History of Diamond Head
One of the most iconic volcano formations in the world, Diamond Head is located on the island of Oahu. It soars above Waikiki and provides an impressive backdrop to the Honolulu skyline. Thousands of people hike to the top of Diamond Head every day to enjoy breathtaking views of the island. Though many know Diamond Head as a top attraction for hiking and photography, it is also the site of rich Hawaiian history.
Experts estimate that Diamond Head was formed between 400,000 and 500,000 years ago. It is not a volcano of its own, but a crater of the Koʻolau Volcano.
Diamond Head was known to native Hawaiians as a sacred site for reverence and worship. According to the earliest accounts, it was the location of religious ceremonies that included sacrifices and sacred rituals. It was originally known as as Lē‘ahi, but renamed Diamond Head by Western explorers in the 1700. The famous battle between royalist rebels and the provincial government in 1895 took place on the slopes of Diamond Head, a critical turning point in the overthrowing of the Hawaiian monarchy.
In 1904, the US government purchased Diamond Head to be used as a military base and they remained in control of it until 1955 when it was returned to the Territory of Hawaii, prior to its statehood. During this period tunnels were carved into the crater in addition to the construction of batteries and bunkers. A trail to the summit was built in 1908, providing access to multiple points along the slopes used for the islands coastal defense system.
Diamond Head is now one of the island's top attractions, both for tourists and locals. It is a top pick for hiking, thanks to the passionate work of residents in the 1950s and 1960s who fought to secure protected states for Diamond Head. Many ideas were presented for development, including a tramway to the top of the crater and residential developments, but the argument for preservation prevailed. Diamond Head has been preserved as a historic site since 1965. In 1975, it became a part of Hawaii's Park Division, and has been open to the public for hiking and exploration since then.
Hiking Diamond Head is challenging, but well worth it. Access to the hike is affordable, at $5 per person if you walk in or arrive by bus, and $10 per vehicle if you park there. The trail is just 1.6 miles roundtrip and climbs 560 vertical feet. Don't be fooled by its brief length of less than a mile to the summit; this steep trail can be quick a challenge, especially on hot days. If you need a break, enjoy one of the benches or lookouts along the way. Don't forget your water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat. And of course, you will enjoy one of the best views on the island from the top, so don't forget your camera.
Stop by the Visitor Center to get access to the self-guided audio tour. This is the perfect way to learn all about the history of Diamond Head while seeing it in front of you, highlighting its historical, geological, and ecological significance. The Visitor Center also has a selection of souvenirs and necessities for the trail. You will find food trucks at the trail head, too, offerings things like smoothies, pineapples, and other refreshing island treats.
As Oahu has grown and development has continued, the preservation of Diamond Head as a protected historic site is a gift to residents. With no chance that it will be developed with residential communities, businesses, or any other construction, residents know they can enjoy the trail and count on the sacred history being respected.
To learn more about Diamond Head, check out the Diamond Head neighborhood page.