The Minnesota Zoo’s Treetop Trail Opens

The monorail-turned-walking path overlooks the animals’ environs and is advertised as the longest elevated pedestrian loop in the world

Photo by Erik Tormoen

After much talk, it’s finally open. Six years ago, Minnesota Zoo leadership showed lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan and Gov. Tim Walz video of a proposed elevated path by which guests might one day walk over the wetlands and forests of the zoo. “When is the ribbon cutting?” Flanagan remembers asking.

It happened today. The 1.25-mile trail rises 32 feet over the Apple Valley zoo in places. It is advertised as the longest elevated pedestrian loop in the world.

Photo by Erik Tormoen

Flanagan spoke this morning before journalists, contributors to the project, and other guests experiencing the Treetop Trail’s debut. In a speech ahead of the ribbon cutting, she recalled how she and her mom would ride the zoo’s monorail. The train soared over the zoo’s walkways, treetops, and prairie dogs. It shut down 10 years ago, but the infrastructure remained.

Director and CEO John Frawley, who came to the zoo in 2016, said he spoke with state legislators for years about repurposing the winding loop as a pedestrian path. “The project … perfectly aligns with the middle of our mission, to connect people to the natural world,” he said today. “If you love nature, you save nature.”

Photo by Erik Tormoen

The Treetop Trail cost over $37 million, with $11 from the state. Axios reports the zoo is considering a lower-priced membership level for guests who want to experience only the trail. (General admission is $21.95 for non-member adults.)

About that “world’s longest” epithet: For reference, New York City’s High Line, which does not loop but is elevated, is 1.45 miles. The Minnesota Zoo’s 1.25-mile Treetop Trail is also more snug than the High Line, at about 8 feet wide—enough for strollers. Jutting, balcony-like bump-outs provide 4 extra feet of space for pausing and admiring. Otherwise, depending on how busy the path gets, dallying seems likely to hold up traffic. There are four entry and exit points along the trail, with ramps or elevators for accessibility.

Photo by Erik Tormoen

The path will be open all seasons. When winter comes, vehicles should emerge from the old “monorail barn” to brush snow out of the way and through the slats, says communication and media relations specialist Zach Nugent. Because the trail is made of recycled milk jugs—a non-porous material, according to director of operations Ryan Sweeney—ice shouldn’t stick particularly well. The slats also mean the ice should melt through the gaps. This winter will put all that to the test.

Photo by Erik Tormoen

An oft-repeated fact this morning: Gov. Walz proclaimed today “Minnesota Zoo Treetop Trail Day,” making it the same as World Nature Conservation Day. Signs along the trail convey its intended purpose—to inspire a love for the wild and an interest in saving it—with basic information about nature preservation, from the benefits (“wellness,” “mindfulness”) to the tactics (wildlife tracking, controlled burning).

If, while walking the trail, you notice it wobbling, Nugent says that’s because it is designed to expand and contract with the changing temperatures.

Photo by Erik Tormoen

Overheard while walking the Minnesota Zoo Treetop Trail:

“I definitely felt that radius that we curved around.”

“You can watch the bird show on this side—that’s nice!”

Child: “It’s a turtle!”
Parent/guardian: “They’re swimming, which is what I wish I could do right now.”

Minnesota Zoo, 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.