50+ Midwest Gardens and Arboretums to Explore in Winter | Midwest Living

50+ Midwest Gardens and Arboretums to Explore in Winter

Cure cabin fever with a visit to some of our favorite gardens and arboretums. Bundle up to stroll under snow-covered branches and follow animal trails—or escape to the tropics for an afternoon in one of the Midwest's indoor gardens.
  • Chicago area

    Catigny Roam paths through the 29 acres containing 22 large formal and informal gardens. Douglas firs and ornamental trees standout in snow. (630) 668-5161; cantigny.org

    Chicago Botanic Garden From the Dwarf Conifer Garden to the Malott Japanese Garden, you’ll see white land and white water against the background of the massive brown trees of McDonald Woods. Designed as a strolling garden with curving paths, the Malott Japanese Garden is considered by many to be most beautiful in winter. Indoors, explore semitropical, arid and tropical greenhouses; the topiary collection overwinters in the greenhouse. Special events are held year-round at this 385-acre garden in Chicago’s northern suburb. (847) 835-5440; chicagobotanic.org

    Garfield Park (pictured) On Chicago’s west side, Garfield Park Conservatory has one of the largest conservatories in the nation. At 4.5 acres, it encompasses ferns that are more than 300 years old, displays about photosynthesis and holiday shows. (312) 746-5100; garfield-conservatory.org

    Morton Arboretum The 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum in Lisle (25 miles west of Chicago) includes 500 acres of plant collections and gardens as well as 900 acres of woodlands, prairies, lakes and streams. Traverse those acres on 16 miles of trails for skiing or snowshoeing. Visit the 22-acre Conifer Collection, the 4-acre Children’s Garden and the Meadow Lake Trail accented by red and ponderosa pines along with sycamores. In February, look for blooming witch hazel and winter honeysuckle. (630) 968-0074; mortonarb.org



  • Rockford, Illinois, area

    Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden East Loop Path is kept clear so it’s walkable. And woodland paths are great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to remoter parts of this 155-acre arboretum in Rockford. Dogs are welcome, too. (815) 965-8146; klehm.org

    Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens The conservatory (pictured) offers an inexpensive trip to the tropics year-round in the heart of the Midwest. There are 11,000 square feet, with water features, seating and sculptures in a tropical plant setting. Exhibits rotate through the season. Set along Rock River in Rockford, the garden has ice skating at the newly restored Eclipse lagoon (weather permitting). They even set up hockey goals! (815) 987-8858; rockfordparkdistrict.org/ncg

  • More in Illinois

    Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve In Mahomet, these 900 acres along the Sangamon River incorporate the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden. There is cross-country skiing and sledding. A 3.3-mile paved path travels the length of the preserve; through grasslands, prairie and wooded areas; and crosses the Sangamon River on a covered bridge. Climb the Hi-Tower Bell Carillon and listen to its tunes. (217) 586-4389; ccfpd.org

    Luthy Memorial Botanical Garden Explore the jungle-esque environment in this Peoria conservatory. The All-Seasons Garden demonstrates year-round beauty. Winter events include the poinsettia and Garish Garden shows. (309) 686-3362peoriaparks.org

    Quad City Botanical Center (pictured) Located in Rock Island, the botanical center has a 6,444-square-foot Tropical Sun Garden with a 14-foot-tall waterfall, stream, pond and fruit-bearing plants. Outside, see the rare conifer collection. (309) 794-0991; qcgardens.com
  • Indianapolis gardens

    White River Gardens Located at the Indianapolis Zoo, Hilbert Conservatory has 5,000 square feet under 65-foot ceilings that flood exotic palm trees and flowering plantscapes with light.  (317) 630-2001; indyzoo.com

    Indianapolis Museum of Art IMA’s 52 acres of historical landscapes and gardens include the Four Seasons Garden celebrating spring, summer, autumn and winter. In addition, The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park: 100 Acres, adjacent to the museum, includes woodlands, wetlands, meadows and a 35-acre lake. Monthly Meditation Peace Hikes occur regardless of weather; hike destinations vary from the museum grounds, gardens or park. (317) 923-1331; imamuseum.org

    Garfield Park Conservatory and Sunken Garden (pictured) In Garfield Park, this conservatory includes 10,000 square feet of plants from the tropics, as well as special exhibits throughout the year. Outside, the Sunken Gardens feature 3 acres of European-style formal gardens. Check the webstie for seasonal events, such as Christmas at Garfield, with its holiday train and poinsettias. (317) 327-7184; garfieldconsindy.wix.com


  • More in Indiana

    Taltree Arboretum and Gardens (pictured) Snowshoe, cross-country ski or hike 4 miles of trails through parts of 360 acres of woods, wetlands and Oak Islands, where you can see 91 of the 477 oak species of the world, including the bur oak shown here. (Dogs on leashes on the trails are welcome.) The Railway Garden tells the story about United States railroad history through early-19th-century model trains in a microclimate garden of conifer and dwarf woody plants. (219) 462-0025; taltree.org

    Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory Three indoor gardens cover over 25,000 square feet and showcase 1,200 plants (over 500 species) and 72 different types of cacti. Orchids and palms thrive near a waterfall in the Tropical Garden; the Showcase Garden features four seasonal exhibits every year. This downtown Fort Wayne conservatory is also a rescue center for internationally protected plants brought into the country illegally. (260) 427-6440; botanicalconservatory.org

  • Des Moines metro

    Des Moines Botanical Center (pictured) An hour under the glass dome takes you to the tropics with exotic orchids and a cacti collection. Recently revamped pathways route visitors past the waterfall and provide better views of plants. (515) 323-6290; dmbotanicalgarden.com

    Brenton Arboretum Winter means it's time to enjoy trees’ structure and symmetry within the context of prairie on this 140 acres in Dallas Center (20 minutes from Des Moines). Bird-watch along the streamside trail, or walk the conifer trail to see evergreens in their winter coats. (515) 992-4211; thebrentonarboretum.org


  • Reiman Gardens

    More in Iowa

    Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens See the quiet beauty of the Japanese garden covered in snow at this garden that holds the distinction of being the largest public garden in the nation operated solely by volunteers. (563) 556-2100; dubuquearboretum.net

    Reiman Gardens (pictured) The conservatory’s rare plants and seasonal displays brighten days on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, 40 minutes north of Des Moines. But the real treat is the 2,500-square-foot butterfly wing, where you might have some of the 800 butterflies alight on you. (515) 294-2710; reimangardens.iastate.edu

    Vander Veer Botanical Park Whether it's with poinsettias or spring blossoms, for 100 years the conservatory has been brightening days at this 33-acre park in Davenport. You can also stroll the greenhouse. (563) 326-7818; cityofdavenportiowa.com

  • Kansas gardens

    Botanica, The Wichita Gardens (pictured) Even under a layer of snow, the Shakespearean Garden (with plants mentioned in his plays) impresses with geometric balance. More than two-dozen themed gardens spread over 9 acres, showcasing 3,600 species of plants. See flora and fauna on the ¼-mile Woodland Walk or textures and alpine plants in the Garden on the Rocks. (316) 264-0448; botanica.org

    Chisholm Creek Park These 282 acres surround the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita. Cross-country ski through habitats representing most of the major ones of the Great Plains. Hike 2½ miles of paved trails, lined with interpretive signs about native plants and animals, such as egrets and muskrat. (316) 683-5499; gpnc.org

  • Michigan gardens

    Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park (pictured) The gardens on the northeast side of Grand Rapids fill a towering glass conservatory and 132 acres. The 30-acre Sculpture Park (Aria is shown here) is a favorite for art among natural surroundings and changing seasons. The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is open year-round, as are paths and boardwalks such as the Frey Boardwalk, which meanders through wetlands and woods. Warm up in the indoor greenhouses. (888) 957-1580; meijergardens.org

    Hidden Lake Gardens Cross-country skiiers and hikers are welcome to explore the 755 acres in the Irish Hills southeast of Michigan. Six miles of marked trails wind through oak and hickory forests, fields, glacial kettleholes and wetlands. The conservatory houses 8,000 square feet of tropical, arid, temperate plants. (517) 431-2060; hiddenlakegardens.msu.edu

    Leila Arboretum In Battle Creek, these 85 acres promote serenity with a peace labyrinth and paths past areas of natural woodlands, a hemlock garden and a conifer collection. The sledding hill just promotes fun! (269) 969-0270; leilaarboretumsociety.org

  • Photo courtesy of Matthaei Botanical Gardens/Nichols Arboretum

    More Michigan gardens

    Belle Isle Conservancy On an island in the Detroit River, these 982 acres incorporate a natural wooded area. Or tour the 1904 Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory modeled after Monticello, the recently reopened Gothic-style aquarium, the Nature Zoo, Douglas MacArthur Bridge and sculptures. (313) 331-7760; belleisleconservancy.org

    Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve Horticulturists point out the magic of winter during garden walks through the 105-acre preserve near the southwest Michigan town of Niles (90 minutes east of Chicago) in the St. Joseph River valley. A 1,000-square-foot conservatory houses ferns and companion plants, as well as a railway garden. (269) 695-6491; fernwoodbotanical.org

    Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum Something is always in bloom in the desert, temperate and tropical houses. Outside, conifers in Heathdale and Sam Graham Trees Trail stand stark against the snow (pictured). On the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. (734) 998-9540 or (734) 647-8986; lsa.umich.edu


  • Minnesota gardens

    Carleton College Cowling Arboretum An extensive 15-mile trail system is kept groomed for both classic and skate skiing. Bird- and wildlife-watching are popular at this 880-acre preserve along the Cannon River. Adjacent to Carleton College in Northfield. (507) 222-4543; apps.carleton.edu/campus/arb

    Como Park Zoo and Conservatory (pictured) The new Ordway Gardens wing (an addition to the conservatory, shown) houses a bonsai pavilion, meditative garden and pine grove walk to the Japanese garden. The older conservatory features a fern room, palm dome, orchid house, children’s gallery, sunken garden and garden with plants important to the economy. In Saint Paul. (651) 487-8200; comozooconservatory.org

    Linnaeus Arboretum Ski on groomed trails in areas representing Minnesota’s three major ecosystems: northern coniferous forest, tallgrass prairie and deciduous woodland. Snowshoe anywhere except on groomed trails. Steuer Wetland Preserve has a collection of five wetland ponds—a restoration of prairie potholes. Meditate in coniferous woods or sit on glacial boulders and overlook the expanse of restored prairie.The arboretum is on the western edge of Gustavus Adolphus College. (507) 933-6182; gustavus.edu/arboretum

    Northland Arboretum Cross-country ski the 20k of groomed trails on this 500 acres in Brainerd. At night, stick to the 5k of lit trails. Snowshoe or hike on ungroomed trails. (218) 829-8770; northlandarb.org

    Saint John’s Arboretum In Collegeville, these 2,500 acres settled by Benedictine monks in 1864 have terminal moraines, hardwood forest and prairies. Groomed trails provide skiing access, or snowshoe through the woods. Visitors can sled and ice fish, too. (320) 363-3163; csbsju.edu/Arboretum.htm

    University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Snowshoers and cross-country skiiers take to the 12.5 miles of trails across 1,000 acres of woodland, prairie, wetland and fields. On the Wood Duck Trail, watch for foxes and 20 birds species. See world-class sculptures at the Arboretum Sculpture Garden. (952) 443-1400; arboretum.umn.edu

  • Missouri gardens

    Missouri Botanical Garden (pictured) The Japanese consider snow a flower, so the Japanese garden is an obvious draw to this St. Louis destination. Its waterfalls, lake, stone lanterns and weeping maples captivate in winter. (800) 642-8842; mobot.org

    Powell Gardens Vernal witchhazels bloom right through mild spells all winter in the Rock and Waterfall Garden on the 915 acres in Kingsville. In late winter, small bulbs like snowdrops, winter aconite and snowflakes begin to pop up. Just outside and below the visitors center, gardens showcase plants that shine in winter, including Southern magnolia, viburnum and two palms. Or check out the rotating displays in the conservatory. (816) 697-2600; powellgardens.org


  • Photo courtesy of Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Nebraska garden

    Lauritzen Gardens Tropical and temperate plants thrive in the new 17,500-square-foot conservatory; outside, two miles of paths wind through gardens along the Missouri River. A 5,000-square-foot floral display hall is site of the annual poinsettia show, with more than 5,600 poinsettia plants. (402) 346-4002; lauritzengardens.org

  • North Dakota gardens

    Gunlogson State Nature Preserve (pictured) Within Icelandic State Park, 5 miles west of Cavalier, trails wind throughout the 200-acre Gunlogson Nature Preserve and natural wooded area along the river. Most of this 3-mile trail system is groomed for cross-country skiing. The new Hillman Loop will be packed for snowshoeing. Sled the hill near the boat ramp, or ice fish Lake Renwick. Songbirds and sometimes moose may accompany your journey. (701) 265-4561; parkrec.nd.gov/parks/isp/isp.html

    Fort Stevenson State Park Arboretum On the north shore of Lake Sakakawea, 3 miles south of Garrison, this state park arboretum offers 8-plus miles for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, an interpretative trail and an arboretum trail. (701) 337-5576; parkrec.nd.gov/parks/fssp/fssp.html

    International Peace Garden Trails and gardens along the United States Canadian border celebrate peace between the two nations. The 2,339-acre garden, about 110 miles northeast of Minot, features a conservatory with 3,000 cacti. (888) 432-6733; peacegarden.com

  • Ohio gardens

    Cinncinnati area

    Krohn Conservatory Aluminum-and-glass walls built at the height of the Art Deco period shelter 3,500 species from all over the world.  Exhibits change throughout the year, but a favorite is the butterfly show, where thousands of butterflies are released in a special garden area. Permanent displays at this Eden Park spot include the palm, tropical, desert and orchid house. (513) 421-5707; cincinnatiparks.com/krohn

    Cleveland area

    Cleveland Botanical Garden (pictured) Cleveland Botanical Garden offers both a tropical escape on a cold winter’s day and a serene space to explore the snow-covered outdoors. The Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse stays close to 80 degrees all winter long with its two unique ecosystems—the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica and the spiny desert of Madagascar. Every day, colorful butterflies are released into the 18,000-square-foot conservatory, and desert animals such as tortoises and tenrecs are introduced to garden guests. Outside, walk through 10 acres of snow-covered evergreens and woodlands. (216) 721-1600; cbgarden.org

    Columbus area

    Franklin Park Conservatory Combining art and nature is the specialty at this Columbus conservatory built in 1895. Dale Chihuly glassworks brighten the plant collections, which include Himalayan mountains, tropical rainforest, desert, bonsai, and cloud forest. And the Victorian-style palm house not only has 43 species of palms but is a light show itself, with computer-controlled LED show beginning at dusk. (614) 715-8000; fpconservatory.org

    Dawes Arboretum Eight miles of trails criss-cross 1,800 acres in Newark, 20 miles east of Columbus. Conifers of all sizes stand out against the snow on 14 acres near Dawes Lake. Climb the 36-foot-tall outlook tower to see how well the Hedge Lettering stands out in winter snow. You'll have to see what it says yourself. (740) 323-2355; dawesarb.org

  • More Ohio gardens

    Cox Arboretum MetroParks Staff encourages people to get out and cross-country ski the 2.5 miles of trails through woodlands and meadows at this Dayton destination. From the observation deck of the tree tower, get a panoramic view of the conifer collection and the rest of the 189 acres. (937) 434-9005; metroparks.org/parks/CoxArboretum

    Holden Arboretum (pictured) This 3,600-acre arboretum in Kirtland is one of the largest in the states; much of it is preserved in a natural state best enjoyed via skis, hike or snowshoe. (440) 946-4400; holdenarb.org


  • South Dakota gardens

    The Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site These newly opened 145-plus acres in Sioux Falls showcase trees, shrubs and gardens against the remains of the old quarry town known as East Sioux Falls. Explore the grounds on cross-country skis. (605) 274-7114; maryjowegnerarboretum.com

    McCrory Gardens and South Dakota Arboretum (pictured) Explore South Dakota's landscape on the 40-acre arboretum, where visitors can ski and snoeshow. Operated by South Dakota State University, in Brookings. (605) 688-6707; sdstate.edu/ps/mccrory

    Sertoma Butterfly House Surrounded by tropical flowers, you'll watch as colorful butterflies from around the world flit around Sioux Falls' 3,600-square-foot indoor garden.(605) 334-9466; sertomabutterflyhouse.org



  • Wisconsin gardens

    Green Bay Botanical Garden Tucked in a busy commercial area, the Green Bay Botanical Garden is an oasis of 47 acres of gardens and natural areas. Its annual Garden of Lights show features more than 250,000 lights in botanical-theme displays; dress warmly—it takes about half an hour to walk through the display. (920) 490-9457; gbbg.org

    Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Also called the Domes, these three Milwaukee domes built in 1965 each has a distinct climate accommodating a variety of plant life. The show dome holds four seasonal shows and a holiday show. The Tropical Dome concentrates on fruit-bearing trees, and the Arid Dome showcases plants from the Americas and Africa. (414) 257-5600; milwaukeedomes.org

    Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center In Coon Valley, Norskedalen is rich in natural beauty and diversity, encompassing about 400 acres of scenic coulee (valley) along Poplar Creek. Ski or snowshoe 6 miles of trails through pine plantations, over a creek, past springs, over wooded hillsides and rocky outcrops of goat prairies, and along the valley floor. (608) 452-3424; norskedalen.org

    Olbrich Botanical Garden (pictured) Exotic plants, flowers, orchids, birds and a waterfall delight in the Bolz Conservatory. The 16 acres of outdoor gardens are beautiful as well in winter, with evergreens, grasses, seed heads and interesting bark. The Thai Pavilion’s gold leaf shimmers against the snow. Paths are cleared of snow so visitors can walk through the gardens. In Madison. (608) 246-4550; olbrich.org

    Schmeeckle Reserve Wildlife abounds at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s 280-acre reserve year-round. Nearly 5 miles of ungroomed trails are open for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Boardwalks cross wetland areas. (715) 346-4992; uwsp.edu/cnr/schmeeckle

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