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Iao Valley State Park

Just west of Wailuku sits Iao Valley, a lush stream-valley in West Maui. Because of its natural environment and history, this lush rainforest area has become a popular tourist location. This peaceful 4,000-acre, 10-mile long park is home to one of Maui’s most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle.

Iao Valley state park. View of the Iao Needle.

What exactly is the Iao Needle?

Nestled in the lush greenery of the ‘Iao Valley is the natural rock formation called the ‘Iao Needle, a 1,200-ft. needle-shaped peak . The green-covered stone protruding from the valley floor is actually an old volcano remnant. The ‘Iao Needle is 2,250 feet above sea level, from the valley floor.

Iao Valley hike quick facts:

Park gates open from 7 am to 6 pm. $5 for walk-ins, $10 for cars.

Directions: Take Highway 32 (Kaahumanu Road) west out of Wailuku. This road turns into Highway 320 which leads directly to the ‘Iao Valley State Park.

Trail Length0.6 miles
DifficultyEasy
TerrainWet Valley
Elevation Gain200 ft
Park Name‘Iao Valley State Monument

There is a well-marked, paved pedestrian path leading from the parking lot to view Iao Needle and the ridge-top lookout provides incredible views of the valley, but keep in mind you need to climb several hundred stairs to get to the lookout point.

River rushing through the Iao Valley.

If you are visiting with disabled persons or anyone with limited mobility, they will likely not be able to make it to the lookout. Families can also take a rainforest walk or explore interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center, which is also located within Iao Valley.

Restroom facilities are available but every time I have visited the bathrooms have been locked and instead there are outhouses set up in the parking lot for visitors.

History of the Iao Needle

The traditional name for the needle is Kuka`emoku and it’s known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa (Hawaiian god of the ocean). The ‘Iao Needle was once used as a natural altar. The Needle is surrounded by a very lovely walkway and garden of lush tropical plants. Surrounded on all sides by the Pu’u Kukui Crater, it was the site of one of the most famous battles in Hawaiian history. 

Iao Valley comprises a deep, narrow gorge 5 miles (8 km) long and flanked by heavily forested walls almost a mile high. Formed by erosion of the caldera whose volcano created the island’s western peninsula.

garden area at Iao Valley state park.

Visit the nearby Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens

After you hike up to the lookout and explore the walkway paths, you can head over to the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens. This waterside park features a Japanese temple and themed gardens celebrating Hawaii’s culture. The gardens are a great place for a barbeque. They have covered picnic tables and benches.

FAQ About Iao Valley, Maui

How long is the Iao Valley hike?

Iao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethno botanical Loop is .6 miles. It is almost entirely uphill, up a staircase with a lookout point at the top.

Can you swim at Ioa Valley?

On several occasions that I have visited the valley there have been people swimming in the river. It is not recommended to swim in the area because there is danger of flash floods and there is no lifeguard present.

How far is Iao Valley from Lahaina?

The driving distance between Lahaina to Iao Valley State Park is 25 miles. It takes approximately 41 min to drive from Lahaina to Iao Valley State Park.

What does Iao mean in Hawaiian?

Cloud Supreme.

How do you pronounce Iao?

Hawaiian: ʻĪ-ao: It is pronounced similar to “EE-ow”

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