Minnesota Arboretum- Free Fun for Kids

Human sized bird feeder
Every time we go to Minneapolis, we try to find new, off the beaten path, fun ways to explore with our nieces and nephew. Because a group of 6 kids can be a bit unwieldy, I like to focus on the great outdoors.  We go. We see. They come home tired (and I do too). It can also cost quite a bit of money, so I love when we find something that's cheap. Even better when it's free.

On the latest trip, we took them to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. They often have kid friendly displays, which could be a reason they made the USA Today List for #1 Botanical Garden. We went there a few years ago when they had enormous Lego creations.  This summer they have tree houses and kaleidoscopes. The entrance fee was halved when I purchased a Groupon which covered both me and my husband for $15 for a weekday visit. If you are a member of your local botanic garden, entrance is free under the reciprocal program. Kids under age 16 are always free.

Though you can walk the arboretum, it's much easier to use a car. Three Mile Drive winds through the 1200 acres, which include all types of trees, flowers, hiking trails, and exhibits. With parking lots scattered along the route, you can get out and explore in smaller pieces. This alone makes it kid friendly. Even though it's only three miles, plan on at least an hour to get through the whole route with stops.  We were there for three hours and still didn't see everything, though we could have spent  an hour just at the outdoor hedge maze- a permanent attraction.
What kid wouldn't enjoy getting lost in this?
The main buildings contain the usual information desk, cafe, bathrooms, fountains, and additional exhibits. It's worth it to stop here first and pick up the latest brochures because they include maps. Just outside the buildings are some beautiful gardens where kids can chase chipmunks, squirrels, and butterflies. There are lots of photo ops in these gardens, so bring a camera.

The Kaleidoscope exhibit runs through September 25, and is the brainchild of Door County metal artist Robert Anderson.  Round planters of annual flowers can be spun and viewed through kaleidoscopes. There are 15 in all, with most of them located around the visitor center. They are very similar, so it's not necessary to see all of them. It's a great concept and the kids enjoyed spinning the pots. The artist placed the kaleidoscopes at various levels for the convenience of adult and kid users. I had never seen anything like it but enjoyed it thoroughly.

The summer exhibit of treehouse inspired displays includes many structures you can touch or climb inside.  We never saw any "Keep Off" signs, which was a great relief when traveling with a brood of kids. Visitors are encouraged to interact with exhibits. These will be on view through October 1. Some can be seen from the street, but the majority are tucked away into areas you'll need to walk to. Look for the signs, and use the map or you'll likely miss a few. Each one is so unique that it is worthwhile to view every one of them.

 The signage includes the artist and more details about each installation.  I'm glad they had numbers because we would have missed a few without some help.

Definitely my favorite- this upside down treehouse had details inside you can only see when you are directly underneath it.
If birds drank tea
 Inside the bird house, the decor is everything a bird might enjoy seeing in their home. The containers held bird seed. The kids enjoyed climbing inside. 

Wall decorations inside the birdhouse

There are plenty of permanent exhibits, like the maze or the statue garden, interspersed along the Three mile route.  Depending on your energy level and weather, you could spend an entire day here, bringing a picnic lunch, doing some hiking, and uniting with nature.  It would be a day well spent.  Though we took the kids out for ice cream and a movie, this was definitely the preferred outing.  We will be back on future trips to see what's new. 


  1. We have never been here! It's been on the list. We need to make time for it!


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