Many people drive up to get a look at Iao Needle. If the weather’s right – no low clouds – they stand on the bridge about a minute’s walk from the parking lot to take the iconic photo of the Needle that seems to grace almost every book, website and article about Maui.
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.