Cowling Arboretum

Visiting the Arboretum

The Cowling Arboretum is open to public use every day from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. 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 College 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 the 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. Geocaching and Letterboxing are not permitted on the McKnight Prairie.

  1. Any placement of a cache or letterbox must receive prior approval from the Arboretum Director, regardless where on college property the cache is hidden.
  2. When submitting a Geocache for review, 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 natural features (including attachment to living trees), near campus housing or interfere with the College’s athletic or other activities. Please see the below maps for more information.
  3. All Caches/Letterboxes must be listed on Letterboxes may be listed as “Letterbox Hybrid” caches.
  4. Provide details on the cache/letterbox container you plan to use, the associated caching/letterboxing organization/web site (if being posted on another website in addition to, the cache’s GC code, and any other specific information about the cache/letterbox. Caching/letterboxing web sites are monitored by College personnel and any caches placed without authorization will be removed. 
  5. Virtual Caches, Earth Caches, and Adventure Labs are allowed to be placed without requesting permission, if no physical container is placed. Carleton College reserves the right to request Virtual Caches, Earth Caches, and Adventure Labs be archived. These cache types do have placement restrictions. Please see the below maps for more information.
  6. When applying, you must state your caching/letterboxing alias as well as your real name and contact information. 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 web site/info source (e.g. “”). 
  7. Due to the growing popularity of these activities, no person will be permitted to place more than four caches on College Property to allow others the ability to do so. Virtual Caches, Earth Caches, and Adventure Labs do not count towards this limit.
  8. Once a cache is approved, it may not be relocated more than 10 feet without obtaining further permission from the Arboretum Director.
  9. 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 (use of aids such as nearby fallen logs and stumps are permitted). You may not significantly re-arrange vegetation or dead vegetative material to hide the cache/letterbox, but caches are not required to be close to any of the marked trails.
  10. Caches/letterboxing containers must be monitored and maintained by the owner to ensure accuracy, safety, and working condition of the cache/letterbox. Carleton College asks cache owners to visit their caches to perform maintenance once in the spring and once in the fall in addition to as-needed maintenance.
  11. If a cache or letterbox is archived, you must remove the container as soon as possible and notify the Arboretum Director of its removal.
  12. Please note on your web listing that the cache was approved by Carleton College. 
  13. Carleton College accepts no responsibility or liability for any cache, and will not assist in the maintenance of a cache.

Not following these rules may cause you to be prohibited from placing geocaches and letterboxes in the future. Please note that Arboretum management may impact caches due to debris removal or prescribed burns in the area. See the Arboretum website for more details.

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

For: Faculty, Staff, Students

Last Reviewed: September 1, 2022

Maintained by: Arb Studies