Visitors to botanical gardens in the Western United States can explore everything from native plants and exotic foliage. The gardens range from desert landscapes with succulents and cacti to hothouses with exotic orchids, to rugged seaside walks with rugged cliffs. Other gardens house birds, animals, kids’ activities, carousels and miniature trains.

The American Horticultural Society Reciprocal admissions program is used by many gardens in the West. You can visit over 300 arboretums and gardens around the United States for free or at reduced rates if you join one of these gardens, such as the Desert Botanical Garden of Phoenix.

Five of the West’s best gardens are featured.

1-Desert Botanical Garden – One Of Five Beautiful Western Gardens

Desert Botanical Garden is located on 140 acres of land in Phoenix’s Papago Park, adjacent to the Phoenix Zoo. The Desert Botanical Garden was founded in 1936 and offers a unique way to explore the Sonoran Desert. It has more than 50,000 different plants, including saguaro trees and mesquite bushes. There are also herb and butterfly gardens.

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Visit the Desert Botanical Garden. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

The botanical garden offers a wide variety of trails, each with its own unique experience. Desert Discovery Loop Trail features an agave-yucca forest, as well as seasonal butterfly displays. The Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert Trail is a one-third mile trail that winds through five different desert habitats. The exhibits that show the lives of the Western Apaches, Tohono O’odhams, and Hispanics of Arizona are popular.

You can walk the Harrier Maxwell Wildflower Loop in the early spring. This 2-acre parcel is at its most spectacular in March and early April.

2–San Francisco Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is located at Strybing Arboretum, which covers 55 acres of the 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park. San Francisco’s mild climate is ideal for growing more than 8,000 plants from all over the world. You’ll always find something in bloom due to the diversity.

San Francisco Botanical Garden offers many stroller and wheelchair friendly paths. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

The California Native Gardens at the Botanical Garden are best visited in April and May. They feature arroyos and ponds surrounding a meadow of wildflowers. Ancient Plant Garden, which houses the primitive-looking Chilean plants known as dinosaur food. The San Francisco Botanical Garden has a collection of over 100 magnolias. They bloom every year, depending on the weather conditions, from mid-January to March. The sweet scent fills the air.

The garden is open all day. You can enjoy a picnic, or join a daily tour led by a docent. You can explore the garden on a wheelchair or stroller friendly path, or venture off of the main paths if that is what you prefer. The San Francisco Botanical Garden participates in the Reciprocal Access Program.

San Francisco Botanical Garden offers picnics, fun and games in the park. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

3-Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden

The 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is located in Fort Bragg, California. A half-mile stroll will take you to the edge of the water. You’ll also pass the Perennial Garden which features plants from places like the Himalayas or Chile. The trails wind through the beautiful woodlands of the garden, which are home to a variety of rhododendrons ranging from giant trees to delicate dwarfs. Rhododendrons are usually in full bloom between early April and mid-May.

Stop by the Dahlia Garden. It is a collection of over 450 dahlias hidden in the forest. The dahlias bloom in the late summer. You’ll be on coastal bluffs meadows as you near the end of the trail, before the loop back to the entrance. Here, you can see the waves crashing on the rocks below. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden participates in the Reciprocal admissions program.

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a great place to see Dahlias blooming in the late summer. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

4-The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is a natural reserve on 1,200 acres in the Sonoran Desert just outside Palm Desert. The 120 acres of developed land are filled with gardens, animal exhibits and care facilities. Explore three trails across 1,080 acres of undeveloped land: a quarter-mile casual trail, a 1-mile moderately difficult hike through a boulder-field, and a 3-mile wilderness loop at the base Eisenhower Mountain.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens offers a view of the Sonoran Desert. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

The Living Desert’s North America section begins with the G-Scale Model Train Exhibit, which features a replica of the Grand Canyon.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, Palm Desert, California has a G-Scale Model Train Exhibit. Photo by Susan Lanier Graham

Continue to see bighorns sheep, eagles and wolves. There are also cacti gardens, agave gardens, and even sage. Visit the Madagascar or aloe gardens in the Africa section. Then, see oryxes and cheetahs.

5-Denver Botanic Gardens

York Street Gardens, the main facility of Denver Botanic Gardens contains seven major collections. These include three gardens which showcase Colorado plants from the plains up to the mountains.

The garden is a great place to visit all year round, even though Denver can be chilly in the winter months and early spring. It has many indoor areas, such as the orchid display and waterfalls at Marnie’s Pavilion. Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory features hundreds of tropical plants, including a large collection bromeliads.

The Science Pyramid is one of the most recent additions to the Denver Botanic Garden. It uses technology to explore the plants and climates from around the globe. The Mordecai Children’s Garden is open from March to October and allows children to interact with nature. The Denver Botanic Gardens are part of the Reciprocal admissions program.