Exploring the Arboretum at Penn State

Water lilies on the reflecting pool at the Penn State Arboretum.
Water lilies on the reflecting pool at the Penn State Arboretum.

The Arboretum at Penn State is a peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Penn State’s main campus in State College.

Rose garden sitting area at the Penn State Arboretum.
Rose garden sitting area.

The Arboretum is located 1 mile west of Beaver Stadium, near the intersection of Park Avenue and Bigler Road, across the street from the Katz Law School Building.

Looking towards the Katz Building from the Penn State Arboretum.
Looking towards the Katz Law School Building from the Penn State Arboretum.

Admission to the Arboretum at Penn State is free, parking costs $1.00 an hour (more on that below).

Crossing the bridge from Penn State campus towards the Arboretum.
Crossing the bridge from Penn State campus towards the Arboretum.

The Arboretum at Penn State is open from dawn until dusk every day.

The H.O.Smith Botanic Gardens at the Penn State Arboretum.
The H.O.Smith Botanic Gardens at the Penn State Arboretum.

Origins of the Arboretum at Penn State

In 2007, alumnus Charles H. “Skip” Smith stepped forward to kickstart the initial construction of the Arboretum with a gift of $10 million dollars, and the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens are named in honor of his father (also a Penn State alumnus).

The H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens at the Penn State Arboretum entrance sign.
The H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens entrance sign.

Since then, the Arboretum at Penn State has matured and grown substantially and in 2021, new pollinator and bird gardens opened that expanded the developed acreage of Arboretum by roughly 60%!

New walking trail in the Pollinators Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
New walking trail in the Pollinator Garden.

Visiting the Arboretum at Penn State

If you’ve never visited the Arboretum at Penn State before, this article will be a great introduction for you.

The fountain at the Penn State Arboretum.

And if you have visited the Arboretum before, I’ll show you what’s new in 2021!

Sidewalk through the Pollinators Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
Sidewalk through the new Pollinator Garden.

You can pick up a free map of the Arboretum at the Overlook Pavilion (pictured below).

Penn State Arboretum Overlook Pavilion.
Overlook Pavilion.

What’s New at the Arboretum at Penn State in 2021

New Parking Rules

Let’s get the bad new out of the way first – there is no more free parking at the Arboretum at Penn State!

Quoting Penn State’s official news release on the matter:

“Visitor parking is available in the Lewis Katz Building lot, just across Bigler Road from the old Arboretum lot. To park in the Katz lot, Arboretum visitors who do not hold a Penn State parking permit that is valid in an Orange lot must pay a fee of $1/hour. Payment may be made via the pay station in the Katz Building lot via credit card, or via the ParkMobile app, which is also available for use in many other parking lots on campus. Visitors may download the ParkMobile app or visit ParkMobile’s Penn State site to learn more. Parking fees apply 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Where to park when visiting the Arboretum at Penn State in 2021.
Where to park when visiting the Arboretum at Penn State in 2021.

New Pollinator and Bird Gardens in 2021

On a much happier note, 2021 marked the opening of the new pollinator and bird gardens, designed to attract pollinating insects as well as resident and migratory birds.

Walking trail through the new Pollinators Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
Walking trail through the new Pollinator Garden.

In addition to thousands of of new plantings, the Wild Bee Hotel at the Penn State Arboretum has created quite a buzz!

Bee habitat in the Pollinators Garden at he Penn State Arboretum.
The Wild Bee Hotel in the Pollinator Garden.

There are also new habitats for humans as well.

Sitting area in the Pollinators Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
Sitting area in the Pollinator Garden.

A large pond/wetland area was added in the Pollinator Garden area, sure to be a hit with the kids.

Pond in the Pollinators Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
Pond in the Pollinator Garden.

What Hasn’t Changed at the Arboretum at Penn State in 2021

If you’ve visited the Arboretum at Penn State before, many of your old favorites features are still present in 2021 (like the sundial, pictured below).

The sundial at the Penn State Arboretum.
The sundial.

The Children’s Garden at the Penn State Arboretum

The Children’s Garden at the Arboretum is still relatively unchanged.

Childhood's Gate at the Penn State Arboretum on a spring day.
Childhood’s Gate on a spring day.

The buffalo sculpture, a favorite photo-op of my family (yes I’m a Penn State alumnus and longtime State College resident) is still resting comfortably where it has been for years.

The buffalo statue in the Children's Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
The author and daughter visiting the buffalo sculpyure.

The caterpillar – still there as well.

The caterpillar in the Children's Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
The caterpillar in the Children’s Garden.

The cave in the Children’s Garden is still the coolest spot to be on a hot summer day.

The cave in the Children's Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
The cave in the Children’s Garden.

While the greenhouse may be the hottest place to be on a summer day!

Inside the greenhouse at the Penn State Arboretum.
Inside the greenhouse.


The Lotus Pond at the Penn State Arboretum

The Lotus Pond is another familiar scene at the Arboretum at Penn State in 2021.

Water lilies on the reflecting pool at the Penn State Arboretum.
The Lotus Pond.

If you happen to catch it on the right evening, the sunset skies cast magical reflections on the pond’s glassy surface.

Sunset over the water lily pond at the Penn State Arboretum.
Sunset over the Lotus Pond.

And every summer the Lotus Pond is still covered with the colorful blooms of aquatic flowers.

Water lily blooming on the Lotus Pond at the Penn State Arboretum.
Water lily blooming on the Lotus Pond.

The Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters Fountain at the Penn State Arboretum

One of the most beloved features at the Arboretum at Penn State is the Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters Fountain.

The Bamboo Gates at the Penn State Arboretum.
The Bamboo Gates and the Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters Fountain.

In 2021, it remains an unchanged and enduring landmark of the Arboretum.

The Penn State Arboretum fountain at dusk.
The fountain at dusk.

The Red Elm at the Penn State Arboretum

Without a doubt the oldest living feature at the Penn State Arboretum is the Red Elm, a favorite spot for folks to gather and watch the sun set.

Sunset behind the red elm tree at the Penn State Arboretum.
Sunset behind the Red Elm.

The Red Elm is also a favorite photo subject of mine in the winter.

The Red Elm at the Penn State Arboretum covered in snow.
The Red Elm covered in snow.

Visiting the Arboretum at Penn State in the Winter

You may not think an arboretum would be much fun to visit during the winter months in State College.

Winter at the Penn State Arboretum, facing the Bamboo Gates with campus in the background.

Well if you thought that, you’d be wrong!

A view of the red alm at the Penn State Arboretum on a snowy morning.
A view of the Red Elm on a snowy morning.

Sure, the colorful blooms have been replaced by a more monotone palate, but it’s just a different kind of beautiful!

A snow-covered buffalo statue at the Penn State Arboretums' Children's Garden.

It’s still an invigorating place to take a morning walk.

The Arboretum at Penn State on a snowy winter morning.
A brisk walk on a snowy winter morning.

Or sit for a spell and enjoy an iced coffee!

Snow-covered Adirondack chairs at the Penn State Arboretum.
Snow-covered Adirondack chairs.

Underneath all that snow, dormant life is just biding its time until the warm rays of springtime sun calls it forth.

The Greenhouse in the Children's Garden on a winter day.
The Greenhouse in the Children’s Garden on a winter day.

And when the plants finally DO wake up, what a treat you’re in for!

Springtime blooms near the Greenhouse at the Penn State Arboretum.
Springtime blooms near the Greenhouse.

Final Thoughts

The Arboretum at Penn State was recognized as one of three “Great Places in Pennsylvania for 2020” by the state chapter of the American Planning Association.

The Children's Garden at the Penn State Arboretum.
The Children’s Garden.

For those of us that live in Happy Valley, we’ve known this all along, but it’s nice that the Arboretum at Penn State is also highly thought of by “outsiders” as well.

Christmas tree at the Penn State Arboretum.

It’s a fantastic place to sit and relax on a spring day.

Adirondack chairs at the Penn State Arboretum.

Or a great place for a brisk walk in the middle of winter.

Overlook Pavilion at the Penn State Arboretum on a winter morning.
Overlook Pavilion on a winter morning.

No matter when you visit the Arboretum at Penn State, you’ll be exploring one of the prettiest places in Happy Valley!

Springtime blooms facing the Overlook Pavilion at the Penn State Arboretum.
Springtime blooms facing the Overlook Pavilion.

This author would like to personally thank all the donors, volunteers, and Penn State staffers that have made the Arboretum at Penn State a great place for me and my family to visit over the years!

Christmastime at the Penn State Arboretum greenhouse.
Christmastime at the greenhouse.

Nearby Attractions

Hiking Mount Nittany is another iconic Happy Valley experience that lives up to the hype!

Happy Valley as viewed from the top of Mount Nittany.
Happy Valley as viewed from the top of Mount Nittany.

You can take in all of State College and the Penn State main campus from the Mike Lynch Overlook on Mount Nittany, and I’ve created this comprehensive hiking guide to help you get there!

Beaver Stadium as viewed from the MIke Lynch Overlook.
Beaver Stadium as viewed from the Mike Lynch Overlook on Mount Nittany.

Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is a Penn State owned-and-operated nature and wildlife center located 12 miles from State College in rural Huntingdon County.

Shaver's Creek is part of Penn State's Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.
Shaver’s Creek is part of Penn State’s Stone Valley Recreation Area in Huntingdon County.

The big draw at Shaver’s Creek is the recently-renovated Aviary, home to many Pennsylvania raptors including our Nation’s symbol, the bald eagle!

A resident bald eagle at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center.
A resident bald eagle at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

State College and Penn State University are surrounded by 5 fantastic state parks, each one unique in its own way.

Sunset at Black Moshannon State Park as viewed from a kayak.
Kayaking at Black Moshannon State Park near State College.

Hiking, swimming, boating, picnicking – just a few of the pastimes you’ll enjoy at the 5 best state parks near State College.

Summertime view of the dam at Greenwood Furnace State Park.
Summertime view of the dam at Greenwood Furnace State Park.

The 5 Best Scenic Overlooks Near State College will introduce you to some of the best vistas in Happy Valley!

A summer afternoon at David's Vista near State College PA
David’s Vista in the Rothrock State Forest near State College.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Centre County honors the service of Pennsylvanians in all branches of the military, from colonial times to the present day.

The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg.

Exploring the Ghost Town of Scotia Near State College offers visitors a chance to explore the ruins of a late 1800s iron-mining boomtown.

Remains of the ore washer at Scotia.
Remains of the ore washer at Scotia.

The area around Scotia is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Bert Delige (AKA “The Black Ghost of Scotia”), who was publicly hanged in the Bellefonte Jail courtyard on April 25, 1911, the last public hanging in Centre County.

A rendering of what the Black Ghost of Scotia is rumored to look like.
A rendering of what the Black Ghost of Scotia is rumored to look like.

His remains were buried near his home in Scotia, and to this day hikers and hunters on the State Game Lands where Scotia now lies report seeing his ghost, particularly around the anniversary of his hanging.

An artist's rendition of the Black Ghost of Scotia.
An artist’s rendition of the Black Ghost of Scotia.

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Rusty Glessner is a professional photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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