Stroll through beautiful woodlands, flower gardens, and ecosystems from all seven regions of the state at the University of Kentucky Arboretum!
By: Alisha Trenalone
There are few things more peaceful than taking a leisurely walk through the woods.
There’s even a catchy name for it that’s taken off in recent years: “forest bathing.” Whether or not you like to describe your outdoor time in such a fanciful way, you probably know the simple pleasure of it.
It’s especially rewarding when you can find a green oasis somewhere in the midst of a city.
The University of Kentucky Arboretum in Lexington, Kentucky, is one such beauty spot. Have you ever visited? Here’s what to expect if you go!
What to Know Before You Go
The arboretum, which is also Kentucky’s official state botanical garden, sprawls across 100 acres near downtown Lexington.
There’s plenty of parking at the lot off Alumni Drive, and the property is open every day – except when there’s a football game scheduled at the nearby stadium. (One word: traffic!)
Admission is free, but there is a small cost if you want to visit the children’s garden.
Sometimes there are special events, exhibits and workshops: you can check out the calendar at the arboretum website.
Visiting the University of Kentucky Arboretum
If you’re fortunate enough to visit the arboretum in spring, likely the first thing you’ll see once you leave the parking lot is a spectacular display of tulips.
Within sight of these flower beds is the small visitor center, with educational materials and displays, as well as restrooms.
This central hub of the arboretum can be a bit busy on nice-weather days and weekends. But once you get out onto the paths, you’ll find room to spread out.
From the visitor center, you can pick which direction you want to explore, and there’s really no wrong way to do it.
“Walking Across Kentucky” at the Arboretum
The paved path, which is a two-mile loop, is known as the “Walk Across Kentucky” because it’s divided into the seven different ecosystems of the state.
Signs along the way explain the type of trees and terrain each area is known for.
Want to get off the pavement? Keep your eyes open for dirt paths branching off at various intervals.
Once you’ve diverged from the main path, you’re all the more likely to find secluded, peaceful views.
When I visited in mid-spring, most of the trees had yet to leaf out, but the flowering ones were at peak.
On the western side of the park are the Arboretum Woods, a 15-acre home to old and rare trees. There’s a separate half-mile trail there.
Walking the Gardens
Towards the interior of the arboretum are gardens for flowers, vegetables, and herbs, along with a pond, gazebo, pergola, and other picturesque elements.
It’s not uncommon to see photos being taken in this area for things like prom, engagements, or weddings. Commercial photo permits are available as an annual pass, or just for a one-hour session.
The demonstration gardens are geared toward displaying species that are ideal for cultivating locally.
The horticultural displays aim to inspire you to take some ideas home and experiment.
Spring is, of course, my favorite time to visit the arboretum. But there’s a variety of flowers and design features to keep things beautiful throughout the growing season.
Kentucky Children’s Garden
Just on the other side of the parking lot and to the left, you’ll find the two-acre Kentucky Children’s Garden.
The children’s garden encourages play, as well as a hands-on approach to gardening for little ones age 2-6. There’s a small admission fee, which includes special activities some days during the summer.
Check the website calendar for programming.
Just looking for a place to picnic? The arboretum has that too!
The last time I went, I met up with friends who brought pickup from The Local Taco. (Lexington has many other flavorful options nearby like Pietana and Han Woo Ri.) Enjoying some delicious local eats under the trees is a great way to begin a visit.
And then, whether you have the time for a quick walk, or a long leisurely interlude, the green spaces await you!