Spotlight On ʻĪao Valley State Monument: A hike with history

Published on:
August 8, 2022

There is so much to see on Maui! After you settle in at Hale Pau Hana and spend some time with your toes in the sand, you’ll probably be ready for a little adventure. ʻĪao Valley State Monument is a short drive away and a great place to start. With paved accessible trails, gorgeous scenery, and a rich history it’s a perfect half-day excursion for the entire family. Mahalo to guests @ttyson54 and @tophertod for sharing your photos!

 Photo credit iStock

Know Before You Go

Like most places on Maui, there is a rich history and cultural significance beyond the visual beauty of this state park. The most striking landmark is Kuka‘emoku (aka the ʻĪao Needle), jutting up almost a mile high above densely forested cliffs. It’s no wonder that hundreds of years ago this outcropping served as a lookout for the ruling island chiefs, and also put it in the history books.

When King Kamehameha I was leading his effort to unify the islands, he brought his army to this valley in 1790 in pursuit of the Maui chiefs gathered there. What followed is known as one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history with fighting lasting two days and many lives lost. While King Kamehameha I technically won the battle — and only after getting his hands on a cannon — Maui resisted unification until the death of their ruling chief Kahekili II and the ensuing civil war in 1793.

 Photo courtesy @ttyson54
 Photo courtesy @ttyson54

Embrace The Clouds

However, long before the battle, this area was a much-loved spot for the Indigenous Polynesian people. When you visit, you’ll see clouds, streams, rains, and springs in abundance. So it will be no surprise that this valley is associated with the Hawaiian god Kāne, considered to be the procreator and the provider of life. And coming full circle, Kaka'e, ruler of Maui in the late 1400s to 1500s, is believed to have designated this valley an ali'i (chief) burial area. The remains of the highest chiefs are believed to be buried in secret hiding places in the valley.

Speaking of rain, chances are it’s going to get cloudy. We suggest that you pick a day when you’re feeling the need for some cool shade and a mellow walk, or get there early in the morning for the best chance of seeing the incredible views. And even if the sun doesn’t make an appearance, we guarantee that among the mist and verdant greens you’ll likely understand why the original Hawaiians gathered here.

 Photo courtesy @tophertod

Take Your Time

All the guidebooks say that you can take in all that ʻIao has to offer in 30 minutes or less. But we don’t think you should. Aside from all the informational plaques that you can read as you meander to the top of the trail, there is also a lovely botanical garden and a large heiau (temple). Here, too, you get a history lesson as you wander through the plants brought by the original settlers of the ʻIao Valley and learn why they gathered to celebrate and honor the bounty of Lono, the god of agriculture.

 Photo courtesy @ttyson54
 Photo courtesy iStock

Directions & Details

This is an easy day trip, and you’ll have plenty of time to get back to the beach for afternoon drinks! Click here for a driving directions and here for all the details on parking, passes, and hours. Enjoy your time in the ʻĪao Valley!

Have a favorite spot on Maui that you think we should spotlight? Tag #halepauhana on your next excursion and we’ll share it on our blog! For more ideas about what to do on the island, head to our Activities page.

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