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As high as four stories above the earth — and for an elevated distance of 1,400 feet — the Canopy Walk offers what is surely a novel perspective within Dow Gardens’ 54-acre Whiting Forest, but it’s not the only one.
There’s also the foot-cushioned sensation of trodding the special ground-level trail surface that also allows rainfall and snowmelt to follow their natural course into the earth. There are hills to climb up and roll down, a playground to explore, pond and orchards to ponder. Your legs to stretch on forest trails. Your breath to catch at every thrill or reflective pause.
Aloft or alit, Dow Gardens — and its Whiting Forest, Canopy Walk and other features within — offer a year-around menu of novel experiences, a merry-go-round of adventures circling the seasons, a picnic of perspectives.
The three-armed Canopy Walk, the longest such structure in the United States, provides nature-flanked adventure in any kind of weather. Along the elevated way are stops for experiences delightfully different in each season.
In spring, pause at the Pond Arm overlook — and don’t be surprised if ducks tumble in, to feed, rest or rear young. The next generation of butterflies, meanwhile, are likely emerging in the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit within Dow Gardens.
The Orchard Arm — with its glass-floored overlook perched forty feet in the air — boasts bounty when it bears fruit in late summer and autumn, and proclaims the year’s potential in spring when its trees flower. The four-zone orchard also offers longer perspectives: heritage trees with roots in the past, and saplings pledging promise for the future.
Try savoring a crisp fall day from reclined suspension in an aerial cargo net that anchors the Spruce Arm. From it, consider Snake Creek, a tumbling waterway more enticing than its name, and one restored during the $20 million Canopy Walk construction process. Or, gaze out from the Pond Arm to see brilliant fall leaves reflecting off its waters.
Along a wintry Canopy Walk, wooden pod structures suggest a refreshing pause and break from the elements, while at ground level the Whiting Forest Café promises a cup of hot chocolate or locally roasted coffee in front of the fire. (The Canopy Walk does close temporarily if winter ice makes a walk there unsafe, but its design makes such shut-downs short and few.)
Yes, at any time of year, Dow Gardens and its Whiting Forest within are great places to enjoy a novel perspective, with more than three miles of barrier-free, hard-surfaced pathways. Those are handy, of course, for travel from one feature to another. But don’t neglect the delightful option of merely roaming around amidst the natural beauty — at all seasons, each with its own novel perspective.
Some visitors bring picnics (welcome outdoors), while others duck into Whiting Forest Café for a sandwich or snack, coffee, tea or cold drink. And while grassy-area exploration is encouraged, visitors are asked to leave plants in place.
Sure, the ADA-accessible playground shrieks with joy in midsummer, when kids of all ages explore the long tunnel, the swift slide, swings, and climb-on and -over delights.
A babbling water feature practically demands that youngsters shed shoes and socks for a splashing good time — and more than a few parents follow that pleasurable example!
But kids seem to know intuitively that fun is not a summer-only thing, and they love to return to sample the playground’s versions of it in all seasons. Smart adults drop their guard to do the same.
Dow Gardens comprises a 110-acre display of annual and perennial flowers: 22,000 flowering bulbs and upwards of 35,000 annuals.
Those flowers flourish along paved walkways and amidst distinctive bridges, an award-winning children’s garden, a memorializing Rose Garden, towering pines and inspiring water features. The Gardens are also the setting of The Pines, the home of Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow, a National Historic Landmark.
Dow Gardens posts weekly reports on what’s in bloom, and even maintains a Bee Blog with reports on these important pollinators. Summer highlights include a Lunchtime Concert Series, a Pines Concert Series, outdoor movies under the stars, and even golf cart tours of the Gardens.
Gardens aren’t necessarily just for the growing season, either, and Dow Gardens certainly isn’t. A seasonal favorite are its Christmas Walks, with luminary-lit paths and a holiday Poinsettia display inside the tropical conservatory.
Dow Gardens — and all features within, including Whiting Forest and its nation's-longest Canopy Walk — are covered by a $20 annual membership (or daily admission that's just $10, and only $2 for ages 6-17 or college students).
Several types of private tours of Dow Gardens and its Whiting Forest are also available by reservation.
Steve Griffin, a Midland-based, full-time freelance outdoors writer, has been covering that beat for newspapers and magazines for longer than he likes to admit. He began with a manual typewriter and a film camera — and says that in every way outdoors, these are the "good old days"!