The granduer of the West Maui Mountains is not terribly accessible. One spot to get a closer look at the lush vertical walls and tumbling waterfalls is in the Iao Valley. The Iao Valley Road (also called Highway 32 turning into Highway 320) goes west for three miles out of the historic town of Wailuku.
Along the way, you will see the Tropical Gardens of Maui ($3 admission, children under 12 free, 9am-4:30pm Monday-Saturday), the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens County Park, and the Hawaii Nature Center ($6 per adult, $3.50 children, 10am-4pm daily). I have not visited these spots, but they did look inviting. Tropical Gardens of Maui focuses on plants. The County Park has a picnic area on Iao Stream, a traditional Hawaiian hale (house), and an Asian garden with a carp pond. The Hawaii Nature Center is a non-profit center aimed at educating children about nature and culture. They also offer guided rainforest walks for $25.
In additon to these interesting stops, the scenery all along the way is breathtaking, with the best-for-last at the end of the road at Iao Needle State Park. Admission is FREE and the park is open 7am-7pm daily. This park is heavily visited, especially by the monster tour bus crowd, so I highly recommend to visit as early as possible in the morning.
The highlight of the park is Iao Needle, a 2250 foot pinnacle. The Needle is often shrouded in clouds of fog, making for interesting photos. There is a short paved trail that goes to a viewpoint, but better photos are from the bridge near the start of the trail. An additional short trails loop down along Iao Stream, which offers the best photos. This is also where I saw a REALLY inviting trail leading farther into the rainforest, unfortunately accompanied by a "No Trespassing" sign… bummer. There is also a small area planted with native plants such as taro, and an imu pit, used by local people for cooking (see my "How to Cook on an Imu" entry in this journal). Finally, also visible from the park is Puu Kukui, the highest spot in West Maui at 5788 feet, and also the wettest point.
Results 1-10of 17 Reviews
April 2, 2011
by two cruisers
January 16, 2009
From journal Maui Must See
August 19, 2008
by Foxboro Marmot
August 4, 2008
Probably fewer than half take a few minutes to stroll along the paved paths on the far side of the bridge, to go up to the overlook, then down to where two valley streams join together.
For a low stress hike, cross the bridge and follow the trail downhill. Just before the paved path starts to parallel the stream, you’ll notice a few dirt paths off to the right through the brush. To make it clearer, there's a sign asking people to stay on the trail.
We’ve always read the sign to mean that those of us who choose to leave the paved path should keep to established trails instead of bushwacking through the brush. We do not interpret the sign to restrict access in any way. The locals we've met along the way agree.
The paths combine into one which makes it way upstream along the right side of the stream. As you walk along, you’ll find little secluded pools among the rocks, occasionally with a family or a few people splashing or soaking in the cool water. Proper etiquette allows you to say hello or chat briefly, but etiquette also calls for you to find your own pool. It’s impolite to barge into some else’s tropic idyll!
Don't be tempted to try the stream flowing beneath the bridge. If you hop over the railing at the far side of the bridge and follow the trail upstream, you’ll find the path soon becomes vague. Besides, the stream is less user-friendly with few comfortable soaking spots. We’ve done this so you don’t have to!
For a more adventurous hike, head up to the overlook. At the top of the steps, just before the covered overlook, there’s another sign reminding people to stay on the paths. On the other side of the railing to which the sign is attached there’s a clear dirt path heading up the ridge. Again, we’ve always interpreted this to mean "Stay on the trail. No bushwacking." This hike is written up in at least one Maui hiking guidebook, which we’ve taken as confirmation that it is legitimately allowed.
And, friends, bushwacking here could get you into big trouble. As the trail heads up along the edge of the ridge, there’s just a thin wall of greenery to your right. A couple of feet off the trail there’s a sheer drop, in places more than 100 feet. Please be careful and stay on the trail. Gaps in this green scrim give an unusual look at the Iao Needle, showing it more as a plate attached to the wall behind it and less like a solitary spire.
As the trail approaches the top of the ridge, you’ll notice short, steep side trails to the left. These go up to the knife edge of the ridge, but there’s an easier way than climbing up here. Wait until the terrain levels out, then start looking for a sharp switchback trail to the left. It’ll take you back along the ridge with views off into the valley to your right and Wailuku and Kahului off in the distance.
To return, retrace your steps.
Remember that anytime you go off on a hike anywhere to use common sense. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own safety.
From journal Maui Hikes
December 25, 2006
From journal Two Days in Maui
November 24, 2006
From journal Hawaiian Heaven
June 14, 2006
From journal Maui Family Vacation 2006
November 7, 2005
From journal Marvelous Maui
January 25, 2005
After you visit Needle Point, take the lower path to visit the gardens. This area is a very tranquil place with vegetation and the sound of a running stream. I was told that Ioa Valley was a sacred burial site for Hawaiian chiefs. The last documented burial was in the late 1700s.
This is a great place to visit with your family. There is no cost and it is only a short trip from South Maui or West Maui. I would plan on 2 hours total for this trip.
Hours of operation: 7am to 7pm
Cost is FREE.
From journal Maui on a Budget
August 20, 2004
From journal Wedding in Maui