Travel: Hiking Oahu’s Diamond Head Crater Review – Strenuous Climb, Spectacular Views

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During the recent Christmas holiday, I decided to spend two weeks in Oahu, the capital of the Hawaii, home to Waikiki, the most celebrated beach in the world, Pearl Harbor, and the towering volcanic peak, Diamond Head.

After discovering in my pre-vacation prep that Diamond Head is open to visitors and those who desire can climb the summit and soak in the most dazzling views of the Waikiki coastline from the highest vantage point on the island, it was a must.


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At 4224 feet hiking the crater is not for the faint at heart, although on the way to the top it is not uncommon to see all ages from toddlers to senior citizens.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

I set off to mark the New Year by conquering the mountain. It was January 1, 2020. After arriving at Diamond Head State Park, and walking in, I was already wondering if hiking the crater was possible. Drawing closer the peak looked insurmountable. I was determined. It was about 8:30am, and the park was already full.

Many people use the crater climb as exercise and are usually the first to arrive at 6:00am when Diamond Head State Park opens. The cost of entrance is $1.00 per person or $5.00 per vehicle. After passing through the long tunnel, the base of the mountain is a lush field with Dole Pineapple food trucks that provide several varieties of pineapple smoothies or sliced pineapple. Of course, a gift shop for souvenirs and benches for the weary, or waiting, to rest.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

The hike begins on a paved walkway, a small incline, which lasts possibly 100 feet, and then the path becomes more rugged, craggy, and uneven. The winding trial looks more like a wedge created by a massive storm or years of water cutting through the rock as it made its way to the bottom. The park added handrails on the edge.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

The path is wide enough for two single file walkers and is used for those hiking up and others on their way down. At some points, the path becomes congested with people talking and trying to walk side by side.


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For the earth scientist, the walls of the mountain are filled with remnants of Hawaii’s volcanic past. The hike itself is challenging. And timing is everything. If the hike begins at high noon, the heat of the day makes the walk more demanding and the trail is more congested.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

The pathway winds around the outside of the mountain, and I decided to walk at my own pace, and not get caught up in the rush, as the pathway narrows, the pressure to increase the pace or proceed without having a sure step from people coming up behind can be palpable.

More than once someone asked me, “are you okay?” And I was walking slowly as I wanted to absorb the adventure and enjoy the trip up as well as savor the accomplishment, and step carefully. I let them pass.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

The terrain is steep, rocky, and rutted, with deep groves split between a well-worn path, some spots along the trail are a little more vertical than one would expect, although probably just a two-step distance.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

As I neared the top, the path became more demanding and sharper. As the pathway nears the summit, the mountain trail ends and is replaced by stairs. The first set, 74 concrete stairs, leads to the first of two tunnels. The first tunnel is about 225 feet long, well lite and a short walk.


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This leads to the second set of 99 stairs. At the base of this staircase is also a lookout point and rest area. The lookout provides sweeping views of the southeastern O‘ahu coastline towards Koko Head and the offshore islands of Moloka‘i, Lana‘i and Maui. Just breathtaking and well worth the pause.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

Looking back at the 99 stairs, the choice was to join the bottleneck line, which meant climbing the stairs, entering a longer tunnel, inching along toward a third set of stairs on a spiral staircase or take the backway around, climb 82 steps up to the lower trail which loops back to a path that gently slopes on a cement walkway to the top of the summit.

Granted, I suppose if the full experience of the climb is important, than following the pathway up the 99 stairs, to the lowest level of the Fire Control Station with observation equipment which was once for Fort DeRussy at Waikïkï and built more than a century ago is the way to go.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

The lighted spiral staircase still provides access to the four levels of the Fire Control Station. Another fifty-two stairs to the third level, hikers can see where the mounts for the observation equipment are still present. This leads to an exit to the exterior of the crater.

And as hikers all reach the summit and spend time taking pictures, and absorbing the stunning coastline and mesmerizing horizon, those on their way to the top can be held up inside the second interior tunnel and circular staircase leftover from the World War II when the crater was a look out point.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

I decided to follow the road less taken, the outdoor walkway, up the 82 metal stairs, which had no line or bottleneck, I’m not even sure that other hikers were aware of the second option. And if they didn’t stop for a break at the lookout, they wouldn’t see the other staircase. The only notice of the exterior option is the Diamond Head State Monument brochure hikers receive when they enter the park. There are no signs along the way to highlight the choice.

Waikiki Beach Coastline - Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

Stepping into what was once lookout station it is understandable why this place is called paradise. The dazzling views open to the entire Waikiki coastline, 360-degree gorgeous panoramas as far as the eye can see, shimmering reflections off the water, whitecaps along the beach further west up the coast, lush tropical vegetation, palms trees, simply breathtaking.


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The lookout station is a small box and really when it was built meant for two or four people, at any given point, on any climb, there are at least more than 20 people squeezed together all looking for that perfect picture of the coast.

For me, it was also a place of self-reflection, the climb is steep and strenuous and the reward, well the views are spectacular. The way down, a bit faster, and with gravity being what it is the tendency to move quicker along the path creates the same pressure to proceed at someone else’s pace.

Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

Finally back at the base, a stop at the souvenir shop to purchase the certificate which attests to successfully climbing Diamond Head Crater, a stop at the Dole Pineapple food truck for the best pineapple smoothie I’ve ever tasted, and toasting the beginning of an awesome year and completion of another Hawaiian adventure.

A few tips: Preparing for the hike is important. Be sure to eat breakfast, I didn’t and really wished I had fueled up. Also wear a hat, I didn’t and really wished I had something to block the sun, and bring water, which I did and was really thankful. These are the three most important details to remember.

Sunset at Waikiki Beach - Photo Credit: Janet Walker ©

Diamond Head State Monument is still closed due to the coronavirus.

Check here for more information.

All images courtesy of Janet Walker

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