The Diamond Head sunrise hike is a classic, must-do activity while you’re on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It’s a very popular, short hike that draws people from all sorts of backgrounds for the incredible view and scenery.
I even saw a proposal happen up there once and it was a very fitting setting. 💍👰🌅
Make sure you check out my tips for beating the crowds and snagging a more secluded view.
The hike up to the views on top of Diamond Head is a bit less than a mile one way, with about 400 feet of elevation gain. You can check out my Strava GPS data from the hike here to see the elevation profile.
Most reasonably fit people will complete the hike up in 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure you check the sunrise forecast to see how much time you have to complete the ascent.
If you’re really worried about the difficulty of the hike up Diamond Head, here’s what the sign says at the trailhead:
Strenuous and challenging, the hike to the summit is not recommended for anyone with heart or respiratory problems. This is not a casual stroll in a tree-shaded park.
You’ll be parking and starting the hike from inside the Diamond Head volcanic crater, and then ascending up to the southern edge of the rim. From the top, you’ll be overlooking the mountain ridges on the tip of Oahu to the east and Waikiki Beach to the west.
Timing the Sunrise
Make sure you know what time sunrise is for the the day you’re planning the hike. Also make sure the forecast is for clear skies. A few clouds are to be expected – you are on an island after all! – and they often add to the beauty of the sunrise. But overcast skies will ruin the view. Check out the forecast here.
The park gate opens at 6am, so if the sunrise is earlier than 6:20, you’ll really need to hurry if you want to be at the top right at the moment of sunrise.
If the sunrise is around 7am, you’ll have more time to reach the rim but you may want to bring a headlamp or flashlight as you won’t have the pre-dawn glow to light the beginning of the hike. 🔦 If sunrise is 6:30 or earlier, you should be fine without any lights as the sky will be bright enough already.
Getting There, Entering and Parking
Diamond Head State Monument is about a 10 minute drive from Waikiki. Usually a line of cars starts to form in the park driveway around 5:30. Once the gates open, people file in quickly and you can usually find a parking spot with no issue.
It costs $5 per vehicle to enter the park, or $1 per person if you walk in.
You could take The Bus, Route 2 from Waikiki as there’s a stop right at the beginning of the driveway. Note that from the bus stop to the park gate & trailhead adds another 10 to 15 minutes of walking.
There’s a long driveway into the park with a tunnel that goes through the northern wall of the crater.
Amenities at the Trailhead
Once you have passed the gates and entered the park, there are bathrooms and water near the parking lot. This is the last chance you’ll have to relieve yourself and fill up.
There’s a visitor center, small gift shop and concession stand but these usually aren’t open right at 6am. Check them out on the way back to the car.
Note that the sunrise hike is a popular attraction on many tours. This means there are usually a few massive buses packed with slower tourists who clog the trails on the way up.
If timing is tight or you want to beat the crowds, it’s best to get started right away so you can get in front of them or pass them on the wider trail sections early on.
The trail up to the rim of the crater starts out wide, paved and fairly gradual. It snakes through the center of the crater towards the southern wall.
After a few minutes, the trail gets a bit rocky, but it’s very worn down and not technical at all. You will need to watch your footing in a few places, you can’t play around on your phone or get too distracted.
The trail starts to twist and turn as it gets narrower and steeper. You’ll be able to see the switchbacks above you as you go. Most of the trail has railings to prevent people from trying to climb the sections or take a shortcut through switchbacks, although they’re really too steep to even make it worth attempting.
Finally, you’ll reach a set of 74 stairs that lead to a tunnel. There’s a railing the whole way up the staircase. If you turn and look back behind you, you’ll get a rewarding view of the city.
Once you’re in the tunnel, it’s pretty narrow, but well-lit. After a few hundred yards, you’ll pop out on the other side.
Most people assume you have to turn right and ascend another 99 stairs straight to the summit’s fire control tower. This is a pretty long, scary-looking section of climbing for most people.
I’d suggest forking off to the left and following the somewhat hidden flat section of paved path around the side of the ridge. In my opinion, this gives you even better views of the sunrise and there’s almost no crowd to split it with. There’s a small bench there as well.
If you’d still like to reach the top from here, there’s another set of stairs that also reach the summit and may be less crowded.
The hike back down can be nice and leisurely since there’s no time pressure to reach the top for a specific moment. You’ll likely have finished the hike and be back at the trailhead by 7:30am. Plenty of time for breakfast, and then some more island adventures like scuba diving or parasailing!