Get Out: Arnold Arboretum

As the school year drudges on, the brown and grey buildings of Cambridge can often feel as confining as our stacks of midterm papers and textbooks. But spring is here, and the sporadic weather can reward us with some gorgeous days. Grab some friends and escape the confines of campus for a day trip to the Arnold Arboretum, the urban nature center maintained by both Harvard and the City of Boston.

Take a Hike!

The Arnold Arboretum lets visitors strike a balance between a stroll through the manicured lawns of Boston Common and the ruggedness of your FOP trip, minus the stale tortillas and bug bites. With wide, paved paths reminiscent of service roads, the chances of spraining your ankle on a rock are few, but it’s still best to wear comfortable shoes for climbing hills. Many of the paths are flat, making it an easy walk for all fitness levels, but it’s definitely worth the harder hike to the top of Bussey Hill, where it’s practically mandated that visitors stop and admire the view of the Boston skyline. The park paths are linked by main roads, making it difficult to get lost, but it’s still a good idea to pick up a map at the Hunnewell Visitor Center, located right by the Arborway Gate.

Free and Easy

Admission to the arboretum is free with donations welcome, and it is open every day of the year from dawn until dusk. However, for the map readers and tour takers out there (I’m looking at you, visiting grandparents), the Visitor Center is only open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. To get to the Arboretum itself, which is in Boston proper, take the not-so-scenic MBTA Orange Line to the Forest Hills stop, its southernmost end. Leave the T stop through the “Arnold Arboretum” exit and follow the Arborway to the Forest Hills Gate. From here, it’s about a ten-minute, tree-lined walk in the park to the Visitor Center.

Don’t Forget Your Camera

The Arboretum is home to 15,000 types of plants, ranging from familiar maples to a wildflower meadow and bonsai trees. Don’t just stare at your feet like when you walk through the Square, or you could miss surprises like the bright Azalea Border right inside the main gate. Though some guests come to run or rollerblade away from the hustle and traffic of the city, most visitors take leisurely walks and take ample photos. Since spring is just beginning in Boston, be sure to come see the first delicate pink rhododendron blossoms. You may find the perfect backdrop for your next profile picture, or perhaps get an opportunity to judge the girl who’s standing right in front of the plants and taking selfies. And the Arboretum isn’t all flowers—the varied collection offers trees and shrubs from around the world. As a Minnesotan far from home in Boston, I felt at home when surrounded by pine trees and spruces. Also, if you’re up for some family-friendly (read: swarming with small children) festivities, be sure to attend the Lilac Sunday celebration on May 11, with food vendors, games, and a giant picnic on the lawn.

People-Watcher’s Paradise

As an in-city park with free admission, the Arboretum attracts a crowd ranging from high-school track teams to students, elderly couples, and bike commuters. Often, watching your fellow guests can be as enjoyable as watching the plant life. Most guests travel in pairs or packs, from young parents pushing babies in strollers to hipster couples peering out from behind the giant lenses of their DSLRs. The Arboretum also plays host to a wide variety of dogs, which are required to be on-leash but welcome petting from lonely college students. Get a workout in at the Arboretum, too! From personal experience, it takes about half an hour to run to the main gate from campus, and it’s a welcome change from the Charles River path. For those who are less into the athletic possibilities of the Arboretum, the paths are spotted with green benches for relaxing, reflecting, and spectating. If you walk briskly enough to the T, you might even work up enough of a sweat to return to campus with a “healthy glow.”

This spring, don’t get stuck in the library every weekend. Make a day trip to the Arnold Arboretum for some fresh air and sunshine, or make an evening visit to pair the sunset with the silhouettes of trees or the Boston skyline. A beautiful slice of urban nature, the Arboretum is like nothing on campus—or in Boston!

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