Hiking the MN Arboretum

By don Begalle, Minneapolis Hiking Examiner

It is probably not the first place people think about when deciding on a day hike. The pleasing aromas and mix of vibrant colors could easily scuttle the best-laid hiking plans. But if you can pull yourself away from the dwarf conifers, rose walk and Japanese garden, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum has several miles of well signed and maintained trails laid out over its more than 1000 acres.

With a combination of paved and turf trails, the Arboretum offers a hiking or walking experience for anyone. 12 miles of trails and paths wander the gardens, forest, bog and prairie with more than half having a natural or wood chip surface. All the turf trails are named and well signed. Different loop combinations cover the Arboretum’s diversity so wandering and exploring the grounds is the best course of action. I’ll describe one possible option below.

The visitor center is the best starting point. Parking, bathrooms, food and water are all available. When ready, head out behind the center and a slight rise will take you up through the terrace garden and dwarf conifers. Ahead, the gurgle of water acts as both a greeter and initial guide. Explore the gardens as you like, but when you are ready to leave the crowds and explore the quieter parts of the Arboretum, follow the paved path down along the stream. At the bottom is the start to the Bog Trail.

As the sound of falling water fades, the paved path traces the south end of a small pond and ends at a woodchip trail. Turn left and cross the wooden bridge. Stay right at the fork. Trees start to rise on your left. Soon, the boardwalk appears on your right side. Normally, this traverses the east end of Green Heron Pond and completes the Bog Trail Loop, but it is currently closed for renovation. No matter. Climb to the left and connect with the Forest Trail. This connection opens up miles of trail for exploration. At the fork, turn right and perambulate east to the lesser-known Arboretum. The trail opens up to a meadow and another fork. Left takes you to the North Star Trail. Get ready; a pulse-raising climb is coming up. At the top, the trees open up and the views get longer. Another right turn comes up in a few minutes. It skips the Spring Peeper Meadow trail,but certainly explore the meadow if the ambition exists.  We'll get back onto the Forest Trail, but leave it again for another climb, this time up the Berens Trail.  This wide route is rolling and travels mainly through forest.  Plan for mosquitos; on my hike here they were relentless in their bloodthirsty quest.  Follow the Berens Trail to a hidden gem, the Rhododendron Garden.  Several informational signs detail this garden and how the Arboretum staff utilizes it.  From here, you reconnect with the Bog Trail.  It runs along the south end of Green Heron Pond and takes you back to the starting point below the waterfall.  Alternately, follow the south-leading trail out of the garden and up to the road.  The Maze Garden is to the left and from the maze, a paved path roughly parallels the Three-Mile Drive back through many of the Arboretum's different plantings and gardens. 

This loop is but one of the many choices the Arboretum offers hikers.  I spent two hours out on the trails and could have easily spent several more.  The various gardens and displays encourage lingering and a slower pace, but the rolling terrain and 12 miles of trail still offer a fun and challenging hike.  Grab your gear and go.

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