If you find yourself dreaming of green landscapes with lush foliage where you can breathe in some fresh air and enjoy some serenity, then you owe it to yourself to visit Mountain Top Arboretum.
The Arboretum is an advocate for plants and nature. It pursues its mission through its role as a museum of plant communities arranged in gardens and landscapes and through its extensive education programs in horticulture. Mountain Top Arboretum explores human connections to the natural world by fostering curiosity and inspiring a sense of stewardship of the environment.
Mountain Top Arboretum was founded by the Ahrens family who designed a seven acre mountain top garden in 1977.
Their goal was to display all kinds of native and non-native trees and shrubs at an elevation of 2,400 feet. The Ahrens had a unique idea: to study how different plants acclimate to the mountain top’s rigorous climate.
Over the years, the Arboretum grew in size and so has its commitment to land stewardship, both in terms of managing an important watershed ecosystem and in maintaining the delicate native plant communities.
The Arboretum has 23 acres of foliage distributed across three different areas: the West Meadow, the East Meadow, and the Woodland Walk.
A 163 acre wild forest called Black Spruce has an extensive network of trails along bogs, fen, and mixed hardwood. The trails and boardwalks connect over 178 acres of plant collections, wetlands, and natural meadows – serving as a hotspot for horticulturalists, geologists, birders, and even hikers!
Besides supporting plants and shrubs, the arboretum is also home to a wide range of birds and amphibians.
The chitter and chatter of over 70 species of birds can be heard throughout Mountain Top Arboretum.
West Meadow sits on 7 acres of land that is surrounded by mountain tops. It hosts wildflowers, native grasses, and hardy shrubs such as low lush blueberry that adapt to the exposed thin soil, windy exposure, and bedrock.
It contains the Rain Garden that slows the meltwater from spring thaws. The flowering perennials mix with grasses and sedges that thrive in the wet climate.
There is a Bird Cove in the upper section of the Rain Garden. It hosts a variety of shrubs that provide shelter to various birds. Over 60 bird species have been spotted here.
The Spiral Labyrinth contains plants that bloom throughout all four seasons, providing visitors with a dizzying mix of blooms.
Further to the eastern side of the meadow are the Dwarf conifers. The Arboretum has leveraged the mountain climate to pack the three berms with a stunning variety of spruce, fir, cypress, juniper, dwarf pine, and others.
East Meadow has 10 acres of boardwalks and paved trails that pass through an old pine allee, an American hedgerow, a wetland with spirea and wild asters, and masses of wild blueberry.
Check out the Pine Allee to see towering white pine trees. The Arboretum has plans to replace these trees with younger trees. A multitude of grasses and sedges grow under the shade of the canopy.
The American Hedgerows species and cultivars of native shrubs like red twig dogwood, winterberry, elderberry, and twigged willows. The hedgerow is available to visitors throughout the year, with masses of flowers in the spring and summer months, fruits and berries in fall, and twigs in the winter.
The Fern Trail leads into the western edge of the wetland that hosts a variety of ferns, mosses, and lichens, all under the shade of fir, birch, and beech.
The Wetland Boardwalk Winds its way around an abundant community of asters, goldenrods, winterberry, and reds. The view across the wetland provides a stunning sight in every season. Birding in this area is particularly useful.
The Woodland Walk is a sanctuary of plant communities of the deciduous forest. It contains a Fairy Garden where children can interact with the birch bark, moss tones, and other elements to build fairy houses and miniature gardens.
There is an Outdoor Classroom where visitors can sign up for classes and lectures to learn more about the environment.
The best time to visit Woodland Walk is in April when the trout lily blooms and shows off its colorful petals, shortly before the canopy trees leaf out. You can also visit by late June to see the Mountain Laurel Collection, a series of native species called Kalmia latifolia, and various cultivars.
Birding in the Area
Mountain Top Arboretum is a popular birding hotspot with a wide range of bird species. Although it doesn’t have the highest reported cases of rare birds, it’s worth exploring for bird enthusiasts.
Birders will delight in hearing the chatter of songbirds like robins, cedar waxwings, northern cardinals, and others. These birds mostly hang around deciduous trees for their mulberries. The shrubs provide support to tree swallows, eastern bluebirds, and gray catbirds.
Meanwhile, the chokeberries attract thrushes, brown thrashers, northern flickers, and blue jays. So make sure to bring your binoculars with you to improve your odds of finding unique birds.
The Exposed Bedrock shows evidence of glacial activity. It dates back to about 375 million years ago in the Devonian Era. Glacial activity carried cobbles that were ground into the bedrock. They left scratches behind them in the north-to-south orientations, allowing geologists to record the direction of the glacier’s flow. These are known as glacial striations and are easy to see.
There is a strata of sandstone that was knocked off by the passing sheet of ice. The ice formed a bond with the rock and yanked the rock loose. This left a strata of sandstone facing south.
The Hemlock Trail also provides plenty of evidence to archaeologists. The trail takes visitors through Spruce Glen. This part of the property is a glaciated landscape with no bare bedrock exposed. The glaciers left behind heaps of earth as they melted. This shows signs of global warming.
Mountain Top Arboretum shows the flora and fauna of the Catskills region. Horticulturalists, casual gardeners, birders, and even geologists flock to the arboretum every year to experience nature.
The best part about Mountain Top Arboretum is that it is available to the public year-round, with some new experiences every season.