Brenton Arboretum is a 140-acre outdoor museum with over 2200 trees set in a beautiful Iowa landscape. But there’s much more than trees! Add prairie, streams, and ponds, and you have an all-around excellent outdoor adventure.
While you’re there, hike the trails, take a tour, or have a picnic. And the kids love the natural playground!
The mission of the Brenton Arboretum is to bring joy to all through the beauty and knowledge of the natural world of trees through quiet enjoyment, education, conservation and research.
A Brief History of Brenton Arboretum
Brenton Arboretum was once the Brenton family homestead, established in the 1850s.
In the 1960s, Buz Brenton thought perhaps the farm could one day be a space for people to enjoy nature. And when his sister, Jane Eddy, gave him The Book of Trees by William Grimm, it spurred a passion for identifying trees and shrubs—and protecting the environment.
In the 1990s, Mr. Brenton and his brother divided the Brenton family farm in half. Around that same time, Mr. Brenton had decided to pursue his enthusiasm for trees. So he searched for a place in Central Iowa to restore and protect the woodlands and wetlands. That’s when his wife, Sue, suggested they use the site of the family farm to plant trees.
His idea was to plant similar species of trees in groupings, so visitors could learn to identify them more readily. And when people got familiar with the trees, they would develop a deeper appreciation. Thus, the experience would inspire them to promote the protection of the trees and the earth.
The first trees got planted in 1997. And, after much hard work and research, Brenton Arboretum became a public arboretum. Over the years, it’s continued to grow and expand and now features over 2500 trees.
Want to know more about the Brenton Arboretum story? We recommend Buz Brenton’s excellent book, The Brenton Arboretum: A Personal Story.
Things to Do at Brenton Arboretum
Walk among the trees on over 4 miles of interconnecting trails! Along the way, stop at the collections of trees—tree tags and collections maps help you learn about them. For mileage and descriptions of each trail section, see Brenton’s map.
Take a tour
- The Stormwater Walk is a self-guided walk to learn more about erosion and runoff and their solutions. Soon, you’ll be able to use a smartphone to learn more about streambank mitigation. And identify and learn more about the plants and trees that are part of the solution!
- Leaf Walk Self-Guided Tour is coming soon—check the Brenton Arboretum website for more.
Guided walking and seated tours are available by request. School-sponsored field trips are free, but other groups must pay a fee. Contact the arboretum for more information.
Walk the Labyrinth
Slow it down, and enjoy a peaceful walk at the labyrinth! The Brenton Arboretum Labyrinth is a spiral, grassy path outlined with brick. A labyrinth is a maze of sorts, but there’s only one way in and out. It’s an ancient symbol of the meandering path of life, going inward and back out into the world. And it’s often used as a quiet walk for meditation, a way to ground oneself and reflect. Find the labyrinth on the west side of the gravel loop (just east of the gravel parking lot).
Play on the Natural Playground
The O’Brien Nature Play Area has structures for climbing, swinging, and crawling. It even has a living tunnel! The pavilion is nearby and is perfect for some shade and a picnic. Find the natural playground on the north side of the park.
Stop for a picnic at the pavilion! The pavilion is at the top of a hill and offers visitors scenic views of the surrounding landscape. And it has a living roof! Picnic tables are available, and it’s first-come, first-serve unless the pavilion is reserved for an event.
There are a ton of ways to learn about trees, shrubs, and more at Brenton! For example, the tree tags tell you what kind of tree you’re looking at. And you can use the maps to help you locate specific trees and view collections.
And the Horticulture Library is full of great resources! The library is free, but only members can borrow books. And it’s only open by appointment only-call 515-992-4211.
Volunteer opportunities abound at Brenton Arboretum! They have options for public education, garden bed caretakers, events, office work, prairie maintenance, pruning, weeding, and more!
Maps of Brenton Arboretum
Below are links to the Brenton Arboretum maps.
- Brenton Visitor Map: Themed Trails and Features
- Trail Mileage Map
- Collections Map of trees and shrubs
- Crabapple Tree Map
Things to Do Nearby
The Raccoon River Valley Trail runs just south and east of the arboretum, through Adel and Dallas Center. This 89-mile paved trail spans four counties and fourteen towns in Central Iowa! Trail users love the amenities in the small communities along the route.
The North Raccoon River Water Trail is just south of the arboretum. There are river access points in Adel and Van Meter. Check out the Iowa DNR North Raccoon River Water Trails Brochure (Dallas County) for details.
The Voas Nature Area is about 15 miles north of the arboretum. And it’s an excellent place to hike through the Iowa prairie. Voas includes almost 600 acres of restored prairie and wetlands and 5 miles of mowed trails!
Visit Brenton Arboretum Today!
Brenton Arboretum is open daily from 9 am to sunset.
Admission is FREE! There is a nominal fee for dogs (unless you’re a member).
The address is 25141 260th St, Dallas Center, IA 50063.