Visiting Iao Valley | Hiking Waihe’e Ridge Trail & Waihou Spring Trail | January 1, 2020
Our second day on Maui focused on hiking around the West part of the island, starting with a quick visit to Iao Valley State Park. Much like Oahu and Kauai, West Maui is an older shield volcano that has been eroded away by the continuous rainfall in the higher elevations. In Maui’s case, this has left several VERY deep valleys going almost to the very center of the mountain. Two of these valleys are the Iao and the Waihe’e on the Southeast side of the mountain.
We made Iao our first stop for the day in order to beat the crowds, but also because there isn’t a whole lot to do in ways of hiking. There’s a $5 entrance fee, and one short trail that goes from the parking lot up to a vista of the Iao Needle. We walked up the steps, took pictures, found a letterbox, then went on our way. Along with the trail that goes up to the viewpoint, there are a few that loop around a pretty garden and walk along a creek, as well as an “illegal” trail that takes you to another viewpoint. My favorite part of this stop was just being in such a small valley surrounded by the tall cliffs of the West Maui mountains. On a clear day, you can even see the highest peak, Pu’u Kukui, right behind the needle.
Next, we drove North up the coast to our main hike for the day. I had picked out Waihe’e Ridge Trail kind of on a whim just by looking at AllTrails. Just by scanning through the listing, I thought it looked like the kind of hike we’d enjoy – a ridge hike leading up to a peak of sorts. Luckily, I was right, and Curtis told me this one exceeded his expectations. We drove up to the upper trailhead and got one of the last parking spots available — I guess a lot of other people had the same idea, to start off the year on the right foot by hiking in a beautiful place!
The trail began with a steep walk up a paved road that led to a water tank. After that first stretch, the trail grade was more gradual on a wide and well-maintained path. Overall, we were very impressed with the trail condition. The hike was around 4 miles round-trip and gained over 1600 feet of elevation. There were some switchbacks and some stairs built in, but the trail never felt unsafe even though it was a little wet (as compared to similar hikes on Oahu that would invariably require ‘ropes’ or eroded trail conditions).
Along the way, we came upon a bench that faced Makamakaole Falls in the distance, which looked impressive even from afar. At the top there were also views of Molokai to the North and across Maui to Haleakala to the South. My favorite part of the trail came right after a look out, where we were walking along the ridge with a steep drop off and the vast Waihe’e Valley in between us and the other mountains to the South. The trail was wide enough that it didn’t feel dangerous, but the other mountains just made me feel so small.
We made good time, taking short breaks and drinking lots of water, and finally made it up to the top. There were some clouds rolling in from the North, but we had made it in time to have a good view of the mountains and listen to some older hikers brag about their Hawai’i hiking – we were happy to note that we were familiar with most of what they talked about and had accomplished similar feats during our time here.
We were cautious walking down as the trail was a little slick, but thankfully the clouds brought only a light drizzle and a cool breeze. We made it back to the car after about 2 ½ hours of hiking. Click here if you want to see our AllTrail recording for this hike.
On our way back to Kahului, we went in search of a couple Heaiu’s (historic Hawaiian temples) but struck out on both and instead decided to find some lunch. This also took a few tries because many places were closed for the holiday. We eventually found a local Filipino spot that was open and shared a plate lunch. While there, we started looking for what we wanted to do next. We didn’t feel like driving the winding road up the Northwest coast, but it seemed like everything we were looking at — botanical gardens, tours, museums, distilleries — were all closed that day. Curtis found a couple other short hikes we could try, but nothing that could fill up the rest of the day.
We ended up driving to a nearby park in Kahului with a walking trail and made a loop around there for an hour. After living in one place for so long, and such a busy and touristy place at that, I’ve really come to appreciate small, quiet parks. After our walk, we began driving up to Makawao to the trailhead for our next hike.
At first, we thought we would go do a short hike in a nature preserve to find a letterbox, but then Curtis found another hike not far from that one that promised lava tubes at the end and that easily won us over. We drove up a long winding mountain road to Waihou Spring Forest Reserve and started out on the loop trail. The first half-mile was very easy as we made our way deeper into the forest. The forest is a research forest and has tall pine trees planted. It honestly felt more like a hike in Colorado than a hike in Hawaii.
We came to a fork in the trail and took the path to the right leading to the “creek lookout.” At the end of this flat and maintained path was a sign warning of a steep drop-off, and that’s where the real fun began!
After that sign, the trail became very narrow and hugged the hillside as it switchbacked steeply into a valley. With every step, I started to dread our eventual ascent more and more, but it turned out to be not as bad as we thought. In fact, the end of this trail was a highlight for Curtis — there were in fact lava tubes, but not at all like he was expecting. Our experience with lava tubes has been only in Northern Arizona near Flagstaff. There the tube is wide and long, enough for a person to stand fully vertical and not touch either side wall. Here, when we came to the spring, there was a steep cliff wall surrounding us in a tight valley. There were many holes along the cliff wall that were each entrances to lava tubes, some of which were connected to each other. I opted to stay behind, but Curtis didn’t let the steep, narrow path covered in leaves deter him from climbing up to the holes and going inside. He had come prepared with a headlamp and enjoyed going in one hole and then popping out another.
(Curtis) Geologically, it looked like the tubes were restricted to only a layer of rock maybe 25 feet tall, and that at some point in time when the valley was formed, the rock was carved away cutting laterally through the tubes, sorta like cutting across a wormy apple or wood. It does beg the question, were these tubes connected to a larger feeder, similar to the one in AZ?
(Jess) With it getting dark, we climbed back up the hillside and completed the loop. You can see our AllTrails recording for this hike here.
We ended our day with driving back up to Hosmer’s Grove for our last night camping in Haleakala. Before settling in, we went for a short walk on the Hosmer’s Grove loop trail in search of a letterbox. We came up empty handed, but it had been years since it was last found. It also didn’t help that the clue ended with getting you to one specific spot on the trail and then said, “You know what to do.” Nope, we sure didn’t! Back at our campsite, Curtis made tortellini on his camp stove and we stayed warm inside our tent.