Diamond Head Summit Trail

Starting on the trail early is key to avoiding the crowds

This morning we woke up early to tackle a very easy trail as part of my quest to slowly work myself back up to hiking shape. Diamond Head, one of Hawaii’s most photographed and recognizable landmarks, is one of those hikes that we as locals don’t get to very often. I’ve typically avoided visiting Diamond Head because of the crowds of tourists that flock there everyday. Despite the crowds, Diamond Head Summit Trail offers one of the easiest and fastest hikes on the island, with a great view of the ocean and Waikiki at the top.

The trail opens everyday at 6:00AM. For more information about hours and parking rates, you can visit the state’s official site here. We arrived in the parking lot at around 6:55AM and were on the trail by 7:00AM. There weren’t very many people heading up the trail at this time of morning, but surprisingly a big group of Japanese tourists were coming down. They must have been part of a bus tour that gets to the park right at opening time.

The first 20% of the hike is a smooth, paved walkway

In the years since I’ve hiked Diamond Head it appears the trail has had an upgrade. The first section of the trail is a paved walkway, and the remainder of the hike has been smoothed out (I’m sure as a safety precaution due to the high visitor foot traffic). Inside the crater there isn’t a whole lot to see besides trees, some dried grass, and the occasional bird.

Switchbacks make the climb gradual and accessible for most visitors

The hike up to the summit is easy and gradual, aided by a multitude of switchbacks. There is really only one semi-strenuous section of stairs. The path is clear and there are an abundance of signs warning you to stay on the trail. It was interesting to see the variety of visitors and the wide range of attire they chose to wear for the hike. We even saw one woman wearing dress clothes with nice shoes, totting around a huge Louis Vuitton bag.

You may have to stand in line to get photos like these. Just fight your way to the front!

About halfway up there is a little scenic point that overlooks the crater, facing east toward Hanuauma Bay. In typical tourist fashion there are many people clamoring for a photo. Simply push your way forward and you can get a decent photo!

Eventually you’ll come across the infamous flight of stairs which will lead you up the final stretch of elevation toward the summit. They look more daunting than they actually are, but they do get your heart rate up!

Bring a flashlight or be prepared to use your cell phone flash

Just before and after the long flight of stairs are two tunnels which contain no lights. You’ll want to have a flashlight with you or you’ll end up stumbling around in the dark. Just behind us in the photo above is the final ascent to the summit, up a narrow and unlit flight of spiral stairs. I’m surprised that during the renovation project the state didn’t put in any lights, but it’s just a minor inconvenience at most.

Not quite at the top yet, but the views are great nonetheless

After you get to the top of the spiral staircase you squeeze your way up and out of the old bunker structure back outside. Down below is the ocean around the side of Diamond Head crater, complete with a view of the lighthouse. This is not quite the top, so after a few quick pics keep heading up just another couple of minutes to the summit.

On the the final flight of steps heading up to the summit
At the top of Diamond Head Summit Trail with Waikiki in the backdrop

Finally at the top! Here you have an amazing 360 degree view of the surrounding area with Waikiki to the west. Naturally there is a crowd of people at the top taking photos and selfies, so just gradually nudge your way forward to get in position for your photo.

World famous Waikiki just beyond the large fields of Kapiolani Park
Small birds perched on a tree near the new eastern viewing platform

In addition to paving and renovating the old trail, the state also seems to have put in a side trail that heads east down the ridge just a couple hundred feet to another viewing area that looks toward the southeast. This new side section links  you back up with the main trail heading down. The advantage of this path down is that you get to bypass the spiral staircase and the long stairwell, which were often big bottlenecks before when you had people going up and down in both directions.

All told it only took us about an hour to get up to the summit, take our photos, and come back down to the car. Since we were in the area we made a quick stop at Diamond Head Market & Grill for a giant blueberry cream cheese scone. All-in-all a nice way to start the day!

Lucky we live Hawaii!

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