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
Port Angeles, Washington
June 17, 2003
From journal West Maui Cool Places
by smmmarti guide
June 1, 2002
Driving through the downtown you will notice some distinctive municipal and historical buildings, the land trust, the library, and the Bailey museum. But the grand verdant mountain tops that frame the little town will likely beckon you beyond the town limits, down the winding two lane road that leads to the I`oa Needle state park.
Within minutes you will enter the pristine and peaceful valley that was the location of many a meaningful battle during the age of warring between the former Hawaiian kings. It was here that King Kamahameha overthrew the Maui king by hauling a cannon (stolen from a western ship) up the valley and annihalating the surprised Maui warriors. It is also here that ancient royals are buried in a cave, the exact location of which has been long since lost to history.
Regardless of the historical significance of the I`oa Valley, visitors will find a feast for the eyes; the I`oa Needle, the waterfalls that surge from the stream, the lush tropical foliage of this rain forest wonderland. There is also a little hiking trail here and an example of Hawaiian style taro gardens.
On your way back from the I`oa Needle, you may want to stop at the turnoff marked, "Museum." Japanese gardens and pagodas are set in a lovely park as a tribute to the culture and influence of the Japanese and Asian cultures that contributed so much to Hawaii‘s development.
Down the road toward town, a second museum sign points you toward the Bailey Museum. It was here that Edward Bailey and his family, teachers from Boston, lived and established a woman‘s Seminary. Recognizing the importance of education for native Hawaiians, governor of Maui, Hoapi’ili authorized the building of this seminary where young women were boarded and taught meaningful life skills. The small museum houses important artifacts and insights into the Hawaiian culture and has some of Maui’s most amazing examples of ancient crafts such as outrageously beautiful feather and shell leis and calabash bowls. One of the only intact wood carvings of the half man-half pig of Hawaiian mythology is on display here.
Strolling around town I happened upon the lovely old theater where a performance of "Hot L Baltimore" was currently being stage by the Maui Theater company. Across the street, a farmer’s market was in full swing. Pineapples the size of pumpkins ($2), brilliant tomatoes (3/$1), long beans, organic lettuces, perfect yellow/green papaya (2/$1) , were hawked by little Asian ladies who used hand signals to communicate. For a moment I became so absorbed in the scene that I forgot I was still in America!
It really is amazing what you encounter in Maui when you wander just a wee bit off the beaten path.
From journal Maui - Hikes and Upcountry Delights
May 29, 2002
The grounds are immaculately maintained and although we were a little disappointed that our "hike" turned out to be not much more that a leisurely stroll, the view of the Iao Needle rock formation is beautiful. It's easy to see why this is a sacred spot.
As we backtracked on Iao Valley Rd., we stopped at Kepaniwai Park and what a great little find it turned out to be. This park is dedicated to all of Hawaii's people and features several buildings from different cultures including a Hawaiian grass shack, a Portuguese Villa, and a New England salt box, among others. We were there on the weekend when the park is definitely a favorite of the locals not to mention the wedding party that was being photographed.
Intent on doing some more exploring, Randy and I decided to return back to the Embassy Resort via the north road where up to few years ago, rental cars feared (and were forbidden) to go. What a spectacular drive! The road twists and turns -- watch out for oncoming cars and falling rock or you might find yourself plummeting off a cliff. Fortunately, there are no tour buses to contend with here. The views are incredible and the small towns are best described as "sleepy". The drive is longer than it looks on the map so make sure you have enough gas. We stopped several times along the way to drink in the views. Once we reached Fleming Park and civilization we took a quick detour through Kapalua and Napili to see how the rich folk were doing. Personally, I preferred the remoteness of the road we just traveled instead.
From journal Maui - Embassy Resort and beyond ** UPDATED! **
by two cruisers
January 16, 2009
From journal Maui Must See
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
June 14, 2006
From journal Maui Family Vacation 2006
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
Little Rock,, Arkansas
June 26, 2001
From journal Marvelous Maui!
by Gwilym Owen
March 9, 2003
The main feature of this most sacred and historic of sites is the majestic Iao Needle, which lies at the end of the paved road.
Once used as a natural altar by native Kahunas (Priests), the towering 1,200-foot, basaltic, rich green carpet-covered pillar of rock has survived eons of water erosion to stand proud in this, one of the world's wettest places.
When you stand here looking at this peaceful park with its well-maintained trails and gardens, it's difficult to imagine that this great rock once bore silent witness to one of the most momentous events of Maui history. In 1790, King Kamehameha I, using Western weapons and tactics, trapped and annihilated the Maui army in the battle of Kepaniwai as part of his effort to unite the Hawaiian Islands -- it is said that the waters of the Iao Stream ran red with the blood of his enemies.
There are plenty of great walking trails here and good facilities. Remember to bring some water and mosquito repellant and try and make it here in the morning, when the peak of the Iao Needle is often obscured by clouds.
Other attractions along the road to the needle include the beautiful setting of the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, which is a picturesque park and picnic area frequented by the locals. Scattered around the park are model houses reflecting the various ethnic groups that came to the island, including a thatched Hawai'ian 'hale' (house) and examples of Portuguese, Japanese and American architecture.
Next to this is the Hawai'i Nature Centre, which also does hiking and other outdoor educational activities. Also here is the 'Iao Valley Interactive Science Arcade', an innovative museum that features games and displays about the islands' flora and fauna.
If you take your time, there is plenty to do in this wonderful Valley to take up a whole day . . .
From journal Maui No Ka Oi
December 25, 2006
From journal Two Days in Maui