When J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, moved to the Nebraska Territory in the 1850s, he wanted to build a home overlooking the Missouri River, but there weren’t enough trees on the grasslands to do it. Morton decided to change that. Today, the fruit of his efforts is the 260-acre Arbor Day Farm, devoted to fostering a love of trees and nature in children and adults alike.
The Arbor Day site consists of two largely separate entities: the state park, and the working farm.
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park
Arbor Lodge, the Morton family’s three-story mansion, sits in a shady, 72-acre state park. The park is free and open to the public daily, and has a playground and walking trails. You can also stroll through the family gardens. Arbor Lodge and its carriage house require an admission fee, which may be purchased separately or bundled with a visit to the farm, which lies across the street.
The Arbor Day Farm is a working tree farm, vineyard and orchard. The public area is known as the Tree Adventure. Here, you’ll find:
- Two outdoor nature classrooms, which contain areas for art, tree house-building, and music. (Our kids, ages 4-11, didn’t want to leave this area!)
- A greenhouse where seedlings are sprouted for shipping and planting all over the country, as well as a cooler in which you can choose a seedling to take home and plant.
- Two “rope” adventures: a tightrope and a spider web climbing apparatus.
- The paved “tree house” and 2/3-mile wood chip “South Table Creek” trails, both of which are studded with quirky and fun artwork. The tree houses are freestanding structures; my kids had envisioned something more Swiss Family Robinson, but the tree houses are beautiful structures nonetheless. Plan to let your younger kids have some pretend play time here. Both trails offer lots of interpretive boxes, from a chance to imitate bird sounds to a set of signs to help you identify trees.
- The Discovery Ride is a canopied wagon that travels around the farm to demonstrate the history and mission of the farm. If you visit in the late summer or fall, you might get to stop and pick an heirloom apple straight off the tree in the “preservation” orchard.
Most of the Tree Adventure is wheelchair/stroller accessible, but not the wood chip trail and the upper levels of the tree houses. Give yourself at least 3 hours to do justice to the Tree Adventure, and if you have a whole day, give yourself permission to fill it.
Shopping, Dining, and Lodging at the Arbor Day Farm:
Both the Arbor Lodge and the Tree Adventure have gift shops; the Tree Adventure shop is filled with home-baked pies, popcorn, jams, jellies, and wines, including wine tastings. The staff was very accommodating, and we were able to take advantage of this even with our kids around. The cafe adjacent to the gift shop serves basic hot dogs and burgers, as well as pies. The farm also provides a shaded picnic area, so you can bring lunch with you. Sit-down dining is available at the Lied Lodge, a log-cabin inspired hotel and conference center, featuring an indoor lap pool, sauna, and fitness center.
The Arbor Day Farm is open daily; check the website, since hours vary by season. The best value for visiting the Arbor Day Farm is the all-access day pass, which grants access to the Tree Adventure and the Arbor Lodge mansion, at $15 for adults, $11 for children 3-12. If you’re on a tight schedule, you can purchase separate entry either to the mansion or the Tree Adventure (adults $8, children $6). Discovery rides are separate at $5 for all ages. The Arbor Day Farm also offers a variety of annual passes, outlined here.
The Arbor Day Farm is located in Nebraska City, NE, 45 minutes from both Omaha and Lincoln.
My family and I experienced the site as guests of the Arbor Day Farm, in exchange for an unbiased review.