Dallas-Fort Worth's 11 Best Nature Trails For Families

Julia Bunch + Alex Mitchell
April 2016 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
March 28, 2016
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Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, Plano
What to expect: With 200 acres of green space, Arbor Hills remains a favorite for North Texans for good reason. Navigate this often congested space like a pro by arriving early, parking in the northwest corner of the parking lot (close to the playground and bathrooms) and walking the trails clockwise against the crowds.
Why we love it: Extras include a playground with picnic tables, bathrooms and water fountains. Keep little hikers and strollers on the 3 miles of paved trails dotted with educational panels about the area’s birds and critters along the routes. The view of fields of wildflowers from the observation tour makes the 1-mile uphill trek on Tower Trail worth it. Bikers and sure-footed walkers enjoy 2.8 miles of unpaved trails.
Ages it’s good for: All
Best day/time to go: Early morning to avoid the crowds
Cost: Free
Get there: 6701 W. Parker Road, Plano; 972/941-7250
Oak Cliff Nature Preserve, Dallas
What to expect: Ditch the spring sandals and leisurely Sunday stroll on concrete in favor of a picturesque hike or bike ride through Oak Cliff Nature Preserve, which offers 121 acres of prairie landscape in the middle of the city. The primitive area means no restrooms, paved trails or water fountains.
Why we love it: The six loop trails cover roughly 8 miles and offer lots of shade from huge old pecan trees and more. Some trails border Five Mile Creek, and funky junk art and license plates nailed to trees pepper the paths throughout.
Ages it’s good for: Sure-footed walkers and runners; and confident bikers
Best day/time to go: Anytime during full sunlight; trails close after heavy rains
Cost: Free
Get there: 2875 Pierce St., Dallas; 512/766-9453
Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, Lewisville
What to expect: Grab your rod and reel, tent, binoculars and hiking boots to explore Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA), which functions like a state park. Hike five trails, kayak in Beaver Pond (bring your own boats), fish for bass and carp in Elm Fork, spot dozens of birds such as painted buntings, or camp on the primitive grounds of this nearly 2,000-acre nature haven.
Why we love it: In addition to an array of self-guided activities in the nature center, LLELA hosts a myriad of family programs, including kids’ yoga sessions, nature walks, even a stargazing night hike (Stars on the Prairie, $10 per person ages 5 and older; register online).
Ages it’s good for: Tots can handle the .3-mile Cicada Trail, but most activities require more coordination and longer attention spans.
Best day/time to go: Open from 7am−7pm daily
Cost: $5 per vehicle; most events cost extra
Get there: 201 E. Jones Street, Lewisville; 972/219-3550
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, Fort Worth
What to expect: Nature lovers bask in the 3,621 acres of serene wilderness. Walk the more than 20 miles of trails slowly (no biking or jogging allowed) and admire the colorful flora such as redbud trees, known for their striking red-purple flowers, and potentially encounter some wildlife, including bison, deer and dozens of species of land and water birds.
Why we love it: Keep the walk short and simple on the 0.78-mile Deer Mouse Trail along the Trinity River or try birding along the 2.1-mile Oak Motte Trail. Get dirty with hands-on learning during the monthly Pre-School Discovery Club for kids 3–5, make new friends at Animal Meet and Greet or volunteer as a family to rid the park of litter during an organized cleanup. Many of the center’s events and classes fill up fast, so register online in advance.
Ages it’s good for: All
Best day/time to go: Catch a guided nature hike on Saturday mornings. Keep in mind the center closes at 4:30pm daily.
Cost: $5 for adults, $2 for ages 3–12; some events cost extra
Get there: 9601 Fossil Ridge Road, Fort Worth; 817/392-7410
Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas
What to expect: The five miles of trails at the Trinity River Audubon Center, a 120-acre park, offer a packaged outdoor experience for families.
Why we love it: More than 220 avian species call the park home throughout the year and attract lots of birding enthusiasts. Look for yellow warblers and orioles this time of year. Don’t miss the free feathered friend festival on April 16, where kids see hawks and owls up close, create a flock of crafts, learn about backyard chickens and more.
Ages it’s good for: All
Best day/time to go: Enter free on the third Thursday of each month. Keep in mind the center is closed Mondays and closes at 4pm Tuesday–Saturday and at 5pm on Sunday.
Cost: $6 for adults, $3 for ages 3–12
Get there: 6500 Great Trinity Forest Way, Dallas; 214/398-8722
Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth
What to expect: While the Botanical Research Institute of Texas is first and foremost an education center for botany, it functions more like a garden and museum to the public. Take a guided tour on Thursday or Saturday or explore the sustainable campus on your own.
Why we love it: In addition to recurring preschool programs and summer camps, the BRIT hosts a couple of family festivals such as Butterflies in the Garden. Don’t miss Prairie Day on May 14 for live music, tours and close encounters with owls, bats, snakes and more.
Ages it’s good for: All
Best day/time to go: Saturdays get crowded, but it’s worth the trip. Take a guided tour or hear Bella the Begonia’s Story Time (the first Saturday of the month).
Cost: $7 for adults; free younger than 12
Get there: 1700 University Drive, Fort Worth; 817/332-4441
River Legacy Parks, Arlington
What to expect: Follow eight miles of paved hiking and bike trails through the 1,300-acre forest floodplain park along the banks of the Trinity River in northwest Arlington. The park’s ecological diversity of wetlands, prairie and forest provides the ideal habitat for more than 400 species of wildlife, including 193 different kinds of birds and 28 types of trees. Biking families also enjoy 10 miles of unpaved cross-country trails (but call ahead to make sure they're open).
Why we love it: Stop by the Living Science Center before you hit the trails to learn about the local environment and wildlife through interactive exhibits, aquariums and terrariums.
Ages it’s good for: Hikes range from a quarter of a mile to 4 miles, so there’s a suitable trail for every age.
Best day/time to go: Open Monday–Saturday 9am–5pm
Cost: Free
Get there: 701 NW Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington; 817/860-6752
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary, McKinney
What to expect: Pass through undisturbed nature on 6.5 miles of unpaved walking trails in this expansive wildlife sanctuary. Six different paths measure between a half-mile and just over a mile and each offers access to different habitats such as tallgrass prairie and wetland forest.
Why we love it: Enjoy Texas spring in all its glory with a jaunt along the Cedar Brake Loop (around two-thirds of a mile long) to catch stunning seasonal wildflowers in every color of the rainbow, from magenta basket flowers to blue wild indigos. The mile-long Wood Duck Trail offers beautiful views of the Heard’s wetlands, where you can often see turtles like red-eared sliders catching some sun.
Ages it’s good for: Sure-footed walkers; not suitable for strollers
Best day/time to go: Open Tuesday–Saturday 9am–5pm and Sunday 1–5pm. To access the trails, be sure to arrive before 4pm. No biking allowed.
Cost: Pricing varies by season; kids 2 and younger, free
Get there: 1 Nature Place, McKinney; 972/562-5566
Breckenridge Park, Richardson
What to expect: More than 4 miles of paved multi-use trails loop through 417 acres at Breckenridge Park. There are also soccer fields and softball fields and a lake, where kids can catch and release (adults require a fishing license; kids fish for free).  
Why we love it: Easy parking, restroom facilities and a playground make this park a home run for family fun. We recommend parking at entrance B and heading towards the lake. Stop for a picnic on covered picnic benches in the lakeside pavilion to enjoy the scenic view.
Ages it’s good for: All ages. Paved trails are wide, flat and stroller-friendly.
Best day/time to go: Open daily from sunrise to sunset
Cost: Free
Get there: 3555 Brand Road, Richardson. 972/744-4301
Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, Cedar Hill
What to expect: Take your pick at Dogwood Canyon: Families with jogging strollers or tiny tykes enjoy the flat half-mile Canyon Floor gravel trail, which runs along the bottom of the canyon’s 300-foot rise. More ambitious hikers traverse the West Rim Trail, a 1 2/3-mile hike that takes you 150 feet above the canyon for stunning panoramic views of Joe Pool Lake. Sign up for a guided hike with an Audubon educator to learn about the area’s wildlife (book at least two weeks in advance; hikes start at $50/group).
Why we love it: Let the young ones explore the natural playground with tree stumps and a giant wooden ruler near the trailheads. From elevated points on the West Rim Trail, red-tailed hawks soaring up above the forest are often spotted.
Ages it’s good for: Older kids for the West Rim Trail; all ages for the Canyon Floor Trail
Best day/time to go: If you want to bring your dog, go on Dog Day Sundays (dogs aren't allowed the rest of the week). Open Tuesday–Sunday 9am–5pm.
Cost: Free
Get there: 1206 W. FM 1382, Cedar Hill; 469/526-1980
Tandy Hills Natural Area, Fort Worth
What to expect: Located in Fort Worth’s backyard (between Highway 30 and the West Meadowbrook neighborhood), the rocky Tandy Hills trails take adventurous hikers through miles of unmarked loops and intersecting paths in the 160-acre prairie. The relatively hilly hike ranges from wide dirt paths to narrow goat tracks.  
Why we love it: It’s a far cry from a stroll — walkers must hop over creeks, climb steep hills and use a sense of direction (or a smartphone with a compass app) to navigate. The reward? Great views of downtown Fort Worth and some of the best wildflower fields in Texas.
Ages it’s good for: Intermediate kid hikers; not for beginners
Best day/time to go: No designated parking lots; street parking only. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Cost: Free
Get there: 3400 View St., Fort Worth


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