Best Hilo Botanical Gardens: Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Hilo Botanical Gardens (1)
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Best Hilo Botanical Gardens: Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Hilo is the perfect place for botanical garden. This town on Hawaii Island has a lush, rainy environment, a serene oceanside setting, and some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

And Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is the perfect place to see Hilo’s beauty in all its glory. 

We loved our visit to this tropical escape and are excited to share it all today. Come along with us as we share everything we love about this Hilo Botanical Garden, and what you can expect on your visit.

A Surprise Detour

I love to plan out my vacations, down to where I will get coffee in the morning. But some days, you just need to let Hawaii happen and see where the road takes you.

When I was on the Big Island with a friend a few weeks ago, we spent one night in Kona and the rest of our time in Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. On the way from Kona to Hilo, we passed by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. We were about to drive right by, but on a whim, we decided to stop.

I’ve been to all of the best botanical gardens on Kauai and Oahu, so I thought I had an idea about what I was in for. But Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden was by far the most beautiful botanical garden I had ever seen – anywhere.

This garden is in a tropical rainforest, with bubbling streams, beautiful waterfalls, and views of the Pacific coast. After spending hours there roaming around and looking at everything, I can verify that this is a must-do if you visit the Big Island.

The History of Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

I have to include a little bit about the history of the garden in this post because I thought it was so interesting. A small area at the beginning of the garden talks a little bit about their history.

Dan Lutkenhouse and his wife, Pauline, discovered Onomea Valley in 1977 while on vacation. Won over by its beauty, they purchased the land but didn’t know what they would do with it yet. Dan decided to preserve the land, so any commercial ventures were out. Instead, he created a botanical garden to preserve the valley forever.

When they bought the land, it was an overgrown jungle – you couldn’t even walk through it. So, Dan sold his trucking business in San Francisco, and the couple moved to the Big Island to devote their time to creating the garden.

Every day for eight years, Dan worked in the garden with his assistants. They did all of the work by hand to preserve the natural environment. He did not want to destroy any plants or tree roots, so he did everything very meticulously and slowly. For example, he used wheelbarrows instead of tractors, and he used the land’s natural contours to create the trails.

Torpical plants and flowers at Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Touring the Hilo Botanical Garden

As we walked through the garden, I was amazed at the size of it and at a number of plants I had never seen before. The garden has a collection of over 2,000 species of tropical plants from all over the world. The garden’s 40 acres are the perfect place for plants to grow because they contain fertile volcanic soil.

My friend said it was the most beautiful place she had ever been.

The beautiful patterned foliage and brightly colored flowers beg your attention. Although you can probably walk through this garden quickly, you will want to spend time looking at everything, taking it all in. 

Hawaiians have a word for the garden’s allure: aina, or “the spirit of the land.”

Onomea Falls

You begin by walking through a forested area. There are a few different paths you can go on, but they all lead you back to the main trail, so you can see everything if you want to.

We started along the Palm Vista Trail and took the Palm Jungle Trail.

We followed signs for Onomea Falls and ended up at this beautiful three-tiered waterfall. Dan Lutkenhouse discovered this natural waterfall years after starting work on the Hilo botanical gardens.

Heliconia Trail

After that, we kept going, stopping every few feet to take more and more pictures. I was in awe of the beauty of the flowers and the trees. We went on the Heliconia Trail, which has more than 80 species that grow in various shapes and colors and can get up to 20 feet high.

Banyan Tree and Beyond

From there, we went to Banyan Canyon, where we saw a banyan tree. We didn’t follow a map. Instead, we went wherever the trail led us. We came across Orchid Garden, Bromeliad Hill, where we saw dwarf pineapples, a birdhouse with macaws, and Lily Lake.

Hilo Botanical Gardens

Finally, just when I thought the garden couldn’t get any better, we got to the oceanfront trail and this overlook of the Twin Rocks. It was an incredible sight, and I am glad there were benches where we could sit to take it all in for a while.

From there, we headed back, stopping to look at things we had missed along our first route.

Tips for visiting the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

The Garden is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission to the garden ends at 4:00 p.m.

The tour is self-guided and usually takes about an hour and a half, with a walking distance of a little over a mile for the entire round trip. Wear sneakers or comfortable walking shoes.

Unfortunately, wheelchairs aren’t permitted on the property. Strollers are allowed but must be unoccupied on the boardwalk. 

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden is located right off Mamalahoa Highway, about 7 miles north of downtown Hilo. 

Other Hilo Botanical Gardens

Want to see even more gardens while in Hilo? Here are a few of the must-see spots that reflect the natural beauty of this amazing area:

  • Liliʻuokalani Gardens is a public Japanese Garden located right in Hilo. It features a koi pond, arched bridges, and ornamental landscaping.
  • Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is the only tropical zoo in the United States. But beyond its great animal exhibits, it also has an impressive botanical garden. Plus, admission is free.
  • Botanical Gardens at the University of Hilo is a vast collection of plants and flowers that are grown by staff and students, researched thoroughly, and enjoyed by the community.

Booking Your Hilo Botanical Garden Adventure

Ready to see all the wonders of Hilo, Hawaii? Allow our team at Hawaii Aloha Travel to help plan your vacation. See Volcanoes National Park, Akaka Falls, Downtown Hilo, and more with our custom itineraries.