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4 Gorgeous Hawaii Botanical Gardens on Oahu (with map)

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Beautiful botanical gardens on Oahu

Oahu, Hawaii’s third largest island and home to the capital city of Honolulu, is a stunning destination teeming with unique flora and fauna. Hawaii’s botanical gardens on Oahu provide a feast for the senses – you’ll be drinking in the views and aromas of some of the rarest, most spectacular plants in the world! Oahu has the most vegetation of any of the Hawaiian Islands, claiming over 130,000 acres of forested land.

The striking Koolau mountain range runs along Oahu’s rugged eastern coast for 37 miles (60 km) and welcomes over 18 inches of precipitation every year. If you’re visiting the windward shore, be prepared for sudden showers! The climate generally balances at a balmy 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit, although in the winter, the temperature tends to drop to around 68 – 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Together, let’s explore these incredible botanical gardens on Oahu.

Map of botanical gardens on Oahu
Map of botanical gardens on Oahu

When you’re planning your day trips, take a look at the map and add one of these beautiful botanical gardens on Oahu to your daily itinerary.

1. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

The small lake inside Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden protects the Kaneohe area of Oahu from floods
The small lake inside Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden protects the Kaneohe area of Oahu from floods
See my photos from Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden

Nestled at the base of the Koolau mountains on the windward side of Oahu, you’ll find the breathtaking Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden. Located in Kāneʻohe and subject to constant rainfall, this garden provides a variety of activities and awe-inspiring views. The origin story of the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden is fascinating. To protect Kāneʻohe from floods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned and constructed one of the best botanical gardens of Oahu. The 400 acres (about the size of 300 football fields) of stunning landscape opened to the public in 1982, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. The garden boasts camping, hiking trails, and a 32-acre man-made lake, the Loko Waimaluhia.

Beautiful flowers at Hawaii botanical garden on Oahu
Beautiful flowers at Hawaii botanical garden on Oahu
See my photos from Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden

This Hawaiian botanical garden on Oahu is a rainforest garden, showcasing lush plants from other tropical areas such as Africa, India, Siri Lanka, and the Philippines. Of course, the main attractions are the magnificent vegetation of Polynesia and Hawaii, including the iconic hibiscus flower and other multicolored blooms.

Plan Your Trip to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

Read the official website for Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden and examine the detailed map to get oriented before visiting. Since the main road is very short, you can drive it in less than 30 minutes. However, there are several walking paths that will enable you to walk through each section of the garden.

You can also walk the main trail, the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Trail, for up-close encounters with a new discovery around every bend. This trail is partially paved and relatively short (only 4 miles out and back), making it stroller-accessible and child-friendly, but be sure to bring sturdy shoes to withstand any mud or puddles if the weather has been wet. The pleasant atmosphere combined with the abundance of activities might prompt you to make this an all-day (or even a weekend) trip.

There are multiple clean and well-kept campgrounds for a family weekend if the garden allures you to stay longer. If you’d like to see the unique Hawaiian fish up close, you can borrow a bamboo fishing pole from the visitors’ center and go fishing on the lake. Two of the most common types of fish are the silvery Tilapia and the sunset orange Midas Cichlid.

2. Manoa Valley

Beautiful flowers in Manoa Valley
Beautiful flowers in Manoa Valley
See my photos from Manoa Valley

Next, let’s venture into Manoa Valley, a residential area of Honolulu and the location of the first coffee plantation in Hawaii. The valley is subject to daily rainfall, and as a result, you’ll probably see brilliantly prismatic rainbows arching across the sky.

Manoa Falls

Viewpoint overlooking both the upper and lower Manoa Falls
Viewpoint overlooking both the upper and lower Manoa Falls
See my photos from Manoa Valley

Of all the gorgeous sites in Manoa Valley, the best-loved is Manoa Falls. The spectacular 150-foot waterfall is the climax of an easy, 1.6-mile hike, perfect for families with children. The trail winds through a lush tropical forest with a thick bamboo canopy, and the scenery along the way is no less magnificent than the destination. Due to the tropical climate, the trail tends to be muddy, and you’ll need to wear plenty of insect repellent to guard against mosquitoes. Because the hike is so popular, having been featured in Jurassic Park, Lost, and multiple other television shows, I would go as early as possible to avoid the crowds. The Manoa Falls trail is also reputed to be the stomping grounds of a group of ghostly Night Warriors… so keep your eyes peeled for the evasive spooks. If you’re looking for additional activity, try exploring one of the 17 similar trails in the area.

Lyon Arboretum

Kayaking along the shore is one of the fun things to do in La Jolla
The rich vegetation at Lyon Arboretum marks the beginning of the Manoa Falls Trail
See my photos from Manoa Valley

Located right next to the Manoa Falls trail is the Lyon Arboretum, one of the best botanical gardens on Oahu. The arboretum boasts nearly 200 acres (about 150 football fields) of verdant vegetation, over 5,000 remarkable plants, tropical birds (such as crested cockatoos and Australian parrots), and various small trails branching off the main path. The beautifully maintained gardens and walking trails now belong to the University of Hawaii, although the founder, Dr. Harold L. Lyon, was a botanist from Minnesota! The fascinating spectrum of native plants provides hours of exploration for a self-guided tour, and for a more in-depth look at the gorgeous flora, you can also reserve a spot in a guided group tour.

Plan Your Trip to Manoa Valley

Don’t forget to visit Manoa’s favorite coffee shop, Morning Glass Coffee, to fuel up for a day of exploring the Hawaiian botanical gardens in this area of Oahu.

Arrive early at the Manoa Falls Trailhead and wear appropriate shoes with good grip as the trail is often wet. Be prepared for short showers and a muddy trail. However, the rain is warm, so it’s ok to actually get wet.

If you have extra time, drive up the road from the trailhead and park at the Lyon Arboretum and take a walk on their walking paths.

3. Waimea Valley Botanical Garden

Lush tropical vegetation at Waimea Valley
Lush tropical vegetation at Waimea Valley
See my photos from Waimea Valley

Off the Kamehameha Highway Hawaii’s North Shore, you’ll find Waimea Valley, another one of the best botanical gardens in Oahu. Situated near Waimea Bay’s world-famous surfing beach, the valley enjoys the perfect tropical temperature at around 70 – 78 degrees Farenheit. Waimea Falls Park was created in 1970 and the gorgeous botanical gardens were added in 1973. Waimea Valley is currently maintained by the nonprofit organization Hi‘ipaka LLC, which shares its beauty and cultural significance with Oahu’s visitors. The arboretum features well-kept hikes, multiple ancient Hawaiian sites, and a majestic waterfall, which is a popular wedding venue.

The 0.75-mile path to the stunning 40-foot waterfall is paved, thereby providing full access to the serene destination. Be sure to bring a swimsuit and towel for a refreshing dip in the falls, with life jackets provided by the staff. Vibrant vegetation native to Hawaii lines the walk, making the journey just as pleasant as the goal. If you’d prefer to avoid the short trek, take a golf cart up to the falls instead. If you favor unpaved hikes, you can venture onto one of the smaller trails that branch off the main road. The arboretum also showcases multiple gardens that display rare blooms from Hawaii as well as from other tropical islands, such as Madagascar and Guam. To avoid the crowds at this popular Hawaiian botanical garden, try to explore earlier in the morning.

Waimea Valley is a favorite among botanical gardens on Oahu
Waimea Falls seen from the pathway
See my photos from Waimea Valley

Years before Europeans colonized Oahu, Waimea Valley was a flourishing farming community, harvesting crops such as bananas and sweet potatoes. Many structures from the monarchy still exist, such as the Kpopolo Heiau, a temple near the outer entrance to the valley. Don’t forget to take a look at this and other cultural sites when you visit Waimea Valley.

Plan Your Trip to Waimea Valley Botanical Garden

Take Waimea Valley Road from Kamehameha Highway and follow the winding road for a few minutes until you get to the parking lot for the Waimea Valley Botanical Garden parking lot.

4. Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Large Plumeria trees in full bloom at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Large Plumeria trees in full bloom at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden
See my photos from Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Finally, let’s explore the Koko Crater Botanical Garden. Situated on the south eastern side of Oahu, the fabulous gardens are hidden within the 200-acre Koko Crater. This is one of many similar formations such as the Diamond Head crater that appeared as vents of the Ko’olau Volcano innumerable years ago. Now, the volcano lies dormant, and the fertile soil provides the perfect environment for verdant flora. Unlike most of Oahu, this area is generally dry with consistent bright sunshine, so don’t forget to bring sunscreen and a large water bottle.

This Hawaiian botanical garden on Oahu was founded in 1958 as part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens (which also includes the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.) It displays 60 acres (about 30 city blocks) of unique plant specimens, including plumerias, baobabs, and bougainvillea. A child-friendly 2-mile loop meanders through plots displaying various types of desert plants native to Hawaii, Africa, Madagascar, and the Americas. The incredible plumeria gardens are undoubtedly the best-loved areas, in full bloom in June and July. The plumerias range in color from brilliant magenta to fiery yellow edged with orange to gentle white with rosy centers.

Plan Your Trip To Koko Crater Botanical Garden

Arrive early to escape the midday heat and grab the self-tour map to enjoy learning about all the magnificent blossoms along the way. While the trail isn’t strenuous, bringing appropriate footwear is a must for the best experience on the rugged terrain. Generally, expect the entire journey to take about 1.5 hours. There are two bathrooms and a few picnic tables scattered across the area so that you can enjoy a nourishing meal among the rare vegetation.

If you’re planning to spend the day at the famous Hanauma Bay beach, make sure you include a short walk through Koko Crater Botanical Garden, as it is close by.

Is it Worth Visiting Botanical Gardens on Oahu?

Absolutely! Including a visit to some of these beautiful botanical gardens on Oahu will enrich your experience of Hawaii and in particular the island of Oahu. The trees and plants of Oahu are beautiful, diverse and very colorful and they are definitely part of Oahu identity.

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