East Side Walking Trails
The East Side of the Arboretum encompasses 1,118 acres, 963 of which are accessible to the public. The Visitor Center, Administration and Research Building, the majority of Plant Production facilities, and tree breeding nurseries are all found on the East Side.
Big Rock Visitor Station (P-13) is a portal to the Heritage and Woodland Trails, with some illustrated panels on the history of the area and the ecosystems that evolved to accommodate the changing landscape.
See why the Arboretum's, Mary Samerdyke, Docent and Tram Interpreter Coordinator, loves the East Side Main Loop 4.
- East Side Main Loop 1
- East Side Main Loop 2
- East Side Main Loop 3
- East Side Main Loop 4
- Conifer Trails
- Big Rock Trails
The shortest of the East Side Main Trails, the East Side Main Loop 1 trail is a 1.00-mile, wood-chipped trail that passes through some of the most attractive collections on Arboretum grounds.
In spring, the azaleas and rhododendrons in the Plants of Acid Soils Collection bloom. These hard-to-grow shrubs are planted in raised beds and mulched with oak leaves and pine needles to make the soil acidic enough for the plants to grow.
The fragrant Honeysuckle and Viburnum Collection is a delight year-round with flowers in spring, attractive leaves and berries in late summer, brilliant color in autumn, and interesting forms in winter.
Loop 1 is also the gateway to the Arboretum's Geographic Collections: Asia, Europe, and North America. These collections provide a hint of the plant diversity that grows throughout the world. They showcase the similarities between native species and other species that live far from one another, but have adapted to similar climates in similar ways.
In spring, the Magnolias and Relatives Collection comes alive with fragrances and blossoms. Visitors can step off the main trail to view the crabapples in full bloom around Crabapple Lake in spring. Or you can explore the fascinating ecosystem around Crowley Marsh.
At 1.58 miles, East Side Main Trail Loop 2 is the longest of all the Arboretum's trails. This wood-chipped trail passes through the Appalachia Collection, the Buckeye Collection and through oak woodlands, maples, beeches, and more.
The Buckeye Collection was started in 1940 and features 24 different kinds of tree and shrub forms of buckeye and horse-chestnut.
Two patches of upland oak woods and the Maple and Beech Collections make this trail a must-see in autumn. Visitors can see the Arboretum's oldest paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in this area. The Beech Collection was started in 1950 on the grounds of an old farmstead and contains a variety of native and European beech selections.
Loop 2 also passes through the unique wetland ecosystem of Bur Reed Marsh. A boardwalk allows visitors to walk through the area and get up close to the plants that thrive in this soggy environment.
East Side Main Trail Loop 3 is a 1.47-mile, wood-chipped trail. Like Loop 2, it passes through the vibrant Maple and Beech Collections, the Oak Collections, the Spruce Plot and Bulb Meadow. Visitors can use Loop 3 to visit the Big Rock Visitor Station (P-13). Completed in 2000, the Visitor Station is a gateway to the northern edge of the East Woods and has three interpretive trails offering information about oak and maple woodlands, meadows, and wildlife.
The main attraction for the wood-chipped, 1.49-mile East Side Main Trail Loop 4 is the East Woods. Over 500 acres of oak and sugar maple woodlands grow throughout this area of the Arboretum. Visitors can keep their eyes open for stunning displays of spring woodland wildflowers and varieties of oak and maple, including some of the best sugar maples on the Arboretum's grounds.
The East Woods is a managed woodland. Threatened by invasive species such as honeysuckle and buckthorn, the Arboretum uses controlled burns and hand removals to minimize invasive species and ensure that native plants have a chance to survive and thrive in their woodland environment. It, along with the woodlands in the adjacent Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, was originally named Kings Grove for Sherman King, a veteran of the Black Hawk War of 1832, who settled in the area. This large grove was an important source of timber and maple sugar for the early settlers of the area.
Loop 4 also serves as the gateway to Etter and Puffer Marshes. Etter Marsh is a natural wetland while Puffer Marsh was a man-made pond that is reverting to a cattail marsh.
See why the Arboretum's, Mary Samerdyke, Docent and Tram Interpreter Coordinator, loves the East Side Main Loop 4 in winter.
The Majesty of the Conifers Await You
Enter a serene world among the majestic beauty of the conifers. From the Visitor Center, take the path between the Maze and Children's Garden, and then turn left on the Conifer Walk. This half-mile paved path guides you past 150 different species of junipers, pines, spruces, firs, yews, and larches.
Branch off the main trail and stand in the midst of the Conifer Collection. Conifer means "cone bearing." Conifers bear their seeds in cones of different shapes and sizes. They usually have needles or scale-like leaves.
Touch the blue juniper cones or the soft needles of larches. Photograph the interesting bark of cypress or redwood. Or hike through Douglas firs, spruces, and hemlocks.
Conifers have long since stirred imaginations of people of many cultures. Author J.K. Rowling (1965-) gave Lord Voldemort, the main villain in the Harry Potter books, a wand of yew to match his character: long-lived and poisonous. Pines inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson's (1803-1832) Woodnotes II: "Who leaves the pine-trees, leaves his friend, unnerves his strength, invites his end."
Explore our new, quarter-mile Conifer Loop, just off the Conifer Walk. This short, easy stroll takes you through diverse terrain featuring a pleasing mix of wide vistas and enclosed spaces. Kids will enjoy playing hide 'n seek among 50-year-old yews with sculptural shapes, looking for the weeping Katsura tree, and spying an unusual Ginkgo.
The Vanishing Acts exhibit is located along the Conifer Loop. Young and old alike can learn about endangered trees and the simple things we can do to protect them. Look for the "secret arrow" leading to a beautiful Fraser fir, one of the exhibit's featured trees.
Also along the Conifer Loop, you'll find the Dwarf Conifer Garden and the Dwarf Deciduous Shrub Collections. They contain examples of attractive, easy-to-maintain trees, shrubs, evergreens, and woody perennials that remain small throughout their lifetime.
Is it possible to experience 12,000 years of landscape history by taking a 1.3 mile walk? Yes. Walk or hike Heritage Trail and see evidence of human history. Patterns of tree distribution along the trail tell intricate tales of soil characteristics, prairie fire, and human habitation. A large granite boulder, we call Big Rock, silently testifies to the mighty power of the glaciers. An abandoned saw mill road reveals just how important an oak grove was to pioneer settlers. Great old bur oaks and walnuts quietly recall the lives and cultures of Native Americans who lived in their shade.
Heritage Trail is delicate with wildflowers in spring, vibrant green in summer, brilliant in autumn color, and serene in winter. The trail begins at the Big Rock Visitor Station (P-13). A short, paved loop at the visitor station introduces you to some of the plants and habitats you will discover as you walk Heritage Trail. Interpretive panels along the trail assist you in recognizing the many stories the land tells.
If you're looking for a short (0.6-mile) 20-40 minute winter walk, Woodland Trail is perfect. Start from Big Rock Visitor Station. The exhibit panels you'll find along the trail provide a little extra information about the plants and animals you might encounter.
As you begin your walk, take a look at the trees around you. This is a mesic woodland which means the area is usually moist and well-drained. Ironwood, bur oak, red oak, white oak, sugar maple, and white ash are the most common trees you'll find.
As you continue on the trail, be on the lookout for four-legged or winged residents. Animals are part of any healthy woodland. See if you can find scat (droppings), fur or feathers, tracks, or nests in the snow.