As parents know, going to a place where kiddos can stretch their legs, and get a little nature to boot, is always worth adding to the itinerary. Gardens certainly fit the bill, and there are green spaces across Pennsylvania that offer exciting outside adventures for kids large and small, whether they’re looking to twirl through a field or learn more about botany.
Allegheny RiverTrail Park
Formerly Aspinwall Riverfront Park, the Allegheny RiverTrail Park is an 11-acre waterfront oasis and a prime example of building a green space that serves all members of a community, including the littlest ones. Kids can stroll the walking trail, taking in native plantings and wetlands, enjoy free ice skating in the winter, or hit the river itself in a kayak thanks to a partnership between Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh. And don’t miss the jaw-dropping 30-by-30-by-24-foot bronze sculpture by New York artist Tom Otterness. Named “Playground,” it also happens to be a playground, complete with a slide.
The Arboretum at Penn State
Opened in 2014, the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State begs to be explored. Designed for children ages three to 12, this enticing space is rife with quirky doorways, climbable structures such as a large painted caterpillar, and a gorgeous bell-shaped greenhouse. Kids can get hands-on, planting, nurturing, and harvesting vegetables in the Harvest Gardens. Produce that is not used in on-site demonstrations is donated to the State College food bank. During one recent growing season, the program donated nearly 3,000 pounds of herbs and vegetables. Be sure to stop at the famous Berkey Creamery for ice cream on your way home.
When everyone has had enough of roller coasters and chocolate treats, head over to Hershey Gardens and let nature refresh you. The magnificent site is home to greenhouses, expansive grounds, stunning flowers, and a designated Children’s Garden featuring Hershey’s Kisses-shaped misters, themed plantings, and the Hoop House, where inquisitive kids can learn about growing plants at home.
Lake Erie Arboretum
Located in Frontier Park in downtown Erie, the Lake Erie Arboretum is a compact arboretum that has plenty to offer including a stone labyrinth, a winter garden, living sculptures made from willow rods, wetlands, and a sledding hill. But the number one draw for young folks — and those young at heart — is The Griff Slides. The four massive metal slides are two stories high and sure to provide plenty of thrills
Longwood Gardens has that perfect cocktail for kids: trails and fields to frolic in plus specialized spaces targeted directly at their whimsical imaginations. In the winter, they’ll be amazed at the famous holiday light displays and no matter what the season, they can explore the Indoor Children’s Garden. This 4,000-square-foot space features fragrant herbs, cascading waterfalls, and fantastical fountains. There’s also a bamboo maze, a dripping cave, and artistically rendered bugs hidden in the architecture.
The Morris Arboretum is located on the outskirts of Philadelphia and has a plethora of enticing attractions for the little ones. For the daring types, Out on a Limb is a 50-foot-high canopy walk featuring the Squirrel Scramble, an expansive hammock-like net. Meanwhile, train-lovers should save plenty of time to admire the Garden Railway, a quarter-mile outdoor track surrounded by miniature buildings and trees. Be sure you take a moment to wander through the Fairy Woods, keeping an eye out for magical friends.
Paxon Hill Farm
A visit to the Paxon Hill Farm nursery allows parents to get some plant-shopping done while the kids have their own fun. An on-site walking garden is ripe for exploration, boasting ponds, unusual plants, farm animals, and a hobbit house. Shoppers are welcome to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the grounds. Keep an eye out for the peacocks!
Rivers of Steel
If your kid is into trucks and construction equipment, wait until they get a load of a century-old blast furnace at Rivers of Steel. While some in your group might spend their visit to Rivers of Steel running through fields of wildflowers, others will gape in awe at the industrial relics that litter the property. The site offers a monthly botanist-led tour called “the Iron Garden Walk,” providing a fresh way to experience the 35-acre slice of local heritage.
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
A slice of the east nestled in Fairmount Park, this gorgeous, traditional Japanese home and garden feels like a window to another world. The Shofoso Japanese House and Garden historic site hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival in early spring, and in May, Children’s Day features kamishibai (a form of Japanese street theater), crafts, and koinobori (koi flags). Older kids can participate in weekly traditional tea ceremonies and learn about this ancient and meditative practice. Be sure to book this popular activity in advance.
The Tyler Arboretum
Dating back to the times of William Penn, the Tyler Arboretum is committed to making kids feel just as engaged as their parents. From the screened structure containing monarchs, sulphurs, hairstreaks, red-spotted purples, great spangled fritillaries, painted ladies, and swallowtails, to the Stopford Family Meadow Maze — a seasonal labyrinth made from wildflowers — to a series of tree houses along the property’s hiking trails, there’s magic to be found at every turn.
Woodmere Art Museum
Located in the leafy, historic Chestnut Hill neighborhood, this small art museum is a hidden gem. The Woodemere Art Museum’s grounds are perfect for burning off energy while experiencing a series of bold outdoor sculptures. Dubbed Woodmere’s Outdoor Wonder (WOW!), the open-air collection boasts stunning, tactile pieces alongside monumental estate trees planted in the 19th century, a pollinator garden, and contemporary stormwater-management features such as a bioswale and step pools.
Yenser’s Tree Farm
The Yenser’s Tree Farm is a family-owned small business that rolls out the red carpet for kiddos. During their annual Sunflower Festival (August) and Fall Fest (September-October), they open the Farm Fun Zone, featuring a Tire Mountain with tube slide, bubble station, giant bounce pad and obstacle course. And that’s just the beginning: Don’t miss the 2-acre sunflower maze, hay rides, and free cookies and cocoa during Christmas tree season. No matter what time of year, children can enjoy the fresh air and space to run — but mark your calendar for Food Truck & Firepit Fridays in the fall.