By Micaela Williamson
Summer might be over, but there are always options for outdoor play in NoVA. Now is the time to take advantage of the great outdoors before days get short. With trails, animal encounters and environmental-focused family programs, budding naturalists will enjoy spending time at these nature centers.
Audubon Naturalist Society Rust Sanctuary
802 Children’s Center Road
Leesburg, VA 20175
The Audubon Naturalist Society’s Rust Sanctuary boasts 68 acres rich with meadows, forests, ponds and even a sandpit for toddlers to play in. Stroll along the path to spy animals such as nesting songbirds, hopping frogs, dragonflies or even a fox or deer. The Audubon Naturalist Society offers year-round programs for families, scouts and school groups, and they host an acclaimed Fresh Air Kids’ series for preschoolers. Green-thinking kids can even have a birthday party at the center with fun themes like Wiggling Worms, Insect Investigations, Winter Detectives and more.
Broadlands Nature Center
21907 Claiborne Parkway
Broadlands, VA 20148
Located in the heart of a popular planned community, the Broadlands Nature Center operates through a partnership with the Audubon Naturalist Society and the Broadlands HOA. The center is open to the public and houses some small animal exhibits. Seasonal programs for families and groups are offered throughout the year, as well as birthday parties. The venue is also on a stroller-friendly trail and within walking distance to a great little playground.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
5040 Walney Road
Chantilly, VA 20151
The Walney Visitor Center at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is home to many family programs, live animals and natural and historic exhibits. The center itself is a converted 1780s farmhouse and a popular destination for Fairfax County families. The picturesque walking trails filled with wildlife, plants, streams, meadows and ponds hide the fact that Dulles Airport is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park also offers nature camps, field trips, birthday parties and scout programs.
Gulf Branch Nature Center
3608 N. Military Road
Arlington, VA 22207
At Gulf Branch Nature Center, families can visit with live animals inside or along the pond and walking trails. Learn about bees in the Pollinator Garden and observation bee hive. The facility also contains a Kid’s Discovery Room filled with nature-related games and activities for small children. Stay in the know about classes and special events by subscribing to “The Snag,” Gulf Branch Nature Center’s quarterly online publication.
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St.
Annandale, VA 22003
Hidden Oaks Nature Center all about hands-on exploration. Inside the main building, young visitors will discover live animal displays, a climbing tree loft and interactive nature exhibits. Go outside to the unique Nature Playce to enjoy free play with nature. Kids can create mud pies, build forts or just let their imaginations run wild in nature. The possibilities are endless. Check their website for special programs, parties and events.
Hidden Pond Nature Center
8511 Greeley Blvd.
Springfield, VA 22152
Hidden Pond Nature Center features an accessible nature center with live fish, amphibians, reptile and insect exhibits. Outside the center, families can enjoy the large wooden playground, participate in catch and release fishing in the pond or hike one of the adjacent trails. Hidden Pond also hosts popular parties, classes and special events.
Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center
5750 Sanger Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22311
An oasis within Alexandria, the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center boasts creatures like reptiles, an aquarium with native fish species and a greenhouse of tropical rain forest plants. Plus, the center sits steps away from Dora Kelley Nature Park, a 50-acre wildlife sanctuary with a milelong nature trail through woods, streams and marshland.
625 S. Carlin Springs Road
Arlington, VA 22204
Part of the Arlington County Parks system, Long Branch Nature Center offers numerous environmental education classes for all ages. Visitors can check out the live animal displays, rich gardens, pond and an interactive discovery room for children. Check their website for special events and class registrations.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park
2845 N. Marcey Road
Arlington, VA 22207
Set back in North Arlington on the Potomac Palisades, Potomac Overlook Regional Park is a 70-acre park with many opportunities for the community. The nature center contains live animal and natural history exhibits. The innovative “Energerium” exhibits offer visitors “a fun and accessible way to learn energy basics and ways they can help create sustainable energy solutions,” according to the Potomac Overlook Regional Park website. There is also a live beehive display and a Kids Cave where visitors can learn about bats.
Walker Nature Education Center
11450 Glade Drive
Reston, VA 20191
At the Walker Nature Education Center, even the building is certified green. Step inside to chat with a naturalist, view living animal exhibits or get lost in a book from the nature library. Programs for all ages are scheduled throughout the year. The nature center sits on a 72-acre property that contains 2 miles of trails, including the stroller-friendly Native Plant Trail, a pond and campfire and picnic facilities.
Micaela Williamson is a coauthor of local travel guide “Kid Trips Northern Virginia,” an extraordinary resource that provides descriptions, useful information and insider tips for hundreds of local destinations. Micaela is also an award-winning blogger who enjoys supporting area businesses and scouting out family-friendly venues with her two young sons.