How to Explore the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum with Kids

child and mother playing in the crabapple trees at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Did you know the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is always free for ages 15 and younger?

That alone makes it a great destination for families, but the Arb is also an incredible outdoor getaway that’s full of whimsy and delight for little ones, visit after visit.

Outside the Pollinator Discovery Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center, MN USA – MSR Design

With 1,200 acres to explore, there’s a lot to discover. Here’s your guide for how to “do the Arb” as a family!

Click here for tickets.

Sarah Jackson is a media specialist at the Arboretum. She lives and gardens with her son in Minnetonka. Learn more at arb.umn.edu.

Where to start at the Arboretum

Kids out the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum at a fountain

  • Oswald Visitor Center: This large and eco-friendly hub of activity is a great place to start when you arrive or to visit when you’re about to head out. Get a free map, use the restrooms and even shop the Gift & Garden Store for puzzles, children’s books and more. Also inside this building, you’ll find art galleries and a newly refreshed cafe, The Eatery at the Arboretum, featuring kid-friendly snacks, salads, sandwiches and hot, sit-down meals, plus sweet treats. You can dine indoors at many tables or head out to the patio. (Got a picky eater? Feel free to bring your own food to the Arboretum — there’s plenty of picturesque places for a picnic!)

  • Snyder Building: Connected to the Oswald Visitor Center by a long, light-filled skyway, this building dates back to earlier days at the Arb and includes a stunning conservatory that features blooming plants year-round, plus a gorgeous library with StoryTimes on the last Friday of each month.

  • The Andersen Horticultural Library: Inside the Snyder building, this is a great place to cool off in the summer or warm up in the winter with one of the best children’s sections, including color-coded educational themes marked on each book. When you’re in the library, be sure to ask for free coloring pages and bookmarks.

Rose Walk at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Click Here for Admission Tickets. Only for those 16 and older.

See the Gardens

  • Woodland Azalea Garden, Hosta Glade & Japanese Garden: Just steps from the Oswald Visitor Center, this short loop of gardens is always worth a quick walk no matter what’s in bloom. The Woodland Azalea Garden has a koi pond with a waterfall, so the kids can stop and count the fish. The Hosta Glade will show you all the different varieties you can grow in your home landscape. In the Japanese Garden, there’s another waterfall. See if you can spot the stone fish in the waterfall and on turtle island. Then take a seat in the tea house for a silent, meditative moment — if the kids allow it!

  • Herb Garden: Also near the visitor center, this is one place where it’s OK 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.

  • Sensory Garden: This garden is designed to appeal to all five senses and many of the raised beds are at eye level for kids for an immersive experience, as well as accessibility for those in wheelchairs. Hidden gem: Check out the carnivorous plants between the Sensory Garden parking lot and the Iris Garden. Restrooms are available here as well.

Minnesoat Landscape Arboretum Sensory GardenExplore

  • Three-Mile Drive: Once you’ve got the lay of the land near the visitor center, you may want to see even more of the Arb — and this one-way vehicle/bike-only route (open year round) is always a good bet. You can even drive it a few times and see different things along the way each time. Many cool attractions can be accessed along this meandering, picturesque and sometimes hilly drive. Park at various sites along the drive to get out to take short walks. Getting there: Head west by car from the Annual Garden by driving past the Home Demonstration Garden and toward Beren’s Cabin and you’ll be on your way.

  • Three-Mile Walk: Immerse yourself (on foot or in a stroller) in the Arb and see many attractions along the way on this two-way, accessible, car-free route that is mostly paved, but includes some gravel and cobblestone walkways. Plop the kids in a stroller or wagon and cruise your way through the walk, or find ways to cajole little legs along — or both! Plan for about one snack per mile to keep everyone cheerful. Getting there: Park in the Sensory Garden and head out into the Dayton Wildflower Garden or set out from the Ordway Picnic Shelter across the street.

  • Eastern Drive: Take this spur drive, which is also the vehicle route to the Farm at the Arb, by hanging a right when you arrive at the Hedge Collection on Three-Mile Drive. You’ll feel like you’re in the country (and may even spot a turkey or two or other birds) and you can explore veggie and farm plantings, as well as the Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center, when you arrive at the Farm at the Arb.

  • Wood Duck Pond: Access this 1-mile loop hike at the eastern trailhead behind the Japanese Garden or from a western starting point just past the Marion Andrus Learning Center, which includes a green play yard that encourages kids to play with natural materials, including water, sticks, logs and sand.

  • Green Heron Pond: Explore this picturesque pond by using multiple access points to Green Heron Trail (a 1.2-mile loop) near the Oswald Visitor Center or along Three-Mile Walk.

Tulips at Minnesota Landscape ArboretumDestinations to visit at the Arboretum

  • Shade Tree Exhibit: Children are always attracted to the collection of small play houses in the Shade Tree Exhibit. There are 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.

  • Crabapple Collection: There are so many cute little apples on the trees (and ground) this time of year! Look for a bloom period in late May or early June for some of the best photo ops around! Getting there: Three-Mile Walk goes right through the Crabapple Collection, and there’s a parking lot for the collection off Three-Mile Drive.

  • Harrison Sculpture Garden: 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.

  • Hedge Collection: This 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.
    Farm at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

  • Farm at the Arb: Learn about fruit that can be grown in Minnesota, and find apple trees representing University of Minnesota apple introductions. There’s plenty of open spaces to run, a shaded picnic area and bathrooms in the basement of the Red Barn and the bee center.  Getting there: From Three-Mile Drive, turn right onto Eastern Drive at the intersection near the Hedge Collection. From Three-Mile Walk, take the Farm Trail in the Rhododendron Garden (and be prepared for a fairly steep hike up the hill to get to the red barn.

  • Tashjian Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center: Count the butterflies in the Garden for Pollinators outside the bee center, which is open daily and includes interactive exhibits that are ideal for little ones, yet equally fascinating for adults.

  • Ornamental Grass Collection: In the summer and fall, you don’t want to miss this otherworldly location of swaying, graceful grasses. Picnic here, play tag or hide-and-seek among more than 200 varieties of ornamental grasses. 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.

  • Bog Walk: Take the boardwalk across Green Heron Pond. Depending on the season, you might find herons, dragonflies, orchids (including the state flower, showy pink lady’s slipper), turtleheads and tamaracks. You may even spy some migrating birds. Getting there: The Bog Walk is toward the end of Three-Mile Walk.

  • Dog Commons: Members with a dog-added membership can bring their pup to the Dog Commons, a set of on-leash dog trails and explore 65 acres. Getting there: Dog Commons is near the overflow parking on the top of the hill behind the Marion Andrus Learning Center.

Lilacs in the Minnesota Landscape ArboretumDo you still need reservations to visit the Arb?

  • Yes! Unless you have an EZ Pass membership, reservations are required at the Arboretum.

  • You can get into the Arboretum three ways:

    • Book your reservation at https://bit.ly/3yeRRzb

    • Call 612-301-6775 to make reservations.

    • Purchase a donor level membership, which comes with an EZ Pass, allowing you to scan your member card at the gate without making a reservation.

  • Admission is $15 for adults and free for ages 15 and younger as well as members. See https://bit.ly/3yeRRzb to reserve a timeslot and for a complete list of events, educational activities and notable Garden Highlights on the grounds each week.

Click here to check what the FFTC Team loves at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

 

Bee Center at Minnesoat Landscape ARboretum

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