Want to explore Maui beyond the beaches? Consider visiting the Iao Valley State Monument, a lush and beautiful Maui state park with great historical significance!
Ensconced in the West Maui Mountains, Iao Valley State Monument protects the unique Iao Needle, a rock formation you’ll definitely want to capture on camera.
It’s also the place where the Battle of Kepaniwai took place in 1790. In this famous battle, the army of Kamehameha I conquered the forces of Maui, paving the way for a unified Hawaii.
Located at the end of Iao Valley Road, just a few miles from Kahului, Iao Valley State Monument doesn’t take very long to visit and can be fit even into brief Maui itineraries. It is one of our favorite state parks in Maui!
Iao Valley is worth visiting, to see a Maui that’s totally removed from the beach-y landscapes of the more arid west side. Here it’s lush and dense rainforest, with mountaintops draped in wisps of mist and a serene ambience.
Visiting Iao Valley State Monument is one of the best things to do in Maui!
But, like Wai’anapanapa State Park (home to Maui’s black sand beach), Iao Valley State Monument is popular and requires advance reservations if you are not a Hawaii resident.
In this guide, we describe what there is to see and do at Iao Valley State Monument, plus the nitty gritty on how to visit.
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Don’t want to rent a car in Maui but still want to visit Iao Valley? This highly-rated tour combines the Haleakala summit with Iao Valley for a great day excursion!
Things to Do in Iao Valley State Monument
With its lush cliffs and dense rainforest, and the tranquil Iao Stream, Iao Valley State Monument is a Maui attraction definitely worth visiting! The Iao Needle is an impressive sight, and it’s easy to access as well.
Here are the best things to do in Iao Valley State Monument:
Walk the Paved Trail to the ViewPoint in Iao Valley State Park
One of the best things about the Iao Valley State Monument is that it features an easy and paved trail that’s suitable for most visitors. No strenuous hiking required to enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Note, however, that the path to the viewing deck is uphill, and includes ascending and descending several stairs (100+).
The short path, 0.6-mile long, is one of the best family-friendly hikes in Maui.
The trail begins just past the interpretive signs at the entrance, where you can learn about the history of Iao Valley and its significance. Lush vegetation surrounds the path.
Walk up to the footbridge over the Iao Stream, where you may see kids jumping off into a pool below.
At the bridge, take the fork that goes up, and soon you will arrive at a small viewing area, from where you can enjoy views of the surrounding scenery.
Snap Photos of the Iao Needle
The main attraction in Iao Valley State Monument is the Iao Needle, known as Kuka’emoku in Hawaiian.
An impressive natural rock formation created by the forces of erosion over thousands of years, the Iao Needle rises up 1,200 feet above the valley.
According to local legend, the Iao Needle is the phallic stone of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of the ocean. The Needle is also reported to have been used as a lookout by the Maui forces in the Battle of Kepaniwai.
Often the needle is partially (or even completely) shrouded in mist or clouds. When it is clearly visible, the Iao Needle is a splendid photo opportunity!
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!
Take in the Views of the Lush Pu’u Kukui Cliffs
Surrounding the Iao Needle are the lush towering cliffs of the Pu’u Kukui Crater, with lots of tropical vegetation. It’s a beautiful scene, far removed from the landscape of the coast on the west side of Maui.
The peaks here are one of the wettest places in Hawaii, possibly second only to Waialeale on Kauai.
The Puʻu Kukui Summit gets a whopping 386 inches of rain each year: that’s more than an inch of rain each day! No wonder the valley is so lush.
The cliffsides of Iao Valley were once used as a burial place for ali’i (Hawaiian royalty). It’s a sacred place and was forbidden to all but the ali’i at one time.
If you have the time, spend a few quiet minutes at the viewing area, just soaking in the beauty of the place.
Walk the Nature Loop near the Iao Stream
If you head downward from the bridge, you’ll come to the Iao Stream. Note that the paved walkway gives way to a dirt path.
If you wish, you can walk along the pretty stream, taking in the views of the water bubbling over the rocky bed and the lush vegetation on both sides.
There are trails that veer off from the stream, but to avoid getting lost, it’s safer to just walk alongside the stream and back.
Please respect all posted signs! If you see a sign saying “kapu,” it means entry is forbidden.
Swimming in the stream at Iao Valley State Monument is not advised.
If you do choose to take a dip in the stream to cool off, note that flash floods can occur here at any time, even if it is not actively raining or stormy where you are. Be alert for signs of flooding, such as changes in the color or flow of the water.
Freshwater streams and pools in Hawaii may also contain harmful bacteria.
Stroll the Ethnobotanical Garden in Iao Valley State Park
Near the entrance is a short stroll through an ethnobotanical area. You can stop here on your way in, or after you’ve seen the Needle.
In the garden, you’ll find a hale, a thatched hut, and an area that showcases the plants cultivated by Hawaiians here in times past.
Hawaiian plants like taro, fruit like banana, palms, and other tropical species can be seen here. We saw some gorgeous purple taro, as well as green taro.
Explore the Kepaniwai Park Heritage Gardens
Kepaniwai Park is on Iao Valley Road, the road that leads to Iao Valley State Monument. If you have the time, stop!
Established in the 1950s, Kepaniwai Park & Heritage Gardens is set next to the Wailuku Stream and showcases the island’s ethnic heritage.
You’ll find dwellings and gardens from different cultures such as China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines. You’ll also find a Hawaiian hale here, and a New England saltbox.
Informational plaques help you learn more about the early settlers on the island.
Little waterfalls dot the park, and it offers views of the surrounding West Maui mountains.
There are picnic facilities in Kepaniwai Park, as well as restrooms.
Entry and parking are free.
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!
Look for Hawaiian birds in the Iao Valley!
Both the Iao Valley State Monument and Kepaniwai Park are good places to look (and listen!) for birds.
The common myna and the red-crested cardinal are common, but you may be lucky and spot one of the rarer Hawaiian birds like the apapane, the amakihi, or the i’iwi.
If you enjoy birdwatching, be sure to bring binoculars or a zoom lens!
Getting to ʻIao Valley State Monument + Parking
ʻĪao Valley State Monument is located on the eastern edge of the West Maui Mountains, just a few miles west of Wailuku and Kahului.
The easiest way to visit is to drive, so if you are looking to include Iao Valley State Monument on your Maui itinerary, book a rental car!
To get to Iao Valley from the west side (Kapalua, Kaanapali, or Lahaina), take Highway 30 to Wailuku and then head west on Iao Valley Road to the park entrance (see map).
From Kihei or Wailea (south Maui), take Highway 31 to Highway 30 and then drive west on Iao Valley Road to the park entrance (see map).
Here are the driving distances to Iao Valley State Monument from various parts of Maui:
Kapalua — 33.8 miles, 55 minutes
Kaanapali — 28.5 miles, 45 minutes
Lahaina — 25 miles, 43 minutes
Kihei — 14.5 miles, 30 minutes
Wailea — 19.2 miles, 36 minutes
Paia — 12.8 miles, 27 minutes
Hana — 55.8 miles, 2 hours and 10 minutes
There’s a decent-sized parking lot at Iao Valley State Monument. If it’s full when you arrive just wait a few minutes and a spot will likely open up: most people spend an hour or less here.
Don’t want to rent a car? You can book a taxi or a Lyft or Uber, but be warned, the ride can be pricey, and getting a rideshare back may prove problematic.
You can also book a guided tour of Central Maui that includes a stop at the Iao Needle. This highly-rated tour takes you to the Haleakala Summit and the Iao Needle. Plus you’ll drive through the cute towns of Makawao and Wailuku.
Iao Valley State Park Hours and Admission Fees
Iao Valley State Monument is open daily from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Last entry is 4.30 p.m., and you must be on the trail by 5 p.m.
Entry is free for residents of Hawaii with a state ID or drivers’ license. Visitors that are not Hawaii residents are charged an entry fee of $5.00 per person. Kids 3 and under are free.
Parking is free for Hawaii residents with a state issued ID or drivers’ license. Non-residents pay a parking fee of $10.00 per vehicle.
So, for example, if you’re a family of four non-residents (with kids older than 3) planning to drive up in your rental car, your booking for Iao Valley State Monument will cost you $20 entry plus $10 parking and a small booking fee, for a total just under $32.
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Maui Tours now!
Iao Valley State Monument Reservations
For visitors that are not residents of Hawaii, advance entry and parking reservations are required for Iao Valley State Monument.
If you are a non-resident visiting Iao Valley with a resident (in the resident’s vehicle) you will still need an entry reservation and have to pay the $5.00 per person fee, but you will not need a parking reservation or payment.
Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance of your visit. If the Iao Valley is on your wish-list for Maui, book as soon as your date opens up, as the park may sell out at times.
Reservations are given for slots of 90 minutes.
Make sure to arrive at the park within the initial 30 minutes of your booking period or you may be refused entry.
Reservations for Iao Valley State Monument must be made online ahead of your visit.
The Best Time to Visit Iao Valley State Park
The Iao Valley is one of the wettest places in Hawaii, and you will ideally want unobstructed views of the famous Iao Needle, so plan on visiting the park on a bright clear day if your itinerary allows.
The mountains usually tend to be misty and wreathed in clouds as the day goes on. Visit in the morning for a better chance of clear views of the Iao Needle.
The Needle does also look beautiful partially hidden behind clouds, so if you are looking for a cool spot to spend an afternoon in Maui, by all means visit later in the day. And sometimes the clouds do part, to give you that perfect view for Iao Needle photos too!
Tips for Visiting Iao Valley State Monument
Make your reservations when your dates open up!
Iao Valley State Monument is a popular place to visit in Maui, and sometimes the park does sell out.
If your Maui itinerary is tight, and you want to make sure you get to visit Iao Valley State Monument, book your entry slot as soon as your desired date opens up!
Arrive on time
Plan to be at the park at the time your reservation slot begins. Remember, it’s a 90-minute slot, and you want to make sure you have the time to see everything and snap photos.
If you show up 30 minutes past the start time of your reservation slot, you may be turned away, and there are no refunds for no-shows or late arrivals.
Lock your car and put valuables away
Your payment for parking allows you to park inside Iao Valley State Monument. Kepaniwai Park has a free parking lot.
However, it’s prudent to lock your car before you leave to explore, and make sure all valuables are secured out of sight.
Visit in the morning for unobstructed views of the Iao Needle
Note that clouds are more likely to obscure views in the park in the afternoon.
If getting good photos of the Iao Needle is high on your list, then plan to visit in the morning.
If you arrive at opening time, you may even have the viewing deck all to yourself!
Bring bug spray!
The trails at Iao Valley State Monument are fringed with dense vegetation. Since you’ll be walking through rainforest, be sure to use bug spray to minimize the chance of getting bug bites.
We normally use wipes with DEET in Hawaii and they work really well.
Bring a rain jacket
We’ve visited Iao Valley State Monument twice, and both times we had perfect weather: part sun, part clouds, with zero rain.
BUT…remember this is one of the wettest places in Hawaii and bring a rain jacket!
Wear hiking sandals or shoes
The paved trail at Iao Valley State Monument doesn’t require any special footwear, but if you plan to walk the dirt path by the Iao Stream, be sure to wear secured hiking sandals or shoes.
And if you plan to get onto the rocks in the creek bed, wear water shoes to protect your feet.
The Best Maui Tours
Have you booked these top-rated Maui guided adventures yet?
Small-group Road to Hana tour so everyone in your group can sit back and enjoy the views without worrying about negotiating hairpin bends or finding parking at popular stops!
A Haleakala sunrise tour so you can experience the bucket-list sunrise atop the volcano without the need to reserve a parking spot or drive up in the dark!
A Maui snorkeling excursion that combines the Molokini Crater with Turtle Town, the two most epic snorkeling destinations on the island!
A 7-line Maui zipline experience where you can glide over the forests on the north shore of Maui. Enjoy ocean views and navigate obstacle course challenges!
Renting a Car in Maui
The best things to do in Maui are located all over the island.
Public transport options on Maui are minimal to non-existent, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Maui trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Maui car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Where to Stay in Maui
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Maui you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
By far the majority of visitors to Maui choose to base on the west side, where there is a large selection of accommodations available, from resorts and hotels to vacation rentals.
We suggest starting your search for Maui accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO. You can filter to choose a specific area, such as Kihei, Kapalua, or Wailea.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Kihei and Kapalua and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
More Maui Travel Inspiration
If you are considering a trip to Maui, read some of our other comprehensive guides to craft the ultimate Maui itinerary!
If you are a first-time visitor to Maui, start by reading our article on the best things to do in Maui. From beautiful beaches and lush rainforest to Maui’s volcanic crater, our round-up captures the most iconic Maui experiences and activities.
If you are dreaming of a winter getaway to a tropical paradise, read our guide on why you should visit Maui in winter!
Driving the Road to Hana is one of Maui’s bucket-list experiences. We have a comprehensive guide to the best stops on the Road to Hana, including waterfalls and short hikes on the way.
One of the top stops on the route is Wai’anapanapa State Park, which requires reservations. Read our full guide to Maui’s black sand beach in this popular state park!
Speaking of hiking, also be sure to check out our round-up of the best Maui hikes, from easy to challenging. Plus, peruse our complete guides to hiking the popular Kapalua Coastal Trail in northwest Maui, and the Waihee Ridge Trail for astounding views!
We also have a round-up of the best waterfalls in Maui, from the 400-foot Waimoku Falls to Upper Waikani Falls near Hana. Some Maui waterfalls can be seen from viewpoints whereas others require hiking.
If you’d rather snorkel from shore, read our round-up of the best snorkel spots in West Maui.
Every Maui itinerary should have plenty of beach time: there are so many beautiful beaches in Maui that you are spoiled for choice. We have a round-up of the best beaches in South Maui, plus a detailed guide to Wailea Beach in southwest Maui, and one for Maluaka Beach along the Turtle Town stretch of coast.
We also have articles on popular Napili Beach and local favorite Keawakapu Beach. Along the northwest side, Honolua Bay is a famous surfing spot, and Ho’okipa Beach, near Paia, is a windsurfing mecca.
If you are looking to experience a different side of Maui, plan a visit to the Iao Valley State Monument. The lush landscapes and serene ambience will wow you! Also read our guide to Maui’s state parks, which include popular Makena State Park, home to Big Beach and Little Beach.
Spend a day exploring Upcountry Maui. Some of the best things to do in Upcountry Maui include touring farms and gardens. Help milk goats, tour a tea farm, go wine tasting and much more.
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