Destination Nature

Six places where kids can explore the wonders of the outdoors

by Kate Wallace

Dunwoody Nature Center

5343 Roberts Dr., Dunwoody; 770-394-3322
7 a.m.-Dusk, seven days a week
Admission is free. 22 acres

Kids can climb trees, sing with the frogs or romp up the river bank at this 22-acre preserve just outside the Perimeter in Dunwoody. In 1990, the DNC was started by a few volunteers who wanted a location for nature classes. The center today hosts live music events, intriguing Friday night hikes and a variety of nature camps, classes and Scout programs. The Atlanta Audubon Society works closely with the nature center. Kids should be on the lookout for beautiful migratory birds throughout the habitat. Rabbits, deer, foxes, snakes and bee hives are just some of the common wildlife encounters.
Kids love most: Splashing around Wildcat Creek on a hot summer day.
Parents love most: The freedom to walk around the serene grounds. This small, but bountiful chunk of land fairly close to the city offers diverse forest, wide open meadows and tranquil streams.
Signature event: The annual butterfly festival each August gives kids the chance to stand among hundreds of live butterflies and learn about their life cycle. This year’s fest is Aug. 17.

Elachee Nature Science Center

2125 Elachee Dr., Gainesville; 770-535-1976; Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Museum admission: Adults, $5; ages 2-12, $3; younger than 2, free.
Use of the hiking trails is free. 1,500 acres

Throughout this lush, wooded preserve, families can expect to see deer, rabbits, hawks, snakes and if they’re lucky, a fox or a great blue heron. Visitors have frequented this center for more than 30 years because of its Saturday guided hikes (10 a.m.), camp and field trip programs and conservation education classes for adults. Slated to open this August is the Elachee Nature Preschool, where 50 percent of the learning is to take place outdoors.
Kids love most: The museum’s “live animal” room, where kids can get their eyes close to snakes, spiders and reptiles.
Parents love most: The 13 miles of hiking trails and the thousands of native plants, trees and flowers to walk among.
Signature event: Elachee’s Snake Day. On Sept. 14, reptile enthusiasts can get their fix during this day-long festival. Guest stars include giant tortoises, Komodo Dragons and snakes.

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve & Heritage Center

9770 Autrey Mill Rd., Johns Creek; 678-366-3511; Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: Free. (Donations appreciated). 46 acres

In 1989, this chunk of land just north of Atlanta was saved from development by a nature preserve association. Now the land flourishes with nature and wildlife. Families can regularly spot a box turtle, a midland water snake or the carnivorous lady slipper orchid. The 2 miles of walking trails are an easy trek for most kids.
Kids love most: A teepee replica sits on the grounds, inviting kids to pop in and out. Inside the teepee, kids can get a history lesson on American Indian dwellings and see how they lived and respected the land.
Parents love most: The price! Admission is free to all; donations are welcome. For being just outside the city, this place is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Signature event: Heritage Day. Mark your calendar for Sept. 21, when you can head to Autrey Mill to celebrate the area’s history and people, from Native Americans to farmers. Visitors can take a history walk, play games and more.

Chattahoochee Nature Center

9135 Willeo Rd., Roswell; 770-992-2055
Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $10; ages 3-12, $6;
2 and younger, free. 127 acres

Perhaps the most well-known of metro area’s nature destinations, this 127-acre center sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Roswell. A group of concerned citizens established this preserve in the mid 1970s. Today, thousands of families have easy access to the abundant wildlife on the Chattahoochee. Kids flock to the CNC for its guided day and night hikes, canoe trips, animal encounters and the reptile and fish exhibit at the interpretive center.
Kids love most: The center’s Nature Exchange program invites kids to trade in their own nature finds – rocks, bones, leaves, etc. – for other items found in nature, from shells to animal skins.
Parents love most: This center is equally exciting for adults as kids. Parents can enjoy the occasional live music events, hikes and canoe programs.
Signature event: The Flying Colors Butterfly Festival, set for July 13-14, is a much-anticipated event. Visitors can watch the air fill with the beating wings of hundreds of butterflies.

But wait, there’s more! For a peaceful hike or an animal encounter, head south to these serene spots.

Cochran Mill Nature Center

6300 Cochran Mill Rd., Palmetto; 770-306-0914
Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $3; ages 3-12, $2. 50 acres
This heavily-wooded property is just 20 minutes south of Atlanta. Kids especially love the turtle pond and hiking trails. Many species of snakes, frogs, birds, lizards and turtles are regular residents of the Cochran Mill log building, where visitors can get up-close views. Ask about Cochran Mill’s canoe trips and camp options.

Reynolds Nature Preserve

5665 Reynolds Rd., Morrow; 770-603-4188
Interpretive Center hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Preserve Hours: 8 a.m.-dusk.
Admission: Free. (Donations appreciated). 146 acres
With more than four miles of hiking trails and 146 acres of woods and ponds, this center is one of the top nature spots in the metro southeast. Families can hang in the interpretive center to learn the history of the land during the Civil War. Kids can also learn the importance of preservation and how in 1976, one man donated 130 acres to Clayton County to preserve the wildlife and beauty of the land.