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Updated: Aug 20, 2022

Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden In Rockford Illinois Travel Blog Post By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

The Klehm Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Rockford, Illinois is a treasure trove of tall trees, beautiful flowers, and, for a limited time, some of the most amazing LEGO sculptures you’ll lay your eyes on.


History of Klehm Arboretum

The Klehm Arboretum started in 1910 as a nursery for trees and was run by three brothers who planted seeds from all around the world. In 1968, the Klehm family purchased the property and maintained it until 1985, when they donated the land to the Winnebago County Forest Preserve with the stipulation that it had to be maintained as an arboretum.

Winnebago County had a professional inventory done of the site in 1991, which concluded that it has an assortment of plant life unlike any other natural area in the United States. They then spent $2 million building out the gardens and Visitors Center over 3 years. It is now a massive 155 acre green space with over 2 miles of paved walking paths and over 3 miles of rough trails, situated around a 12 acre pre-preserve bur oak grove with some trees being over 300-years-old. For this reason, it’s referred to as a “living museum.”

As of 2006, Klehm Arboretum is a non-profit organization. Their mission, as stated on their website, is “to maintain a living museum for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of all people.”

Where is Klehm Arboretum?

Klehm Arboretum’s main entrance is located at 2715 S Main St in Rockford, Illinois, about 1½-2 hours west of Chicago. It’s a 10-minute drive from downtown Rockford and is just across Main Street from the Rock River, although it often feels as though you’re much farther away from any urban environment.

How to Get to Klehm Arboretum

Rockford does have some public transportation, but the closest lines to Klehm Arboretum will still mean at least 20 minutes of walking. We’d recommend a car to travel here, as it is just outside of the municipal Rockford City District. Ubers and Lyfts are an option, as well.

If you’re coming from Chicago, it’s best to drive. Greyhound and Van Galder offer bus routes between the two cities, but it would still be a pain to get around in Rockford once you’re there. If you don’t have a car in Chicago to drive out there, you’d be better off renting one (we recommend finding cheap car rentals on Turo).

Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden Visitors Center Building In Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

How to Get Tickets for Klehm Arboretum

Reservations are not necessary for Klehm Arboretum, but there is a small admission fee to get in, which helps the non-profit maintain this huge nature preserve. Here are the prices as of August 2022:

  • $8 per adult (age 18 – 61)

  • $5 per senior adult (age 62+)

  • $5 per child (age 4 – 17)

  • Free for children age 0 – 3

  • Free for SNAP and EBT cardholders (read more below)

Klehm Arboretum participates in the Museums For All program, a nationwide initiative sponsored by the federal government that allows any family receiving SNAP benefits (such as EBT) to receive low-to-no cost tickets for visiting museums that choose to participate in the program. Most museums (which also includes some aquariums, zoos, gardens, and science centers), will charge $1-3 for entry per person, but Klehm Arboretum charges nothing, if you show your EBT card at the gate. It’s a great program to experience some culture that you may not be able to otherwise, at little-to-no cost to you.

If you live nearby and do not qualify for the Museums For All program, Klehm Arboretum also offers inexpensive annual memberships.

Woodland Wildflower Trail At Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden In Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Our Experience

We knew that, while visiting family in Rockford, we would want to get out into the wonderful nature that the unique topography of Rock Valley offers. With plenty of paved walking paths and over 3 miles of rough trails through its 155 acres, the Klehm Arboretum is the perfect place to escape. When we visited, it wasn’t terribly busy (as it was a weekday), so there were times when we felt far away from any type of urban climate.

Starting at the Visitors Center, we grabbed some maps and discovered that there was a special exhibit happening at the Arboretum: Sean Kenney’s Nature Connects Made with LEGO® Bricks. There were 15 LEGO statues situated all over the arboretum and we were determined to find all of them (it helped that they had a separate map for the LEGO sculptures).

Eager to get going, we forged into the first unpaved path we saw and plunged into the preserved wilderness. We were greeted by umbrella magnolias with huge leaves (see next picture), a tiny wooden bench, and a few other places to sit and rest and enjoy the cool shade provided by the towering trees. It really felt like we were being transported into a different world. The trees kept it cooler on the warm day, but it also blocked out most of the noise of the passing traffic on the highway; it was extremely peaceful. It was also nice to see little signs telling you what each plant was, even deep into the wilder areas. But beware: there was also some poison ivy right off one of the paths. It was surrounded with small red tape, but we easily could have brushed up against it if we weren’t paying attention.

Pro Tip: Make sure to wear sunscreen and take bug spray. It was a hot summer day when we were visiting and the insects were out in full force, which we are usually okay with, but Phoebe gets eaten alive when there are mosquitoes. The bugs were only a noticeable problem in the heavily wooded areas and not so much in the more open, curated gardens. And while there is a lot of shade on the trails, quite a few of the paved paths are not covered.

Umbrella Magnolia Tree Leaves With Sunlight Coming Through At Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Upon emerging from the Woodland Wildflower Trail, we found our first LEGO sculpture: a bald eagle that took over 180 hours and 45,000 bricks to create. The design and execution were incredible. Wandering down the path, we crossed a walking bridge over a burbling brook that was fed from a quiet waterfall. The brook had a few koi fish, along with a LEGO mama duck with her LEGO ducklings on the shore.

Further down the path is the Nancy Olson Children’s Garden, containing a three level lookout tower that allows you to get a nice view of the expansive preserve. The Children’s Garden contained a chalkboard cow for writing messages to future visitors, a strange purple creature that you could crawl inside, a splash pad made of astroturf that shot water out of many hidden fountains (with plenty of kids getting very wet while we were there - but hey, it WAS a hot day), and an ABC garden, with one flower for every letter in the alphabet.

Another Pro Tip: Also make sure to bring a reusable water bottle. There are refill stations at the Visitors Center and in the Clarcor Pavilion, which is situated closer to the popular Children’s Garden and Demonstration Gardens. You can also bring your own food and (non-alcoholic) drinks to have a picnic at Klehm Arboretum - something that we will be doing the next time we visit.

Purple Coneflower in ABC Garden at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

By this point, we were determined to see as many of the LEGO sculptures as possible, so we followed the map around to find a few more (learn more in the next section of this article) before heading to the Prehistoric Garden (which I knew we had to visit as I love dinosaurs). The Prehistoric Garden contains plants and trees that haven’t changed much, or at all, in millions of years, such as Bristlecone Pine (which are some of the oldest trees in the world - some in California are estimated at over 5,000 years old!), Dawn Redwood, and Ginkgo trees. (You can see footage of them in our YouTube video above.) The Dawn Redwood and Ginkgo were thought to be extinct in modern times, until an expedition into a remote village in China during the 1930s found them in abundance. This small Prehistoric Garden was a personal favorite, as you can feel more connected to the earth by knowing that these trees look exactly the same as the dinosaurs saw them. There were even two dinosaur statues there that would agree!

Moving further down a paved path as we started looping back towards the Visitors Center, we found the Ornamental Grass Garden. While it may not seem like much in its small area, the tall grass blowing in the wind is absolutely mesmerizing. With some grass nearly 7 feet tall, it’s easy to feel just how small we, as people, can be.

To end our visit, we strolled through the Demonstration Gardens, but happened upon the Butterfly Garden before getting there (even though it’s not noted on their map). We were surprised by the lack of information on this section of the arboretum, even on their own website, because it’s a section cultivated to attract butterflies. Did you know that monarch butterflies are an endangered species? Their natural habitats that contain their life-giving flowers are being lost to urban use, so this is a really cool garden idea that we think needs to be shared more.

When finally reaching the Demonstration Gardens, we were impressed by the variance of displays and the liveliness of the critters and insects living in it. They encourage you to smell and touch the plants in this section of the gardens for the sole purpose of teaching you how to plant your own gardens to attract the right animals and insects, with lots of small signs along the way to know what flowers you’re looking at.

Before coming here, we asked a local family member how big the arboretum is and were told that we could get through it in an afternoon. While it was a lovely afternoon, we only actually managed to make it around maybe 25% of the whole arboretum. We tend to walk slower around gardens than a lot of people, stopping to look closely at the plants, read signs, and take pictures, but still - you could easily spend several afternoons here wandering all the trails.

Nature Connects LEGO Art Sculptures of Monarch Butterfly and Hummingbird and Bald Eagle by Sean Kenney at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Nature Connects LEGO Art Exhibit

We were pleasantly surprised to find this award-winning LEGO art exhibition at Klehm Arboretum during our visit this summer. While it is a temporary installment (only available until September 11, 2022), the arboretum still stands beautifully without it, and the other good news is that the LEGO exhibits are being shown at multiple places across the U.S. You can find their current and upcoming locations and schedule on the artist, Sean Kenney’s, website.

Once we knew that it was available upon arriving at the arboretum, we were determined to see as many of the LEGO sculptures as possible. Although there isn’t a specific count on the Klehm Arboretum website of how many sculptures there are, we believe there to be 15 spread across the gardens. We saw 14 for ourselves, including a:

  • Bald eagle

  • Hummingbird drinking from a flower (Phoebe’s favorite)

  • Duck family (nestled away by a stream entering into the Children’s Garden - we probably would have missed it if we hadn’t been looking for it!)

  • Sundial

  • Praying Mantis

  • Roto-tiller (seems odd, but it fits into the theme of the art exhibit: everything is interconnected. If it wasn’t for those roto-tillers, we wouldn’t have the wonderful gardens we enjoy today.)

  • Milk snake (Adam’s favorite)

  • Mouse

  • Woodpecker (strapped to a tree!)

  • Monarch butterfly

  • Birds and squirrels on a fence (even the fence was made of LEGOs)

  • Giant lily flower

  • Orchid (inside the Visitors Center)

  • Fox hunting a rabbit (this one was funny and interactive because it has holes for you to put your faces through for a picture!)

Nature Connects LEGO Art Sculptures of Milk Snake and Mouse and Praying Mantis and Fox Hunting a Rabbit by Sean Kenney at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois By In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

The bald eagle was the first sculpture we saw and it really offered up that WOW factor, but the hummingbird drinking from a flower stole Phoebe’s bird-nerd-heart. The structure does an impressive balancing act, connecting the larger-than-life hummingbird body to the ground solely through its beak connecting to the trumpet flower.

Adam’s favorite, however, was the LEGO milk snake that was (presumably) hunting the LEGO mouse in the Ornamental Grass Garden. They were both beautifully done, with fairly impressive coloring on the snake. Not far from there, we also found an oversized woodpecker mounted on a board and strapped high up to a tall tree!

One of the most impressive sculptures was found in the Butterfly Garden though, which doesn’t just contain the beautiful flowers that butterflies use for sustenance, but currently also houses an enormous LEGO monarch butterfly on pink milkweed, also made out of LEGO bricks. It is incredibly detailed and very beautiful.

Next door to the butterfly, the flowers in the Demonstration Gardens were gorgeous, inspiring, and housed a LEGO design of birds and squirrels playing on a LEGO fence. It was whimsical and fit in perfectly with the feel of the Demonstration Gardens, with its abundant insect life and many bird houses.

There is a sign next to each LEGO piece that tells you how many LEGO bricks are in the sculpture, how many hours it took to build, plus the conservation status of and other fun facts about the creature or plant being displayed. While the bald eagle clocked in at 42,198 LEGO bricks and 184 hours to build (that’s almost 8 days), the enormous monarch butterfly beat it out at 60,549 LEGO bricks and 377 hours of build time (almost 16 days).

Even though this exhibit is only available at the Klehm Arboretum until September 11, 2022, the arboretum is certainly still worth a visit without it. You’ll have a lovely, relaxing afternoon wandering through nature - just make sure to follow our pro tips in the previous section of this article!

After this exhibit is taken out of Klehm Arboretum, you’ll still be able to find it elsewhere, mostly in the United States but also possibly in Canada. Although the pieces you see will likely be different from the ones we saw, you can rest assured that they will be impressive. Find current and future exhibitions on the artist’s website here.

Woman Statue with Flowers at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois by In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Our Verdict

We can not recommend Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden enough. If you can get there before September 11, 2022, please do, as that is when the LEGO exhibit will be taken out, but even if you can’t make it before then, we still think you should visit while the weather is nice in Rockford. The cool later summer months going into fall would be a spectacular time to visit.

We were recently asked about where we’ve traveled that has the prettiest plant life, and this arboretum honestly should have been one of the first places out of our mouths. We’ve visited several botanical gardens all over the United States and this is one of our favorite ones, particularly in the Midwest. It has an incredible diversity of plant life and wild spaces vs. manicured gardens, plus it’s a non-profit organization. If you’re a nature-lover, you won’t be disappointed with a visit here.

Small Sunflowers at Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Rockford Illinois by In The Great Wide Travel Lifestyle Blog

Quick Reference Guide



How to Get There

Car recommended; Public transit exists in Rockford, but you will still be required to walk for 20 minutes after getting off the bus

Time Commitment

You can spend all day there, but you should allot at least 3-4 hours; your admission fee allows you all-day access


  • ​$8 per adult (age 18 – 61)

  • $5 per senior adult (age 62+)

  • $5 per child (age 4 – 17)

  • Free for children age 0 – 3

  • Free for SNAP and EBT cardholders through the Museums for All program

Reservation Info

No reservations or advanced tickets are necessary. Visit their website for more info about special events and closures before going.

Our Verdict

Highly recommended. Peaceful, beautiful, and enchanting, plus it’s a non-profit!

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Meet Travel Blogger Adam Neubauer from In The Great Wide Travel Blog


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