?

Diamond Head State Monument  Parking lot on Oahu to access the Diamond Head Hike
The parking lot at Diamond Head State Monument (mid-week in February)

Parking for personal vehicles is $10 and is paid when you make your reservation.

If you are doing the Diamond Head State Park as part of an Oahu, Hawaii Grand Circle Tour, they should pay for parking as there is an increased cost for commercial vehicles.

Is the hike accessible by public transportation?

Yes, Diamond Head State Monument is accessible by Honolulu and Waikiki Public Transportation.

Signs at Diamond Head State Monument indicating public transportation availability to Waikiki

Can I walk to Diamond head trailhead from Waikiki?

Yes,  put in your destination address as the diamond head State park. We Ubered there and chose to walk back about a mile and a half to our Waikiik hotel. The walk home was a nice cool down and we stopped for malasadas along the way. 

Where should I get dropped off if I’m taking a rideshare like Uber or Lyft to the trailhead?

You’ll want to put in the address as the lookout before the tunnel.  This means you’ll have to do some walking on the way to the trailhead, but it will likely give you a cheaper price in a rideshare app and reduce delays because the backup at the check-in gate can be quite significant.

Ride share drop off area at Diamond Head
Ride Share drop off/pick up area at Diamond Head State Monument

If you would like to get closer, Uber, Lyft, and other ride shares and taxis are allowed to go up to the check-in gate and make a U-turn after dropping you off. They can also pick you up at that same location afterward.

How long is the hike?

The Diamond Head Summit trail on Oahu is approximately 1.6 miles in length round trip. It offers incredible views of the island’s south shore, Waikiki Beach, and the iconic crater.

The hike took us (two middle-aged adults in good health) 30 minutes going up moving at a steady pace with one short break. 

If you have younger kids or someone who may need to take a slower pace in your group, you can expect it to take closer to 45 minutes or an hour to go up the trail.

Photo of trail for Diamond Head Hike on Oahu near Waikiki with ocean in background

Where is the best place to take a break on the Diamond Head hike?

The best place to take a break is after the tunnel you walk through. When you exit the tunnel there is a small seating area and lookout spot. At this point, you are more than halfway up,  but the hardest part tends to be the steps that come after that so take this moment for a rest and some water.

What is the level of difficulty? 

As mentioned, we are middle-aged and pretty good health. That said, we saw families of all ages and abilities including:

  • Expecting mothers (consult with your doctor before hiking)
  • Parents babywearing
  • Toddlers
  • Children
  • Teens
  • Grandparents

All in various stages of life and health. However, we did witness it being more difficult for people who are not normally active. Especially on the last set of stairs going up where it is 2-way traffic and no place to step off to the side. 

Beginning of trail is a smooth sidewalk at Diamond Head
The Diamond Head Hike starts off with a smooth side walk, but it gets tougher.

What is the terrain like?

It starts out as a paved sidewalk, then a broken paved sidewalk, then level dirt, then uneven dirt.

It also narrows the farther you go. There are some handrails during parts of the hike as well. 

Uneven ground on the trail for the Diamond Head Hike on Oahu in Hawaii

What is the elevation gain?

The trail has an elevation gain of 560 feet, with a peak elevation of 761 feet. This can be quite a challenge for some hikers, but the rewards at the top are well worth it!

Once you reach the summit, you will be able to take in spectacular views of Waikiki and Honolulu below. If you’re looking for an exciting and rewarding adventure, the Diamond Head hike is definitely one to consider!

Is there a trail map or guide available?

Yes, a park guide and a trail map can be downloaded or printed off the Hawaii Division of State Parks Website.

In addition, you can also find an audio tour, and information about other state parks you may want to visit in Hawaii.

Sign indicating a point for the audio tour on Diamond Head Hike in Hawaii

Are there any safety concerns to be aware of?

While the trail is pretty well maintained, the island does see rain that may make the trail slippery. You may also encounter some puddles.

Another concern for many is the sun. It can be quite hot, and there may not be shade on the trail.

There are also warnings for falling rocks on the state parks website.

Other than that, the elevation gain and mosquitos are your biggest concerns. Be sure to wear bug repellent.

Also be aware that if you choose to park or be dropped off before the official entrance, the tunnel you walk through will also have cars, so keep an eye on children.

The tunnel at Diamond Head is a pedestrian AND vehicle tunnel. Keep an eye on children

What should I wear and bring on the hike?

For the hike, you should wear comfortable clothing and good hiking shoes (see next section).

A hat is a good idea as well as a light rain jacket or poncho if rain is in the forecast.

Be sure to bring water and wear sunscreen (reef-safe) as well. You can bring in your reusable water bottle or a water pack.

Can I wear sandals, flip-flops, etc For the Diamond Head Hike?

Even though you are in Hawaii, close-toed shoes and good hiking shoes are recommended. Save the cute sandals and flip-flops for the beach or luau.

I love flip-flops and wondered if those would be sufficient, considering most of the path is paved however, I’m glad I chose to wear tennis shoes instead. The path can also be slippery depending on if there’s been recent rain.

Hiking sandals, such as Chacos, Keens, or Tevas may be acceptable.

Is the hike suitable for children?

Again, we saw many hikers of all ages, including children. Diamond Head is a great way to get some energy out while learning about the history and culture of Hawaii.

That said, only you know your children’s capabilities. Becca has taken her kids on the Maona Falls hike because she worried that the steep 99-stair ascent at Diamond Head would have her young twins whining.

Can I bring my dog on the hike?

No, dogs aren’t allowed on the trail or in the Diamond Head State Monument. You will need to leave your pets at home. Service animals are allowed in the park.

View on the Diamond Head Hike with ocean and lighthouse in the distance

What is the best time of day to hike?

The Diamond Head State Monument opens at 6 am, and last entry is at 4 pm, with the gates being locked at 6 pm.

Many visitors prefer to hike early in the morning to beat the crowds and heat, especially during Spring Break or Summer visits.

Our reservation time was 9 and it was overcast, absolutely perfect. We were there in mid-February.

How long does it typically take to complete the hike?

About an hour or more depending on your level of ability and how much time you take to enjoy the view. 

Are there any special rules or regulations for the hike?

Yes.

The Diamond Head Hike and State Monument do not allow the following items/activities:

  • No bicycles
  • No animals/pets (except service animals)
  • No alcohol
  • No camping
  • No rock climbing
  • No smoking
  • No commercial activities

In addition to this list, they ask that you please be a good visitor by packing out anything you pack in, utilizing trash cans, and respecting the trail markings.

Are there bathrooms at the trailhead? 

Yes, there is one set of bathrooms at the trailhead, but no other bathrooms at the top. 

Is there food or drinks for sale at the trailhead? 

Yes, and there are several vending machines selling water and soda that accept cash or credit cards. No other food is sold.

Is there a camping area or overnight accommodations near the trailhead?

There are no overnight accommodations within Diamond Head State Monument/Park. However, there are other camping facilities through out the island of Oahu.

One of the closest locations to camp on Oahu is Sands Island State Recreation Area, however, at the time of publishing, the area is closed to camping due to needed repairs.

When it is open, Sands Island requires reservations. Permits are required for both residents and non-residents.

You can check the status of the Sands Island camping and recreational area on the Hawaii State Park Website.

Is there picnicking at Diamond Head trailhead? 

Yes, there are several picnic areas and a large grassy area. There is also a covered pavilion but no seating underneath. I suggest having a picnic after your hike as there’s no place to picnic at the top of the summit. 

Is the trail well-marked and easy to follow?

Yes, very easy, and has very little room for mistaking something else as the trail. 

We want to continue to be able to visit these beautiful locations, so please be a responsible hiker, and stay on the trails.

Are there any scenic viewpoints or landmarks on the trail?

Yes!

The park brochure, that you can view or download online, lists 16 points of interest or viewpoints along the trail.

Can I hike this trail alone or should I go with a group?

Either.

While those of us who often hike trails on the mainland are often taught to always hike with someone else, Diamond Head is a highly populated trail and well maintained.

Is the Diamond Head hike trail shaded? 

Depending on the time of day you will find some shaded areas of the hike due to the mountainside shading you, more so than trees. 

That said, you should plan on no shade for the most part and plan on wearing sunscreen and clothing that will make you comfortable and protected from the sun.

Are there Lookout views along the hike?

Yes, there are a couple of points that are nice enough to stop but the best view is at the top.

The final ascent of 99 stairs at Diamond Head Summit Hike

Do I have to go up 99 stairs If I Do The Diamond Head Hike? 

No, the 99 stairs are one option at the very last ascent. You will still go up other steps but it won’t be such a dramatic increase and offers more space to take breaks.

Looking for other activities to do on Oahu? We suggest visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Don’t forget to check out our Hawaii packing list with free printable.


About the co-author, Jessica Sanders

Jessica Sanders has covered travel destinations since 2013 and has taken countless trips to the Hawaiian islands. Jessica even lived on the island of Kauai as a child and still has tons of family living there. She visits Hawaii once a year and is passionate about respecting the culture and history of Hawaii. She is also a Disneyland expert and shares her tips at The Happiest Blog on Earth

2 thoughts on “21 Questions About Diamond Head Hike Answered: Oahu, Hawaii”

  1. Great blog! Thank you so much for all the great information!! Quick question: I’m claustrophobic and I’m a bit worried about the tunnel. Is the ceiling super low? Is there light in the tunnel? How long is the tunnel? Thanks again!! 🙏🏻🫶

    Reply

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