A central part of green travel is the imperative to preserve the delicate balance between human and nature, and to nourish and protect the environment as much as possible. Because botanical gardens and other nature-centric attractions make the conservation of rare and quotidian flora their primary concern, they can be both a great resource for those looking to learn more about environmental issues and a fun place to visit.
Botanical gardens usually double as research centers, housing scientists who focus on cultivating, studying, and working with plants from various ecosystems. Many botanists and other plant scientists work to conserve endangered plant specimens as well, as they advocate for the protection of vulnerable environments in their work. Most importantly, botanical gardens and other similar institutions work to inspire their visitors to go home and live greener, more environmentally friendly lives.
If you’re looking for some of the best botanical destinations in North America, this list will provide a good starting point to help you plan a trip to see nature’s beauty and bounty in all its diversity.
New York Botanical Garden (New York, NY)
Spanning a massive 250 acres in the middle of the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden is popular with locals and tourists alike. With literally over 1 million plants all across the gardens, it can take days to fully explore everything this beautiful, verdant park has to offer. Housed in an ornate, historic glass building, 11 different indoor exhibits feature everything from desert to rainforest plants. Outdoor exhibits include more local flora and fun areas like a Japanese rock garden and a rose garden.
Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, MO)
Featuring nearly 80 acres of inspiring, beautiful displays, this St. Louis mainstay also serves as a community center, offering festivals, concerts, workshops, and more. Important features include the 14-acre Japanese Garden (complete with cherry trees!), an extensive collection of rare orchids, and the original nineteenth-century residence of the garden’s founder, Henry Shaw.
Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, AZ)
Desert plants, though made to live in desolate environments, are anything but bleak or boring. Exhibits scattered throughout 145 acres at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix highlight the colorful, varied, and fascinating life of the desert. They’re home to more than 50,000 plants, with a special collection of rare cacti. Spring is the most popular time to visit to explore the gorgeous wildflower blooms.
Royal Botanical Gardens (Hamilton, ON)
The largest botanical garden in all of Canada, the Royal Botanical Gardens stretches across nearly 2,500 acres of cultivated and wild land. There are five primary garden areas, several with smaller incorporated gardens. Highlights include a stunning iris garden, a children’s imagination garden, and a newly renovated rock garden. There is additionally a significant amount of uncultivated land that visitors can hike, like Cootes Paradise and Princess Point. It’s also a major center for conservation and botanical research, and they offer a series of educational exhibits throughout the year.
San Francisco Botanical Garden (San Francisco, CA)
This lovely botanical garden is nestled in Golden Gate Park, making it a popular destination for many visitors to San Fran. Spanning 50 acres in the middle of this beautiful cultural park, it includes than 50,000 plants from around the world. Their specialty is magnolias, and travelers from all over flock to their stunning magnolia gardens from January to March each year. They also have an impressive collection of rare cloud forest trees from Asia as well as Central and South America.
Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, IL)
Located north and west of Chicago proper, this extensive botanic garden is one of the largest in the United States (clocking in at nearly 400 acres). This attraction includes 27 distinct gardens across 4 natural habitats, and features a diversity of plant species. They’re particularly known for their extensive collection of bonsai trees, maintained by a master in the art of sculpting these living masterpieces. Their conservation work is also incredibly important.
Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden (Coral Gables, FL)
Just near Miami you’ll find the unique Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. As the name implies, they focus almost exclusively on tropical plants, but their reach actually extends around the globe. Their 83 acres contain expansive collections of rare exotic species, from palms to orchids and beyond. One of their most popular exhibits is the butterfly conservatory, where visitors can actually watch these colorful creatures hatch each year.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden (Dallas, TX)
A 66-acre garden that’s located right on the shore of the lovely White Rock Lake, this expansive natural wonderland offers locals and visitors beautiful views year round. With 19 formal gardens and a number of other natural areas, there are multiple places to roam that encompass everything from locals flowering plants and trees to roses and ferns. There’s even a charming sunken garden that attracts a significant number of wedding parties each year.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art (Nashville, TN)
A sizable private estate on the edges of Nashville, Cheekwood offers both a botanical garden and an art museum to culturally inclined visitors. The garden spans 55 acres and has much to offer in terms of both aesthetic and educational benefits. They have particular strengths in local flora, including crepe myrtles and wildflowers, and a number of specialty gardens like the Japanese Garden, the Perennial Garden, and the Herb Study Garden. The art museum holds the collections of the former Nashville Museum of Art, and it’s definitely worth a wander through after you see the gardens.
Washington Park Arboretum (Seattle, WA)
Encompassing 230 acres between Lake Washington and I-5 in the Seattle area, the Washington Park Arboretum is the perfect destination for those interested in trees from around the globe. Drive through various paths in the park to see blooming trees in the spring and changing leaves in the fall. The most popular part of the arboretum is the Japanese Garden, which is actually the largest of its kind outside of Japan and boasts many of the iconic blossoming cherry trees.