Iao Valley

Iao Valley - Tall Needle & Local Swimming
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Iao Valley is the second-wettest place in Hawaii. It’s also home to one of the tallest needles in Hawaii, which is thought to be a phallic symbol of the sea god Kanaloa. Visit the official highlights, and then the informal trails and swimming holes are well worth exploring.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Iao Valley is a traditional sacred site that’s home to one of the island’s tallest needles. It also happens to be the second-wettest place on the island (and one of the wettest in the world).

The Iao Valley itself has traditionally been a kapu sacred site, where only Hawaiian royalty were permitted. They came to worship at the Iao Needle that dominates the valley, and many of their bones are buried along the sheer, inaccessible cliffs.

The Iao Needle (Kuka’emoku) is a 1,200-foot spire that’s visible from any clearing in the valley, and its image is certainly suggestive. Native Hawaiians believed it was the phallic symbol of their sea god Kanaloa. The view from the official platform is majestic but clearly seeks to hide the needle’s suggestive nature. Look up from the parking lot, and you’ll see a much different image — or package.

In addition to the Iao Needle, the Iao Valley state park also has a model village, a nature trail, and a picturesque footbridge. The village gives a sense of what buildings and crops indigenous people would’ve had, and the nature trail has plenty of native, wild fauna.

You’ll cross a footbridge where local kids will likely be jumping into a pool — and you should definitely take their lead. Do the nature trail (across the bridge and down) last, and you’ll come across a network of informal trails. Any one might lead to an outlook, place of respite, or hidden swimming hole. As beautiful as the park is, it becomes even more interesting off the beaten trail.

All of the official trails at Iao Valley are paved and have steps, making them great for children and older seniors. Just be sure to pack rain gear when you visit. The valley sees over an inch of rain each day — and some days the rainfall can be much more

A few of our favorite highlights at Iao Valley include:

Iao Needle
Tall, inspiring, and suggestive. Take a picture from the official observation deck to show Grandma, and another from the parking lot so your friends can have a laugh.

Model Village
The model village doesn’t take long to see, but it’s quite informative given the basic setup. You’ll find buildings, cultivated plants, and taro. The last has been difficult for park staff to maintain, partly because it’s not native nor was grown here.

Nature Trail
Short, paved, and full of native fauna. The nature trail may be the best bang for the step of any trail on the island.

Watch the local kids jump for a moment and give them a cheer. They’re at Iao Valley to show off — and likely wouldn’t mind if you joined in.

Informal Trails
Meander along the informal trails at Iao Valley that branch from the nature trail. Who knows whether you’ll find a restful oasis, unique view, or swimming hole. Bring your bathing suit just in case. Or, perhaps you’d go without a suit given the theme of the main attraction.

Insider Tip:
Stop along the Iao Valley state park’s access road for even more informal hiking. You’ll find a whole network of trails, many of which lead to additional local swimming spots.