Recently, on a day off, my kids asked to go on a hike. Having lived here all my life, for some reason, I have never visited the Lyon Arboretum in Manoa. It was the first time visiting for all of us. It’s a wonderful hike if you have elementary and middle school children. There is an app with an audio tour and information about the various gardens and trails. There are also signs that give valuable information on the various plants. They even mark the ones that are endangered. The kids love to follow the map, identifying the markers along the main trail up to the ‘Aihualama Falls. Here’s some information about the arboretum to help prepare you for this fun educational field trip.
Where is it?
The arboretum is hiding behind Treetops Restaurant at Paradise Park. Just drive past the Mānoa Falls parking lot and trailhead. At first it doesn’t look like there is anything beyond the Mānoa Falls parking lot as the road starts to narrow, but keep going and soon you will see the parking lot for the Lyon Arboretum visitors. You can get driving directions and transit options on their website.
“In 1919, HSPA(Hawai’i Sugar Plantation Association) purchased 124 acres in upper Mānoa to serve as a test site to evaluate trees that could be used for reforestation throughout the islands, and to test sugarcane seedlings. The test site became the basis of the Manoa Arboretum. Planting began in 1920, and was essentially completed by 1945. In the late 1940’s HSPA had achieved their reforestation research objectives and no longer needed the site. Dr. Lyon strongly believed that Hawai‘i needed a botanical garden and saw this as an opportunity for the state of Hawai`i. In 1953 the Board of Regents of the University of Hawai‘i accepted the land from HSPA for fee of $1.00. The deed stipulated that the University ‘…use, maintain and preserve the granted premises as an arboretum and botanical garden only.’ Lyon used his own money to fund Arboretum operations. When Dr. Lyon died in 1957, he left part of his estate in trust, to help fund the Arboretum in perpetuity. Seven days later, the University of Hawai`i Board of Regents renamed the Manoa Arboretum the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum. A plaque located along the main trail commemorates the many contributions of Dr. Lyon.” (Lyon Arboretum website)
Before you go
First, check out their website – it has a huge wealth of information. Everything from the history, visiting hours, tour times, calendar of events, information about research, how to volunteer, safety guides, and more. They offer events such as Mindful Hike and Yoga, Botanical Jewelry Workshop, and Plant Sales.
Download the Lyon Arboretum app. The app has an audio tour that you and your kids can play while exploring the gardens. The audio tour is a great way to learn about Hawaiian history and the indigenous plants, as well as, their usefulness and importance to the environment.
What to expect
Once you get there, you will see the visitors center. A volunteer is there to greet you. There is a place to sign in and a donation box ($5 recommended). Free maps are available and you can buy snacks, water, souvenirs, seeds, plants, and handcrafted items. If it’s rainy, there are umbrellas for visitors to borrow.
Daily guided one-hour tours are offered Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. for $10 per person. Space is limited, so it is recommended that you call 24 hours in advance to reserve a space. Walk-ins are accommodated if there are spaces available.
My boys and I wandered around some of the various gardens before heading onto the main trial toward the ‘Aihualama Falls. The trail is safe for most children. We saw children as young as about 5 years old on the trail. It took us about 45 minutes to leisurely get to the falls. Mānoa is typically damp and prone to mosquitoes, so applying some sort of repellant and sunscreen is recommended.
A little less than half way up the main trail is the Hawaiian Section – a large area consisting entirely of native Hawaiian plants. This also, served as a nice spot to rest and drink some water before continuing on to the falls.
Be sure to bring your camera, if you’re like me, you’ll want to take photos of the many plants every 2 to 3 feet!
When we got up to the falls, it was pretty dry. You’ll be able to view a photo-perfect waterfall if you go right after a recent rainfall.
When I asked my kids (Gavin, 11 and Cameron, 9) for feedback, here’s how it went.
Me: Gavin, how did you like the arboretum?
Gavin: It was fun.
Me: Cameron, would you go again?
So, there you have it, simply stated.