This is a rough draft of a FAQ, I'll add questions and answers as I find time, think of them, or find them somewhere. Feel free to <email me> suggestions.
1. What is this web site about?
1. What is this web site about?
2. How big is the park and where is it?
I grew up less than a mile from Diamond Head, and when I was a kid we used to go up there to play. We'd hike around on the outside of the crater, and checked out all the bunkers, gun emplacements and tunnels we could get into. Most of that area is off limits now. It probably was then too, but who knew?. I moved to the mainland eventually but now whenever I go back to Honolulu I make the hike up Diamond Head. I started looking around for information and I couldn't find much. And I thought it would be nice to show friends some photos, but there weren't many of those either. So I figured I might as well put some together. And that's why this site exists.
Diamond Head Crater Park is inside of Diamond Head Crater State Monument, just west of Waikiki in Honolulu Hawaii. The entire crater covers about 350 acres, but the park is much smaller than that. Public access is allowed in the parking area, and along a strip of land encompassing the trail and the old military facilities that were part of the Fire Control Facility built before and during World War I, and enhanced during the period around World War II. Going outside of that area is prohibited. The rest of the crater is used by various agencies including Hawaii Civil Defense, Emergency Services and the National Guard.
Park hours are 6 AM to 6 PM 7 days a week. There are two gates to go through to get into the Park. The first one controls access to the tunnel through the crater wall. The tunnel gate opens at 6 AM and closes at 6 PM. When that gate is closed you can not get into or out of the crater. Period. There is a second gate by the guard shack that lets you into the parking lot. That gate opens at 6 AM too. After about 4:30 PM they try to prevent people from starting the hike because of the risk of not getting out in time. Opening and closing times for the tunnel gate are determined by the National Guard, not the Parks Dept.
The Park is occasionally closed for serious maintenance work and there are a couple of big reconstruction and repair projects in the works that will require closures. Because the park consists of a trail with no alternate routes, they can't just close part of it, the whole park needs to be shut down for major work. Information on closures is posted on the Park Announcements page as far in advance as possible.
The Park is owned by the State of Hawaii and administered by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of State Parks, State of Hawaii.
The crater itself is about 300,000 years old. The first Polynesians arrived approximately 1,000 years ago. They used the summit for navigational fires and at least one heiau [temple]. By the late 1700s Westerners had visited the crater and made the hike to the top. In 1903 or 1904 the US government purchased the crater and soon after began building military facilities. By the mid 70's parts of the crater were available for public use. Diamond Head State Monument was established in 1962. Diamond Head was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968. The state park in the crater was officially opened for public recreational use in 1976.
I vaguely remember going to a rock concert about 1972 [or maybe 1969 or 1970?] that was in the field next to what is now the parking lot. At the time the Crater was under the control of the Hawaii National Guard who allowed the festivals for several years. The Honolulu Star Bulletin has an archived article about the Festivals, and of course there's a Wiki page about them.
Adjoining the parking lot there are restroom facilities, a visitor information booth with interpretive wall exhibits, vending machines, a lunch wagon selling food and beverages, and some information signs. Once you head up the trail there are no services available.
In the parking lot and near the restrooms are wire cages for depositing plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Someone gathers them up and donates the money to schools. Please help by putting your empties there rather than in the garbage, or worse yet, along the trail.
There are a relatively large number of parking spaces, plus specific areas for commercial vans and buses. There is also an area outside the guard shack where people can be dropped off and picked up by taxi or other vehicles, so that they can pay the walk-in rate. The parking lot can fill up during the day, forcing new arrivals to wait in line until a space opens up. When the waiting area fills up people are turned away. It can be worth trying to come back in a little while, the lot can go from overflowing to several empty spaces in a period of 15 minutes sometimes, it just depends on when people leave.
Do not leave valuables in your vehicle, there are occasional break-ins even in daylight.
Parts of it are. The parking lot, adjoining restroom and information area, and the first 0.2 miles of the 0.8 mile trail are all paved. Beyond that section of the trail the footing is uneven and rough. Further up the trail there are steep stairs, narrow tunnels, and even a place where you have to stoop low to climb out through an observation opening in a thick wall. A few sections of trail are barely one person wide.
There is a fee to get through the gate to the parking lot. As of September 2009 people on foot pay $1 per visit or may buy an annual pass for $10. Passenger cars pay $5 per visit or $30 for an annual pass. There are additional fees for commercial vehicles such as vans and buses, based on carrying capacity or the number of passengers. Check the State Park Diamond Head page for the latest information.
The Park Dept says to allow 1.5-2 hours for the round trip. That includes time to take photos and admire the view from the top. If you're in good shape and it isn't too hot, you can get to the top in 30 minutes or less if you don't stop to gawk, it depends on what you're after. Many people take longer. If the trail is crowded that can slow you down too. There are steep sections, including the stairs, so pace yourself. There are people who use the trail for exercise and do the hike every day. Some make one (or more) round trips, some walk, some run. Others take advantage of the stairs and go up and down them as many as 20 times. I talked to one woman who said that she runs one lap to the top every day, in about 26 minutes total.
I've seen people do the hike to the top wearing shorts and flip flop slippers. I've also seen people all geared up with good size packs like they're heading into the wilderness. I recommend at least sturdy shoes. If you do the hike after early morning carrying a bottle of water would be a good idea because of the heat. Even when the tradewinds are blowing strongly, they often are blocked by the crater walls, and it's calm and hot inside. And unless it's cloudy you'll be in full sun for much of the hike. When it's hot and humid people frequently need to be carried out. And because of the terrain that often means a helicopter rescue. I know of times where there were as many as 3 in one morning. Wear sturdy clothes, you'll be scrambling around at least a little. And you'll be touching or sometimes leaning against rocks and rusty old railings, so white is not a recommended clothing color.
Diamond Head Crater is in one of the drier areas of Oahu since the prevailing moisture laden winds are diverted by other mountains. Because of that the terrain is pretty dry inside the crater. There are few trees to provide shade and it tends to be dusty. The walls of the crater also cut off the wind, so that can make it hotter. The crater isn't a volcano, it's a cinder cone. Much of the ash/cinder has cemented together, but as it crumbles it creates loose rocks, gravel and dust. The trail is concrete for the first 0.2 miles. After that it's a path that was cut and blasted out of the steep rock walls. The surface is uneven (sometimes very uneven) and in some places there are loose rocks. If there has been rain, the bare rock sections can be slippery. Even when it hasn't rained the loose dirt and gravel can make the path slippery. In most places it's shielded from the wind, but not the sun, so after early morning it can be very hot. Once you leave the parking lot area there are no restrooms, water or other services available. Plan ahead and be prepared.
Time is affecting the park. The cinder cone is relatively soft and is slowly wearing away just due to weather. Plants are overtaking some of the now abandoned facilities. Many of the structures that make up the trail are around 100 years old and need maintenance.
The Park is also at risk simply from heavy use. Over 1,000,000 people a year visit the crater. That brings not only potential vandalism but also wear and tear. As many as 2,000 people make the hike to the top each day. Please stay on the designated pathways and trails to limit erosion and damage to plants. Also to yourself since many areas are even steeper and more slippery off the trail.
Please don't remove natural materials from the Park. Everything in the Park has a purpose. Sticks, leaves and even dead bugs and animals decompose to produce growing material for another generation of plants and animals. But please do remove anything you bring into the Park, at least as far as the nearest garbage can. If you can, pick up at least one piece of someone else's garbage if they've been inconsiderate enough to leave it behind.
Please stay on the roads and trails so that plants don't get damaged. Do not take short cuts across or straight down slopes. Water follows the new trail and will cause serious erosion over time.
Share the trail. There can be a lot of traffic on the trail, keep right whenever possible, and in single file so that others can pass if needed. Just because the concrete path at the beginning of the trail is wide doesn't mean that a group should use up the whole width, there are people going the other way too. And please don't stop to take pictures where you block the path so no one can get by you, there are spots where one person can cause a huge backup.
Don't litter. There are garbage cans in several places in the park, please use them. Most of them are around the parking area, but there's one at the end of the concrete path section, one at the winch landing, one at the overlook between the stairs and one on top. Please use them instead of sticking things on walls, at the bottom of stairs, or tossing them over the railing. Wire cages have been set up in and near the parking lot for plastic bottles, which a volunteer collects and donates to worthy organizations. Please leave any plastic bottles in those cages instead of in the garbage if you can.
Pick up litter left by others. If you can help by picking up a loose plastic bottle, a paper cup, or anything similar, please do. If everyone who visited the park picked up just one piece of litter, there would soon be none left within reach. For safety reasons do not climb through or over railings, or leave the trail to pick up litter. A great deal of garbage has blown off the trail and lookout to places where it can not be safely recovered. It can be very windy on top, be sure that you don't let anything blow away from you. There are a lot of hats below the railing. Crews come in periodically when the Park is closed and collect as much litter from those areas as they safely can using ropes and climbing gear.
No smoking. Smoking is not allowed on the trails due to fire danger.
Because of the dryness and amount of traffic animals probably tend to stay away from the trails, so I haven't seen any. There are certain to be mice, rats and mongooses. There are feral cats because some people apparently think it's a good place to release their cats. It's not. Out in the middle of the crater where it's wetter and off limits for public use, there are probably more animals.
To determine the times for sunrise and sunset, go to sunrisesunset.com and click on Honolulu, Hawaii a couple of rows down on the right side. That will give you a calendar for the current month, with navigation links at the bottom so that you can move forward and back.
Remember, the tunnel gate doesn't open until 6 AM and it closes at 6 PM. The public is not allowed in the park when the tunnel gate is closed.
There is no running surface water in the park that I'm aware of. There used to be a lake in the middle of the crater but at one time it was used for a dump and it was mostly filled in. There is some swampy area along the road just before the entrance to the parking lot and that is likely where the lake used to be. Aerial photos show what looks like open water a little further into the brush, and a drawing in the Master Plan Summary indicates that that area is designated as a wetland.
Motorized vehicles other than Park Department and emergency vehicles are not allowed on park trails or pathways.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the trails in the Park. You may not even bring them into the parking lot, which is just as well since there is no safe place to leave them where they wouldn't be exposed to excessive heat from the sun.
In late 2008 the Park was closed for a month to allow for some trail reconstruction, rock scaling to remove known hazardous rocks above the trail and road, and to do some cleanup work along the trail that couldn't be done when the park was open.
Future plans include additional trail improvements such as leveling out some of the bigger high and low spots, hardening some of the most damaged sections of trail, improving the conditions of some of the steps currently carved into the soft rock, and evaluating and removing additional loose rock above the trail and entrance road. In some places mesh may be secured over slopes to prevent falling rocks from landing on the trail. There are also plans to install mesh over the walls inside the pedestrian tunnel and cover it with shockcrete. And improvements are planned for the section of trail from the exit of the third level of the Fire Control Station to the bottom of the stairs going up to the top, but that hasn't reached the design stage yet. The Parks Dept is very aware of the historic significance of the lookout area and wants to minimize any changes while maximizing the protection of the monument. With thousands of people using the trail every day, safety is a primary concern, and wear and tear is a major problem.
Far down the road are plans to expand the area of the Park, but that won't happen until other agencies using the crater relocate. For details on all of the plans, you can view the Diamond Head Final Master Plan (79.5MB PDF file) or the shorter and more readable Master Plan Summary (4.6MB PDF file) both of which are linked to on the Parks Plans and Reports page. The summary includes drawings showing possible future designs.
For a guided tour of the trail you can contact Oahu Nature Tours. As far as I know they're the only ones offering guided tours. I've passed their groups on the trail numerous times and the guides are always friendly. When I've overheard bits of their talks they sound interesting. They do charge a fee, contact them for prices and schedules.
Please see our Links page.
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Content Updated Sep 7, 2009.
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