Though the shortest in days, February can feel like the longest month in Minnesota. Cabin fever is real, and the coronavirus pandemic is amplifying feelings of restlessness. Even if you are getting outdoors, you may be tired of the same walking route, the same scenery. Fortunately, one of Minnesota’s brightest gems is just miles from the Twin Cities and well worth a drive from anywhere in the state, whether for some solitude and to commune with nature, or for art and outdoor adventure.
Numerous studies show that nature has healing and regenerative powers, both for your physical and psychological health. It stands to reason then, perhaps, that the best nature has to offer might just uplift us the most. And while many of us may think of an arboretum as a glorified garden, it is much more than this, and winter brings a new perspective to this pristine and inspirational landscape.
With year-round offerings for outdoor enthusiasts, nature explorers, and those who are simply curious wanderers, the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is accessible and available to all people as a place to experience, discover, and return to for inspiration. Entry is free for U of M students (with a student ID), and relatively inexpensive for the rest of us, though visitors must make a reservation amidst the COVID pandemic.
To get an idea of what your visit might be like, sample the arboretum’s Nature Notes blog, written by volunteer Minnesota Master Naturalists. Each week the blog explores the arboretum and shares observations.
The only decision you’ll have to make while visiting is how you want to explore. You can walk paved routes like Three-Mile Walk, or step off the pavement into some snowshoes or cross-country skis to traverse miles of trails among frozen streams, gullies, hills, and trees of every kind. Arrive after a snowfall and you just might be the first to crunch new snow underfoot.
If a cozy drive is more your style, putter down Three-Mile Drive to see the grounds. Be ready to brake for wild turkeys, and park at the halfway point for a short walk around the magnificent Harrison Sculpture Garden, dotted with incredible artwork that is even more poignant against the winter landscape.
The arboretum is also a place for research and education. These grounds are, after all, where the Honeycrisp apple (and dozens more) was created, and where Minnesota’s cold-hardy grapes opened the gates to wine in the far north. As such, you’ll see nearly every kind of plant and tree found in Minnesota, and many more from around the region are here in their most immaculate form—many discreetly labeled, so learning about our landscape is a cinch.
While you’re out and about, you might have some company. You’ll see evidence of animals everywhere, undeterred by the snow or cold. Deer have munched many of the lower berries from the crabapple trees as some still cling bright red among leafless branches, while tracks from raccoons, turkeys, and a dozen other critters dot the snow-covered grounds. Stop and listen for a moment and you’re bound to hear an owl hooting off in the distance, or a woodpecker busy at work. Download a bird checklist (PDF) if you want to keep track.
Note: While snowshoes are available for rent at the arboretum for anyone, U of M students can also rent cross country skis (and other winter gear) from the U of M Center for Outdoor Activity and explore trails anywhere.
Explore more with Things to do in February at the Arb.
- Agriculture and Environment