I LOVE this place! The Brenton Arboretum is in Dallas Center, Iowa, and just a short drive NW from the metro. It’s free to get in and has an amazing natural play space in addition to lots of trails, a lake, and a new stone labyrinth. It’s a perfect place for sunny Fall days, and we had a lovely hike and play this past week.
You can see more specific details on the Brenton Arboretum page below or check out its location on the interactive map.
The roads leading out to it are gravel, but the signage is great and easy to find. There is a visitor’s kiosk right inside with brochures and maps, but it is a pretty simple place to navigate. If you keep driving straight, you’ll see trail markers and then eventually bump into the natural playspace. If you keep driving, you’ll come to a one-way drive out of the arboretum, with additional trails and the new stone labyrinth.
We set out on the “leaf trail” that you come across first, crossing over a couple of cute little bridges and checking out all the trees.
Lots of the trees had lost their leaves, but there was still plenty of colors!
We didn’t see many birds or animals this trip but did find lots of unique flora. My kids loved these tiny pinecones and feeling the cottony spores. I’m not sure what the bottom right growths were, maybe a type of fungi? Chime in if you know! Very small and on the ground along with the wood chips.
We cut up to the road to get back to our cars, walking past this little lake. There is a brown box by the large tree off to the right with nets that the public can use to fish around and investigate the water.
Then we hit up the natural playscape! Both my kids have enjoyed this since before they could walk and it’s a lovely place to sit and chat while kids play. It’s connected to a short path around the same lake as above if you feel like hiking more.
This tunnel is lots of fun, although be warned that your kids will beg you to climb inside and you’ll hit your head.
The log slice swing is great, and no one can resist climbing the tree.
These hay bales are often covered in bugs and my kids love jumping off of them.
There are additional logs, slices, and sticks all over for building and playing – I think one of my favorite aspects is seeing what structures people built before and left for us to find! You can see the pavilion in the background, the roof is “green” and planted which is cool to see.
It is worth the drive to come out and explore! We need to spend more time on the other trails, I know it’s very popular for dog walking as well. Let me know if you’ve been!