Onomea Falls in Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden near Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, Big Island, Hawaii: Complete 2024 Guide!

Nature lover planning a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii? Put the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden on your itinerary!

A gorgeous rainforest preserve located on the scenic Hamakua Coast of the Big Island, the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden showcases tropical plants from all over the planet.

Visiting this beautiful garden is one of the best things to do in Hilo!

While garden enthusiasts will find plenty of eye candy in the plants collections here, Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is also home to two beautiful waterfalls and spectacular views of Onomea Bay.

Walking iris in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden in Papaikou, Big Island, HI
A walking iris at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Admission isn’t inexpensive, but we were blown away by the sheer number and diversity of the plants and flowers we saw here, from orchids in every color to bright torch ginger flowers and tall guavas and sentinel-like palms to monkeypods with beautiful canopies.

You can combine a visit to the Hawaii Tropical Garden with a stop at Akaka Falls State Park, another place of great natural beauty along this picturesque coast.

In this article, we’ll describe what to expect on a visit to the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, plus information on how to get there and when to visit.

Excited? Let’s get started discovering how to visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden!

Planning a visit to the Big Island? Snorkeling Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay should definitely be on your itinerary: check out our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkel tours!

Sculptural tree trunk in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, a botanical garden near Hilo, Hawaii
Sculptural tree trunks in the garden make for a great photo!

Some links on this page may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. For more details, refer to our disclosure.

Things to Do at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Walk the trail through the garden

Use the paper map provided with your admission fee to walk the trail around the fair-sized Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden.

Trail in Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
Walking the trail through the Hawaii Tropical Garden

The entrance is across the street from the visitor center and parking area (where you will also find restrooms).

A boardwalk trail leads down into the valley and is quite steep. Use the railings provided as needed to avoid slipping or falling, especially if it has rained and the boardwalk is slick.

You’ll learn about the fascinating history of the garden and then get right into the various themed trails with lots of plants, trees, flowers, and fruit to admire.

Vegetation along the trail in Hawaii Tropical Garden on Hawaii Island
Lush vegetation lines the trail in the garden

The boardwalk ends at an impressive 12-foot tiki statue of the Hawaiian god Ku.

It was carved onsite by Hilo master carver William (Rocky) Vargas from the wood of an 80-year-old monkeypod tree in the garden that fell.

Tiki carving of Hawaiian god Ku at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
The wood carving of Ku at the garden

Tree-lined paths then take you to viewing areas with benches from where you can look out over Onomea Bay.

The trail through the garden is about 1.25 miles in length.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Admire the plants and flowers

The variety of plants and trees in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is astonishing. If you like photographing flowers, you’ll be stopping every two feet to capture yet another marvelous flower.

The main body of the garden holds many showy flowering varieties.

As befits a tropical rainforest, you will likely see lots of orchids. We saw orchids in a wide range of colors, from white and off-white to various shades of pink and yellow.

Magenta orchids in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden in Hawaii Island.
Small and delicate magenta orchids at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Look for the bright colors of torch ginger blossoms, the spiky heliconias, anthuriums, birds of paradise, hibiscus, plumeria, and many many more.

You will find many varieties of palm trees in the garden, a grove of tall guava trees, banyans, and monkeypods.

Look for the native ohia lehua tree, which has lovely blossoms that are most commonly bright red, but can also be yellow, orange, salmon, or white.

An ohia lehua in bloom at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden on the Big island of Hawaii
A white ‘ohi’a lehua blossom in the garden

The garden helps preserve many rare and endangered trees and flowers. Specimens are labeled if you are interested in learning the names as you walk.

Look for the Pride of Burma tree, with its lovely crimson flowers accented in yellow. It looks very eye-catching when in bloom!

Pride of Burma flowers
Pride of Burma flowers

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Stop by Onomea Falls

The picture-perfect Onomea Falls was discovered by Dan Lutkenhouse when he was clearing the overgrown jungle to create the Hawaii Tropical Garden.

Today it is one of the signature sights in the garden, with the cascading water framed by lush vegetation and moss-covered rocks.

Onomea Falls after rains, Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden in Hawaii
Onomea Falls after rains

Onomea Falls usually has multiple beautiful tiers as it cascades over boulders into the stream below. It makes for a great photo!

There is a little bridge in front of the falls that’s the perfect spot for looking at the waterfall and listening to the sound of the water.

Snap a photo of Boulder Creek Falls

Most waterfalls in Hawaii have Hawaiian names, but Boulder Creek Falls, which sounds more like a mainland waterfall, really does cascade over a string of boulders, making it a descriptive name.

Waterfall inside the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii
Boulder Creek Falls in the Hawaii Tropical Garden

To get to this waterfall, you have to walk to the end of the Boulder Creek Trail.

While it’s not as striking as Onomea Falls, waterfall chasers will definitely want to get a photo or two of this cascade.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

View Lily Lake

The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden has many water features to admire, one of them being Lily Lake, located just beyond the main flower gardens.

Lily Lake at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden near Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii
A lone water lily in bloom at Lily Lake

The pond contains floating lily pads in bright green, and you may even see water lilies in bloom when you visit.

Benches around the “lake” allow you to take a breather as you contemplate your beautiful surroundings.

Enjoy the views of Onomea Bay

Beyond the flower gardens and the lake, a couple of mainly tree-lined trails offer up beautiful views of Onomea Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Onomea Bay Big Island Hawaii
Onomea Bay

Again, there are benches if you want to sit for a bit and enjoy the views.

Onomea Bay was home to a famous sea arch, but sadly it collapsed during an earthquake in the 1950s.

There are two hiking trails that lead down to the water from the Old Mamalahoa Highway. They are not part of the garden experience.

To access these trails, you have to exit the botanical garden and park at the trailheads, where pullouts can accommodate 2-3 cars.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

The History of Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Visiting the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is an extraordinary experience on the Big Island of Hawaii.

But you’ll also want to learn the fascinating history behind this gorgeous garden that lies in the Onomea Valley above the eponymous bay.

Orchid in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden in Hawaii
Orchids in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

Long ago, there used to be a Hawaiian fishing village at Onomea Bay. Villagers cleared the existing vegetation and grew crops like taro and breadfruit.

The bay was also a landing point for ships, and the Onomea Sugar Mill was built here. You can still see the remnants of the mill, including a Portugese bread oven that you can see on Cook Pine Trail in the garden.

When the sugar mill stopped operating, people abandoned the area, and Onomea Valley became a dense jungle filled with invasive species.

Enter Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse in 1977.

They bought a 17-acre parcel in the Onomea Valley, and over the next several years, Dan and an assistant worked to hand-clear the jungle, using knives, picks, shovels, and a chainsaw!

Over the course of several years, Dan collected and planted tropical and subtropical plants, both native and from around the world, in the cleared area, and the garden eventually opened in 1984.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Getting to the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

The drive to Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden from Hilo is very scenic!

The drive north from Hilo to the garden is 6.8 miles, and should take you about 15 minutes in normal traffic (see map).

The old Mamalahoa Highway is reminiscent of the Road to Hana in Maui, with narrow single lanes and one-lane bridges. The road winds through the Hawaiian rainforest, with views of the ocean.

Old Mamalahoa Highway near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii
Old Mamalahoa Highway is very scenic!

Along the way, there is a pullout where you can park and take in the view of Onomea Bay. From here, you can also hike the Onomea Bay Trail down to the water.

If you plan to visit from Kona, the drive, via Saddle Road, is 82.9 miles and should take you about an hour and 45 minutes in normal traffic (see map). From Waikaloa, via Saddle Road, it is a distance of 75 miles and takes about 90 minutes.

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden Hours and Admission Fees

The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., with last entry at 4 p.m.

The garden is closed on the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

General adult admission to the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is $30.00 at the time of writing. For kids 6-12, admission is $22.00 per child. Kids under 6 are admitted free.

For Hawaii residents (kama’aina) with a valid ID, entrance is $25.00 per adult and $15.00 per child.

Hawaii college students with valid IDs and active military personnel with valid IDs pay a discounted fee of $25.00 per person.

Anthurium at Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, Big Island, Hawaii
Beautiful anthurium flowers in the garden

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

The Best Time to Visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

You can visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden year round.

Since it’s a tropical garden that showcases many species of flowers, you should see colorful blooms no matter when you visit during the year.

Heliconia at the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii
A heliconia in bloom in the garden

While the waterfalls in the garden flow better after rains, you will want to pick a dry day to visit if your itinerary allows, for drier paths.

To check the local weather forecast, use the zip code 96781.

The boardwalk trail from the entrance is a little easier when it is not wet.

As far as time of day, it is ideal if you can be at the entrance at opening time in the morning.

This is when you will usually find the garden less crowded, and you can better appreciate natural sounds like the rustling of the leaves and birdsong as you walk less congested paths through the garden.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Tips for Visiting the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden

Know that the boardwalk at the entrance is steep

While the pathways once you get down into the garden are fairly level, the boardwalk trail that leads down from the garden entrance to the main garden area below is very steep.

The boardwalk trail loses an elevation of 100 feet in a short distance of 500 feet, and may pose a challenge if you have mobility issues.

The garden does not permit wheelchairs, walkers, mobility scooters, or crutches on the boardwalk trail.

Canes and walking sticks, are, however, permitted, and may be helpful as you descend.

If you are traveling with young children in strollers, they have to be taken out of the stroller while on the boardwalk.

On the way back, the ascent may be a trudge if you are not in good physical shape. There are benches to stop and rest, so take it easy and stop as needed to catch your breath.

Boulder Creek Falls in the Hawaii Tropical Garden near Hilo, Hawaii
The mossy boulders are better appreciated when Boulder Creek Falls has a lighter flow!

Visit at opening time for lower crowds

The Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden is one of the most popular attractions near Hilo, and tends to get crowded during the day.

If you are spending a night (or more!) in Hilo, plan to be at the garden at opening time for a more peaceful experience in nature.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Allow plenty of time

You should allow a minimum of 90 minutes to explore the Hawaii Tropical Garden in its entirety, with stops to snap photos or read the occasional sign.

If you really enjoy macro photography, or you are a plants and garden enthusiast, plan on more time!

We have visited a few times now, and we have never got out in less than 3 hours. There are lots of beautiful flowers and tree trunks to photograph!

Bring rain gear

It is not uncommon for it to rain when you visit the Hawaii Tropical Garden. The area receives about 84 inches of rainfall each year, which is why everything is lush and green.

The garden may let you borrow umbrellas if it’s raining, but we always bring squishy rain jackets or ponchos in our backpacks or daybags whenever we sightsee in Hawaii.

It’s also helpful to wear fabrics that dry out quickly.

Palm trunks in the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii
A forest of tree trunks in the garden

Wear sun protection

Sun protection is a must, even though the tree canopy offers lots of shade.

We like this reef-safe sunscreen that’s perfect for Hawaii. We also sometimes use this one: it’s great for sensitive skin!

Also wear a sun hat with a broad brim (men’s/women’s on Amazon) and sunglasses (we like this brand), and use a lip balm with SPF.

Use insect repellent

Bring bug spray or bug wipes to minimize the chance of bites as you stroll the Hawaii Tropical Garden.

The garden store sells insect repellent if you forget to bring your own.

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Wear proper shoes

Wear shoes (or sandals that secure to your feet) with good grip. They will be especially helpful when you descend the boardwalk, and if the pathways are wet and slippery.

We love our Teva sandals (women’s/men’s on Amazon). We also use Keen sandals, another great option for this tour (women’s/men’s on Amazon).

Closed-toed walking shoes that provide good traction are also a great footwear option.

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden near Hilo, Hawaii
A view of the Hawaii Tropical Garden

Wear long-sleeved tops and long pants

Long-sleeved tops and long pants help both with lessening the chance of insect bites and for sun protection.

Carry drinking water

Bring an adequate supply of drinking water to tide you through your visit. It can get hot during the day and you will want to stay hydrated.

At this time, there is no tap or fountain to fill your water bottle at the garden.

Stay fueled with snacks (or bring a meal)

If you plan to spend a few hours in the garden, you can bring a packed lunch to enjoy: there are picnic tables at many places where you can have a meal.

Also bring snacks to stay fueled as you explore!

>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Big Island tour now!

Do not bring your pets to the garden

Only trained service dogs that are in compliance with ADA regulations and Hawaii state law are permitted in the garden.

Stop by What’s Shakin’ for lunch and smoothies

Want to have lunch before or after you explore the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden?

Just one mile from the garden along the Mamalahoa Highway you will find What’s Shakin, a cafe and smoothie stand.

It’s a must-stop for us when we visit the garden, at least for a refreshing smoothie.

The frozen fruit smoothies are made from locally-grown fruit. The sandwiches and snacks are flavorful and there are vegetarian options. They also serve coffee.

They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Best Big Island Tours

Have you booked these top-rated Big Island tours yet?

Guided snorkeling with manta rays at night, a bucket-list underwater Big Island adventure to watch the amazing manta rays up close. Sightings guaranteed or go again.

Big Island in a Day excursion from Kona or Waikaloa, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, ‘Akaka Falls, and the Waipi’o Valley Lookout!

Snorkeling historic Kealakekua Bay, one of the top snorkel spots on the Big Island. Look for dolphins en route (plus whales in season)! Don’t want to snorkel? Take a dinner cruise instead.

Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest point in all of Hawaii! Travel up and down in a luxury 4X4 van. Hooded parkas and gloves provided!

Thrilling zipline adventure over KoleKole Falls, a 7-line Hilo ziplining experience that allows you to soar over lush forest vegetation and the 250-foot waterfall!

Renting a Car on the Big Island

Most visitors that travel to the Big Island choose to rent a car because the island is, well, BIG, and the Big Island must-see attractions are scattered around the island.

Depending on where you choose to base — Kona or Hilo are the main places visitors choose — you can pick up a rental car in either location.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kona car rentals or Hilo car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kona car rentals now!

>> Check availability and prices on Hilo car rentals now!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona, on the sunnier leeward side of the Big Island, ands Hilo, on the lush windward side, are the main bases on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island. Most visitors to the Big Island split their stay between these two places.

You will find the biggest choice of hotels and resorts in Kailua-Kona and Waikaloa, with both chains and boutiques, while Hilo has fewer hotels and inns.

The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is an excellent choice if you are looking for a pristine beach out the front door. The Hilton Waikaloa Village is a great choice if you are traveling as a family.

The Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast, just 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona, is a fabulous resort for a splurge. The SCP Hilo Hotel is the perfect base from which to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

You will find VRBO listings all over the island, especially in Kailua-Kona, Hilo, and Volcano (the base for travelers spending a night or more visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in Volcano as well as in Kailua-Kona and Hilo and we’ve found the choice and quality great.

>> Look for a Big Island vacation rental on VRBO now!

Passion flower in Hawaii Tropical Garden on the Big Island of Hawaii
A passion flower up close

More Big Island Travel Inspiration

Planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii? Also known as Hawaii Island, the Big Island is home to some spectacular scenery and lots of activities.

Learn about the 4 national parks on the Big Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you may be lucky enough to catch flowing lava!

Head to the southeast part of the island to admire Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, possibly the most striking of the Big Island’s black sand beaches, and read our guide to the rare green sand beach on the Big Island!

The state parks of the Big Island protect some of the island’s best treasures. A few miles north of Hilo, you will find Akaka Falls State Park, home to the 442-foot Akaka Falls.

Also on the scenic Hamakua Coast, stop to visit the lush and beautiful Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, with its numerous varieties of tropical plants.

On the leeward side of the island, you’ll find many beautiful beaches. Must-visit Hapuna Beach is a picture-postcard tropical beach with its long stretch of white sand.

Kauna’oa Beach, also known as Mauna Kea Beach, is another white sand beach north of Kona you have to visit. It routinely makes the top 10 beaches in the USA list!

Part of the Kekahai Kai State Park, Manini’owali Beach is yet another stunning white sand beach on the Kohala Coast just north of Kailua-Kona.

South of Kailua Kona, you’ll find arguably the best snorkeling spot in all of Hawaii at the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. Our guide to the best Captain Cook snorkeling tours will help you find the perfect tour for you!

Also on the South Kona Coast is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, one of the Big Island’s national park sites that is historically and culturally significant. And, it’s very scenic!

Did you find this article informative? Pin it on Pinterest for later!

Everything you need to know to visit the gorgeous Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii! What to see and do, how to get there, when to visit, and tips for the best experience!

Disclaimer

All information provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is subject to our terms and conditions of use. It is not a substitute for information or advice from official agencies or qualified professionals.

SV Travel Media LLC makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information provided here, and readers should use their own discretion and judgement, and seek advice from professionals where needed.

Your use of the information described in, and your participation in activities presented on our website may carry the risk of illness, bodily injury, disability, death, or property damage. You freely assume all risks and dangers that may occur as a result of your access, use, purchase, or participation in any information, activity, product, or service listed on our website.

Like this article? Share it with your friends!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *