The Arboretum at Penn State is a peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Penn State’s main campus in State College.
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.
Admission to the Arboretum at Penn State is free, parking costs $1.00 an hour (more on that below).
The Arboretum at Penn State is open from dawn until dusk every day.
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).
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%!
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.
And if you have visited the Arboretum before, I’ll show you what’s new!
You can pick up a free map of the Arboretum at the Overlook Pavilion (pictured below).
What’s New at the Arboretum at Penn State
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.”
New Pollinator and Bird Gardens
On a much happier note, new pollinator and bird gardens have recently opened, designed to attract pollinating insects as well as resident and migratory birds.
In addition to thousands of of new plantings, the Wild Bee Hotel at the Penn State Arboretum has created quite a buzz!
There are also new habitats for humans as well.
A large pond/wetland area was added in the Pollinator Garden area, sure to be a hit with the kids.
What Hasn’t Changed at the Arboretum at Penn State
If you’ve visited the Arboretum at Penn State before, many of your old favorites features are still present (like the sundial, pictured below).
The Children’s Garden at the Penn State Arboretum
The Children’s Garden at the Arboretum is still relatively unchanged.
The buffalo sculpture is still resting comfortably where it has been for years.
The caterpillar – still there as well.
The cave in the Children’s Garden is still the coolest spot to be on a hot summer day.
While the greenhouse may be the hottest place to be on a summer day!
The Lotus Pond at the Penn State Arboretum
The Lotus Pond is another familiar scene at the Arboretum at Penn State.
If you happen to catch it on the right evening, the sunset skies cast magical reflections on the pond’s glassy surface.
And every summer the Lotus Pond is still covered with the colorful blooms of aquatic flowers.
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.
It remains an unchanged and enduring landmark of the Arboretum.
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.
The Red Elm is also a favorite photo subject of mine in the winter.
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.
Well if you thought that, you’d be wrong!
Sure, the colorful blooms have been replaced by a more monotone palate, but it’s just a different kind of beautiful!
It’s still an invigorating place to take a morning walk.
Or sit for a spell and enjoy an iced coffee!
Underneath all that snow, dormant life is just biding its time until the warm rays of springtime sun calls it forth.
And when the plants finally DO wake up, what a treat you’re in for!
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.
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.
It’s a fantastic place to sit and relax on a spring day.
Or a great place for a brisk walk in the middle of winter.
No matter when you visit the Arboretum at Penn State, you’ll be exploring one of the prettiest places in Happy Valley!
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!
The Penn State All-Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium honors the history, heritage, and accomplishments of Penn State athletes and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics.
The museum features archival images and memorabilia from 34 sports played at the varsity level at Penn State.
Centre Furnace Mansion is significant for both its industrial heritage and as the birthplace of Penn State.
Hiking Mount Nittany is another iconic Happy Valley experience that lives up to the hype!
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!
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.
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!
State College and Penn State University are surrounded by 6 fantastic state parks, each one unique in its own way.
Hiking, swimming, boating, picnicking – just a few of the pastimes you’ll enjoy at the 6 best state parks near State College.
The 5 Best Scenic Overlooks Near State College will introduce you to some of the best vistas in Happy Valley!
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.
Exploring the Ghost Town of Scotia Near State College offers visitors a chance to explore the ruins of a late 1800s iron-mining boomtown.
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.
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.
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