Visiting the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia with kids seemed like an excellent outing, because everyone in my family loves to garden. This impressive 92-acre garden is the official arboretum of both the University of Pennsylvania and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You will see gorgeous flowers, impressive sculptures, towering trees, and a scenic pond filled with swans and ducks while strolling through this English-style public garden.
This garden has something new and spectacular on display year-round. In the early spring, the flowering trees, azaleas, and tulips take center stage. In the summer, bask in the shade of the green trees and enjoy the beauty of the rose garden. The fall brings changing leaves, while the winter has a holiday-themed railway light show. Best of all, there are tons of attractions to keep your kids engaged, whether or not they have green thumbs. Read on for all the fun things to see and do on a visit to the the Morris Arboretum.
Out on a Limb
If you are not afraid of heights, there is a tree-top walk where you can get a bird’s eye view of the forest from 50 feet up. Along the walk, there are binoculars to look out into the tree canopy, and plaques with facts to teach you about trees. For the extra brave, there is the Squirrel Scramble, which consists of two large, netted areas that you can jump or crawl down into. The giant, hammock style nets allow you to look down to the forest ground below. Your kids will also love the giant Robin’s nest filled with huge blue eggs your kids can sit on.
The Rose Garden also blooms with tulips in the spring.
The Rose Garden
Stepping down from the path through rustic metal gates reveals a gorgeous garden filled with blooming tulips in the spring and roses in the summer. Set up like a maze with a fountain in the center, your younger children won’t be able to helps themselves from gleefully running through the labyrinth-like paths created by the rose beds. After you have walked through, there is a shaded gazebo to rest in.
Kids will find plenty of places to run around in the Morris Arboretum’s fernery.
After leaving the rose garden, head down the path to the right to reach the fernery. Over 100 years old, the Dorrance H. Hamilton fernery in the arboretum is the last remaining Victorian-style fernery in North America. Walking through the doors surrounded by a stone archway makes you feel like you are walking through a portal that takes you to a different place and time in which everything is covered in prehistoric ferns. The stone pathway goes in a loop around a pond, leading you over a wooden bridge and through a small, damp cave.
The Morris Arboretum’s Fairy Woods allows kids to construct magical structures.
The Fairy Woods
Exiting the fernery, continue down the path and off to the right you will see the sign for the Fairy Woods. Located in a small grove of trees in the middle of a field not far from a babbling brook, I was not initially impressed by the fairy woods. I didn’t see any fairies, just sticks and cross sections of trees. But it took our children only a few short minutes to immediately get to work building their own fairy village out of the materials provided. Fueled by their imaginations, they were very proud to show us their finished products and it was difficult to tear them away from this exhibit.
Expect to spend around 3-4 hours walking around the Morris Arboretum on a visit.
The Loop de Loop Sculpture
Either go back to the path, cut through the field, or stroll along the creek until you come to an enormous structure constructed from sticks called the Loop de Loop. The sculpture is reminiscent of the ups and downs of a roller coaster. All your kids will need is a glance of these strategically bundled willow sticks and they will be off at a gallop. When you come upon the Loop de Loop it is filled with children running through the maze and hiding and parents seeking, and the air is filled with delighted screeches. Once again, I guarantee you will be dragging your children away from this exhibit.
The Log Cabin with Lincoln Logs
After the Loop de Loop but before the idyllic swan pond, you will come across a small log cabin built along the stream. According to a plaque, this one-room cottage was once a vacation house. Kids are delighted to explore inside or to rock on the rocking chairs by the fireplace. If you have the time, there is a tub of Lincoln Logs on the table in the center of the room your kids can use to construct a log cabin of their own.
The Garden Railway
After you leave the Log Cabin you will pass the Swan Pond, the old Spring House, the Meadow of Azaleas, and before you make it to the Garden Railway, you will walk through Oak Alley. On the path they have drawn the roots of one of the oak trees, which stretch out as far as the boughs of these giants. My kids found this unbelievable. Continuing along the path you will walk by some large metal sculptures and then by my favorite tree, the impressive Katsura, and behind that an Orange Balustrade before finally you come to the Garden Railway.
The Garden Railway is seasonal, running from Memorial Day Weekend to the beginning of October. These trains will probably be the highlight for the younger children as they zip along their quarter-mile route, tooting their horns through tunnels and overhead. This year’s theme is “America’s Roadside Attractions” and features small replicas of the country’s iconic roadside destinations. During the holiday season, the Garden Railway is decked out in festive lights.
The Compton Café
Behind the visitor center is the outdoor, covered Compton Café. In addition to coffee and tea, the arboretum café serves items like muffins and yogurt, salads, paninis, wraps and soup. They even have a kid’s menu.
Sculptures dot the arboretum’s grounds.
Special Events at Morris Arboretum
Weekly events include the Garden Highlights tour, which you can catch weekdays at 10:30am and on weekends at 1pm. This tour meets at the visitor center and is included with admission. Other tours are held monthly, such as the Hidden Gems Tour and the Small Trees Tour. There are also self-guided tours if you would rather go at your own pace which you can find here. You can find family activities on the site, too, such as “Your Guide to Tree Adventure” and Family Fun Cards to be a tree explorer and scientist. Story time with Melissa, where children from 3-6 years old can listen to a story and then write and draw in a nature journal, is held monthly. You must register for story time.
From Labor Day though early October, Harvest Trains run on the Garden Railway, with model trains carrying harvested foods. The Holiday Garden Railway event is traditionally held from the Friday after Thanksgiving through December on Friday nights. In the past it has been necessary to purchase an additional ticket to attend this event.
Kids can explore near the arboretum’s fountains.
Know Before You Go to Morris Arboretum
- Although not required, you can reserve tickets in advance here. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for youth ages 3-17, and children under three are free. Weekdays, the arboretum is open from 10am to 5pm and on weekends it is open from 9am to 5pm. Keep in mind that the last entry is at 4pm.
- Depending on your family size, if you think you’ll want to visit multiple times it might be worth getting a membership. For a family of four, two adults and two children over three, the membership would be paid for in only two visits and includes other benefits likes a 10% discount at the café and shop, a guest pass and reciprocal admission to other gardens.
- There are maps on plaques throughout the garden, but you can find a digital copy of the map to plan your visit here.
- Seeing the entire arboretum will probably take you 3-4 hours.
- When you get hungry there is the Compton Café, where you can purchase snacks, drinks and lunch. You are allowed to bring outside food into the arboretum and throughout the park there are benches and picnic tables–some even have umbrellas–to enjoy a picnic lunch.
- There are multiple bathrooms throughout the park. I used the bathrooms by the fernery and the café and did not notice a changing table or a nursing station.
- There is a paved pathway that goes around the entire park, making it easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Many attractions, however, like the rose garden, are off the path. We would leave our stroller just off the path, and then after exploring the attraction go back to the path to gather our stroller again. There also appear to be tours given on a golf cart if mobility is an issue.
- I have been to the arboretum multiple times, always on weekends, and it has never been full. If you are concerned about that though you can reserve tickets in advance. Parking is free. There is an upper parking lot, close to the entrance, and a lower parking lot that is a hike up to the garden. I have seen the upper parking lot fill up, so if that is a concern to you I would suggest arriving earlier.
- Keep in mind the park is not in downtown Philadelphia, but instead about a 40-minute drive (depending on traffic) outside of Center City in the historic Chestnut Hill area, which is quite a beautiful destination all on its own. If you are making the trip you might want to consider other things to do in Chestnut Hill along the West Septa Line, the East Septa Line, and if you are visiting in winter there is Chestnut Hill on Ice. And if you are visiting Philadelphia from out of town, here are some fun things to do with kids in Philadelphia.
- Arboretum etiquette states that bikes, scooters and skates are not permitted in the park. Additionally, you are not allowed to climb on the sculptures or trees, go into or climb on the fountains or walk in the flower beds.
- If your kids love your visit, you could consider signing them up for the summer camp held at the Morris Arboretum.
Photos by the author