Where is ‘Iao Valley State Park
‘Iao (pronounced “EE-ow”) Valley State Park is located in the lush valley of the West Maui Mountains on Maui, Hawaii. ‘Iao Valley is a 25-minute drive from Maui’s major airport, the Kahului Airport. Drive through the historic Wailuku downtown taking in the cultural and historical sites before winding up to the start of the valley at the end of ‘Iao Valley Road.
How Big is ‘Iao Valley State Park
The US State Park is 6.2 acres and offers hiking trails, a bridge over ‘Iao Stream and stream access, and a paved walking path to a viewpoint. ‘Iao needle is the iconic mountain that rises up 1,200 feet from the valley floor to a distinct needle shape point at 2,250 feet in elevation. ‘Iao Stream at the bottom of the valley sits at 1,050 feet elevation. The valley itself is a 10-mile-long valley, 4,000 acres in size reaching far back through the West Maui Mountains.
Weather in ‘Iao Valley State Park
‘Iao, meaning cloud supreme in the native Hawaiian language, is one of the wettest places on Earth. The West Maui Mountains receive 386 inches of rainfall per year, an inch per day. The animals and plants in this area thrive year-round as it is a lush jungle with plenty to provide. One animal that can survive the sheer mountain cliffsides are mountain goats. Other frequent animals you may see are Jackson chameleons, geckos, lizards, mongoose, deer, native birds, and shrimp and fish in the stream.
When did ‘Iao Valley Become A State Park
‘Iao valley is a very sacred place highly respected by native Hawaiians as the location of one of the most important battles in Hawaiian history. In the 1400’s ‘Iao Valley was chosen as the hidden secret burial spot for the remains of highly respected chiefs of the island of Maui. The battle of Kepaniwai (Hawaiian for “damming of the waters”) in 1790 was a battle between royalty from each island in Hawaii fighting to conquer more islands. The battle ended in the union of all the islands under one king, King Kamehameha I. It is in history as one of the most significant and bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history. It is said that the screams and echoes of warriors from that battle can be heard in ‘Iao Valley today. The land has always been highly respected as a sacred place by locals and tourist alike throughout history. In 1972, the land was designated a National Natural Landmark and State Park.
Things to do in ‘Iao Valley State Park
Hiking trails, a paved path to a scenic viewpoint, picnic areas, and the stream provide many opportunities to enjoy this park. Remember to visit with respect and think of how sacred this place is for the Native Hawaiians. Staying on paths and trails is very important as there are still burial sites hidden throughout the jungle surrounding the stream.
Walk the Path to the ‘Iao Needle Lookout
This short 0.6-mile paved path is 130 steps up to the top of an incredible windy lookout of ‘Iao Needle. This is the top attraction in ‘Iao Valley State Park. Arrive before 10am before the clouds cover the top of the needle point mountain.
Cross the ‘Iao Stream Bridge
A fork off the main paved path will take you down to a bridge crossing ‘Iao stream. A 20-30-foot jump into the water is frequented by teens jumping from the bridge. Knowing water levels, depth, and stream flow is important before attempting such a feat.
Hike and Swim in ‘Iao Stream
The paved path ends as you continue and turns into a series of dirt trails created from people walking upstream and deeper into the valley. List of Parks suggests not leaving the park trails unless you have knowledge of where you are going and the dangers. The trails are endless, but not mapped out as these are created from people wandering as well as feral pigs and deer.
Picnic in the Gardens
The park has several picnic tables to enjoy a coffee or a packed lunch. Sitting amongst the jungle or near the stream is also recommended. Remember to pack out what you pack in.
Look for Native Hawaiian Birds
The lush jungle and stream provide excellent bird viewing and a chance to see one of the many native Hawaiian birds. Keep your eye open for flashes of red or yellow birds as those are native to the land.
When to go to ‘Iao Valley State Park
The park is open from 7AM to 6PM, 7 days a week, year-round. There is a $5 parking fee. Arriving to the park before 9am is recommended if you want to have a clear view of the mountains rising up out of the valley. Check the weather to see when the sunniest day is forecasted and plan accordingly to go that morning. All of that rain in the mountains drains directly into ‘Iao Stream, making it a highly dangerous stream that has been known to strand hikers, cause drownings, and is unpredictable. December through March will have the most cloud and rainfall, so the summer will be the best time to have a chance to visit on a sunny morning. Year round the mountains are frequently covered in clouds after 10am, including the famous landmark ‘Iao Needle.
What to Bring to ‘Iao Valley State Park
Our National Park Visitors Guide suggests packing for your trip to Iao Valley State Park a few key items listed below.
Even though it may feel like you don’t need water, the humidity of the jungle causes you to sweat more and you will need to replenish!
There is no food or snacks for sale near the park, so make sure to pack a snack and lunch.
Park and Area Map
Although a small park, the thick jungle is very easy to get lost in and disoriented and it is also easy to wander outside of park boundaries. Download some maps of the valley and the park itself before venturing on any trails.
Proper Hiking Boots
With so much rain, you will need good shoes for muddy trails, slippery rocks, and the 130-step path up to the viewpoint.
Did we mention it rains A LOT here?
Swimsuit and Towel
If you plan on jumping in the cool water of Iao stream you will want a towel as the water is colder than you think!
Spotting mountain goats on the hillside will require binoculars to get a closer view.
Mosquitos love the jungle and water, so be sure to bring some bug spray to keep them from biting.
Checking the weather forecast before you plan your visit here is extremely important. If the weather changes while you are in the park and it starts to rain, avoid hiking near the stream and always have a path to higher ground. Flash floods happen at any time of the year and are incredibly dangerous.
There are tons of photos ops in this valley!
Where to stay in ‘Iao Valley State Park
The closest town, Wailuku, offers bread and breakfasts, and 2 hostels to stay in. The ‘Iao Valley Inn in Wailuku is only 1.9 miles from the state park and offers a stay in the jungle and valley itself with 37 scenic acres to explore. The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono is another close historical inn only 2.5 miles away from the park. Hawaiian beach resorts can be found on the West or South side of Maui, both about a 1 hour drive away from the state park.
Food Nearby ‘Iao Valley State Park
While there is no food for sale at the state park itself, there are street venders heading up ‘Iao Valley Road before you get to the park. Most are fruit stands selling bananas, starfruit, and other fruits straight out of the jungle. It’s worth stopping and trying the food from the land or homemade banana bread. Wailuku is a cultural center on Maui hosting a variety of Asian and Hawaiian foods. Sam Sato’s or Poi By The Pound in Wailuku serves up local Hawaiian food. Or try Fiji Indian Food at Jini’s Curry or HI Thai Food Truck.
Airports near ‘Iao Valley State Park
The closest airport is Kahului airport, only a 25-minute drive away from the State Park. Kahului Airport has grown in size over the years introducing international flights, but the cheapest option is still to fly into Honolulu International Airport on the island of Oahu, then take a connecting flight to Kahului Airport. Honolulu to Maui is about a 40-minute flight and very affordable.