Natural Areas at Holden

The Holden Arboretum is organized into 14 natural areas. Some of these natural areas are well known, such as Pierson Creek Valley, Bole Woods, Carver’s Pond, Little Mountain, and Stebbins Gulch while others are less well-known and visited. Some of Holden natural areas are open to the public while others are closed and accessible only with a guide or permit. In the future, a goal is to provide guests with more opportunities to visit Holden natural areas without putting people or these natural areas at risk.

In these areas, you will find a range of plant communities, including:

Forest remnants

Holden forest remnants range from our relatively common beech-maple forest we see in Bole Woods and the Woodland Trail to the less common forest type, the white pine-hemlock-northern hardwood forest on Little Mountain.


Holden meadows are agricultural remnants, but many have been managed as meadows for the past 75 or 100 years. Common field nesting birds such as the red-wing blackbird nest in these fields, as well as rare bird species such as the eastern meadowlark and the bobolink. Likewise our meadows have native and non-native plant species and common and rare native plant species.


The topography of The Holden Arboretum owes a great deal to water and gravity. These two elements combine to create numerous perennial and intermittent streams, the Pierson Creek Valley, Stebbins Gulch, and unique ecosystems such as Brainard Fen. Holden also has 52 acres of ponds, which range from well-managed examples such as Corning Lake to purely aesthetic ponds like Heath Pond in the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden.


The Holden Arboretum is situated in the glaciated Allegheny Plateau and has numerous streams and tributaries feeding into the East Branch of the Chagrin River. As streams begin to cut through the glacial tills of the upland, numerous ravines develop and dissect the upland creating a wide variety of microclimates that are support a greater diversity of plant and animal species. A walk through the Pierson Creek Valley allows one many opportunities to see young and old valleys formed by large and small tributaries to Pierson Creek.

Bedrock geology has likewise created some unique landforms such as Little Mountain and Stebbins Gulch. Vertically there is an approximately 435 foot elevation change between Holden’s highest point on Little Mountain to the lowest point on the East Branch of the Chagrin River.


The East Branch of the Chagrin River is a designated State Scenic river and more than 5.5 miles of the river flows through The Holden Arboretum. The Pierson Creek Valley, Stebbins Gulch, and the Shady Brook are important watersheds that feed into the East Branch and help protect and maintain its cold water habitat and high water quality.

National Natural Landmarks

Holden Natural Areas were dedicated in 1967 by then Secretary of the Interior Morris Udall, as National Natural Landmarks. The National Natural Landmarks Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of outstanding examples of our country’s natural history. It is the only natural areas program of national scope that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. National Natural Landmarks are designated by the Secretary of the Interior, with the owner’s concurrence. To date, fewer than 600 sites have been designated. The National Park Service administers the National Natural Landmark Program.