Hiking Iao Valley’s Secret Trail
Deep in the heart of a Jurassic Park-like jungle, you will find the 2,250 foot ‘Iao Needle, famous for gracing postcards all over Maui. On Mondays, you will also find a roaming pack of Banana Bungalow travelers enjoying their free hiking tour to the valley. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out for me to join the Bungalow’s tour, but luckily a few of the staff offered to join me on their day off. After hitchhiking the short distance from Wailuku to the entrance of the park, we were off.
‘Iao Valley, like so many tourist-famous sites on the islands, is sacred to Hawaiians. In historic periods of warfare, the high peak of the ‘Iao Needle was used as a lookout by warriors while battles waged in the valleys below. Today, tourists roam the looped trails that travel between viewpoints, short stretches of jungle, and the babbling ‘Iao Valley stream.
We had a different destination in mind. At the top of the cement path, we slipped under a guard rail and passed a sign warning us not to stray beyond paved trails and set off along a narrow dirt path. Soon, we were in a beautiful, untouched jungle, far from the camera-toting crowds. Had it not been for the good old Banana Bungalow crew, I would never have known this path existed.
As I couldn’t find reference to this trail in any guidebooks or anywhere online, I can only guess as to the distance or the incline. I know that it took us, a group of four fairly-fit twenty-somethings, about two hours round trip. Along the way I paused frequently to catch my breath, a move I disguised by taking photos of unusual flowers, fruit, and leaf-wrapped stones — a traditional offering.
Soon, we reached the end of the line — literally. Short of scaling down the sides of the ridge into the valley, we could go no further. So we sat and rested, soaking up the beautiful vistas and the good company.
Eventually we started our descent, this time meeting a few other intrepid hikers along the way. Through the valley we could see all the way to Wailuku and down through to the ocean.
Back in paved civilization, we cooled off in the chilly ‘Iao Valley Stream. Well, I cooled my feet — it doesn’t matter if I’ve just spent the last few hours hiking, I don’t like swimming in freezing water! I’m what divers call a warm water wussy, through and through.
Every visitor to Maui should make a scenic stop at ‘Iao Valley. Even on a cloudy day, it was clearly one of the most beautiful spots in Maui’s lush interior. And if you’re feeling brave, try to find the hidden path — it’s back there somewhere! Or even better, check into the Banana Bungalow in time for Monday’s free tour!
Anyone else try to find secret path’s while hiking? Where was your favorite?
It always pays to hang with the locals.
Absolutely! I feel like my great experience in Hawaii was 90% due to all the great insider info I got from staying with family and friends.
Never occured to me that Maui would have all these great hiking trails. Should have known better!
It didn’t occur to me that Hawaii would be such a hiker haven either… so glad to have discovered such a gem!
Ha! I am truly a “warm water wussy”. You dove Iceland in a dry suit….dont think you can claim that one anymore!
Okay, true… maybe I would have gotten in the stream if there was a drysuit for me there 🙂
Now THAT is a hike!!! Amazing shots!
Thanks Andi! Loved this little afternoon of fun 🙂
What a beautiful experience you got there. I love the photos you’ve taken from the Iao Valley.
Thanks Belinda! It’s a special place and I’m glad I got to explore it a bit further….
Your pictures make it look like a truly wonderful way to spend a day. Beautiful scenery all around. Was it quite humid?
Oh yes! This was definitely rain forest heat 🙂 Thank you for the compliment on my photos!
Yeah it was all beautiful Alex.
You had me when you mentioned trekking and Jurassic Park. I love trekking in environments like this. This looks really stunning. Oh by the way I have tagged you in the latest travel blogger tagging game – Travel Blogger Best Dozen Project. 🙂
Ooooo fun, thanks for tagging me! I’ll try to get that post up soon 🙂
Wow–this area looks so beautiful. Amazing photos! That’s awesome you got to go on a that trail–the Banana Bungalow crew seems great!
Thank you so much Jenna! Yeah, it’s always great to have inside info.
Thank you for this! I hiked this trail about 15 or so years ago & couldn’t find it in any books, not even the even the one I was sure I had found it in the first time. You’ve made my trip!
You’ll have to thank Banana Bungalow really… I never would have known it was there if not for them! Such a lovely trail!
First of all I appreciate your initiative. I can say that your site is one of the best informative sources for hiking in Maui.
Now I am coming to your post. First of all I got stuck on the pictures used in this write-up. Actually I had gone for a hiking tour in Maui. I had enjoyed Maui Rain Forest Hike, Maui Mountain Hike, West Maui Waterfall Hike, Maui Valley Hike etc. I had also been in Iao Valley. But I did not enjoy the complete view of this place due to the shortage of time. But after reviewing your post, I think I will have to prepare a plan for another hiking tour in Maui. But this time Iao Valley will be the prime spot to see.
Thanks for sharing this. I really loved it. Please keep sharing..:)
Thanks for the kind words, Kim! Maui was a magical place for me and I hope to return again soon!
We hiked this route today. We were lucky to get out just befor the rain started. We used the GPS and it says that it was 2.6km/1.6 miles round trip and it took us about and hour and a half.
Lovely route, we would do it again. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction.
So glad this was useful to you, Michelle! Thanks for letting us know the mileage — I’m sure that will be very helpful to future hikers! Happy travels 🙂
the trail goes much much further-u only went about a third of the way
Interesting! So to continue on we’d have to go down into the valley then I take it? We went to the end of the ridge.
ridge? u mean the clearing on top of the hill-about 45 minutes from parking lot? anyway, the trail goes all the way to the “wall”-cant go any further without climbing equipment-maybe 2+ hours from parking area-or you can follow “lower” stream to the end-“hike” up hill to Olowalu stream which takes you to Lahaina side-the trail the Princess took to escape when the island was attacked back in the day-I guess both are more “treks” than hikes so your info is quite good/accurate-thanks:)
We went to Iao looking for a hike and were surprised by how short the paved walk was. I googled hikes in Iao and found this amazing blog. You motivated us to explore and get off the beaten path and we had an absolutely incredible experience. This ridge hike was definitely an absolute highlight. Thank you so much for sharing this!
Yay! That makes me happy to hear, Jasmin 🙂 I too was surprised by the short paved path in Iao. So glad I had someone to show me this secret path — and that I got to share it with you guys!
Hi Alex, was it easy to spot the trail from the rail you ducked under?
From what I remember it was, though it’s been years now so my memory is a little rusty 🙂 Good luck!
Alex, thanks for sharing. I find that joining the local Sierra Club usually gets me on the best trails. You should be careful hiking in Hawaii-always go with locals…haoles are not welcome everywhere.
Is there anywhere you would particularly caution readers not to hike themselves? I was lucky to be with kamaaina, but many travelers won’t have that option.
TAKE THIS DOWN! HOW DARE YOU TELL TOURISTS TO BLATANTLY DISOBEY SIGNS THAT TELL THEM TO KEEP OUT! NO RESPECT AND NO ALOHA BY DOING WHAT YOU DO. I USED TO SEE NO MORE THAN 5 PEOPLE UP THERE IN A SINGLE DAY. NOW THERE ARE MORE THAN 50. THINK ABOUT THE EFFECTS YOU HAVE ON PLACES WHERE YOU DONT HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES
Hey Kevin, what exactly do the signs say? I don’t want to encourage anyone to break rules, I simply shared my own experience on a guided tour, which granted is several years old at this point.
When last I was there, the entire park had been wiped out by a storm. The entrance was gone, I mean GONE! Everyone was swimming downstream. I didn’t stay long enough to find out about hiking. I asked around during my stay on the island and the general consensus was the hiking trails were gone, the park was destroyed. At least from a human user standpoint.
Oh my gosh, wow! I’ll have to ask my friends in Maui for an update. Thanks for the heads up.
We just went today and saw amazing views we went all the way to the top where there literally no more trail to follow!!! Beautiful, please be careful the top is narrow, and very soft. Worth the hike took us two hours in and one hour out.
Thank you so much for the report! Hiking in Hawaii is magical, glad you had this experience!
Wow thanks so much for exploiting Mauis secrets and posting it all over the internet. To hard to just enjoy a hike and the memories I guess? Someone who truly appreciates nature would NEVER do such a thing. True appreciation is also preservation. Thanks again for exploiting what isn’t yours to give away.
Your literally telling people to break the law and venture into dangerous,forbidden and culturally sensitive areas. Good for you! ????????????
Hey. This post is from my first trip to Hawaii in 2012 — my blog was barely a business and I don’t even think I had an Instagram. I was just a girl staying at a hostel, thrilled to have the staff show me around for a day. It’s true that today, eight years and much influence and many trips to Hawaii later, I would weigh my words more carefully.
I might even consider going back and editing this post. But honest question, does bullying usually work for you, to get the outcome you want? I feel like approaching me with some human kindness and aloha would be a much better start. I know when I am trying to offer someone a new perspective I start with compassion and education — attacks rarely get me where I want to go.
Iao has a valid concern. Maybe the delivery is off, but the their point should be considered. Regardless of when you posted this, it is wrong. Please don’t frame your justifications with “it was a long time ago, or I was on a guided tour. Regardless, plastering this kind of content on the internet has destroyed the sanctity of these beautiful islands and shows a blatant disrespect for the locals and sacred native sites.Due to posts such as yours,these beautiful places are being overun with tourists excited to go to some exotic place and get a selfie and post it on their instagram, or their Facebook page. It’s time for YOU to show some aloha and sensitivity and take posts like this off your blog. Provide detail on well known established hikes, but leave the secret and sacred spots off your list. Mahalo nui loa for your consideration.
I do appreciate this comment. However, I have never removed a post from my blog, ever, which is a diary of my adventures and misadventures through life and travel, in which yes, I have made missteps. This isn’t an SEO-driven site, it’s my personal journal. I do not claim to get everything right. I think it is valid to note this post is from long before I had an Instagram or the app even existed, I believe.
I also never delete comments (with some rare exceptions). So, those who stumble on this post now — who I can see from my side of things are extremely few and far between — will get the balance of your perspective, which as a local today are certainly more up to date and nuanced than mine. I too will heed it when I inevitably return and write fresher content in line with all I have learned since.