Located in Wailuku, Iao Valley State Park is one of the most beautiful and easily accessible parks in Maui. Drive right up and see landscape you’ve only seen in Jurassic Park. Learn about the Cultural History and Geological History of Iao Valley.
Things to do in the park:
• Look at the view. Walk along the paved trails and up the 100 or so steps for great views of the ‘Iao Needle and Wailuku. Informative signs teach you about the Hawaiian gods, battles, and way of life as you walk.
• Explore the botanical garden, home to many “canoe plants” brought here via canoe by the first settlers of Hawai’i.
• Eat fruit. Certain times of the year the park is filled with fruiting guava and mountain apple trees. Choose fruit that has recently fallen to the ground. This way, you won’t be upsetting anyone nearby.
• Swim. The cool waters of ‘Iao Stream are a welcome treat on a hot summer day.
• Hike. There are many unofficial hiking paths along the stream and up the ridges forming ‘Iao Valley. They are not well-marked or well-traveled so you have to be adventurous. If you see a sign forbidding access, do not continue.
Flash flooding is a regular part of life on Maui, especially in the West Maui Mountains. If you decide to take a swim or hike along ‘Iao stream, be very aware of the weather. Just because it’s not raining on you, doesn’t mean it’s not raining at the headwaters of the stream. If you notice any change at all in the color or level of the water, seek higher ground immediately.
From Kahului take Hana Highway (Highway 36) west toward Wailuku. Make a right on East Kaahumanu Avenue (Highway 32). East Kaahumanu Avenue becomes Kaahumanu Avenue. In Wailuku Kaahumanu Avenue becomes East Main Street. Go straight through the four-way intersection in Wailuku (state offices will be on your left). The road is now called West Main Street. At the Y intersection, bear left onto Iao Valley Road (Highway 320). Follow Iao Valley Road to the parking area.
From Wailea take Pi’ilani Highway (Highway 31) north. Make a left onto North Kihei Road toward Ma’alaea. Make a right onto Honoapiilani Highway (Highway 30) toward Wailuku. At the four-way intersection in Wailuku (the state offices will be on your right), make a left onto West Main Street. Follow West Main Street until you come to a Y intersection. Bear right onto Iao Valley Road (Highway 320). Follow Iao Valley road to the parking area.
Iao Valley is most famous as the location of one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history. In 1790, King Kamehameha I of the island of Hawai’i (the Big Island) battled army leader Kalanikupule of Maui. The armies were evenly matched, and the battle raged for days. Kamehameha was only able to overcome Kalanikupule when he obtained access to a cannon. Many people from both sides died in the battle, their bodies clogging the waters of ‘Iao stream, and giving the battle the name Kepaniwai, “Battle of the Damned Waters of ‘Iao.”
People of Maui considered ‘Iao stream to be of great importance. They built homes along its edges and used the water for drinking and agriculture, particularly growing taro. Certain areas in the valley were revered as sacred burial sites for chiefs of Maui.
Things To Do Near The Park
Take a Guided Tour
• The Hawaii Nature Center, located at 875 Iao Valley Road, offers fantastic guided tours. The center emphasizes science, and is a great place to learn about ‘Iao Valley’s ecology even if you opt out of the tour. They also have a simple but good café and a gift shop. Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM daily.
Learn Some History
• The Bailey House Museum, located at 2375-A West Main Street, is a missionary-era building housing paintings, Hawaiian artifacts, and an original koa wood surfboard. The garden outside is home to many native plants, most of which are endangered. There is a gift shop with Hawaiian crafts, books, and music. Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM.
Present day Maui is made up of two shield volcanoes; Haleakala on the eastern side of the island, and Kahalawai on the western side of the island. Haleakala is a relatively young, dormant volcano that stands 10,023 feet above sea level. Kahalawai is an old extinct volcano, eroded over the last million years into the West Maui Mountains. Its highest remaining point is Mount Kukui at 5,788 feet above sea level.The head of ‘Iao Valley stands at what remains of the summit crater of Kahalawai in the West Maui Mountains. Over time, wind and water worked at Kahalawai, digging deep into areas of softer rock, eventually collecting into streams and forming deep valleys. Today four major streams, the Nakalaloa, the Poohoahoa, the Kinihipai, and the Ae, make their way down the West Maui Mountains to converge into Iao stream. The ‘Iao stream then travels to the ocean through the valley we see today. The 1200 foot tall Iao Needle, known to Hawaiians as Kuka’emoku, is what remains of a ridge that used to run down the length of Kahalawei.