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Buildings & Grounds

Cowling Arboretum

Visiting the Arboretum

The Cowling Arboretum is open to public use year round.  Visitors to the Arboretum are welcome, both from the Carleton community and beyond. To maintain the Arboretum for all, please follow these rules:

  1. Bikes are allowed only on specifically designated trails in the Upper Arboretum (east of Hwy 19); no bike use is allowed in the Lower Arboretum (west of Hwy 19). Limiting biking is necessary to prevent erosion, especially on trails in lower lying areas where the ground is too soft to support tires. Bikes are restricted from the Lower Arboretum because of ongoing studies by Carleton faculty and students and to avoid bike/pedestrian conflicts. Bikes are not allowed anywhere in the Arb while the trails are being groomed for skiing.
  2. No motorized vehicles are allowed, except for maintenance or emergency.
  3. Because of the lack of sanitary facilities, the Arboretum is not open for camping.
  4. Fires are not permitted in the Arboretum. Specifically designated fire rings are availble on campus at the Hill of Three Oaks, the Council Ring, and Mai-Fete Island.
  5. Dogs are welcome if on a hand-held leash, not not to exceed 6 feet in length; all dog droppings must be removed. 
  6. Horses are not allowed anywhere in the Arboretum.
  7. Drones are not permitted without express written permission (see below)
  8. The Arboretum is a State Game Refuge, so there is no general hunting. Archery hunting is permitted by permit issued by Arboretum staff in order to control the deer population and reduce damage to trees and other vegetation.
  9. Public use in the Lower Arboretum is restricted to the trails during the Archery Hunt between Thanksgiving and December 31st.

Athletic Events

Organized athletic events, such as the running portion of a triathlon, require additional paperwork. Carleton student organizers should contact the Assistant Recreation Center Director for help with planning an event.  Non-Carleton organizers of these events should contact the Campus Scheduling Coordinator in the Office of Campus Services.

Geocaching and Letterboxing

Carleton welcomes geocaching and letterboxing both on campus and in the Arboretum.  The following guidelines have been established to protect the natural features of the Arboretum, reduce user conflicts throughout College property, and provide a high quality experience for all visitors. Those searching for caches or letterboxes must follow campus and Arboretum visitor regulations. The following guidelines are in effect for anyone who wishes to place a cache or letterbox of any sort on College property.

  1. Any placement of a cache or letterbox must receive prior approval from the Director of the Arboretum. You must provide the GPS coordinates (if a cache) as well as relative location to the nearest trail or building or features of the Arboretum (see campus and arboretum maps). Note that caches/letterboxes will not be permitted in areas with steep slopes, close to existing caches/letterboxes, where it may impact rare natural features or interfere with the College’s athletic or other activities. Caches and letterboxes may not be placed in the vicinity of any college residence (dormitories or college-owned houses). You must state your caching/letterboxing alias as well as your real name and contact information, provide details on the cache/letterbox container you plan to use, the associated caching/letterboxing organization/web site, and any other specific information about the cache/letterbox. Caching/letterboxing websites are monitored by College personnel and any caches placed without authorization will be removed and an appropriate action taken.
  2. Due to the growing popularity of these activities, no person will be permitted to place more than four caches on College property in order to allow others the ability to do so.
  3. Once a cache is approved, it may not be relocated more than a few feet without obtaining further permission from the Director of the Arboretum.
  4. Cache/letterboxing containers and contents may not be buried or submerged, but can be hidden in dry surface vegetation within reach of walkers on the ground without climbing or impacting the natural habitat. You may not significantly re-arrange vegetation or dead vegetative material to hide the cache/letterbox.
  5. Cache/letterboxing containers must be permanently labeled on the exterior to note that cache has been approved by Carleton College, the Arboretum phone number (507-222-4543) and the associated website/info source (e.g. "").
  6. Caches must be monitored and maintained by the placer to insure accuracy, safety, and working condition of the cache.
  7. Caches from organizations/websites that do not permit Carleton College to find and monitor a cache online will not be permitted (such as
  8. Please consider noting on your web listing that the cache was approved by Carleton College.
  9. Carleton College accepts no responsibility or liability for any cache, and will not assist in the maintenance of a cache.

Group Use

Group use of the Arboretum or McKnight Prairie is welcome, but groups of ten or more must register to avoid conflicts with other users and to protect natural resources.  Class visits by K-12 or non-Carleton college age scholars, adult classes, athletic teams, recreational users, or scout troops are examples of group users who must register their visit.  Group leaders should complete the group use registration form found on the Arboretum website. Contact the Director of the Arboretum if you have questions about your group visit.

Commercial photographers must also register, regardless of your group size.

Research and Class Use Permits

As an educational institution, Carleton College strongly encourages use of its lands for research, teaching, and student projects. To maintain natural areas for long-term use, it is necessary for projects to be carried out in ways that minimize disturbance. It is also important for Arboretum staff to know where ongoing research projects are located so that routine management activities (burning, mowing, clearing brush, etc.) do not impact study areas.

A permit is required for research projects (including class exercises) in the Arboretum or McKnight Prairie that include any of the following:

  • flags or tags that will remain when the researcher is not present at the study site,
  • collection of plants or plant parts, including seeds or tree cores,
  • collection, trapping or tagging of animals, including invertebrates,
  • introduction of living organisms,
  • soil disturbance such as augering or digging soil pits.


Drone use has the potential to disturb wildlife and create privacy and safety concerns in the Arboretum. Drone use is not permitted without express written permission from the Arboretum Director and in consultation with the Risk Management Office (see Campus Policy on Drone Use).  For research projects, Individuals should use the “Research and Class Use Permit Application” form found on the Arboretum Website. For other college purposes individuals should contact the Arboretum Director at X4543. Recreational use of drones is not permitted.

Weddings, Picnics, and Other Gatherings

Several outdoor spaces in the Arboretum or adjacent to it such as the Council Ring, Hill of Three Oaks, or Monument Hill may be reserved for Carleton or non-Carleton group use such as picnics, family reunions, or weddings.  Non-Carleton group reservations may not be made during the academic term.  Reservations and paperwork are handled through the Office of Campus Services or may be found on the Campus Scheduling website.

For additional questions or information about Cowling Arboretum, please see the Arboretum website or contact the Director of the Arboretum, Nancy Braker, at 501-222-4543.



Last revised April 17, 2013
Keywords: arboretum, mcknight, geocache, letterbox, permit, wedding, research, picnic

Last Reviewed: Aug 3rd, 2021

Maintained by The Cowling Arboretum