Attractions: 27 Hidden Nature Gems in Dallas-Fort Worth / Take your kids to these offbeat places to discover the beauty in your own backyard
Beauty can be found in many places, but there’s just something about natural beauty that stirs up curiosity and wide-eyed wonder in our kiddos—and us too. Suburban oases and fresh-air getaways are hidden throughout the Dallas area, from winding trails to lush green lawns and towering trees, so get away on a warm May day (without venturing too far) at one of these spots and bask in the beauty of Mother Nature.
Acton Nature Center
Explore rocky hills, wildflower-filled prairies and shady creek beds at this park located on Lake Granbury. Acton Nature Center has trails that wander through several North Texas habitats, from forest to scrub. The kids can spend a Saturday finding fluttering friends in the butterfly garden and hiding in the wildlife blind to watch birds coming to feed. The center also hosts events throughout the year, such as guided bird walks at 7am on the first Saturday of each month. Open from dawn to dusk daily; admission is free.
6900 Smoky Hill Court, Granbury; 817/326-6005
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve
While West Plano’s beloved Arbor Hills boasts 3 miles of paved hiking trails (and an awesome playground), get away from the crowds by exploring the 200-acre preserve’s more hidden pathways—3 miles of unpaved trails meander along the perimeter of the property. If your brood is a biking bunch, pedal over to the off-road cycling trails in the southern part of the preserve. Before you leave, be sure to visit the Observation Tower for an unparalleled view of the city and the preserve’s three ecoregions—the wildflower meadows and grasses of Blackland Prairie, the creekside Riparian Forest, and the Upland Forest, home to dense trees as well as many of the preserve’s wilder creatures. Open until 11pm every day; stay after dark to listen for owls. Free.
6701 W. Parker Road, Plano; 972/941-7000
Bob Jones Nature Center
Encompassing nearly 800 acres, Bob Jones Nature Center offers plenty of ways for your crew to commune with nature, from guided hikes along more than 20 miles of trails for all ages to the nature-focused Camera Club to lectures and specialty events like the annual Monarch Buttery Festival. Kids can be members of the nature center at almost any age. Consider joining the Mommy and Me Junior Explorers group for babes ages 18 months–3 years, or sign up for a summer camp. You can always take the family for a day of walking the trails (sans pets, however) and appreciating the forests and prairies of the Cross Timbers ecosystem. Free admission; programs cost extra.
355 E. Bob Jones Road, Southlake; 817/491-6333
Tucked away south of Addison’s Restaurant Row is a quiet, 4-acre park that’ll take you and the little ones far away from the noise of the city. The park lives up to its heavenly name, and not just because of the tranquil landscape—stone steps stamped with lines of poetry and quotes from iconic figures such as Helen Keller ascend to a human sundial. The kids can stand in the middle and cast their shadows to tell the time (disregarding daylight saving time, that is). The park also has stroller-friendly jogging trails and large stones that are safe enough for your children to clamber over. Street parking is available on Celestial Road.
5501 Celestial Road, Dallas; 972/450-2851
The Chairy Orchard
This oh-so-Denton spot may not have flower blossoms, but the “orchard” of dozens of discarded chairs still shows off the local flora through its quirky marriage of nature and furniture. Families can picnic at the creekside lot by their choice of rocking horse, peacock throne, old wheelchair or painted wooden chair. In the unlikely chance that there is no seat available, lay out your picnic spread under the elaborate archway of melded chairs, branches and metal oddities or the chair “chandelier” suspended from one of the lot’s spreading trees.
1426 Churchill Drive, Denton; 940/38700738
Colleyville Nature Center
Bring your walking shoes, fishing poles and bicycles to explore this 46-acre park’s nine ponds and 3 1/2 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Each pond has a name—the kiddos will want to make a beeline for Duck Haven, and Angler’s Pond is popular with the fishing crowd (go figure). In the woods, tall trees shade the dirt trails that follow Little Bear Creek, and benches are available when your crew needs a snack break. Or pack a picnic—there’s a covered pavilion with tables and a grill overlooking Mill Pond and a playground nearby for post-lunch play. Free.
Mill Wood Drive, Colleyville; 817/503-1180
Coppell Nature Park
Nestled within Wagon Wheel Park is a hidden oasis that is home to some of Texas’ wilder residents. A visit to the 66-acre Coppell Nature Park might introduce your brood to a family of fox squirrels, bobcats or one of the over 130 bird species that migrate through the park annually. (May is spring migration season, after all.) Curious to learn more about the wildlife in Denton County’s suburban jungle? Drop by a public program at the park’s Biodiversity Education Center, like the EcoExplorer Drop-In Days every Tuesday and Wednesday and the second Saturday of the month. And print out free guides to the park’s flowers, plants, insects, animals and geological materials, all provided on the website by Friends of Coppell Nature Park. Free entry.
367 Freeport Parkway, Coppell; 972/304-3581
Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center
Get a bird’s-eye view of Dallas and learn a thing or two about the local wildlife at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center. It’s home to over 200 acres of Hill Country–esque habitat and native plants, like the Ashe juniper and the white trout lily. It’s also home to one of the highest elevations in Dallas—your kids will be able to spot Joe Pool Lake and AT&T Stadium when you hike the West Loop Trail. (For little legs and less adventurous hikers, the half-mile Canyon Floor Trail is flat and stroller-friendly.) Look for bugs and reptiles and listen for birdsong as you walk the trails. When you need a breather, stop by the Nature Play area, equipped with picnic tables. Dogwood Canyon also offers a summer camp for ages 6–11; find details online. Regular admission to the center is free.
1206 W. Farm-to-Market Road 1382, Cedar Hill; 469/526-1980
Doubletree Ranch Park
Located on ranchland once owned by Robert DuVall (no, not that one—Highland Village’s first mayor), Doubletree Ranch Park is a recently revamped space for the community that offers brand-new amenities—like turf lawns and a 25,000-square-foot splash pad—in a natural setting with plenty of unmarred green space. Families can picnic on the sprawling grassy areas with views of the property’s pond, or get a closer look at the local wildlife on a paved trail system that loops around the water. If the towering pine trees around the park aren’t cutting it for shade, snag a table under the central pavilion to take advantage of the fans while still enjoying the scenic vista.
310 Highland Village Road, Highland Village; 972/317-7430
Eagle Mountain Park
Fifteen miles outside the bustle of Cowtown, your family can get some rest and relaxation (or recreation) at the nearly 9,000-acre Eagle Mountain Lake. Adjacent to the lake is a park of the same name, a destination for hiking enthusiasts across North Texas. But even if the closest your family gets to hiking is climbing the stairs at bedtime, don’t be daunted—Eagle Mountain Park’s trail system is well-kept, well-marked and accessible to families of almost all abilities (though family members on wheels will be limited, and pets are not allowed). Six trails run through the 400-acre park, offering panoramic vistas and close encounters with many trees, flowers and insects indigenous to Fort Worth. Be sure to take the quarter-mile Overlook Trail for a bird’s-eye view of the lake. Admission is free, but take note: The park closes 30 minutes after dusk, so enjoy the sunset and hurry out!
11601 Morris Dido Newark Road, Fort Worth
Elm Fork Nature Preserve
Tucked at the south end of McInnish Park and Sports Complex is this 40-acre preserve with a soft-surface loop trail and plenty of critters on the prowl. Duck into the trees with your kiddos and look for animals like squirrels, armadillos, beavers and snakes (from a safe distance, of course). Bring your binoculars to spot birds—woodpeckers, owls and hawks, among other feathered friends, can be found in the woods. Be sure to bring bug spray too. Before you go, download the trail map from the city website. Free.
2335 Sandy Lake Road, Carrollton; 972/466-3080
Fort Worth Botanic Garden
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden isn’t exactly what you’d call a hidden gem, but it’s full of floral nooks and crannies—you could spend a whole day here and still find hideaways you haven’t seen before. Seek out the cherry tree–filled Japanese Garden (also home to more than a thousand koi fish); separate admission is charged to visit this serene spot. Nearby, don’t miss the Cactus Garden, full of prickly species native to Texas—we hear the cacti bloom in May and June. Also check out the always-in-bloom Perennial Garden, the fruit trees and greenhouse at the Backyard Vegetable Garden, and the oldest garden, Rock Springs, whose ponds and waterways recently received a face-lift. Free admission for most gardens; $7 adults and $4 ages 4–12 for the Japanese Garden.
3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., Fort Worth; 817/392-5510
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
Get an idea of what Cowtown used to look like before urban expansion at this 3,000-acre preserve. The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge offers guided hikes and paddle trips as well as free rein to explore its 12 trails that cross prairies, marshlands, meadows and oak mottes. Family members in strollers or wheelchairs will enjoy the scenic views along Limestone Ledge, a 0.21-mile paved nature trail. Along the way, keep an eye out for the birds, bison, deer, alligators (yes, alligators) and other critters that call this refuge home. Admission is $5 adults and $2 ages 3–12.
9601 Fossil Ridge Road, Fort Worth; 817/392-7410
Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Though not exactly “hidden”—the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary hosts a popular annual dinosaur exhibit, plus lots of programming for families—this preserved piece of Collin County is certainly a gem. From the colorful fliers in the Native Butterfly Garden to the vivid wildflowers in the native prairie habitat, it’s full of natural wonders. The looping trail system has something for hikers of all ages, but our favorite spot is the boardwalk along the Wood Duck Trail, where you and your little adventure seekers can look for turtles, snakes, herons and other inhabitants of the swampy cypress wetland. General admission is $10 for adults and $7 for ages 3–12 through May 31; prices drop by a dollar beginning June 1.
1 Nature Place, McKinney; 972/562-5566
What catches many kiddos’ attention when they arrive at this park is Fort Wildflower, a fun-for-all-ages playground with enclosed play areas for toddlers and big kids. But don’t miss the park’s wilder areas too—with paved and unpaved walking trails, water features and plenty of trees, Heritage Park is a destination for nature-seekers as well as playground hounds. Get away from the action by plunging into the forest on one of the soft-surface paths through the trees, or stop on the bridge over the pond to see what creatures might be lurking at the water’s edge. The park’s still a work in progress: The city unveiled new features last month, including more trails and an interactive splash pad for kiddos to cool off come summertime. Watch for future developments including wildflower meadows, a nature observation platform and more environmentally friendly infrastructure by this fall.
600 Spinks Road, Flower Mound; 972/874-6000
Lake Como Park
Sure, it’s not the Lake Como that George Clooney calls home, but this Fort Worth park feels like an escape all the same. Once a recreation resort for Fort Worth’s high society a century ago, this urban oasis is situated between Interstate 30 and Camp Bowie Boulevard to the north and Chisholm Trail Parkway to the south. Bring along your rackets for a game of tennis on one of two courts, or try your hand at naming the over 130 bird species known to fly through Lake Como every year.
3401 Lake Como Drive, Fort Worth; 817/392-5700
The giant teddy bear statues at Lakeside Park are not part of its natural beauty, per se, but they’re surrounded by 14 acres of lush foliage, blooming flowers and quiet waters— aka, the perfect picnic spot. Snap photos of your littles sitting on the bears, bring corn or seeds to feed the ducks, and find the bridge that overlooks a beautiful waterfall. Get your steps in for the day too by strolling the park’s curving trails—there are benches throughout if you and the little ones need a break. There is no designated parking lot, but spots along the street are easy to come by.
4601 Lakeside Drive, Dallas; 214/521-4161
Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area
Encompassing nearly 2,000 acres, LLELA has long hosted local families for nature walks, star parties and other events, but many suburbanites have yet to visit this best-kept secret on the shores of Lake Lewisville. The nature preserve is home to a variety of habitats, from green hills and lush forests to wetlands and rivers, which means the opportunities for exploration are endless. (But leave Fido at home—no pets allowed at the preserve.) Hike a trail to see birds, butterflies and other wildlife; most trails are over a mile long, though the woodsy Cicada Trail is only 0.6 miles out and back, with a wildlife viewing blind along the way. Your brood can also go kayaking, canoeing or fishing, or set up a tent at one of LLELA’s nine primitive campsites—an on-site wagon is available to transport camp gear, and guests are allowed to stay for up to seven consecutive nights. LLELA is open daily; $5 per vehicle. Camping costs extra.
201 E. Jones St., Lewisville; 972/219-3550
Situated on north side of Lake Grapevine, Murrell Park offers not just a scenic panorama for a lakeside picnic, but also options for open water adventures. On those sweltering summer days, splash around in the cove, or take your boat out for a cool breeze and more expansive views of the lake. Families can stick to land and still explore the lake by walking part of the 9.5-mile North Shore Trail, a hike-and-bike path that connects Murrell Park to nearby Rockledge Park and Twin Coves Park. The park also boasts bankside fishing spots and 22 tent-only campsites, if you want to stay and enjoy the lake’s famous sunsets. Free day use; camping costs $10 per night—book through recreation.gov.
880 Simmons Road, Flower Mound; 817/865-2600
Park Families with kids of all ages love this haven on the banks of Lake Lewisville, in part because of the playground and sand volleyball court. But to see more of the area’s natural beauty, choose from hiking, boating and even camping. The Poindexter and Hickory Creek equestrian trails, which are also suitable for families with little ones and leashed dogs, wind through forested areas with scenic views. For an aquatic adventure, rent paddleboards (reserve online) or kayaks (available at the gatehouse, with paddle and lifejackets) to get out on this quiet fork of the lake. Multiple pavilions near the shore offer grills and picnic tables. If you want to get away for the night, book one of the park’s 55 tent and RV campsites. $10 entry fee for day use area; campsites start at $25 per night for spring and summer.
218A Orchid Hill Lane, Highland Village; 940/455-2228
Oak Cliff Nature Preserve
With 8 miles of trails looping through 121 acres, you and the kiddos could easily spend a few hours exploring the woodlands, wildflowers and weird junk, er, art installations of Oak Cliff Nature Preserve. It’s behind an apartment complex in the heart of Oak Cliff, but once you delve into the trees, the city feels miles away. Before heading out on your hike or bike trip, snap a photo of the trail map or keep the Texas Land Conservancy’s online version pulled up on your phone—it’s easy to get lost in the maze of loops and shortcuts as you wind through forests and prairies. You and your brood can help keep the preserve, well, preserved by signing up for volunteer cleanup days; watch the Facebook page for upcoming events. The preserve is free to visit and open daily from dawn to dusk; park in the dirt lot off Pierce Street.
2875 Pierce St., Dallas; 972/696-9810
Spring Creek Nature Area
Enjoy 51 acres of natural beauty only a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Highway 75 in Richardson. You and the kids can find shade under the tall trees as you walk or bike the paved trail system—and, as you might have guessed from the name, get scenic views of the creek and its limestone walls. Pack a lunch for the family and take a break at one of the picnic benches along the path after you have worked up an appetite from exploring. Pro tip: Print a Spring Creek Trail map from the city website before you go.
3110 N. Central Expressway, Richardson; 972/744-4100
Stone Creek Park
We can see why this neighborhood park is a favorite destination of Flower Mound photographers. Besides a playground, basketball court and sports fields, this serene oasis has a multi-use nature trail that’s walkable for kids of all ages. (It’s also open to dogs, so bring your furry family members along too.) The path goes over a bridge and meanders alongside Stone Creek Park’s namesake water feature—your woodland sprites will love clambering over the large rocks on the banks of the creek, and you’ll love the made-for-Instagram photo ops. End your adventure with a meal at one of the park’s five picnic tables or keep cool under the pavilion.
1400 Fuqua Drive, Flower Mound; 682/218-2535
Southwest Nature Preserve
Experience the Eastern Cross Timbers ecosystem at Arlington’s 58-acre Southwest Nature Preserve. The park is located just minutes from Interstate 20 but feels miles away from the bustle of Tarrant County. Families can enjoy the concrete pathway and boardwalk to learn about the preserve’s flora and fauna or hike along trails converted from old roads. For the more daring crew, trek up the short-but-steep Bluff Trail to the summit of Kennedale Mountain for an enviable view of Fort Worth. Be sure to bring along your nature identification guide for the kids—there are over 300 native plants throughout the park. The nature preserve also has a bird list on its website along with a park map to help you navigate. Before you go, find these under the site’s Resources tab. Free.
5201 Bowman Springs Road, Arlington; 817/459-5474
Tandy Hills Natural Area
Explore 160 acres of prairie life at the Tandy Hills Natural Area, an indigenous chunk of the city in the shadow of Interstate 30 that’s never been farmed or developed. Park on the street near the playground and walk beyond the end of the short paved path to find an unpaved trail network that crisscrosses the prairie. You and the kiddos can spot an array of colorful native flowers, such as the striking blue flax or the lavender-color prairie celestial. The area is also home to monthly public star parties; visit the website for upcoming dates. Free.
3400 View St., Fort Worth; 817/731-2787
Twin Coves Park
Just across Lake Grapevine from Murrell Park is the 234-acre Twin Coves Park. With 19 furnished cabins (think tiny houses), almost two-dozen RV slips, numerous primitive camping options, and a picturesque location, the park is the ultimate destination for families who want to commune with nature—according to their comfort level. Twin Coves is also home to several natural-surface hiking and biking trails and a disc golf course, plus not-so-natural amenities like a volleyball court and youngster-approved playground. Though the fire pit area and picnic tables offer nice views of the lake, you can get right out on the water thanks to the kayak and boat launch. $10 daily fee per vehicle; additional fees for camping, cabin and RV rentals.
5001 Wichita Trail, Flower Mound; 972/874-6399
White Rock Lake
Although White Rock Lake is probably on your radar (and maybe your weekly jogging route), the lakeshore has several secluded spots you might drive or bike by without even realizing it. Head to the western side of the lake to T&P Hill, where you’ll find soft green grass (perfect for cartwheels) and a pavilion with tables and benches for picnicking. For a different kind of scenery, find the Old Fish Hatchery, located at the southern tip of the lake next to the spillway. It has 50 acres worth of dense woods to explore with trails running in a grid pattern beneath a towering canopy. Let the kids examine the low-lying areas that were once spawning grounds for fish and are now filled with water or native plants, or tread softly through the woods to spot birds and other critters. To get to the hatchery, park in the lot on Winsted Drive just off Garland Road and follow the paved path northwest along the edge of the trees until you find the gated entrance. Don’t forget to pack wellies—the flat grassy areas just outside the hatchery are ideal for puddle jumping after a rain.
T&P Hill, 3240 W. Lawther Drive, Dallas
Old Fish Hatchery, Winsted
Drive at Garland Road, Dallas