Lyon Arboretum Trail to Aihualama Falls: Native Plants, A Buddha, and a Haunted Seismograph Station

The popular Manoa Falls gets a lot of foot traffic from ecotours, tourists, and locals hiking in and out on a daily basis. Not too many people pay attention to another trail and waterfall that exists near the popular Manoa Falls trailhead. It’s called Aihualama Falls and the trailhead to this particular waterfall is just beyond the trailhead to Manoa Falls. Aihualama Falls is actually the end point of the Lyon Arboretum Trail, a living and breathing tropical rainforest and research unit of the University of Hawaii that falls administratively under the College of Natural Sciences.

Welcome to the University of Hawaii Lyon Arboretum. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Red Ohia Lehua. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Yellow Ohia Lehua. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is a Shama Thrush, one of the bird species that you’ll spot at the Lyon Arboretum. Photos by Joel Sabugo.

The Lyon Arboretum exists today as a memorial to Harold Llyod Lyon, an American botanist who was born and raised in Minnesota. Lyon moved to Hawaii in 1907 to work as a plant pathologist for the Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA). He later would become the head of the Department of Botany and Forestation for the Territory of Hawaii. Lyon would go on to conduct water conservation and reforestation projects throughout the Manoa area. For over thirty years, he tirelessly experimented with different plants trying to find ones that were suitable for reforestation. By the 1940’s, sugar cane cultivation was being phased out in Manoa and by 1953, the University of Hawaii at Manoa acquired the lands to the arboretum as a gift from the HSPA. The only condition to this gift was the the university must “maintain and preserve the granted premises as an arboretum and botanical garden only.”

To get to the Lyon Arboretum, you will drive pass the Manoa Falls parking lot and drive toward the Manoa Falls trailhead. You will eventually reach a fork in the road that allows you to go straight (that will lead you to the Manoa Falls trailhead) or left. Follow the road left, passing the Lyon Arboretum entrance sign. Continue to follow this road and eventually you will reach the Arboretum parking lot (only to be used for Arboretum visitors). Once there, be sure to stop by the Visitor Center where you will check in and make an optional donation to the Arboretum. The suggested donation is $5 per person. The staff will also provide you with a helpful map of the Arboretum grounds. Or, you can download it here and upload it to your iPad, iPhone, or print it out to bring along with you.

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Hale Halawai near the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Native Hawaiians would do their thing in hale’s just like this one. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The great thing about the Lyon Arboretum is that many of the flora are labeled for your education [1]. Suddenly, all of these great plants have names. You’ll get your first taste of this as you work your way through the Great Lawn and then to the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden featuring plants often used in Hawaiian culture. In this garden there will be a large replica of a Hawaiian hale, Hale Halawai.

Pass the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden, you will make your way toward the main trail. Now is a good time to note that the Lyon Arboretum Trail consists of a main trail and handful of secondary and garden trails. You could easily spend a few hours meandering through the many secondary trails here.

You will notice memorial benches like this one throughout the arboretum. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I found this memorial bench intriguing. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

While on the main trail, hook a left near marker 1Q to visit a collection of impressive Royal Palms, in fact, the Lyon Arboretum has one of the largest palm collections in the world. We got a little bit lost on this secondary trail, making it all the way to marker 2B. Fortunately, we found our way back to the main trail and then to the Hawaiian Section. This particular garden features a collection of plants that are native to Hawaii. A lot of indigenous plants are located in this particular garden.

Just beyond the Hawaiian Section you will find the Economic Section, featuring plants of economic importance to the islands. If they are in season, you should see guava, star fruit, and durian. This is also where you’ll probably get your first peak at Aihualama Stream.

Siamese Rose Ginger (Etlingera corneri). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Flora. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Heliconia psitticorum. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Indigenous Nesoluma polynesicum (Keahi). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I love to photograph steps. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Inside of the Haunted Seismograph Station. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Continuing on the main trail, you will notice that just before the falls you will pass an old building. This old concrete building on your left is the remnants of an old seismograph station. According to the Lyon Arboretum informational map, this seismographic station is “currently” haunted. Fortunately for us, we did not catch a glimpse of its inhabitants. I can tell you, though, that the old seismograph station is very creepy!

Pass the abandoned seismograph station, to your right, will be an old watertank next to an old wooden shed. Don’t spend too much time there because the highlight is just a few feet ahead of you.

Aihualama Falls is often dry. However, it was raining the night before we did this hike and so we thought we would check it out. Luckily, it was somewhat flowing for us. It looked reasonably similar to the amount of flow you would typically see at Manoa Falls.

Aihualama Falls straight on. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A full length view of Aihulama Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Aihualama Falls from the right. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Aihualama Falls from the left. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Before leaving, don’t forget to stop by and pay a visit to the Sukhothai Walking Buddha. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Sukhothai Walking Buddha. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

There’s lots to see on the Lyon Arboretum Trail. It’s definitely not an “extreme” waterfall hike, instead, it’s a leisurely one with high educational value. I had an amazingly fun time exploring the various secondary trails and garden trails. It’s great to find a really interesting plant and then have signage telling you exactly what that plant is. I’d definitely suggest this trail to anyone remotely interested in Hawaii flora.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo.

Costus woodsonii (Red Button Ginger). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Water Iris. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Heliconia Psitticorum (Parrot’s Beak Heliconia). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The door to the Haunted Seismograph Station. It looks creepy and it was creepy. I was a bit apprehensive so I told Joel to open the door! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel checking out the inside of the Haunted Seismograph Station. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Steps that will lead you to the Rain Shelter & Sukhothai Walking Buddha. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Zingiber spectabile (Zingiberaceae) or Beehive ginger. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel peeking at the Sukhothai Walking Buddha. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Time: We spent about 2.5 hours meandering through the Lyon Arboretum Trail. However, if it’s just Aihualama Falls that you want to see then it will likely take you between 25 minutes to 45 minutes if you stayed strictly on the main trail.

Lyon Arboretum Trail + Aihulama Falls Tips:

  • Bring mosquito repellent. There are tons of mosquitos lingering near the falls.
  • Be sure to grab a map of the Arboretum grounds at the visitor center. The Arboretum is located on 194 acres of land. To say you could get lost is an understatement. You can also download the map here.
  • This is an awesome hike to bring the keiki on.
  • This can be a short in and out waterfall hike, or a long one with high educational value. You choose!

Directions to the Lyon Arboretum: If heading east on H1, you will take the Exit 23 (Punahou) or if heading west on H1 you will take the Exit 24 (Wilder). Continue on Wilder to the third light and take a right on Punahou. Continue up Punahou, toward the mountains. Punahou turns in Manoa road by staying left at the fork in the road. You will soon come to a five way intersection. Stay on Manoa road. Manoa Road continues into the back of Manoa Valley and ends at Paradise Park. Follow the road pass the Manoa Falls parking lot (where they charge $5 for parking) and continue to drive toward the Manoa Falls trailhead. At the fork, you will turn left and you will see the sign indicated the entrance to the Lyon Arboretum. Follow the road and eventually you will see an obvious parking lot to your right just before the visitor center. Once parked, be sure to check in at the Visitor Center.


1. Although many of the plants had identification signs, there were many that did not have signage. Many thanks to Vanassa M. for identifying many of the plants in this post!

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

5 comments

  1. Always wondered what was in there. Thanks for the wonderful photos and handy write up.
    All be sure to check this one out sometime; especially after a good rain. (:

    • You’re welcome, Punynari! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 It’s a great place to get lost in, you could wander around for hours. I’ve heard that it’s rare for Aihualama to have a nice flow, its one that has to be seen during a good rain!

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