Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Did you know that Arizona is home to one of the oldest botanical gardens this side of the Mississippi? 


Well if you didn’t know now you do. 


Located near Superior, Arizona, about an hour outside of Phoenix is the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. 


If you’re anything like me, the word arboretum is one that you are likely unfamiliar with. An arboretum is a place where trees and plants are grown for scientific and educational purposes. The difference between an arboretum and a botanical garden is that an arboretum must contain different woody species while a botanical garden doesn’t have to.


Founded in 1924 as a dedicated desert plant research facility and “living museum”, this arboretum is nestled within the Sonoran Desert and features over 19,000 plants within 135 acres of gardens. The arboretum covers a total of 400 acres in the Queen Creek Canyon. 


Outside of admiring the endless nature features within this garden, you also have the ability to enjoy 4.7 miles worth of trails. These trails take you through all of the arboretum gardens that represent 11 different regions of the world. 


If you are trying to maximize your time and see the most that you can while visiting, I suggest taking the Main Trail, which is considered easy, and the majority of it is wheelchair accessible. Most of this trail is paved and is well maintained. This trail is 1.5 miles long and takes you through many of the park's most notable features including the Greenhouses, Picket Post House and the Berber Suspension Bridge. It is suggested that you follow this trail in a clockwise fashion for the best views and walking conditions. 


During the months of March and April, every Saturday from 9:00-10:00 am there is a guided Arboretum Discovery Tour that starts at the visitors center. You will learn about the unique qualities of the desert plants and what allows them to grow and flourish in some of the harshest environments. After your one-hour tour you have free reign to explore the rest of the park. 


I suggest wearing your hiking boots and in addition to the Main Trail taking some of the hiking trails that are in the park as well. My favorite trail was the High Trail, which can be accessed by going over the Benson Bridge and hiking back to the Australian Desert garden. This trail is also considered to be an easy one but is not as accessible as the Main Trail. This trail is for those that are interested in a more strenuous hike and getting off the beaten path. 


It is important to note that you are in nature and there is a good possibility that while you are exploring you might encounter birds, javelinas and snakes. Nothing to be worried about, just keep your eyes open for the creatures that could be around you! 


The feature that I was most looking forward to exploring was the greenhouses. After seeing it online and daydreaming of having my own in my backyard one day, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. Built in 1926 as the arboretum’s first administrative building, it is flanked by two beautiful greenhouses. The architecture of the structure itself is beautiful as are the plants within it. The cherry on top, I had the entire space to myself.  


I also really enjoyed exploring the Demonstration Garden. A garden that displayed a very unique and inspirational layout. The main premise of this garden is to demonstrate a number of beautifully landscaped small gardens. These gardens are meant to display what your landscape in a residential or commercial area setting within the desert could look like. 


As always when visiting, the desert be sure to pack more water than you will think that you need, however, there are water fountains scattered throughout the park for visitors' use. Be sure to wear proper footwear as well as packing sunscreen and wearing a sunhat. 


After exploring the arboretum for a few hours, it is likely that you have worked up an appetite. You can enjoy a picnic lunch in the designated picnic area. On the other hand, you can enjoy a prepared meal at the Lever & Leaf located on the Visitor Center Patio. If you are looking for options outside of the park, I would suggest traveling three miles into the city center of Superior and stopping at the Silver King Smokehouse & Saloon for loaded brisket fries and a cold beer! 


This is one of the best nature exhibits I have visited. The sheer size of the arboretum and amount of flora displayed was impressive to say the least. I would absolutely suggest and take anyone visiting Arizona to this not to miss destination. 


Don’t take my word for it though, go and check it out for yourself.


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1 comment

Very impressive!
Thank you for sharing the info!

Susan Greenslsit

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