Boyce Thompson Arboretum: a Desert Oasis

Things to do in Phoenix with Kids

Located near Superior, AZ and an hour drive from Phoenix, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is an amazing breath of fresh air in the middle of the desert.

We had a chance to visit mid-January and while there weren’t many flowers in bloom, the combination of trees and dramatic landscape and even a suspension bridge over a river made for a fun morning.

This 392 acre botanical garden was founded in 1924, and is nestled against Picketpost Mountain with Queen Creek running through it. We started at the visitors center and gift shop; there are friendly and cheerful volunteers to pass out maps and answer any questions. It was suggested we stick to the main 1.5 mile trail with our stroller, and due to an extreme path narrowing by the river, we also had to turn around and loop back twice.

There are many side trails to explore as well as stops with specific exhibits, like the Herb Garden and the Children’s Garden.

Of course the kids loved the latter! There was a mini maze to wander through and also a gorgeous mosaic walkway. On the topic of kid interest, there are a couple guided tours and classes available that go more in depth about the plants, animals and geology found in the garden. We joined one focusing on geology and it was truly fascinating to see and touch various rocks, and learn more about landscape.

The geologist was very good at keeping the interest of the 5-10year olds.

We spent a total of 3hrs here, including a break for a picnic lunch, and felt like we barely touched on everything there is to see.

The kids alternated between walking and exploring and just watching from the stroller. The lake was another favorite stop. We didn’t see any wildlife, but it was a gorgeous view! Also, don’t miss the suspension bridge, walking around the huge eucalyptus trees, and the old stone Clevenger House. There are plenty of signs on the main trail and for side trails, so finding your way back to the parking lot, or even to locate a restroom along the trail is easy.

Our five year old’s favorite?

According to her, it was the rainbow walkway in the children’s garden, jumping on the bridge, and “pretending to be birds in the big forest”. (The eucalyptus trees really are impressive and visually stimulating.)

If you are deciding between visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum or the Desert Botanical Gardens, here are some things to consider.

One is obviously the drive. BTA is an hour drive from our Scottsdale home while DBG is more centrally located to pretty much anywhere you may stay in the Phoenix area. Consider how much time you have in your day, how well your kids travel and factor in food options. There is a cafe at DBG, but both places have picnic areas for snack or lunch time. BTA does have more plants from around the world (such as South Africa and Australia), and is shady and cooler in the summer months. DBG has more paved paths for wheelchairs or strollers and offers great views of Phoenix. Both gardens offer excellent introductions to desert life! You really can’t go wrong in visiting either.

Getting there

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
37615 U S Hwy 60
Superior, AZ 85173

Jana Tingom

Jana is a homeschooling mother of two children, and lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Chris. She enjoys traveling, reading and coffee. Follow @phoenixwithkids on Instagram for daily photos around Phoenix!