Spring Peeper Meadow is a great place for observing and learning about nature. The trail swings through the prairie, down into the wet meadow and across the marsh on a broad boardwalk. It then contours along the hillside up to the Gallistel Overlook with views over the marsh. The trail continues to the north boardwalk and onto the Oak Knoll before leading visitors through a small remnant maple basswood forest. The loop continues through tallgrass prairie before returning to the start. Along the way, there are 12 interpretive signs that provide insight into the significance of this wetland restoration.
Visit Spring Peeper any season of the year. Birdwatching is excellent in the spring with migrating birds. In late spring and early summer families of ducks can be spotted swimming among the bur reeds. In summer the wildflowers are a photographers delight. Hike the trails year-round, but don't miss the fall colors in the prairie and the forest that surround the meadow. A groomed ski trail loops through the meadow for a pleasant winter experience.
The Bennett-Johnson Prairie, established in 1965, was established to present plants that existed on the tallgrass prairies of central Minnesota before the days of settlement. Indian grass and big and little bluestem are the dominant grasses of the prairie, which is sprinkled with blooms from spring to late fall.
A south-facing slope contains many plants including goldenrod, heliopsis, asters and golden Alexander. A marshy section contains red-osier dogwood, cattails and phragmites, a tall stately grass. Pasque flowers, prairie smoke and downy gentian bloom in a mesic area.
To accomplish what natural prairie fires did years ago, the prairie is periodically control-burned in the spring to prevent the growth of large trees, shrubs and unwanted weeds. In the prairie, one can sense the majesty of the land's natural beauty.
Green Heron Pond is one of the southernmost glacial potholes - an area where a large chunk of glacial ice remained (probably under the ground surface for many years) before it finally melted. A portion of the pond contains a small bog. The unusual aspect of this particular bog (a bog is a wetland type that accumulates acidic peat, a deposit of dead plant material) is that it still harbors living (peat) moss. Sphagnum needs a low pH to grow and the pH of soils on the Arboretum grounds is 7.5-8.0 (sphagnum needs 5.0 or under). How it has survived for thousands of years is one of life's perplexing questions!
First created over 40 years ago, the trail around Green Heron Pond rapidly became a well-loved favorite for generations of Arboretum visitors. The pond, its adjacent marsh and bog represent three naturally occurring ecosystems in Minnesota that are part of the state's geologic and landscape heritage. Just a half-mile long, the bog trail passes through the most diverse ecotypes of any Arboretum hike. Oak woods, maple woods and the mosaic of intermingled wetlands along the boardwalk offer rich rewards for birders, school groups and families. In fact, it's an “off the beaten track” nature experience that's easily accessible to the gardens and parking.
The boardwalk was closed for renovation in 2009. Now it’s back in service and better than ever with 100 new pilings - some to a depth of 60 feet. New interpretive signs will tell the stories of its green heron namesake and other wild residents, the lady's slipper orchids at the boardwalk entry and the tamarack bog, shrub swamp and cattail marsh that line the way. In the middle of this remnant glacial bog, it was fascinating to discover trees actually growing on a 10-12-ft thick mat of old roots, with open water beneath them. Visitors can enjoy the bog through the seasons from spring's yellow marsh marigolds to the golden tamaracks in fall.
Opened in 2019, the Arboretum’s 80-acre Lake Tamarack property is a spectacular natural site with several thousand feet of lakeshore on beautiful Lake Tamarack, diverse wetlands and majestic oaks and maples on the north end of the property.
The property is east of the Arboretum’s Horticultural Research Center, and while some of the property is used for research purposes, a majority of the property is available for fishing and non-motorized boating on Lake Tamarack, as well as hiking, birding and photography. Picnic tables are also available.
Admission to Lake Tamarack is free.
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Foundation, Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
Directions to Lake Tamarack from the East: Traveling west on Hwy. 5, visitors can access Lake Tamarack through an unmarked gravel road. Take the first right after Minnewashta Parkway. You’ll cross the bike trail that parallels Hwy. 5 and continue on a gravel road that travels between two old buildings—the building on the left has a Barn Quilt. If you see signs for the Horticultural Research Center or you get to Rolling Acres Road, you’ve gone too far.