Treetop Trail - aerial view

Treetop Trail

  • 1st place

Project creator(s)

Entered into the following categories


  • First place, Sustainability

The 1.25-mile Treetop Trail at Minnesota Zoo is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian loop, 32 feet above the ground with a view to forest, wetlands, wildlife and zoo.

With hundreds of species of animals, worldwide conservation efforts, and acres of scenic beauty, the Minnesota Zoo is a resource to connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife.

In 1979, the Minnesota Zoo debuted its monorail train which provided an overhead view of the 500-acre property including the expansive natural forest, views of the large habitats, and animals roaming below. For many years the monorail was a favorite attraction at the Minnesota Zoo. However, by 2013, after years of struggles to repair, maintain and locate replacement parts, the monorail was retired. All that remained was 1.25 miles of steel track.

Five years later, planning began on what would become the Minnesota Zoo’s ultimate reuse construction project: the Treetop Trail.

The Zoo contracted with award-winning Snow Kreilich Architects; engineering firm Buro Happold (known for its work on the High Line in New York City); TEN x TEN Landscape Architecture and Urbanism; and construction partner, PCL.

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in April 2022. Construction continued without interruption, even through Minnesota’s harsh winter. From materials to construction methods, all planning, design, and construction partners were committed to sustainable practices and minimizing disruptions to the Zoo’s landscape, animals, and guests.

The project used products manufactured and fabricated as close to the Minnesota Zoo as possible to minimize emissions from transport. To reduce diesel emissions from idling construction equipment, unnecessary idling was limited to no more than five minutes in any 60-minute period.

The Treetop Trail includes over 15,000 composite deck boards made from post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastic material. Unlike traditional wood, the structural plastic lumber doesn’t need to be chemically treated meaning no chemicals are leaked onto the ground or water below. This alternate lumber also eliminated the need for deforestation, saving countless trees that wildlife depends on for food and shelter.

To limit exposure to animals and zoo grounds, the construction team customized two hanging platforms which allowed workers to move along the track while reinforcing the steel structure and pushing completed trail sections into place.

During construction, careful efforts were made to minimize clearing or disturbing existing foliage. Foliage that was cleared was redeposited on Zoo property versus going to a landfill. Construction waste including concrete, scrap metal, wood, and cardboard, was carefully sorted and diverted to various disposal partners for recycling.

Existing structures and spaces were reimagined and enhanced as part of the Treetop Trail construction. The entrance to the Treetop Trail, known as Trailhead Landing, was once the monorail station. Today, it is home to the Zoo’s new Animal Ambassador habitat where guests are greeted by several species native to Minnesota.

The creation of the Hanifl Nature Center saw an existing structure converted into a fully enclosed, year-round art gallery. Rotating exhibits feature a curated collection of nature-themed works by artists from around the region.

A grand opening ceremony was held on July 28, 2023. The 1.25-mile Treetop Trail at the Minnesota Zoo is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian loop. The path brings guests up to 32 feet above the ground providing a bird’s eye view and access to hundreds of acres of hardwood forest, wetlands, wildlife, and, of course, the Zoo’s beloved animals including tigers, bison, moose, and camels.

The mission of the Treetop Trail is to provide a year-round, welcoming, and accessible journey into nature for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities through self-guided experiences as well as special events and programming.

The Treetop Trail is a key component of the Minnesota Zoo’s future. It will reinforce the Zoo’s reputation as a trusted nature destination and is an evolution of the role that zoos play around the globe.


State of Minnesota, K.A.H.R. Foundation, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Target, Best Buy Foundation, Hubbard Broadcasting Foundation, Flint Hills Resources, hundreds of individual donors

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