The vista from the top of Diamond Head is impressive. According to signage at this National Natural Landmark site, more than a million visitors summit the volcano each year—for good reason. Its relatively moderate slope, short length, and stunning view make it ideal for both casual and experienced hikers, as long as they can handle a few stairs.
The trail starts inside the crater, at an elevation of about 200 feet (61 metres). After a gentle incline on a paved trail through dry grass and shrubs, switchbacks take hikers up the interior slope of the crater. The trail gets exciting as 74 stairs lead to a lighted, narrow tunnel, which has to be navigated with traffic going both ways. Back in daylight, hikers can choose between 99 steps that lead to the old Fire Control Station (watch your head as you exit the bunker!), or a longer loop trail with a lookout on the rim and 82 steps up the interior slope. One last staircase (54 steps) leads to the summit at 761 feet (232 metres).
Diamond Head is so named because, in the 1700s, Western explorers misidentified the calcite crystals in the crater as diamonds. Its Hawaiian name, Lē’ahi, translates to “brow of the ‘ahi fish” and “wreath of fire”, the latter description reflecting its prior life as a sort of lighthouse for canoes.
The crater was formed by a single volcanic explosion about 150 000 to 300 000 years ago. The park has been open to recreational hikers since 1976. Before that, from 1906 to 1976, the crater was a military reservation and access was restricted; the bunkers on the top reveal this history.
Diamond Head is open from 6 am to 6 pm, with last entry at 4:30 pm. Cars cost $5, and walk-ins are $1—cash only. Check out the Hawaii.gov website for more information.