Nature centers provide fun and enriching opportunities to nurture you and your child’s curiosity about our natural environment. The Washington DC area has several parks that have nature programs to give visitors an up close view of wildlife with hands on exhibits, interpretive programs, and special events.. While many facilities are located in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, you will even find one nature center right in the city at Rock Creek Park. insects, amphibians, reptiles, and birds of prey.
Specialty programs are offered for school groups, scout groups, home school students, and adults. Participants enjoy nature hikes, campfires, story times, animal shows, puppet shows, crafts, and other programs. The parks around the capital region offer a wide variety of recreational facilities and each nature center has its own personality and features. A trip to each of them will give you a different experience.
In Washington DC
Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium - Rock Creek Park, 5200 Glover Road, NW Washington, DC (202) 895-6070. Open All Year - Wednesday through Sunday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, New Year's, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The nature center offers exhibits, guided walks, lectures, live animal demonstrations and the "Discovery Room," a hands-on exhibit for children ages 2 to 5. Rock Creek Planetarium offers 45-60 minute programs exploring the stars and planets.
Black Hill Visitor Center - Black Hill Regional Park, 20926 Lake Ridge Dr., Boyds, MD (301) 916-0220. Overlooking Little Seneca Lake, the Visitor Center offers nature programs and houses exhibits and a children’s corner, an auditorium, and naturalist staff offices. Naturalist-guides take small groups on Pontoon Boat tours to examine the aquatic life and enjoy breathtaking sunsets. You may search for birds, bats and beaver along the lake or take a workshop to learn how to fish, canoe or kayak.
Brookside Nature Center - Wheaton Regional Park, 1400 Glenallen Ave., Wheaton, MD (301) 946-9071. The cozy building that houses the Nature Center was originally a residence and was converted to a nature center in 1960. It serves as a complement to the nearby Brookside Gardens and provides a hands-on discovery area for children. Displays include live reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, mammals and an observation beehive. Self-guided nature trails take you along interpretive boardwalks, wildlife viewing areas and bird, butterfly, and native plant gardens.
Locust Grove Nature Center - Cabin John Regional Park, 7777 Democracy Blvd, Bethesda, MD (301) 299-1990. The nature center building was originally a warming hut for a commercial toboggan operation. Today it is an ideal spot to watch birds and other small creatures. Exhibits include a child-friendly “Life of an Oak Tree”, live animals and other hands-on activities. You can explore fields, wetlands and streambanks all within a quick walk of the center. Nearby at the park are playgrounds, a miniature train, snack bar, picnic areas, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, an indoor ice skating rink and lighted athletic fields.
Meadowside Nature Center - Rock Creek Regional Park, 5100 Meadowside Lane, Rockville, MD (301) 924-4141. The Curiosity Corner is a discovery room with a variety of activities and live reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Meadowside is a great place to take kids on a short hike. Pick up a trail guide at the nature center and explore seven miles of easy trails with interesting sites of wildlife and a wide variety of plants. Examine the meadows, woods, ponds, streams, a small lake and five theme gardens: Butterfly Garden, Heritage Herb Garden, Heritage Vegetable Garden, Hummingbird Garden, and Bat Garden.
Croyden Creek Nature Center - 852 Avery Rd Rockville, MD. (240) 314-8770. Operated by the City of Rockville, the nature center is nestled on 120 acres of forest preserve, open meadow areas and a winding creek. The facility runs a variety of environmental education programs for children, families, and adults.
Watkins Nature Center - Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Dr, Upper Marlboro, MD (301) 218-6702. The facility 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.
Clearwater Nature Center - Cosca Regional Park, 11000 Thrift Rd, Clinton, MD (301) 297-4575. Park naturalists host a variety of interpretive programs. The nature center features a small indoor pond, live animal exhibits, a lapidary workshop, and seasonal gardens. Walk in on your own or visit the facility as part of a group to meet the live mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds of prey (including a Bald Eagle) that reside at the center.
Mount Rainier Nature Center - 4701 31st Place Mount Rainier, MD (301) 927-2163. Prince George's County's only urban nature center features hands-on exhibits, live animals, educational displays, a game room, an outdoor amphitheater, campfire pit, and a playground.
In Northern Virginia
Gulf Branch Nature Center - 3608 North Military Rd Arlington, VA (703) 228-3403. Nestled in a lovely park setting, the facility provides interpretive environmental education programs for all ages. The Pollinator Garden is filled with plenty of nectar- and pollen-rich flowers and many plants that are native to Virginia.
Hidden Oaks Nature Center - 7701 Royce Street Annandale, VA (703) 941-1065. The nature center features live animal displays, a climbing "tree" loft/puppet stage, a resource library and the Urban Woodlands interactive exhibit. Discover nature's wonders while your family plays in our 1/3-acre unstructured woodland play area.
Hidden Pond Nature Center - 8511 Greeley Blvd. Springfield, VA (703) 451-9588. Hidden Pond’s 25 acres lie adjacent to the 700-acre Pohick Stream Valley Park. A 2,000-foot trail and bridge connects the two sites so you can visit the pond, streams, wetlands, woods, and quiet places that these parks offer. The nature center features exhibits and live displays that orient you to the park and to the natural world of Fairfax County.
Long Branch Nature Center - 625 S Carlin Springs Rd Arlington, VA (703) 228-6535. 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. The Center hosts year-round programs and special events, including story times, campfires, invasive plant removals and nature walks.
Walker Nature Center - 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA (703) 476-9689. The center provides a variety of educational and recreational resources, programs and facilities. The Nature House is a model of ecofriendly design and construction, LEED Gold certified. Programs are designed for all ages, ranging from preschool classes to bird walks to wildife counts to scout and youth programs.