COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.
By Liz Potasek
Instead of sending my kids back to school this week, I’ve gained the title of “learning coach.” My husband, mom and I will team up to guide my three kids (ages 3, 7 and 8) through an online curriculum offered by our school district. Even though it’s not much of a comfort, I know we’re not alone as families around the world attempt to grapple with the rapidly changing nature of education during a pandemic.
One thing I’m grateful for: The Arboretum. Our education team has put together a stellar line-up of virtual activities and lessons, and when we need a break from the confines of home, booking a reservation provides us hours of outdoor exploration as we enjoy the trails, gardens, exhibits and art throughout the Arb’s 1,200 acres of grounds.
Although two of our favorite places to explore — the Maze Garden and the Marion Andrus Learning Center — are closed, we’ve found plenty of other options to keep us busy. The guide below is designed to highlight some of our favorite spots for learning and playing at the Arb.
A few notes:
– Even if you don’t plan a long hike, there’s a lot of walking to navigate the grounds. Bring a stroller or wagon for little ones.
– Water bottles and snacks are also good ideas — although you can find both for sale in the Gift & Garden Store in the Oswald Visitor Center. (The Gift & Garden Store also has a delightful selection of candy, children’s toys and beautiful children’s books.)
– Masks for the family are necessary, especially if you’ll need to use bathroom facilities at some point on the trip. Everyone over the age of 2 needs to wear a mask in buildings at the Arboretum. Mask wearing is encouraged outdoors, especially in areas where it’s difficult to physically distance from other people.
-Bathrooms are available in the Oswald Visitor Center, lower level of the Red Barn at Farm at the Arb, Prairie Garden parking lot, Sensory Garden parking lot, and after the Maze Garden along Three-Mile Walk.
– Depending on the day and the area you want to explore, sunscreen and bug spray are also helpful.
Now that we’ve got our masks, snacks and water, it’s time to explore. Before leaving the Oswald Visitor Center, pick up the Butterfly Checklist and Bird Checklist brochures. Watch for the butterflies and birds on the list, and make sure to check off the ones you spot!
Main entrance: 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska
Everyone needs a reservation to visit the Arboretum. Members can get free reservations, and visitors 16 and older pay $15 for reservations. Reservations for children 15 and under are free.
This hill, which is near the main parking lots, gets its name from the scarecrows that decorate it each fall. It’s also home to the YouBetcha! stick sculpture. Over the next few weeks, you’ll find a pumpkin house, scarecrows and other fall decor on the hill, making it a great place to explore and take photos.
Azalea Garden, Hosta Glade & Japanese Garden
This short loop of gardens is near our main buildings. The Azalea Garden has a koi pond with a waterfall, so make sure to stop and count the fish. In the Japanese Garden, there’s another waterfall. See if you can spot the stone fish in the waterfall and on turtle island, and take a seat in the tea house.
This garden is also near the main buildings, and it’s one place where it’s okay to touch the plants. Gently rub their leaves and notice the scent and texture of each plant. Read the signs to learn about how the plants can be used.
This garden is designed to appeal to all five senses. While you’re there, make sure to check out the carnivorous plants between the Sensory Garden parking lot and the Iris Garden. There’s a bathroom available in the Sensory Garden parking lot.
Getting there: If you’re driving Three-Mile Drive, the Sensory Garden parking lot is the last place to stop before returning to the main parking lot.
Whether you plop them in a stroller or wagon and cruise your way through the walk, or find ways to cajole little legs along, Three-Mile Walk is entertaining for the variety of things to see along the way. Many of the suggestions below are also stops along this walk. Note: Since we’ve got some young walkers in our crew, the last time our family did the walk, the kids averaged one snack per mile to keep everyone cheerful. Plan your snack rations accordingly.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk starts in the Sensory Garden.
Many of the stops below can be accessed along Three-Mile Drive, too. You can plan on driving in a car or bring your bikes and enjoy the drive’s hilly terrain.
Getting there: After you’ve checked in at the gatehouse, continue driving straight past the parking lot and follow the signs for Three-Mile Drive.
Shade Tree Exhibit
Children are always attracted to the collection of small play houses in the Shade Tree Exhibit. There’s also a tree house, and plenty of signs to read describing the different trees. Sit under each tree, and decide which one provides the ideal amount of shade. This is also a great spot for a family picnic.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk goes right through the Shade Tree Exhibit, and there’s also a parking lot for the exhibit on Three-Mile Drive.
Prairie Garden & Bennett-Johnson Prairie
Look for monarchs and other butterflies, as well as other pollinators in the Prairie Garden. If you walk through the garden and cross Three-Mile Drive, you can enter the Bennett-Johnson Prairie. Explore the series of mowed trails throughout the Prairie and get lost in the tall grasses and blooming Goldenrod. There’s a bathroom available in the Prairie Garden parking lot.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk goes by the Prairie Garden before it makes a sharp left into the Garden for Wildlife. There’s also a parking lot for the Prairie Garden off Three-Mile Drive.
There are so many cute little apples on the trees (and ground) this time of year! Check out all the different colors and sizes.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk goes right through the Crabapple Collection, and there’s a parking lot for the collection off Three-Mile Drive.
Make up stories to go with each of the sculptures, which were made by artists from around the world. Trek all the way up the hill to High Point, and enjoy the sweeping views.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk will lead you there, and there’s a parking lot off Three-Mile Drive.
Pine Tree Exhibit
Find Minnesota’s state tree, the Red Pine, search for pine cones and notice the different sizes and shapes of these evergreen trees.
Getting there: Three-Mile Walk goes right through the Pine Collection, and there’s a parking lot off Three-Mile Drive.
The Hedge Collection is typically a quiet place, but the rows of neatly trimmed hedges of various sizes are just begging to be played in. This is the perfect backdrop for a game of tag or hide-and-seek.
Getting there: There’s a parking lot at the intersection of Three-Mile Drive and Eastern Drive, which leads to the Farm at the Arb.
Learn about fruit that can be grown in Minnesota, and find apple trees representing University of Minnesota apple introductions. Count the butterflies in the Garden for Pollinators outside the Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center (which is currently closed to visitors). There’s plenty of open spaces to run, a shaded picnic area and bathrooms in the basement of the Red Barn.
Getting there: From Three-Mile Drive, turn right onto Eastern Drive at the intersection near the Hedge Collection.
Ornamental Grass Collection
Another great place for tag or hide-and-seek, the grass collection features more than 200 varieties of ornamental grass.
Getting there: The Ornamental Grass Collection is just off Three-Mile Walk up the hill from the Gift Bricks near the Maze Garden. There’s also a parking lot for the collection off Three-Mile Drive.
Take the boardwalk across Green Heron Pond. Depending on the season, you might find herons, dragonflies, orchids and tamaracks. Right now the Pink Turtlehead flowers are in bloom, and you might spy some migrating birds.
Getting there: The Bog Walk is toward the end of Three-Mile Walk.
Members with a dog-added membership can bring their pup to the Dog Commons, a set of on-leash dog trails.
Getting there: Dog Commons is near the overflow parking on the top of the hill behind on the Marion Andrus Learning Center.
In the Arboretum, but off the main grounds
You don’t need reservations to visit these locations at the Arboretum.
Spring Peeper Meadow
105 W. 82nd St., Chaska
Follow a looping trail that features 12 interpretive signs explaining how this wetland has been restored. The trail swings through a prairie, down into a wet meadow and across a marsh on a boardwalk. It’s a great place to observe wildlife.
Getting there: Heading east on Minnesota Hwy, 5 from the Arboretum entrance, turn right (south) on Hwy. 41. Take a right on West 82nd Street. There’s a parking lot for the Spring Peeper Meadow on the right side of West 82nd St.
400 Arboretum Blvd., Victoria
Pack a picnic and enjoy a beautiful view of Lake Tamarack. Walk the mowed trails through the prairie and woods and watch for birds.
Getting there: Travelling west on Minnesota Hwy. 5, visitors can access Lake Tamarack through an unmarked gravel road. Take the first right after Minnewashta Parkway. You’ll cross the bike trail that parallels Hwy. 5 and continue on a gravel road that travels between two old buildings—the building on the left has a Barn Quilt. If you see signs for the Horticultural Research Center or you get to Rolling Acres Road, you’ve gone too far.
7485 Rolling Acres Rd., Victoria
The AppleHouse features a variety of fresh apples, delicious apple treats and fall decor. Later in the season, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds. New this year: North Star Donuts is selling apple cider mini donuts and apple cider slushies on Thursdays through Sundays. The Peace Coffee truck is also parked outside on select days. Call the apple hotline 612-301-3487 for the latest information on what’s in season.
Getting there: Going west on Minnesota Hwy. 5, the AppleHouse is 1.5 miles past the Arboretum entrance, on the right at the intersection of Hwy. 5 and Rolling Acres Rd.
You don’t even need to leave your house for these options!
Peapods for Preschoolers: Fall Activity Kit To-Go
PeaPods Fall Activity Kits To-Go are available for order for ages 3 – 5, together with an adult! There are multiple weeks worth of the wonder and excitement in a handy to-go box, filled with crafts, seeds, bulbs and potting materials, books, recipes, songs and more. These all-inclusive boxed activity kits allow you to explore science, nature and the arts with fun themes and a variety of self-guided hands-on activities. Kits must be pre-ordered, and quantities are limited! Pickup at the Arboretum September 22 or 23, or get the kit mailed to you for an additional $15.
Kids Activities on Nature Notes blog
Find inspiration for playing in nature with this weekly series of activities and crafts.
Nature Journal Academy Series
Nature Journal Academy is a new series of 4 sessions (Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec.) specially created for safe learning adventures for Fall 2020. Kids ages 5-12 will join Reba Luiken, your Arboretum instructor, for scientific and artistic discoveries inspired by nature. Sessions engage kids (together with an adult) in active learning and outdoor exploration, and include pre-class outdoor activities, a live Zoom program, and after-class activities to continue the learning. Each session can be taken individually, or combined as a series. A great opportunity for homeschoolers or families to integrate art, science and language arts skills with nearby nature. Each session is $20/family, take $5 off each session when 3 of more sessions are purchased.
Storytime in the Library
To keep everyone safe, Lee Anne Laskey (from the Andersen Horticultural Library) will continue to read to us from home and the recording will be available each Thursday morning until the next one is posted.
Check out our Children at the Arb page to keep up-to-date with all of our kid-friendly activities.