Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens & the Longest Canopy Walk – Activity Review

Did you know the longest Canopy Walk in the US is just two hours away? Earlier this month, Dow Gardens in Midland opened their new Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens with the canopy walk, playground, apple orchard, and much more. A friend and I visited on Thursday while the kids were at school to check it out.

Canopy Walk - Tunnel in Pod - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Activities at Whiting Forest

Longest Canopy Walk at Whiting Forest

The Canopy Walk is a unique way to explore the forest. It has three branches each of which provide a different vista and a unique experience.


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We started with the spruce tree grove. As you overlook the spruce trees from 25′ above the ground, there are cargo nets to climb through. Without my daughter there, I had to brave the cargo nets.

Canopy Walk - Cargo Net in Spruce Grove - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

The orchard view provides the highest vista at 40′ above the ground. The platform has a glass section allowing you to look below and out without obstruction.

Canopy Walk - Glass Balcony in Orchard Grove - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Finally, view the forest pond from 25′ above. On the walk to the pond, use the rope bridge to explore the larger pod or take the safer walkway extension and explore the smaller pod. The larger pod includes a tunnel below the main floor. I left that for the kids to explore.

Canopy Walk - Rope Bridge to Pod - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Even better the main walk is ADA accessible with ramps and wide paths which is great for strollers as well as wheelchairs. Both the orchard platform and forest pond platform had seating available.


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Whiting Forest Playground

Along with the Canopy Walk, they debuted a new playground. Instead of a traditional structure, it is a more natural playground with slides built into hills, tunnels through the hills, a rock wall.

Canopy Walk - Playground from Above - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

There is even a stream with a duck run and stepping stones for kids to explore. This will be great for warm summer months.

Canopy Walk - Playground Stream/Duck Run - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

The playground also features swings – infant swings, regular swings, an adaptive swing, and a platform swing.

The playground is gated for safety. It is located right outside of the cafe and offers outdoor cafe tables overlooking the playground and picnic benches in the playground. The water fountain in the playground includes a bottle filling station.


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Forest Classroom and Cafe

The Forest Classroom offers educational programming. On our visit, it was open for forest guests. Displays include animal skins and artifacts, pond water under the microscope, and tree cross-sections. I learned more about the damage of an emerald ash bore here. They have removed 1200 ash trees along Snake Creek and planted nearly 3000 trees and shrubs from 34 native species to replace them.

Canopy Walk - Animal Pelts in Forest Classroom - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

The Whiting Forest Cafe is right outside of the playground and offers additional parking. They have a limited lunch menu, hot drinks, and snacks. We didn’t try the food, but the prices seemed good. The cafe offers cozy fireplace seating, cafe tables with tree branch inspired chairs, and a play area.

Canopy Walk - Cafe Play Area & Seating - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Forest Trails

In addition to the canopy walk, there are 1.5 miles of hard-surface paths and 1 mile of wood chip/mulch paths. The hard-surface paths are porous and made of recycled tires to allow water to flow through and be absorbed by the nearby tree roots instead of being lost to runoff.

Dow Gardens and Library

There is currently a walkway to additional parking at the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library. This walkway overlooks the Snake Creek watershed.

They are still working on the Rose Garden pedestrian bridge to connect Whiting Forest with the Dow Gardens Exploration Garden. Like the Library bridge, this will also overlook Snake Creek and cross the road. It is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Canopy Walk - Construction of Bridge to Dow Gardens - Whiting Forest

With my membership, we plan to return and include a visit to Dow Gardens too.

Thoughts on Whiting Forest Canopy Walk

My friend and I had a great time on our visit. We can’t wait to bring our tweens (or maybe their Girl Scout troop) back for a visit. They will enjoy the cargo nets, rope bridge, and the views. I think they will even enjoy the playground.

Canopy Walk - Tunnel in Pod - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

At the same time, that our tweens would have a great time, there is plenty for little kids to enjoy. Aside from the rope bridge, a stroller can travel the entire canopy walk. The playground was full of toddlers and preschoolers on our visit (weekday morning).

The design of the canopy walk was great. The canopy walk has a wire fence with a sturdy wooden bar to help it blend into the surroundings while providing a safe border. I never felt insecure at the heights. We did notice the platform at the spruce trees swaying. The wide paths definitely helped with the feeling of security.  Although if you are particularly sensitive, you may want to proceed with caution.

Canopy Walk - Railings on Canopy Walk - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Since they just opened at the beginning of October, I would expect crowds, particularly on the weekends, this fall. Our Thursday visit was a perfect crowd level. We had short waits at the entrance and for the rope bridge. The viewing platforms were not crowded and we could take our time.

Canopy Walk - Forest Pond View - Whiting Forest - Dow Gardens

Our only disappointment is that Dow Gardens is only open during the day. There were lights installed throughout the canopy walk and it would be perfect for a night time Halloween event or a scout sleepover. Hopefully they will expand into those areas next year now that they are officially open.

Visit Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens

Location & Parking

Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens is in Midland, just 2 hours from Ann Arbor. It is just down the street from Dow Gardens. Their addresses are:

  • Whiting Forest – 2203 Eastman Avenue, Midland
  • Dow Gardens – 1809 Eastman Avenue, Midland

You will want to start your visit at the Visitors Center. There is a small parking lot near the cafe/playground on the right as you drive into Whiting Forest. Unless you have a membership card, you will want to continue to the Visitor Center lot. With a membership, it looked like you could scan to enter the gardens. If the Visitor Center lot is full, you can park at the cafe/playground and walk along the road or you can park at the Grace A. Dow Library and use the bridge to the Visitor Center.

Hours

The hours at Whiting Forest vary seasonally since they are mostly open during daylight.

  • Labor Day-October 31 – 9a-6:30p
  • November 1-April 14 – 9a-4:15p
  • April 15-Labor Day 9a-8:30p

We visited on an October Thursday when it was 50 degrees. Whiting Forest was still in it’s first week of operation, so it was fairly crowded for a weekday. I would expect big crowds on the weekends this fall.


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Prices

The prices at Dow Gardens cannot be beat! Admission is just $5/adults and $1/children ages 6-17 and college students. Children 5 and under are free. Through the end of 2018, annual passes are currently just $10 (and valid for 1 year from purchase). Prices are valid through the end of 2018. Prices are expected to rise in 2019. I bought an annual pass since I am planning to return with my family.

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Ann Arbor with Kids is your go-to source for Ann Arbor Family Fun. It got its start in an activity list that I was compiling for the playgroup I ran at our church. When my daughter started preschool, the other moms were thrilled to hear about my list. I decided to take the list public in 2009.

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