Nature Centers, nature trails, and gardens are a fantastic way to beat the heat of the summer.  Check out these local options….

In Arlington

Bon Air Park Memorial Rose Garden– Arlington

One of Arlington’s best kept secrets, the Bon Air Memorial Rose garden is one of the largest rose gardens on the East Coast. During World War II, the Arlington Rose Foundation wanted to create a living memorial dedicated to those who served their country.  Today the garden occupies about one acre, with several other gardens surrounding the area. Over 135 different rose varieties and 2,500 plants can be found within the boundaries Bon Air Park.  Bon Air Memorial Park also features an azalea garden, a shade garden, a sun garden, and an ornamental garden.  They also have a fun playground, and plenty of room for young legs to run!  The park is located at the corner of North Lexington and Wilson Boulevard, at 850 North Lexington Street in Arlington (between Upton Hill and George Mason).

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/scripts/parks/BonAirPark.aspx

Fort C.F. Smith Park

This site was was a fort during the civil war, and there are a 1/2 mile of trails on this 19-acre site.  Most of the trails are gravel and run through the woods, while the rest of the trail runs through gardens and by the Hendry House..  You can check out wildlife, and allow your kids to run wild though the open space.  During the spring and summer months, the meadows are filled with wildflowers and butterflies and birds.

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/fortcfsmith/parksrecreationfortcfsmithftcfsmith.aspx

Gulf Branch Nature Center– Arlington

The N. Arlington Nature Center is located in an old converted house.  Inside is a bee hive, snakes, turtles, an owl, puzzles and books, animal masks, coloring corners and activity stations, gardens, a viewing pond, a hollowed-out log/canoe, and pods and cones for touching, smelling and exploring.  Outside the nature center is 40 acres of nature, with a stream, a pond, wooded trails, and access to the Potomac River.

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/scripts/nature/parksrecreationscriptsnaturegulfbranch.aspx


Long Branch Nature Center– Arlington

This S. Arlington Nature Center has various exhibits with an indoor pond filled with fish and turtles.  There are also aquariums with fish, frogs, and snakes.  Your kids will love the Children’s Discovery Room with books, puppets, and toys.  Outside there are 18 acres with a meadow, two ponds, interpretive gardens, and a forest!.  They also take in and rehabilitate injured reptiles.  The park is located on the Long Branch Stream, which flows into Four Mile Run.

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/parksrecreation/scripts/nature/parksrecreationscriptsnaturelongbranch.aspx

Check out this entry for more info on Gulf Branch and Long Branch. 

Our Kids wrote a fantastic review of both centers.  

Potomac Overlook Nature Center- Arlington

In N. Arlington, Potomac Overlook has over 70 acres of woodland, trails, gardens, a small picnic area, and a Nature Center.  The Nature Center features live snakes, turtles and fish.  Next to the Nature Center is an exhibit featuring rehabilitated birds of prey, including 3 owls and a hawk!  In the picnic area next to the nature center is a table for the kids, as well as chairs and picnic tables for adults. There is also a butterfly garden and lots of room to run.  It is all shaded, so even on hot days, you will stay cool.  There is also a playground right next to the parking lot.  Follow Marcey Rd to the end, and you will see the parking lot.  Follow the paved trail and walk down to nature center. It is very stroller accessible and a bit of a walk for young legs, so a stroller may be a good idea for youngsters.

http://www.nvrpa.org/park/potomac_overlook

Powhatan Springs Children’s Rain Garden– Arlington

Powhatan Springs Children’s Rain Garden is unique play area that encourages kids to get wet!  It is a man-made wetland area that is designed to collect and cleanse rainwater, and it creates many hands-on activities for kids.  Kids can entertain themselves by making water flow from a bright red pump, splashing in the droplets that collect on concrete basins, and hopping from rock to rock. They can also create boats or other structures to send floating down the flume, and can build castles in the sand. In addition to the rain garden there is also a wooded play area.  Bring water, sand toys, or balls- and a picnic!

http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ParksRecreation/scripts/planning/powhatan/ParksRecreationScriptsPowhatanRainGarden.aspx

Theodore Roosevelt Island- Arlington

Head to Teddy Roosevelt Island for a hike and picnic. On this wooded island sanctuary, 2.5 miles of trails lead to the great statue of Roosevelt, There are trails that are flat and wide, so toddlers can walk or go in strollers, and kids of all ages will enjoy exploring. There are kid sized climbing rocks, as well as a sandy beach with rocks and shells. Kids will be able to see and hear the jets from Reagan overhead, in addition to many plants and animals: frogs, fish, turtles, ducks, geese, and deer. Bring bread to feed the ducks, and then picnic by the monument.  You can get there in a car only from the northbound lane of GW Parkway. Once you are parked, cross a foot bridge to the island.

http://www.nps.gov/this/index.htm


In Alexandria

Green Spring Gardens– Alexandria

This is a 27-acre public park with over 20 thematic gardens (including a Children’s Garden, a Family Garden, Butterfly Crossing for kids), a greenhouse filled with tropicals, and a horticultural reference library (with a children’s library and children’s corner).  You can also walk through the a wooded stream valley to an area with 2 small ponds   The visitor center has backpacks you can take on your walk that are filled with guide books, magnifying glass, journal and crayons, etc.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/PARKS/gsgp/

Huntley Meadows Park- Alexandria

Huntley Meadows Park is an actual wetland that was carved out by an ancient Potomac stream.  A graveled path from the visitor’s center leads to a series of boardwalks over the wetlands.   You will walk through the forest, into meadows, and through freshwater wetlands.    It is really a beautiful place.  I have heard that going in the morning is the best time, as the animals are much more active.  We went  late morning, as were still able to see tons of turtles, frogs, ducks (with babies), and plenty of birds.  You can also try to spot geese, herons, dragonflies, snakes, butterflies, and beavers from the boardwalk.  The trails are very stroller friendly and wheelchair accessible. The Visitor Center also has great kids events and programs for all ages.  You can bring your own picnic lunch and use the picnic table at the visitor center or the various benches.  There is an entrance to Huntley Meadows off S. Kings Highway, but you can get to the visitors center only from the Lockheed Blvd entrance.  The visitor center is closed Tuesdays.

Check out this great post by Darcy of No Monsters in My Bed.  

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/huntley/

Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center- Alexandria

They have live animals like turtles, toads, snakes, and salamanders, as well as an aquarium with native fish species.  There is a mounted black bear, red fox, turkey and bobcat for you to check out.

http://alexandriava.gov/recreation/info/default.aspx?id=12362

River Farm Garden Park– Alexandria

River Farm belonged to George Washington, and is now the home to the American Horticultural Society.  It is a fantastic place to take kids!  It is one of our favorite places to go to play and enjoy being outside.  As a bonus cooler there because of the breeze off the Potomac.  There are 25 acres of lawns and gardens at River Farm, and it is open to the public from 9am- – 5pm Monday – Friday, and on Saturdays 9am – 1pm from April to September.  The entire grounds are fun to wander around with kids, but they will especially love the 13 small themed children’s gardens: The Fairy Tale Garden, Hummingbird Garden, Rest Stop, Beau Beau’s Garden, Alphabet Garden, Wobby The Worm, Scratch and Sniff Garden, Boat Garden, Hide-n-Seek Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Rock-n-Roll Garden, The Maze Garden, and Bat Cave.

Check out this post for more info.

http://www.ahs.org/river_farm/index.htm

Winkler Botanical Preserve– Alexandria

The Winkler Botanic Preserve is a private nature sanctuary in Alexandria on 44 acres.  It is a fun place to bring kids and take a short hike.  Trails.com has a great write up about this hidden gem.  The trailhead is at the edge of a meadow, surrounded by woods and a mountain climber’s training tower. The hikes route features include a small lake with several streams, waterfall, covered bridge mountain lodge, and even a Hobbit house.  The trail surface is mostly wood-chip mulch, some gravel, and grass.  It is located at 5400 Roanoke Avenue, Alexandria.  It only has 6 parking spots.  The park is open from 8:30am – 5pm.  Call 703-578-7888 for more information.  It can be difficult to find this preserve.  The sign is behind the branches on the left side of the entrance.  Drive past the entrance and park in the small lot to the left and follow the gravel laden path.

http://www.friendsofwinkler.org/FactSheet.aspx

Outlying Virginia Areas

Frying Pan Farm Park– Herndon, VA

This is a fun place to visit to check out a real working farm.  There are cows, goats, chickens, bunnies, sheep, and pigs.  You are not able to feed these animals, but you can pet them through the fences.  Once you have had your fill of animal watching, you can head to the playground to run off some steam.  There is also a country store where you can purchase gifts, ice cream, and drinks.  New this year is an Allan Herschell carousel that was built during the depression era. Tickets are only $0.75.  We visit the farm at least once a year.  If you haven’t been before, definitely plan a trip.  Your kids (and you) will love it.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/fpp/


Hidden Oaks Nature Center- Annandale

The playroom of this nature center is quite large and perfect for kids. There are lots of interactive stations for the kids, like drawers in walls, indoor climbing structures,various animal exhibits, tents, and toys.  There is also a tower/play structure for them to climb on, places for dress up, and many books and stuffed animals in the book area.  There is even an indoor turtle pond!  It is a pretty contained area, so it also a great place to meet friends and hang out.  We love this nature center!

It is also home to Nature Playce, an 1/3-acre, free-play outdoor area outdoor play area designed to safely introduce youngsters to the wonders of nature.  In Nature Playce, there is a small pond/mini-waterfall, In addition, there is a wooden sandbox and plastic wading pool with plastic dinosaurs to play.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/hiddenoaks/

Reston Zoo- Vienna, VA

Reston Zoo is a thirty-acre, family-friendly zoo right in the heart of Vienna.  There are Zoofari wagon rides that take you to see antelope, camels, zebras, antelope, bison, crazy ostriches, watusis, and many more.  There are exhibits of monkeys, kangaroos, alligator, tortoises, servals, a wide variety of birds and many more interesting animals!  There is also a Petting Barn, where you can pet and feed sheep, lambs, goats, llamas, rabbits, and pot-belly pigs.  Animal feed cups and baby bottles are available for purchase in the gift shop.  Don’t miss the Zoofari ride when you go- it is always the highlight of our trip.

http://www.restonzoo.com/


Washington DC

Rock Creek Nature Center– Washington, DC

The nature center has stuffed versions of all the birds and animals native to Rock Creek park – a bald eagle, woodpecker, even a coyote.  There are tanks filled with fish and frogs native to the park, and a bee station located on the back wall of the exhibit room.  You can watch the bees at work in the hive, visible through glass panes.  The hive is connected to the outdoors by a plastic tube.  There is a small Discovery play room to draw or do puppet shows, as well as books, puzzles, and dress-up clothes.  Kids will love the ‘Please Touch’ Center with animal furs, bones and antlers to explore.  Kids can also play with stone stamps that make footprints from different animals in the sand.  They host nature walks and ranger programs, too.

There is also a planetarium that seats 75 people.  It holds regular shows on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. for children five and older (5-7 year olds must be accompanied by an adult) and at 4 p.m. for children seven and older.

http://www.nps.gov/rocr/planyourvisit/naturecenter.htm

US Botanic Garden– Washington, DC

Located just across the street from the Museum of the American Indian at the foot of the Capitol, is the three-acre National Garden.  There are so many beautiful gardens (like the Jungle and Garden Court) within the building, but the favorite of most kids is the special hands-on garden just for children.  Kids can dig, water, plant, and touch and smell the plants. There are two wells filled with water, and many watering cans. One of the wells has a fish fountain, and the kids can use the pump to push water to the fish’s mouth. There is a little house to explore, and pathways through a bamboo forest.  There is also a big shady spot for parents where you can watch the kids play. Might want to bring a change of clothes for the kids- K is almost always happily soaked when we go.

http://www.usbg.gov/


US National Arboretum, Washington, DC

This is frequently called on of DC’s best kept secrets.  Start out by feeding the koi (buy food for 25 cents).  There are wide open spaces to run and play, and the bonsai garden is amazing.  Bring a picnic and blanket, and eat on the east terrace at the National Grove of State Trees.  You can also take a tram ride- it is a 35-minute taped tour that highlights the Arboretum.  The grounds are open every day of the year from 8am – 5pm, and admission is free.   I can’t believe that we haven’t been here yet.  I hear such great things about it- it is definitely on my list!  Check out these posts from No Monsters in My Bed. It is one of their favorite places to visit, and Darcy has many tips.
The National Arboretum (Koi Pond, Azalea Gardens, & Bonsai) and 

The National Arboretum’s Fern Valley, Capitol Columns, & Youth Garden (Washington D.C.)

http://www.usna.usda.gov/



Advertisements