Nestled in the dense jungle north of Hilo, is a magical place for nature lovers to escape. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (now renamed Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden) offers a beautiful oasis in a lush ocean-side valley.
When we first visited the Big Island of Hawaii, we didn’t make it to this breathtaking place. Our schedule was just too over-scheduled and we ended up in the area in the middle of the day, when the parking lot was packed. We tend to seek out gardens when we travel and were bummed we missed it!
However, we were determined not to miss it on this trip. Especially because it came highly recommended from the homeowner we were house sitting for in Pahoa. So, we waited for a clear, sunny day and headed out early to explore this colorful garden.
About the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Near Hilo
The garden is located about 15 minutes north of Hilo, on the Hamakua Coast’s four-mile Scenic Drive. It includes a little over a mile of garden trails that begin in a lush valley and end with a stunning ocean view.
The garden is home to more than 2,000 tropical plant species from all over the world! And they are displayed in very photogenic ways (as you’ll see proof of soon).
Yet, one of the most impressive things we learned about this non-profit nature preserve, is that it was HAND CLEARED by the founders. Yes, at one point there was just a dense jungle that Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse spent six years making into an area the public could access and enjoy. Talk about a labor of love! Be sure to keep that in mind as you wind through the garden’s trail. (Read the whole story here).
Planning Your Visit to Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden Hours
Aside from a few major holidays, the garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day (with last admission at 4 p.m.). We definitely suggest getting there early to avoid crowds! Be sure to check their website for the most updated information before planning your trip.
We suggest setting aside about 1.5 hours to wander around – more if you want to take a picnic and enjoy a lunch or snack with ocean views.
Day passes and annual passes are available at the garden’s office located by the parking lot. When we visited, tickets were around $30 and they offered Kama’aina (Hawaii resident), military, and student discounts. They also have a nice little souvenir shop in the same building.
For the most updated fees, check their website to plan your visit today!
Helpful Tips for the Hawaii Gardens
- There is a steep boardwalk at the beginning of the garden trail that leads down into the valley. This is not wheelchair or walker accessible.
- Follow the route laid out on your map! This will help you make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Don’t forget to look up! Some of the best views of the garden are found when you look toward the (usually covered) sky.
- Between the warm weather and the incline, you’ll likely break a sweat on the way back up. Just be sure you are up for it before heading in!
Highlights of the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden
There are many great stops along this beautiful winding garden trail – including a birdhouse and relaxing lake. But, these are our favorites!
Boardwalk & Palm Jungle
After parking, getting your tickets, and crossing the road to the entry of the gardens, you are immediately immersed in this lush destination. Palm trees fill your view of the sky and pops of color begin to appear at every turn.
As the boardwalk comes to an end, you reach an area called the ‘Palm Jungle.’ This is definitely an area you need to make sure you look up in. The towering palm trees provide a great shaded area to look at some of the colorful flowers they have uniquely grown around the trees.
Don’t miss this beautiful waterfall as you wander through the garden. There is a nice little viewing platform to admire and take photos of this three-tiered waterfall. It is definitely one of the must-sees of the garden.
We had spent so much time looking up the plants we could see in the garden, we hadn’t even realized we would be treated to such exquisite ocean views! It was lovely to take in the cool breeze and watch the waves as we cooled down from our walk.
The trail to the Pacific Coast passes by coconut and Monkeypod Trees, some of which are over 100 years old!
See ALLLLLL the Flowers!
In addition to the dedicated areas for orchids, bromeliads, and other plant types, there are thousands of species to keep an eye out for as you wander. You can see ginger, the unique Heliconia, Spider Lily, Jackfruit, Hibiscus, Coffee, and so many other flowers, fruits, and other plants.
Maybe even try counting how many different kinds you can spot. Just don’t be surprised if you lose count!
Want More Ocean Views?
After your garden explorations, consider taking the short Onomea Trail down to enjoy the beautiful beach next to the garden. You’ll likely see others fishing, picnicking, swimming, or just lounging and taking in the views. It is stunning here!
Bonus: Where to Stay & What to Do Nearby!
Once you are finished exploring the garden and beach, you may want a cold treat. Luckily, there are popsicles at the gift shop, and there’s a small smoothie and sandwich shop if you continue north up the road.
But our FAVORITE and least expensive spot is Alii Ice in Hilo’s Liliʻuokalani Park. They have the best fresh fruit popsicles and ice cream we’ve ever tried! And we try a lot. We highly recommend a stop there if you are headed back toward Hilo.
For an affordable oceanfront option in Hilo, we definitely recommend the Grand Naniloa by Hilton (read our full review). This is the perfect base for exploring Hilo and beyond. Definitely try to make it over to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and a trip up Mauna Kea (with a tour if you are renting a car) is well worth it as well.
Read this article I wrote for Fodor’s for a list of more of our top picks near Hilo!
We’re so glad one determined couple had the vision to turn an impenetrable jungle into such a special place. If you are visiting the Hilo side of the Big Island, be sure to add the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to your itinerary!
Special thanks to Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden for hosting us on this visit. As always, all opinions are our own.