Work to convert Minnesota Zoo's monorail into walking trail begins

Construction is underway on a new elevated walking trail at the Minnesota Zoo. 

The Apple Valley zoo will repurpose its iconic monorail, which was retired in 2013 after more than three decades, into the new Treetop Trail. According to the zoo, this 1.5-mile trail, set to open in summer 2023, will be the world’s longest elevated pedestrian loop. 

The trail will be 32 feet above the ground, providing zoogoers an "immersive experience in nature," the zoo said. It will reconnect the southern and northern halves of the zoo, providing "new perspectives and access" to hundreds of acres of hardwood forest, wetlands, and Minnesota wildlife, as well as offering birds’ eye views of the zoo’s bison, tigers, moose and other animals. 

A rendering of the Treetop Trail at the Minnesota Zoo, which is scheduled to open in 2023. (Minnesota Zoo)

The monorail closed about a decade ago due to fewer people riding it and trouble getting parts to repair the aging tram. A few years later, in 2016, the zoo began exploring converting the monorail track into a walking trail, modeled after the High Line in New York City. And on Friday, the Minnesota Zoo celebrated the start of construction on the Treetop Trail, with an event that included Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and zoo donors. 

The monorail track at the Minnesota Zoo. (FOX 9)

Minnesota Zoo Director John Frawley during the ceremony called it a "historic day," noting it is Arbor Day and the Treetop Trail celebrates trees. 

"The Treetop Trail is a key component of the zoo’s future and advances our mission of connecting people to the natural world," Frawley said in a news release. "It will reinforce our reputation as a trusted nature destination in Minnesota and is an evolution of the role that zoos play around the globe. The trail also has the potential to become a major tourist attraction and economic driver for the state."

A rendering of the Treetop Trail, which will utilize the former monorail track.  (Minnesota Zoo)

The zoo says the trail will be used to engage zoogoers in "compelling ways" with educational, artistic and entertainment spaces and programming that will be accessible to all. Frawley, during the ceremony, said the trail will have four themes: nature; health and wellness; arts and expression; and rec and leisure. 

Funding for the Treetop Trail came from private donors and $11 million from the Minnesota Legislature via a bonding bill. The zoo says it has secured more than $30 million, which is 80% of the zoo’s $39 million goal for its "Step Into Nature" campaign, which the Treetop Trail and the Family Farm projects.