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Guide to Arbor Day Farm

If you've driven into Nebraska, you may have seen signs proclaiming it "the home of Arbor Day" and wondered what that meant. Arbor Day was started in Nebraska in 1872, and since then, millions of trees are planted each year all around the world as part of Arbor Day celebrations! The Arbor Day Foundation plays a huge role in making this happen, and in preserving the history of Arbor Day.

So, I was super excited to work with them to write an article for Living Here Midwest magazine about the history of Arbor Day, and to find out more about how Arbor Day started and about what the foundation does now to continue their mission into the future. And spoiler alert: they do this largely through tons of fun at their spectacular Arbor Day Farm and attractions including the Tree Adventure, Porter's BBQ and the Apple Market, the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, and the Lied Lodge Hotel.

Thank you to the Arbor Day Foundation for covering my admission to the Tree Adventure and Arbor Lodge and my hotel room. 

Where is Arbor Day Farm?

The Arbor Day Farm is in Nebraska City, NE on the historic estate of J. Sterling Morton. Morton served as Mayor of Nebraska City, Governor of the Nebraska Territory, Nebraska State Secretary of Agriculture, Governor of the state of Nebraska, and as United States Secretary of Agriculture. And in 1872 he started Arbor Day. Today, the Arbor Day fun covers a huge part of the former Morton estate and includes a hotel, Tree Adventure, and a state park!
The official address for the Arbor Day Farm is 2611 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, Nebraska and there is free parking around the farm and state park in several lots.

Tree Adventure at Arbor Day Farm

The main attraction at Arbor Day Farm is the Tree Adventure. This beautiful attraction is a place for everyone, but especially kids, to go enjoy trees by playing in and around them and by learning about them from informative signage around the property. To start your own Arbor Day Tree Adventure, head into the gift shop to pay for your admission, then, go out to play! 

Inside the gift shop are a variety of nice gifts from Arbor Day branded t-shirts and Christmas ornaments to plush woodland creatures, colored pencils that look like they're made of twigs, books, and Nebraska-made snacks. Behind the gift shop, there are acres upon acres of fun to play in. As you head outside, be sure to grab the kids' activity booklets. If kids complete the same number of activities as their age, they get a special badge on the way home!
One of the first areas you come to after leaving the gift shop is the Nature Classroom. In this fun area, there are tons of educational activities for kids including musical instruments, a treehouse draped with colorful fabrics, natural wood blocks in a variety of sizes, a log circle and tipi, and lots of fun sculptures, wiggly bridges, and other things for kids to climb on or in. This was the most toddler friendly part of the Tree Adventure, and my kids could have easily spent all day in here. 

But there was just as much fun yet to come! 
The next area has tons of climbing fun for kids, like some walls with climbing ropes or rock-climbing holds, a huge rope and net spider web, a zipline, a slack line, and more. 
And there was a cute slide that takes you down to the 2/3 mile long South Creek Trail. This area alone also would make a spectacular park! But we still hadn't even come to the best part... 

Treetop Village

The Treetop Village at Arbor Day Farm is a set of 11 interconnected treehouses with different types of bridges from wooden boards to woven ropes and all are protected by rope sides and wooden railings and such. 
There was also steel cable structure, so even the bridges that could sway a bit were very secure. 
There's also a large net called the Wonder Net which was being upgraded at the time we visited. Sounds like fun! 

Then, after the Treetop Village, there's more to play with, climb on, and swing on. One of my kids' favorites was a tunnel made of trees crossing to make a triangular roof and with stretchy ropes crossing between them. 
So going through it was kind of like going through a laser maze in a spy movie, and my 10-year-old adored it and went through at least a half dozen times.  

U-Pick Orchard and Patch

Just a bit further uphill from this area is the entrance to the orchard and pumpkin patch. While Arbor Day Farm and the historic Morton lands do include more ornamental trees, they also have a huge number of fruit or nut trees. And in the U-Pick Orchard and Pumpkin Patch, visitors flock to Nebraska City every fall to pick apples or pumpkins or both. We went after the you-pick season had ended, but there were still some bags of Arbor Day Farm apples available in the gift shop as souvenirs. 
On the other side of the orchard is the Arbor Day Greenhouse, and then a maze beyond that. 

The Apple Market and Porter's

If all that playing and exploring finds you as hungry and thirsty as it did me, you will definitely want to stop by the Apple Market and Porter's. Inside these historic white barns, there is a gift shop, a wine bar, and Porter's BBQ.  The apple cider made with their own apples was delicious! My parents also tried some of the bbq, and they had rave reviews. 
The Apple Market also had nice clean restrooms, and you do not have to enter the restaurant, wine bar, or gift shop areas to use them. 
The Apple Market is outside the Tree Adventure area, easily accessible from the same parking lot (actually slightly closer to the parking lot than Tree Adventure!)

Arbor Day Lodge State Historic Park

Right across the street from the Tree Adventure, Apple Market, and Porter's is the Arbor Lodge State Historic Park and its namesake and star attraction: the Arbor Day Lodge. The historic mansion was the home of the Morton family and was donated to the state of Nebraska to serve as a museum and event space. Inside are spectacular decor, most originally belonging to the Morton family, including furniture, woodwork, books, and fine china from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One I especially found beautiful was a Tiffany glass ceiling in the sunroom!
And there are unique features, like a basement bowling alley. There are also many artifacts related to the Morton family and their accomplishments, like J. Sterling Morton's time as governor of Nebraska, and son Joy Morton's founding and subsequent leadership of the Morton Salt Company. 
The carriage house is also open to the public and contains interesting period details and artifacts like wagons and buggies from the turn of the century. 
The park also includes more than 70 acres of land surrounding the home, and filling this land are many trees planted by the Morton family including some more than a century old.
The paths around the grounds include original brick from the 19th century as well as more modern paths in some places. 

I'm writing a full post about the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and I'll link to that here once it's up!

Arbor Day Farm Events

Arbor Day Farm is a great place to host an event, but also hosts some great ones of their own. The night before we went, they hosted a movie in the treetop village and that sounds like such a blast. They also have really special seasonal and holiday events. While they vary a bit each year, some of the secial events they've hosted in the past include:
  • Arbor Day festivities at all of the Arbor Day properties
  • Murder mysteries at the Lied Lodge
  • Easter Egg Hunts at the Mansion and Tree Adventure
  • Elaborate holiday meals at Porter's for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Arbor Day, and more
  • Santa's Lost Reindeer at the Tree Adventure
  • Elf Hunts and Gnome Hunts at the Tree Adventure
  • Christmas at the Mansion holiday open houses
  • Christmas Tea at the Mansion
  • An upscale, 21+ New Year's Eve party at the Lied Lodge

Where to Stay: Arbor Day Farm's Lied Lodge

While visiting Arbor Day Farms could definitely be an easy day trip from Kansas City, Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, or Sioux City, I definitely recommend staying at Arbor Day's Lied Lodge, which is also run by the Arbor Day Foundation, and which also sits on the land once owned by J. Sterling Morton. This hotel is so beautiful but also kid-friendly and affordable. And it's easy to get to the Lied Lodge from the Arbor Day Farm with a car ride under 5 minutes, or a lovely stroll through the trees. I am working on a full post about the hotel which will be on the blog soon and I'll link it here once it is. But here's a peek at the beautiful room I stayed in. There's also an Olympic sized-pool, hot tub, baby pool, spa, fitness center, gift shop, Timbers gourmet restaurant, and the best hotel coffee I've ever tasted!

More information on Arbor Day Farm

For more information on Arbor Day Farm and to buy tickets or gift cards, visit the Arbor Day Farm website or connect with Arbor Day Farm on Facebook. For more information about Arbor Day and the tree conservation work they do, visit the Arbor Day Foundation.


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