Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) Everything Visitors Need To Know

Diamond Head, is known by the Native Hawaiian population as Lē‘ahi, and it is seen as one of the most stunning and iconic volcanic locations in Hawai’i but also worldwide.

Diamond Head soars above Waikīkī and is part of the iconic Honolulu skyline. Because of this it is part of Hawai’i’s recognizable image, and even if you do not know what it is called, you probably recognize it. 

Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) Everything Visitors Need To Know

The sight of Diamond Head has probably featured on millions of postcards and imagery related to Hawai’i so if you plan to visit, or are living in Hawai’i you can not miss visiting this impressive location!

Hiking up to the summit of this beautiful volcano is one of the most popular tourist activities on Oahu and on average thousands of visitors find themselves making the iconic trek every day!

If you manage to make it to the top, you get a stunning view of Honolulu and the southern shoreline.

If you love taking pictures from beautiful viewpoints, or just enjoy amazing views, you can not skip going up Diamond Head. 

In spite of Diamond Head being such a popular location to visit on Oahu, there is actually a lot of history of this volcano that is not massively well known.

This includes its importance to traditional ceremonies important to Hawaiian culture, as well as more modern military occupation.

This article will cover everything you need to know about Diamond Head, the practical information you will need to know if you want to visit, and the cultural and historical information that will make sure you know what you are talking about.

If you want to learn more about Diamond Head, keep reading!

The Historical And Cultural Significance Of Diamond Head

The history as well as the cultural element of Diamond Head are incredibly important and worth considering.

This section will cover the geographical, cultural, and modern history surrounding Diamond Head.

The Geological History Of Diamond Head

Geologists surmised that the volcano of Diamond Head was formed somewhere between 400,000 to 500,000 years in the past, giving it an ancient history.

This was formed during the rejuvenation-stage eruption of another volcano known as the Ko’olau Volcano, which is recognized to be over 2 million years old. 

So Diamond Head is in fact a crater created by the Ko’olau Volcano.

Knowing this will help you avoid some common misconceptions about Diamond Head.

This same eruption also created other similar craters like Punchbowl and Koko craters as some of the other more well known sites. 

Cultural Significance Of Diamond Head

As previously mentioned, Diamond Head is also known as Lē‘ahi and historically is recognized as an important sight or worship and reverence.

In the Western perspective that visited Hawai’i, it was reported that there were ceremonies that took place on the slopes of the crater, with some reports of animal and human sacrifices.

As with most history, it is important to consider all perspectives and any biases coming from the people who were reporting this history. 

Lē‘ahi translates into ‘forehead of the fish’. This follows the traditional naming process of naming things after what it may resemble.

It was named Diamond Head by Westerners in the late 1700s, who assumed the calcite crystals in the crater were diamonds. 

In 1893 the Hawaiian monarchy was taken over, and in 1895 a battle between royalist rebels and the governing force was fought on Diamond Head.

Diamond Head As A Military Base

Beginning in 1904, after Diamond Head was bought by the USA government, the volcano was turned into a base for the American military.

They carved tunnels throughout the crater as well as building batteries, and installing bunkers.

In 1908 an official trail to the summit of Diamond Head was build to be used for the island’s defense system on the coast which was designed, so soldiers could easily access bunkers and lookouts. 

Diamond Head was used in this fashion all the way until 1955 when control of the crater was given back to Hawai’i just 4 years before it became a state.

Diamond Head In The Modern Day

After Diamond Head was transferred back to Hawai’i’s control, there was lots of uncertainty surrounding its future.

It was an obvious attraction for real estate developers, but locals wanted it to remain untainted for the sake of cultural integrity.

Many ideas were thrown into the mix including; hotels, residential areas, a tramway, but luckily after much campaigning it remained preserved. 

It was 1962 when the Diamond Head State Monument was created.

And in 1965 the legislature of the state of Hawai’i officially labelled the crater as a historic site.

By 1975 public access became a priority and the monument was put under constant management and maintenance by the State Park Division. 

Before this in the 60s and 70s you were only able to access the site with a permit, but an exclusion was made to this as a radio station were allowed to put on a series of concerts inside the crater that featured famous acts like Buddy Miles and Carlos Santana.

This carried on until the 70s, when it was stopped due to safety hazards.

However, this idea was revived in 2006 as well as 2007 with performances from more contemporary acts like Linda Ronstadt, Steve Miller Band, Mick Fleetwood, and Earth, Wind and Fire performed. 

Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) Everything Visitors Need To Know (1)

Hiking Up Diamond Head

As previously mentioned, the process of hiking up Diamond Head is one of the main attractions to this site due to the beauty of the scenery that includes a wondrous perspective of Honolulu and the shoreline. 

If you are an out-of-state visitor, you will need to pay an entry fee of $10 for every vehicle or $5 per walk in.

The official trail up to the summit of Diamond Head is about 1.6 miles long and is a steep 560 vertical feet of elevation above the crater floor upon completion.

While this is not a massively challenging walk, in the heat it can be quite difficult, so preparation is a necessity. However, the trial is not too challenging due to being fully paved and steep sections having stairs.

There are also plenty of rest points like lookouts and benches. 

For an average walker, it will take about 45 minutes to get up the crater and another 30 to get back down.

If you are looking for a more historical insight while hiking, you can use one of the self-guided audio tours that can be rented from the visitor center.

These cost only $4 and will go over the important historical, ecological and geological features of the walk.

Tips To Follow When Visiting Diamond Head

As has been mentioned already, the walk-up Diamond Head is incredibly popular and because of this it can get very busy.

If you want a calm, relaxed walk where you will not have many interruptions, this is not the place to do it.

However, there is some advice to follow to make your walk-up Diamond head as enjoyable as possible:

Either Arrive Early Or Late

Getting through the gates tho Diamond Head is possible between 6am and 6pm, which gives you a generous 12-hour time period to get the walk done.

However, if you want to go late, you will have to start hiking before 4pm.

If you do not want your walk to be too crowded the best times for you to arrive will be before 8am, this is when the temperature is not too hot, and before the trail will get too busy.

If you do not like early mornings, being one of the last walkers of the day is also a viable option, but it will be much warmer at these times.

Avoid Driving There If You Can

Getting a parking space that is close enough to the trail, or in the trail’s official parking spaces, can be very difficult and often not worth the stress it can cause.

This is sometimes unavoidable if you are travelling from a while away, but there are other options to get close to the trail.

You can take a trolley, a bus, or even a ride-share service to make getting there significantly less stress-inducing!

Do Not Underestimate The Walk

While this is by no means the most challenging hike in the world, it is far from the easiest.

While it is paved and has plenty of rest stops, the heat can be almost dangerous for those you are not used to it, and if you are dressed inappropriately for the weather, the walk can feel impossible.

There is also very little shade, so if you have skin that is particularly sensitive to UV damage, make sure to take all necessary precautions. 

Of course with any hike, but especially in these hot conditions, staying hydrated is a necessity so make sure to bring your own water in a refillable container, and depending on the time of day you will probably want to bring a snack, or maybe even a small meal.

It can also not be stressed enough how important proper footwear is, getting blisters on a trail like this is not something anyone wants to experience.

Bring Money

The trail is attached to a visitor center that has a good variety of souvenirs available for purchase, so keep this in mind if this might interest you.

What may be more tempting than souvenirs are the food trucks that serve refreshing treats throughout the day, and some of these do not accept cards, so taking cash is going to be helpful!

Visit The Website Beforehand

The website for the trail will keep you updated with all the latest information on opening times just in case they change, and if the trail is closed off for any reason this is where it would be posted.

To avoid the chance of making the trip just for the trail to be closed, make sure to check the website before making the journey!

The Practicalities Of Reaching Diamond Head

One thing which should be kept in mind when visiting Diamond Head is that if you are planning to visit the Diamond Head State Monument, you will need an advanced booking.

You can make these reservations up to 14 days in advance, so make sure to do this if you know that you want to see the monument. If you live in Hawai’i you will not have to worry about this procedure.

You can prove that you live in Hawai’i easily if you have a Hawaiian driver’s license or a similarly official document that can prove your residency, but if you are unsure but know you want to visit, making a reservation is a good fail-safe.

Hawaiian citizens are also able to freely park on the Diamond Head reservation, but just because you can, does not guarantee there will be spaces available.

However, if you know you want to use the car park, you can use the state park website to be able to book 2-hour slots from 6am. 

If you are just a walk in visitor, you will need to book a one-hour entry time slot.

While all these reservations are sometimes awkward and make spontaneous visits impossible if you are not a Hawaiian resident, this system is great for preventing overcrowding in busier seasons as well as keeping the maintenance of the area easier for the staff. 

If you are a Hawaiian citizen you will not have to pay and entry fee, but if you are not, the parking fee is $10 plus $5 for each extra passenger, and if you are not driving it is just $5 per person, luckily kids under 3 get free access. 

If you do not want to drive, you can take bus number 23 from Waikīkī up to Diamond Head, or you can travel to the Diamond Head stop using the Waikīkī Trolley route.

If none of these options appeal to you, using a ride-share app is a great way to avoid the parking charge.

Conclusion

So now you know all the information you need on visiting Diamond Head as well as the extensive history that surrounds it.

Hiking up this monument is a great day trip idea, and if you do not want to dedicate a whole day to it, there are other attractions nearby like; Queen Kapiolani Park, the Waikīkī Aquarium, as well as the Honolulu Zoo.

Visiting Diamond Head can not be skipped if you are in Oahu!

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our article on ‘Best Restaurants In Maui With A View‘.

Richard Ennis