Family Friendly?: Yes, for outdoorsy families
Age Range: All ages depending on physical ability
Recommendations: This is not a long walk but it is hot, dry and steep in some places. There are confined spaces and drop offs that some kids may not appreciate and may make some parents nervous.
Diamond Head is an extinct volcano in Honolulu, HI. Even if you have never been there, you will recognize it as the iconic mountain that anchors one end of the Waikiki beach area. What you may not know is that there is a scenic and historical trail up the inside of the crater that is extremely interesting.
First off let me say that the Diamond Head hike is more of an obstacle course than a true hike. One way it only measures about .7 miles and 570 vertical feet. However lacking in distance it may be, it certainly makes up for it with breathtaking views and some of the most unusual features you will ever find on a hike up a hill.
Diamond Head is a state monument so there is a charge of $5.00 per car or $1.00 per pedestrian to enter. Note that they only accept cash. There are restrooms, a small visitor’s center and some concessions at the trail head but nothing fancy. Be sure to bring sun screen and plenty of water as it can be very hot and dry inside the crater.
Aside from the great views of the ocean and Waikiki from the summit, what makes the Diamond Head walk so interesting is the fact that it was a military base with lookouts and bunkers during WWII. The bottom half or so of the walk consists of meandering switchbacks through a very dry almost desert landscape – very different from the tropical view you will enjoy from the top. The trail climbs pretty steadily to a lookout which is often crowded. There are much better views higher up.
Once past the first lookout, the fun really begins. The military installation was built right into the mountainside so you literally go up and through it in a number of places. The first challenge is a set of 74 steps that lead right into the first tunnel. The coolness of the 225′ tunnel is welcome after the hot stairs. They recommend a flashlight, but we did just fine without one.
After the first tunnel you arrive at the base of 99 very steep stairs that go pretty much straight up the crater. You will notice a framework over the steps, this was used to support camouflage during the war. These steps lead into a tunnel and the Fire Control Station for Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. The facility was used to watch for invasions and provide coordinates the guns at the fort (now a military resort). You spiral up some fairly claustrophobic and dark steps right through the heart of the mountain and exit through one of the observation posts near the summit. In order to go all the way to the top, you must climb out of the observation slot in the fortified bunker. This could present a problem for people with back problems or issues with confined spaces. You either need to crab walk or crawl to exit and keep in mind that it is the only way back too. From there it is a short walk to a spectacular observation deck on the summit.
The view is extraordinary with the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon, Waikiki spread out at your feet and great views of the mountains behind. Be patient as the observation area can get very congested but it is well worth the wait. Once you have had your fill, retrace your steps back down and enjoy a shave ice to cool off if the truck is there when you visit!
As I mentioned, the walk can get very congested so avoid the midday crowds and sun if you are able to. The park is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm but the last entry to the trail is at 4:30 pm. The light is better and the crowds lighter at the shoulder times.
You can easily complete this adventure in two hours but add a bit more time if you are carrying a camera. Some kids may be freaked out by the confined, dark spaces so prepare them for what is ahead if you are doing a family outing. To get the most out of your walk, be sure to pick up one of the brochures about the trail at the trail head or better yet read up ahead of time. You will get more out of it if you know the history.
Even though many hikers would scoff at the short distance of the Diamond Head hike, it is well worth a half day on your schedule. Aloha!