Your ultimate guide to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center – Chron

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A family of three out hiking, navigating a woodland trail together.
Lynn Conner of Kingwood, Texas, makes her way to the Pup Crawl with her toy poodle Molly, and Maltipoo, Bella, at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston on Sunday, March 13, 2022.
A great bird-watching area is seen at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. The center hosts free bird-watching classes and self-guided tours on the many trails.
A general view of one of the habitat areas at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. In addition to hiking, the center is a great place for spotting wildlife.
Established in 1967, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is a 155-acre urban nature sanctuary just miles from downtown Houston and adjacent to Memorial Park. It was one of the first children’s nature education centers in Texas and remains a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, as well as one of the best free things to do in Houston.
During World War I, the area that houses the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center was used as an Army training area called Camp Logan. After the war, the property was designated as a park to honor those who died fighting. Today, the arboretum is considered part of Memorial Park, which happens to be one of the largest parks in the country (you know what they say about Texas).
The idea of dedicating part of the space as a nature sanctuary started with the aptly-named ecologist Robert A. Vines. The space became an arboretum in 1951 and took shape in the following decades with the construction of the Nature Center and, later, its expansion and renovation, the upkeep of the grounds, the addition of a raised walkway, and wildlife and sensory gardens.
Today, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center events include classes, workshops, bird-watching walks and group hikes along its many trails. On occasion, you can even see goats which graze on portions of the preserve to help landscape the area.
Since there are myriad ways to enjoy the nature center, we’ve put together a helpful guide to help you spend the ideal day at this outdoor paradise. 
A group of kids hike with an adult at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. The arboretum sits just outside of downtown, on the western edge of Memorial Park.
The Houston Arboretum is a haven for wildlife—and wildlife lovers—in the heart of the city. There are 5 miles of nature trails that wind through a range of environments: native prairie, savanna, wetland, woodland and riparian habitats. Pull up the online trail map on your phone, or grab a physical map at the Nature Center if you’re old school, and choose a path to explore.
The trails are interconnected, so you can do an out and back or a loop depending on how far you want to walk. Some of the trails are short (under a quarter-mile) while the Outer Loop Trail (which goes around the entire arboretum) is not quite 2 miles, so just plan to connect wherever you want to make stops.
To make your hikes even more enjoyable, take advantage of Houston Arboretum’s specially curated playlists that were made in a partnership with ROCO, a chamber orchestra based in the city. There is a special playlist to match every one of the habitat hikes around the grounds. You can find them either by scanning the QR code on the trail map, or by finding the one that matches your hike on ROCO’s website. The playlists can be streamed for free via SoundCloud whether you’re at the arboretum or at home.
A pair of turtles rest on a log at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. The free-to-visit area is full of wildlife to be observed in various natural habitats.
If you plan to learn while you enjoy the space, there are six educational field stations located throughout the arboretum that offer information about local plants and wildlife and a spot to sit and enjoy the view. Houston Arboretum’s acreage features eight ponds and wetland areas, plus Buffalo Bayou on its south side, making lots of wildlife sightings possible.
Though naturalist-guided hikes have been suspended for the time being, the arboretum has several self-guided hikes designed to give people an insider’s look at different ecosystems. Each self-guided hike includes a stop at a field station and includes naturalist-recommended stops with notes like what types of wildlife to look for in each pond, trees with interesting stories, insect houses and other points of interest. For little ones who want to get outside and peek at the arboretum’s wonders, stroller-friendly Tyke Hikes are available for kids up to 4 years old, as well as a number of fun programs for older kids.
Recent additions to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center include a wildlife garden full of plants designed to attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other wildlife and a sensory garden, which features native plants that are attractive to the senses. If you’re looking to relax during your day out, those would be ideal stops.
A display of plants at the indoor Nature Center at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is shown.
The Nature Center includes a Discovery Room with educational exhibits, hands-on activities, live animals and a weekly botany display. This fun indoor space is filled with items for nature lovers of any stripe. Visitors can explore the types of plants and animals, including live specimens they refer to as “ambassadors,” from different habitats found throughout the Arboretum.
The interactive exhibits let kids crawl through the Prairie underground, see the animals that call the Savanna home, explore what lives in a wetland, search for woodland creatures and learn what’s unique about a bayou. The Nature Center also has a gift shop that sells educational toys, books, clothing, rocks and jewelry, with the proceeds going to help fund the Houston Arboretum’s educational programs. 
A sign welcomes two- and four-legged attendees to the Pup Crawl at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston on Sunday, March 13, 2022. The event is just one of many hosted at the center every year.
The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is, ahem, naturally a popular destination for school trips and they offer on-site and virtual field trips for class groups, home-schoolers, a Summer Discovery Program that offers hands-on programming, plus opportunities for scouting groups. The aforementioned Tyke Hikes, plus winter camp for kids who are out of school for the holiday break are also great options for little ones who need some outdoor time. Grown-ups can also schedule naturalist-led hikes for the whole family in the form of private group tours.
There’s special programming designed just for families, too, including a kid-friendly version of the Arboretum At Night program that allows guests to explore the space and its nocturnal animals after dark. Another program for families is Naturally Wild Families, which gathers once a month for a naturalist-led activity, like making pumpkin planters or netting butterflies.
A young boy in a superhero Halloween costume paints a pumpkin with his mother at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center in Houston, Texas. Kids can get involved in many free activities at the arboretum all year long.
There’s a robust offering of programs for adults, too. Past classes have included everything from photography, painting and drawing in nature to songwriting and soy candle making. If you want to nourish your inner bird nerd, join activities that teach you to do everything from gardening to attract avians to bird-watching and identification. If you prefer food and booze to nature hikes, there’s a series of classes with different themes aimed at the gourmand, or if wellness is your jam, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center offers yoga and mindfulness classes.
If you are curious about nature, the arboretum’s Nature Revealed series tackles a variety of nature-related topics while you enjoy morning coffee and a nature walk or a related hands-on activity. The arboretum also offer gardening classes that suit the local climate and wildlife.
A woman and her kids pose at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center during the fall season. Every autumn, the arboretum gets into the Halloween spirit with its ArBOOretum event.
The Houston Arboretum hosts special events all year long, including monthly blood drives, educational events focused on a single species of animal, monthly sip and strolls and seasonal plant sales. You’ll also find seasonal events across the calendar like the ArBOOretum, featuring fall-themed activities like pumpkin decorating and trick-or-treating along a nature trail. Other examples include Lightscape, where the Houston Arboretum is decorated with holiday lights and an Easter egg hunt in the spring.
While admission to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is always free and doesn’t require a reservation, paid tickets may be required for certain events and classes. Be sure to check the arboretum’s events page for more details.
Weddings hosted at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center are never to be forgotten. The site also hosts parties, business meetings and memorial services, in addition to many other private events.
The arboretum is also a memorable place to host your own private event, whether it be a business outing, birthday party or even a wedding. There are spaces indoors and outdoors that can be rented for such occasions.
Find it: 4501 Woodway Drive, Houston, TX 77024; 713-681-8433
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Rebecca Treon is a freelance food, travel and lifestyles writer whose work has appeared in BBC Travel, Hemispheres, the Huff Post and Thrillist. Peep her adventures on her Instagram @RebeccaTreon.