Nature centers across Texas offer the chance to learn about and interact with unique plants, animals, geology, and landscapes of various corners of our great outdoors. Whether you’re a long-time nature lover or someone new to the obsession, these five nature centers are worth the road trip (or at least a pit stop).
Austin Nature & Science Center — Austin
Okay, okay, this isn't exactly a long road trip, but sometimes it's nice to appreciate what's in your own backyard. Or in this case, Zilker Park. This 80-acre facility next to the Zilker Botanical Gardens houses dozens of live animals unable to return to the wild, including eagles, owls, foxes, bobcats, frogs, and snakes, as well as a pond, interpretive forest trail, and a dino dig (aka giant sandbox). Indoors, browse exhibits on the local ecosystem and its residents. Take a stroll through walk-through cave, and get hands-on at a touch counter replete with fossils, shells, rocks, bones and more.
Cibolo Nature Center & Farm — Boerne
Cibolo Nature Center has some three miles of trails following cypress-lined Cibolo Creek and across a native prairie, and boardwalks that explore a large marshland filled with colorful dragonflies. Interpretive signage throughout the property helps you learn about what you see. Picnics and birding are popular activities, and the visitor center has live animals and a children’s discovery area. Indulge your inner paleontologist at the dinosaur track replica, too.
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center — Fort Davis
The largest desert in North America, this area contains a surprising variety of diverse habitats, many of them on this 507-acre nature center just outside Fort Davis. Miles of trails cross over grasslands, along high ridges, and through a 200-foot deep canyon with permanent springs. (The canyon was created at a juncture between two volcanic rock formations, the Sleeping Lion and the Weston.) The site also has botanical gardens, including a Pollinator Garden and cactus and succulent collection, as well as a mining exhibit and bird blind.
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge — Fort Worth
A 3,600-acre natural area on Lake Worth created to protect the watershed now also serves as a wildlife sanctuary and nature preserve — and a place to experience the great outdoors close to the city. Explore prairies, river bottom, marsh, woodlands, and canyons on 20 miles of trails, either on your own or with a guide. The center also has canoe launch areas and a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Paddling Trail, a pollinator prairie, and staffed interpretive center. Bonus? The refuge is also home to a resident herd of bison.
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center — South Padre Island
A lengthy boardwalk spans the wetlands around this bayside property, passing multiple bird blinds and a five-story viewing tower. The center offers guided tours to see the area’s dozens of resident birds and the hundreds of species that come through on spring and fall migrations. You’ll see other wildlife, too, and there is also an outdoor butterfly garden, indoor exhibits, and special educational films.