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family at outdoor zipline park

60 Outdoor Adventures Around Dallas Fort Worth

no indoor voice required at these spots

Leave behind these four walls for family-friendly outdoor destinations. Yes, summertime is hot, but fresh air will do your children some good. Grab the sunscreen and some water—and get out!

Nature Areas

Towering trees, lovely blooms, grasses waving in the breeze, glimpses of wildlife—there’s nothing like unplugging in nature. Whether you’re looking for a rugged setting or manicured gardens, North Texas offers a wide range of spots where you can appreciate flora and fauna. Here are some you can’t miss.

1. Doesn’t watching your kids frolic in a meadow sound delightful? Make it happen at Connemara Meadow Nature Preserve in Collin County. The preserve contains 72 acres of natural habitat, with diverse floral and animal life. Take a family nature walk or try a summer yoga class. There’s even an aerial yoga class for kids. Allen; 469/200-4085

2. River Legacy Park is an oasis of ecological variety, with bottomland forest, wetlands and prairie. The park runs along the curves of the Trinity River and is a great spot for riding bikes or taking a stroll. There is also a forest-themed playground, along with picnic areas, a canoe launch station and scenic overlooks. The River Legacy Living Science Center features interactive exhibits, native animals and nature trails. Arlington; 817/860-6752  

3. Undeveloped land less than 10 years ago, Southwest Nature Preserve is now a perfect place for visitors to get into nature. Cross into the preserve via a walkway and boardwalk and hit the hike and bike trail; you’ll also discover three ponds, including one with a fishing pier and terraced outdoor seating. A high bluff will give you an outstanding look at the surrounding area and as far out as downtown Fort Worth. Arlington; 817/459-5474

4. You can reach some of the highest points in Dallas County on the trails of Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center. You’ll have a nice view of nearby Joe Pool Lake, and on a clear day you can even see AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In the canyon, see native trees and grasses, birds, insects, reptiles and more. Cedar Hill; 469/526-1980 

5. Hike the trails at Coppell Nature Park, a 66-acre area inside Wagon Wheel Park. It’s home to hawks, bobcats, coyotes and other animals (stay on the trails; go online for safety tips), and more than 130 bird species pass through every year. You’ll also spot native vegetation, a pond and stream. The park’s Biodiversity Education Center offers hands-on environmental learning. Coppell; 972/304-3581

6. Cedar Ridge Preserve includes 603 acres of natural habitat near Joe Pool Lake. There are several miles of shaded hiking trails, some easy enough for families, where you can enjoy the greenery and look for wildlife. Stay on the paths—it’s required, and you’ll steer clear of poison ivy. If you come across a snake, give it a wide berth. Interested in fishing? Grab your poles (catch and release only). Dallas; 972/709-7784 

7. Explore 66 acres of gorgeous grounds at Dallas Arboretum, recognized as one of the top botanical gardens in the nation. And as if the colorful flowers and lush plants aren’t enough, the Arboretum has a variety of events this season to keep your children entertained, such as the scavenger hunt on Trivia Thursdays, Family Fun Fridays and Frozen Fridays, with treats from local vendors. You can also explore science activities in the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden. Dallas; 214/515-6615

8. Great Trinity Forest Gateway and Horse Trails offers a multi-purpose path around a fishing pond, prairie landscapes and native trees. As the name suggests, if you have a horse, bring your trailer and access the soft-surface forest trail. Dallas; 214/670-4100

9. Right in the middle of urban Dallas, you’ll find the 121-acre Oak Cliff Nature Preserve. Take your children to ride bikes or walk on the trails, spot birds and enjoy the wooded vista. For a touch of oddity, look for the artsy area, with a bicycle cemetery among the pecan trees, a spider sculpture and other random pieces. Dallas; 972/696-9810

10. Trinity River Audubon Center is 10 miles south of downtown Dallas but is another spot that will make you feel far from the city. It’s considered the gateway to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the biggest urban hardwood forest in the nation. The center includes diverse habitats, hiking trails and—of course—stellar birdwatching. Dallas; 214/309-5801 

11. Fort Worth Botanic Garden has partnered with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas to create even more opportunities to enjoy blooming beauty and learn about botany and natural history. Explore the Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Rock Springs Woods, Native Texas Boardwalk, Rainforest Conservatory and other areas. You’ll also find special exhibits and events this summer, including larger-than-life Lego sculptures and the Little Sprouts Book & Garden Club. Fort Worth; 817/463-4160 

12. Take a step back in time at Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. The forests, wetland and prairies will give you a sense of what Dallas-Fort Worth looked like before all the highways, buildings and houses. The center covers 3,621 acres and includes 20 miles of hiking trails as well as a canoe launch point. Visit the interpretive center to learn more about the refuge’s plants and animals (including a bison herd!). Fort Worth; 817/392-7410 

13. Head into the forest at Spring Creek Forest Preserve, where you can meander paved or natural surface trails. In addition to the wooded areas, there is also prairie acreage and a flowing creek. Birds, fish, lizards, armadillos and other creatures make their home at the preserve. Garland; 972/205-2750 

14. Take a peaceful stroll through the Grapevine Botanical Gardens at Heritage Park. It may not be as vast as the other botanic gardens in Dallas-Fort Worth, but it has pretty blossoms, flourishing plants, a koi pond and more—quite lovely for a walk or family photos. Grapevine; 817/410-3122 

15. Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) is like a 2,600-acre natural science classroom with prairie land, forests and wetlands. Hike the trails and paddle in Beaver Pond; you can also enjoy one of the guided activities planned for the summer—including a bird walk (age 10 and up) and a guided nature walk for those in the special needs community, both in June. Lewisville; 469/635-5483

16. There’s a lot to see and do at Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park. Climb into the tree canopy via the treehouse, gaze out from the Rocky Ford overlook, fish the ponds, and hike the crushed granite trail. Kiddos will especially enjoy the app-based GooseChase scavenger hunt hike. Go online to find classes, programs and special events. Mansfield; 817/473-1943

17. Explore the trails of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary, see native plants and animals, dig for fossils, play in the pioneer village—this is a great spot to help children appreciate the world around them. Take older kids (age 10 and up, and at least 75 pounds) to a summer Zip Line Day. McKinney; 972/562-5566 

18. Beauty abounds at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, a 200-acre park. Walk or bike the peaceful trails, surrounded by natural landscapes. Stay on the paths to keep clear of poison ivy, chiggers and other critters. Head to the observation tower for an expansive view. Plano; 972/941-7250 

19. At 800 acres, Oak Creek Park & Nature Preserve is Plano’s largest park. Take a family walk on paved trails or soft surface trails along Rowlett Creek (watch out for animals, and put on your bug spray), fish or use the pond for kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddle boarding. You can also keep the preserve nice for visitors as well as the wildlife that lives there by volunteering for a clean-up day. Plano; 972/941-7250 

20. The land around Spring Creek Nature Area is highly developed, but the park itself is just as nature intended. Walk a wooded, winding trail and relish the view of Spring Creek. You can also have a picnic and play a game in the horseshoe pit. The trail here links up with Richardson’s Galatyn Woodland Preserve. Richardson; 972/744-4300 

21. Immerse yourself in the Cross Timbers ecosystem at Bob Jones Nature Center & Preserve in Southlake. The center is nestled in more than 700 acres of natural habitat, with nearly 700 species of plants and animals identified. Listen to singing birds and watch for animal tracks as you wander the trails. Southlake; 817/748-8019 

BUTTERFLY HOUSES

When you’re lucky enough to see a butterfly flitting about your yard, it’s magical. But what if you could see more than one—a lot more? Visit these local butterfly gardens:

22.Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium, part of Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park, Dallas; 214/428-7476
23. Butterfly Garden at Cedar Ridge Preserve, Dallas; 972/709-7784
24. Native Texas Butterfly House & Garden, on the grounds of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary, McKinney; 972/562-5566 

More Trails You’ll Love

North Texas’ nature centers have many fantastic trails. Here are additional spots to put on your list for a family outing.

25. Walk, jog or ride the historic Katy Trail, built on an old railroad line. Landscaped paths, lighting, benches, fountains, signage and restaurants (on the trail or close by) make this an easy choice for your day out. Dallas; 214/303-1180 

26. The mile-or-so Piedmont Ridge Trail takes you on some scenic ups and downs. The trailhead is a bit hidden away (it’s near Keeton Park Golf Course), but the trail is easy to follow once you’re there. Hikers get to see the treetops and even the Dallas skyline. Benches provide a spot for a stop. Dallas

27. Walk the paved Santa Fe Trail, which connects White Rock Lake to Deep Ellum, Fair Park and downtown Dallas. There are multiple parks along the trail. Dallas

28. Gather your buckaroos and head to the Texas Buckeye Trail. The journey takes you to a stand of Texas Buckeye trees and a nice river view. There’s also a newer concrete trail, with large boulders as well as an old-growth tree canopy, that leads to an overlook point. Dallas; 214/671-9500 

29. The nearly 10-mile loop around White Rock Lake is a haven for anyone seeking some exercise and pretty scenery. With littles, go for the family-friendly section of trail on the West Lawther Drive side of the water. The side of the lake near Garland Road and the spillway is popular with serious walkers, runners and cyclists. Dallas; 214/660-1100 

30. The Trinity Trails comprise more than 100 miles of trails along the Trinity River, crisscrossing 31 neighborhoods and 21 parks. For extra fun, take on the Trinity Trails Geocaching Adventure. Fort Worth

31. Rocky red bluffs are striking against the blue waters of Lake Grapevine on Northshore Trail. Keep your phone in your pocket for a nice family pic—the view is really something. The trail starts at Rockledge Park in Grapevine and ends at Twin Coves Park in Flower Mound. Grapevine and Flower Mound; 817/454-1058

32. Wind your way through parks and nature settings in the heart of Keller along Big Bear Creek Greenbelt Trail. The full trail is more than 5 miles long; consider stopping at Bear Creek Park, which has two play sets and other amenities. Keller; 817/743-4050 

33. Summer is prime time to enjoy the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney. While the beautiful blooms can be found throughout the city, head to World Collection Park for wide, paved pathways and benches where you can enjoy different types of the flowering trees, plus picnic tables, informative signs and a sundial. McKinney; 972/547-7480

34. For a more primitive hiking or biking experience, try the trails at Sister Grove Park in Collin County. You’ll journey in the wild—the forest areas may be dense, and animals and insects populate this area near Lake Lavon. Near Princeton and Farmersville 

Zip Line Adventures

Get a birds-eye view as you soar across these zip lines:

35. Dallas’ Trinity Forest Adventure Park has a course for (almost) everyone, from Out a Limb, for age 4 and up, to black courses—the hardest level, color-coded like a ski run. Dallas; 214/391-1000

36. Take a treetop adventure at Go Ape in the canopy at Oak Point Park in Plano. The experience—including tree-to-tree crossings, extra-long zip lines and Tarzan-style swings—is open to age 10 and up. Plano; 800/971-8271

37. If your kiddo weighs in at least 50 pounds, you can have high-flying fun at Zip Lost Pines outside of Austin. Zip line under the stars during a nighttime tour. Cedar Creek; 512/761-2323

38. Lake Travis Zipline Adventures bills itself as the longest and fastest zip line in Texas. To take a ride at this Austin-area park, you must weigh at least 70 pounds. Leander; 512/614-1996

39. There’s also a 70-pound minimum for zip line fliers at Rugaru Adventures in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Travel through the forest canopy and over Broken Bow Lake. Broken Bow, Oklahoma; 580/494-2947

Go Fish

40. Get some fishing time in at Cedar Hill State Park, which sits on the shores of Joe Pool Lake. The 7,500-square-foot lake contains largemouth black bass, catfish and crappie. Cedar Hill State Park also has a perch pond for kids. Cedar Hill; 972/291-3900 

41. Try the fishing pond at William Blair Jr. Park, which occupies 900 acres not far from Fair Park. The fishing pond is part of the park’s front section, which also includes a pavilion and picnic areas. If you’re not tired out after fishing, head to the back portion of the park for natural surface hiking. Dallas; 214/670-4100

42. The south pond at South Lakes Park in Denton is regularly stocked with fish that are fun and fairly easy to catch as part of Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Neighborhood Fishin’ program. Texas Parks & Wildlife requires anglers 17 and up to have a license; kids fish for free. Denton; 940/349-7275

43. Duncanville’s Lakeside Park is also part of the Neighborhood Fishin’ program. The lake is stocked with fish every two to four weeks during summer. Email pictures of your catch to Duncanville Parks & Rec—your images could be shared online. Duncanville; 972/780-4972 

44. There’s good fishing year-round at Greenbriar Park lake in Fort Worth. This is another park that’s part of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Neighborhood Fishin’ program. Reel in channel catfish, bluegill sunfish, green sunfish and largemouth bass. Fort Worth

45. Tarrant Regional Water District constructed a fishing pier close to the Fort Worth Zoo and Texas Christian University. The pier is near Woodshed Smokehouse off the Trinity Trail. Fort Worth 

46. You’ll find a nice fishing cove on the southern end of Lake Grapevine. Occupy a quiet spot along the banks at McPherson Slough or take advantage of the public pier. Grapevine; 817/410-3450 

47. Here’s one more Texas Parks & Wildlife Neighborhood Fishin’ site. The Chisholm Park pond is regularly stocked with catfish during the summer. There’s great access from the bank. Feed the ducks while you’re there and enjoy park amenities, including pavilions, playgrounds and an aquatics center. Hurst; 817/788-7220

48. Cast a line at Lewisville Fishing Barge for catfish, bass, crappie, carp and buffalo fish from Lake Lewisville. You can fish indoors (hello, A/C) or outdoors. Lewisville; 972/436-9341

49. Russell Creek Park in Plano offers solid fishing, especially considering the smaller size of the lake. If the kids get restless, leave the pier for the playground. Plano; 972/941-7250 

50. Caruth Park is one of the largest parks in University Park. (That’s a lot of parks in one sentence!) Your crew will have fun on the playgrounds and having a picnic, but Caruth Park is also great for children’s fishing. The pond is swimming with bluegill, catfish and bass. There’s also a lighted floating fountain and stone bridges. University Park; 214/987-5488 

51. Want to combine your fishing outing with a mini road trip? Take a drive to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, about 25 minutes south of Canton. Yes, you can fish—and much more. Peruse the visitor center to learn more about conservation and sport fishing. Take in a dive show in the theater before hopping on the tram that will take you to the hatchery pond, then walk on the wetlands trail. The fishing here is kid-friendly; the center will even provide poles and bait. Athens; 903/676-2277

52. For bass fishing, you can’t do much better than Lake Fork. Less than two hours east of Dallas, this spot is where most of the biggest bass in Texas have been caught. Come here with a child who is passionate about fishing. Pro tip: If you want to go out on a boat, hire a guide to make sure you don’t hit any stumps. Quitman

Underground Explorations

What lies beneath? In this case, caves! Take a drive to these subterranean destinations.

53. Head for the Hill Country to reach Longhorn Cavern State Park. This cave was created by the movement and pressure of an ancient river. Guests of any age can take the walking tour, while you must be at least 8 to take the primitive wild cave tour. Burnet; 512/715-9000

54. Inner Space Cavern, located in Georgetown, was hidden for some 10,000 years—so it’s one of the most well-preserved caves in the state. There’s no minimum age for the basic adventure tour; the hidden passage tour requires participants to be at least 7. If you’re in great physical condition, don’t mind crawling on your belly and are at least 13, consider the wild cave tour. Georgetown; 512/931-2283

55. Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park gives families the opportunity to explore the first show cave in Texas (the only true earthquake-formed cave in the nation)—then exit the cave via the Stratavator and travel 190 feet into the air to the observation tower. You can also ride a train through a waterfall on your way into the Texas Wildlife Petting Park, and enter the convoluted world of the Antigravity House. San Marcos; 512/392-3760

56. Halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park, you’ll find the Caverns of Sonora. Tour richly decorative passages that extend 155 feet below the surface. Kids will also have fun in the underground classroom (where they can dig for fossils and view a slideshow) and panning for gems. For the more adventurous, try the off-trail passageway tour. Sonora; 325/387-3105

57. Trek through a limestone crevice and down a 100-foot staircase into a verdant canyon at Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center in the Austin area. Then you’ll continue to a 40-foot waterfall that spills into a grotto pool and see the single-chamber cave. Kiddos are welcome as long as they are up for the walk. Southwest Travis County; 830/825-3442

58. Bottomless cave lakes and stunning formations await you at Arkansas’ Cosmic Cavern. Between Eureka Springs and Branson, Missouri, this cave offers standard tours open to families; the after-hours wild cave tours are for age 16 and up. Buy a bag of panning dirt in the gift shop and let the kids search for gems. Berryville, Arkansas; 870/749-2298

59. Venture into onetime hideout of Jesse James and Belle Star at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma. Follow the Robbers Cave Nature Trail for amazing sights inside the cave and from the rocky surroundings before heading back to your campsite or cabin. Wilburton, Oklahoma; 918/465-2562

Fossil Dig 

60. Have a kiddo intrigued by paleontology? Go to Mineral Wells Fossil Park for the opportunity to conduct your own dig. You could find a real-life fossil that’s hundreds of millions of years old! And if you find it, you keep it. Visit the website to see pics of some of the fossils unearthed there. Be aware that the park is pretty primitive. But we’re guessing die-hard fossil fans won’t be deterred. Mineral Wells; 940/328-7803

RELATED: Indoor Play Areas in Dallas-Fort Worth

Photo courtesy of Go Ape