Nature Centers

Hidden Oaks  FREE/$FEE for camps and some classes, nestled inside the 52-acre Annandale District Park in Annandale, VA. You’ll find live animal displays, exhibits, a pond, creeks, woodland trails, gardens, a resource library, a rain garden, and a play area. The play area decorated with trees, logs, and a mushroom table and stools that is stocked with costumes, puzzles, and toys. Hidden Oaks offers classes, camps, feedings, and even the occasional tea party, check out the events for what’s happening.

Nature Playce is a 1/3-acre, unstructured, woodland play area near the Hidden Oaks Nature Center. It is a perfect place to introduce young children, or even yourself, to the wonders of nature. It’s an opportunity for kids to just go outside and play in the woods. Make mud pies, dig into woodchip and leaf piles, make ground forts, or just rest next to a tree and watch clouds float past.

The Old Oak Trail, a loop wood chipped path with a gentle incline, is just under 1/2 mile. This trail is great for families, for at each of ten posts, visitors are challenged to identify an animal track. Families with young children may borrow from the nature center a seasonally appropriate Discovery Bag with trail activities, or a pictorial scavenger hunt for young children. For all ages, pick up a seasonal trail guide by the front door. Follow the orange blazes on the posts for the Old Oak Trail. Follow the blue blazes for a longer and steeper walk to loop over the creek. This path is about 1 mile. In total the connected paths are just over 2 miles in length.

 

Hidden Pond FREE/$FEE for camps and some classes, located in Springfield, VA. Undisturbed woodland, quiet trails, splashing streams and a tranquil pond. These are reasons to visit Hidden Pond Nature Center, a neighborhood haven filled with natural wonders. Hidden Pond boasts a popular, aesthetically pleasing, nature-themed playground. It is home to a wide age range of equipment from swings to climbing structures. The nature themes blend with the park’s natural area. It’s open dawn to dusk.

The visitor center is the park’s nature center. It houses exhibits, live animal displays, and the view out its large back window will orient you to the park. Outside that window is a very active bird feeder. Inside the center is a study area for groups, and in a small sales area you’ll find books and items for the nature enthusiast. The center hosts fun in the form of programs for visitors and for school, youth, scout, and community groups. There is a naturalist on hand when the center is open. Staff offers guided walks, field trips, workshops, demonstrations, and special request programs by reservation.

Outside the visitor center you’ll stroll along streamside and woodland walking trails, explore a self-guided nature trail, and walk around the pond. The park is home to quite a bit of wildlife. There are squeals of joy in a children’s playground, there are lighted tennis courts, and the park has a rentable picnic shelter.

 

 

Jerome Buddie Ford FREE/$FEE for Classes and Camps. Parking limited when school is in session. Visit Alexandria’s very own Nature Center! At the Nature Center, you can see live animals up close and learn about the cultural and natural history of Dora Kelley Nature Park. With over 30 lives animals residing at the center, and a 50-acre park on site, the Naturalists on staff will help you and your family explore and enjoy Alexandria’s wild side! The Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center provides year-round programs and interactive exhibits to children and adults of all ages. CLOSED MONDAY & TUESDAY.

Huntley Meadows FREE/$FEE for Classes and Camps. Center is CLOSED TUESDAYS. Located in Alexandria, VA/Fairfax County. The park is home to a nationally significant historic house, majestic forests, wildflower-speckled meadows and vast wetlands bursting with life. Some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area is here.

The Norma Hoffman Visitor Center at Huntley Meadows Park is a public park facility that offers educational exhibits, public programs and park information. There’s a naturalist on hand during open hours. The center has an information desk, restrooms, natural resource exhibits, an auditorium and a classroom. The building occasionally hosts art exhibits, and there are rentable rooms. The center is the source for information about park trails, wildlife, the wetlands boardwalk, and Historic Huntley. There’s a rentable outdoor shelter near the center. Also, nearby is a bird feeder and a tiny pond that occasionally attracts wildlife.

Gulf Branch FREE/$FEE for Classes and Camps, Parking is limited, CLOSED MONDAYS. Located in Arlington, VA. Exhibits, classroom (20 person capacity), children’s Discovery Room, pollinator garden, live animal exhibit room, pond, restored log cabin and an observation bee hive.  More information to come.

 

Long Branch  FREE/$FEE for Classes and Camps. Parking limited. CLOSED MONDAYS. The nature center features exhibits, a classroom (40 person capacity), a children’s Discovery Room, live animal displays, interpretive gardens, a viewing pond, space for birthday parties, and a Nature Discovery Area, which is coming soon. The Center hosts year-round programs and special events, including story times, campfires, invasive plant removals and nature walks. It’s located in a beautiful setting that offers a natural habitat for bird watching and other outdoor activities. There are sightings of everything from woodpeckers to wood ducks and warblers.

 

Glen Echo Park Aquarium  $FEE, $7 general public; $5 military, FREE for Children under 2, DON’T MISS $5 FRIDAYS, including STORYTIME @ 11:30 AM. HOURS are seasonal, check before you go!

The Aquarium includes live animal exhibits as well as static displays that help visitors appreciate and learn about our nation’s largest estuary. Follow water’s journey from rain clouds through the watershed to the Chesapeake Bay in our aquarium exhibit. See what organisms are affected along the way. Experience aquatic animals up close in our touch tank and learn what you can do to keep our watershed safe. Outside the aquarium, explore the grounds and see our GEPA skipjack as you learn about fishing in the Bay — or pretend you are a pirate on an adventure!

Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium  FREE/$FEE for Classes and Special Programs, Rock Creek Park Nature Center serves as the park’s visitor center and offers hiking information, brochures and maps, a bookstore, exhibits on area plants and animals, and has the only planetarium in the National Park Service. Many of the park’s ranger-led programs start or take place at the Nature Center.

The facility includes a children’s Discovery Room offering environmental education books and games and a “Discover Rock Creek” bilingual (Spanish and English) exhibit geared for middle school audiences. The Nature Center also includes live turtles, fish, snakes, an active beehive, a bird observation deck, and “water-wise” garden.

A one-half mile self-guiding interpretive trail, the Woodland Trail, begins behind the Nature Center, while a one-fourth mile wheelchair-accessible Edge of the Woods trail begins right out the front door. The Nature Center is wheelchair-accessible.

Walker Nature Center Reston, VA, CLOSED TUESDAYS,  The nature center conducts a variety of on-site and outreach activities for people of all ages. These nature programs support environmental education and action. More information to come.

Meadowside Rockville, MD, CLOSED SUNDAYS & MONDAYS. REVIEW TO COME.

Watkins Nature Center FREE/$FEE CAMPS/CLASSES, Upper Marlboro, MD, offers close-up wildlife investigation with its resident live animals, hands-on exhibits, interpretive programs, and special events. Live animal displays include insects, amphibians, reptiles, and birds of prey.

The nature center also features indoor and outdoor ponds, a songbird feeding area, a butterfly/hummingbird garden, composting area, an outdoor nest box exhibit, and a squirrel gym that showcases the parks squirrel population.

Watkins Regional Park is also home to the favorite Wizard of Oz playground, a carousel, a miniature train, and Old Maryland Farm. Which will be featured in my Parks/Playgrounds post!

National Wildlife Visitors Center FREE, Laurel, MD, CLOSED THURSDAYS, is a science and environmental education center providing visitors with opportunities to explore, discover, and learn. Attractions include: Environmental Exhibits, Interactive Kiosk, Hollingsworth Gallery, Wildlife Images Bookstore, Pollinator Garden, Mimicking Whooper (Virtual Interaction with Cranes), and Movies.

Locust Grove Nature Center at Cabin John Regional Park FREE, open WEDNESDAYS/SATURDAYS/SUNDAYS, A life size oak tree exhibit commands the center of the indoor space at Locust Grove Nature Center. Find the animals that live in and near the tree; push the buttons to learn what they sound like! Look for signs that show the importance of trees both dead and alive.

Large windows throughout the circular building allow for bird and wildlife watching in any season.

Locust Grove houses two resident snakes – Houdini, resident Black Rat and Seeker, a Corn snake. Eastern Box turtles, Crunchy and Buttercup. Red Eared Slider, Paddles, is a semi-aquatic turtle who is not native to this area. Northern Toad, Prince Charming, watches for treats of fresh mealworms and crickets.  You will usually find him hanging out in his log house.

Outdoors, follow the trails. In the Upper Meadow look for Monarch butterflies, caterpillars and eggs on the milkweed in summer. Check out the dogbane for iridescent dogbane beetles. Listen for wrens and bluebirds near the bluebird nest boxes. Watch for box turtles crossing the path in early morning.

In the Lower Meadow watch for bats leaving the bat boxes in late afternoon or early evening. To learn more about bat boxes, please visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Bat Page. Sit under the shade of the 80-year-old sycamore and imagine what the park looked like when it was part of a huge farm. Watch as Cabin John Creek flows briskly by. You might spot minnows, crayfish, caddisfly larvae, bathing birds, or signs of beaver activity.

Visit with the giants as you follow the trails through the Mature Forest. Towering white oaks and tulip trees dwarf the younger understory. In the spring, keep an eye out for the ephemeral wildflowers blooming before the forest trees leaf out and block the sun.

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