Down a few country roads just outside Valparaiso, Taltree Arboretum’s easy to find thanks to well-placed directional signs. The grounds may not look like much at first glance, but once you scratch the surface, there's quite a bit to do and see here. Founded in the late 1990s, the arboretum contains 360 acres of wetlands and prairie land, wooded hiking trails, several gardens and a visitors center resembling an old train depot.
Speaking of trains, the 1-acre seasonal Railway Garden is the pièce de résistance, open from April through October. Visitors stroll a circular path to watch a handful of G-scale model trains run through seven track loops and unbelievably intricate model vignettes including mountains, canyons, waterfalls, a mining town, a steamboat station, a limestone quarry and President Lincoln’s funeral train procession. The attention to detail within this display is mind-blowing, and signage offers a brief primer on railroad history. Whether you’re a model train fan or not, it’s impossible not to be charmed and fascinated by this attraction.
Elsewhere on the grounds, visitors can explore children’s gardens sectioned into soup, pizza and salad plots; fairy gardens; a native plantings area with oversize butterfly sculptures doubling as seats; a rose garden; a pond; and a pavilion. The whole area is bucolic and peaceful with birds chirping and bullfrogs croaking. Taltree would be a great place to bring the kids for a picnic or to enjoy a quiet respite for a few hours on a sunny day.