The native residents called it Lea-hi, or brow of the tuna, but in the 1700s, British sailors called it Diamond Head because they thought the shiny minerals sparkling on the rim were diamonds.
Chalk it up to imperialism, or perhaps better marketing, but the name Diamond Head stuck until now.
Today, the volcanic cone on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is an iconic state monument and park, and a frequent stop on most tourist itineraries.
Diamond Head is one of the best examples of a pyroclastic crater, which means it is the remnant of geologic mass left behind after a single eruption from an energetic volcanic explosion. The eruption consists of groundwater, gasses, and molten material.
What remains are geologic structures with steep sides and wide craters that can become home to a bio-diverse ecological habitat.
In 1962, the federal government established Diamond Head State Monument as a measure to protect the ecology of the crater. In 1968, Diamond Head was designated as a national natural landmark, and in 1980, it joined the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, Diamond Head is one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii, hosting more than 3,000 visitors daily.
Diamond Head Crater Hike
Despite the relatively short distance – the trail is only 8/10 of a mile – the hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater is steep and challenging.
With an elevation gain of 560 feet, the climb allows visitors to view the geological history of the ancient volcano up close. A series of steps assist visitors reach the top of the monument.
And you’re probably wondering how long the hike to Diamond Head takes. If you’re up for it, the average hike time is between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
The national park that is home to Diamond Head is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm.
If you are planning to hike the crater, the last permitted entrance to the trail is 4:30 p.m.
Views from the top are breathtaking and well worth the effort.
Vantage points allow visitors to see the ocean, neighboring cities and distant mountains that make up the island of Oahu.
Life Inside the Crater
Diamond Head State Monument covers over 475 acres. Along the hike from the trial head to the summit are tunnels, look-out points, switchbacks, and a history of the geology of the Hawaiian Islands.
The trail entrance will lead to the center of the crater, which is both a geological and ecological wonder. The hike from the crater to the summit presents the steepest and most challenging terrain.
As with most elevation gains, expect changes in temperature and possibly, weather. Even if it is hot at the base or in the crater, the top of Diamond Head can be cool or even cold, and changes in barometric pressure can cause different weather patterns in a matter of minutes.
Prepare For Your Diamond Head Hike
You don’t need to train for a Diamond Head crater hike, but you should be in reasonable health.
There are ADA (Americans with Disabilities) facilities at the base of the trailhead, but the climb is not accessible for visitors with physical disabilities.
Because of the changing climate conditions, you should wear sunscreen and have a light jacket or windbreaker available. Sturdy, comfortable shoes such as sneakers or hiking shoes are recommended. Flip-flops or any kind of footwear with a heel is going to pose a threat to your safety.
It’s also a good idea to carry a bottle of water and a snack during your hike. The park offers narrated audio tours of the crater hike if you like having someone talk you through your experience.
Don’t Miss the Waikiki Aquarium
Located just a short way from the Diamond Head Monument is the Waikiki Aquarium.
Founded in 1904 and part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa since 1919, the Waikiki Aquarium is the second oldest aquarium in the United States.
The oldest public aquarium in the U.S. was the National Aquarium in Washington, DC. Closed permanently in the Fall of 2013, the Waikiki Aquarium now ranks as the oldest continually operating public aquarium in the United States.
Known for its interactive exhibitions and contributions to oceanographic research, the aquarium offers visitors a glimpse into the history of the islands and cultivates appreciation for the vast biodiversity that is part of the area’s marine identity.
Today, the aquarium has more than 3,500 organisms and over 500 species of marine plants and animals.
After a hike up Diamond Head and hours learning about the geography of the island, the aquarium is a great place to relax amid the peaceful fish and aquatic life.
After all, who doesn’t like to zen out at an aquarium?
If you are planning a day trip in Waikiki, or just need a break from the beaches, learning about the land and sea that are an integral part of the culture of Oahu can bring a new dimension to your understanding of Hawaii.