TheAkas, riverfronts, and state parks are great destinations to soak up the fall colors, but to appreciate the trees that make fall a problematic season, a visit to the arboretum is essential.
The Midwest has many goodies to choose from, each of which teaches you a little bit about bringing different landscapes to your property and how to better understand these plantations. Aside from Minnesota’s top shelf Arboretum, which charges a timed admission fee for non-members, most of the other Midwest facilities below are free to roam.
So let’s go on a road trip to some of our favorite outdoor classes and celebrate the colors of nature.
Minnesota Landscaping Arboretum
First, closest to the house is the 1,200-acre Chaska Landscape Arboretum, operated by the University of Minnesota. The mission of “The Arb” dates back to 1958, and was to develop plants and trees that could withstand winters in Minnesota.
As a result, pine trees are prevalent here, with more than 200 specimens. But conifers do not change colors, so look for the Buckeye variety. Although the deciduous Buckeye plant is not native to Minnesota, it is among the first to turn bright yellow and orange.
You can find these and much more along the Three-Mile Drive, the self-guided driving route that connects most of the Arb’s diverse sections. You can drive your own car, ride the tram or ride a bike and learn at your leisure. Master Gardeners are available on Saturdays in the library to answer questions. (8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska. Timed reservations $15 for ages 16 and up; arb.umn.edu.)
University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum
The smoldering red-maroon tree in front of this arboretum’s visitor center is named Caroline, after the granddaughter of former curator Ed Haslekos. It is actually a piece of black tupelo planted in 1961.
The magnificent Badger State Arboretum, known for its exemplary restoration environment and preservation, is a National Historic Landmark. Explore the woods, which glow yellow with linden and sugar maple, along 17 miles of trails across more than 1,200 acres. If you only have time to highlight one, be sure to visit Longenecker Horticultural Gardens. There is a waved fall color hike ($25) scheduled for October 16, and peak color time is expected at Madison (the Arboretum.
Plan a trip to Madrid, in central Iowa, on October 11 or 18 for an in-depth walking tour of the Iowa Arboretum, 160 acres of woodland located in the Des Moines River Valley. Curator David McKinney will explain what trees and other plants to make for the best fall display in your lawn and garden.
Lands dotted with maple, oak and black trees are expected to be at their best at that time. McKinney will talk about planting walnut trees and walnuts that are not only colorful in the fall but also help build an urban habitat for wildlife with their nut crops (iowaarboretum.org).
The Nebraska State and Omaha Public Energy Arboretum
As the home of Arbor Day, Nebraska is in a prime position when it comes to trees. While the tours at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City are very educational, they are not a true arboretum.
Cornhusker operates a network of more than 100 arboretums and state parks statewide, centered in Lincoln next to Earl Maxwell Arboretum. Guided walking tours on the first Tuesday of the month (plantnebraska.org).
In Omaha, check out the arboretum maintained by the Omaha Public Energy District. More than 1,000 native trees and adjacent signs show the need to plant the right trees in the right places and properly maintain them (oppd.com/residential/trees-power-lines/arboretum).
Illinois: Morton Arboretum
Founded by the same family that created Arbor Day in Nebraska, this arboretum in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The space includes 16 miles of trails for hiking, biking or trams and more than 222,000 specimens representing 4,650 different species of plants. Plan October 21 or 28 for an educational outing in the peak of colors with an ecologist at the arboretum, and learn more about seasonal changes in the trees along with their colors (mortonarb.org).
Next to the administration building at Northwest Missouri State University is a small grove of Chinese ginkgo trees, an unusual species that can be found in Maryville, Missouri, as they turn a startling yellow at this time of year.
The institution in the far northwest corner of the state is home to 1,800 trees covering 160 species. Three walking trails around the 370-acre campus take visitors through several award trees, including one that students call the “Elf Tree.” It’s actually a northern catalpa, but the low end and hollow stem create a pixel-perfect home (nwmissouri.edu/arboretum).
Indiana: Bordeaux Arboretum
The largest nursery in Indiana spans over 900 acres in West Lafayette. While many people visit campus football in the fall, take time to learn more about 40,000 trees and woody plants from 800 unique species.
Most of these trees and plants have a QR code posted nearby that opens an audio file providing information about the landscape and biodiversity of your garden. The Arbor Day Foundation has awarded Purdue University a “Tree Campus USA” every year since 2009 (arboretum.purdue.edu).
Diana Lampden-Mayer is a travel writer based in Kansas City.