In Georgia, there is no shortage of wonderful nature centers to experience, explore, and learn more about! Nature centers and preserves make learning about the outside world a fun, and family-friendly activity. And there are so many to choose from!
Have you ever asked yourself, “Is there a nature center near me?” I’m here to give you a resounding, “YES!” Here’s a list of some of the best nature centers and preserves I could find around our great state – plus one that’s so close to our state, it counts! Who knows? There could be one just minutes from you!
Rundown: The Chattahoochee Nature Center is one of the most popular nature centers in the state – and for good reason! It’s got fantastic kid-friendly trails – including the awesome boardwalk trail, wonderful special events, gardens, a discovery center, an artist gallery, and programs galore.
Why you should go: CNC has this really cool nature exchange program, where you can bring in found natural items (rocks, pinecones, etc.) and earn points. The points can be used to take home other cool natural items like gems, or seashells. Such a neat way to get everyone excited about their discoveries!
Location/Tips: Roswell. Open almost every day, except major holidays.
Cost: $10 adults, $7 seniors and teens, $6 kids, 2 and under FREE.
Rundown: The Dunwoody Nature Center is perfectly awesome. They have interesting free workshops, fun family events (like a backyard campout!), an education center, free parking, the most awesome and unique playground in the woods, hammocks, unique swings, geocaching, hiking trails, a creek, a picnic area, mommy and me classes, and fun camps for kids.
Why you should go: There is so much to do, and their playground is one of our favorites! They have a really cool art installation called Dunwoody Rocks! Hundreds of people painted rocks during their workshops, and now they’re all displayed in a neat way for everyone to enjoy!
Location/Tips: Dunwoody. You can park at the center, or at the nearby ball fields at Dunwoody Park.
Cost: FREE to visit! There is a cost for classes and camps.
Rundown: This area has a historic springhouse, remnants from a Civil War battle, hiking trails, and a waterfall – all in the middle of southwest Atlanta!
Why you should go: Besides the fact that this beautiful place is surrounded by the big city, it’s also very kid-friendly and dog-friendly!
Location: Southwest Atlanta on Cascade Road.
Rundown: The Sawnee Mountain Preserve is 963 acres of beauty with a focus on conservancy that includes an interactive visitor center, 11 miles of awesome hiking trails, a cool “treehouse” in the woods, and picnic areas. They host special programs, like tree climbing and a climbing tower (extra cost), and guided hikes and craft workshops (free!). They also have camps, and homeschool and preschool programs. Our favorite part about the visitor center was watching the bees make their honey – so neat!
Why you should go: The hike to the famous “Indian Seats!” The Indian Seats is a natural rock formation at the top of the trail, where you can enjoy the beautiful views of the north Georgia mountains. Definitely worth the trip!
Location/Tips: Located in Cumming. Dogs are not allowed on the trails or in the preserve. The visitor center is closed on Sunday.
Rundown: The Blue Heron Nature Preserve is super awesome, mostly because it’s located in Buckhead! It’s definitely a hidden gem. BHNP offers a small loop trail around Nancy Creek that is kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and offers awesome wildlife viewing – with beavers, deer, birds, and turtles being spotted here.
They offer camps during school breaks and in the summer, and they host homeschooling programs during the school year. They also host all sorts of neat events – like guided family-friendly hikes. And they recently built a new wildlife blind, for optimal animal viewing.
Why you should go: It’s location! Located on Roswell Road, this is definitely – as they say – a “haven for nature in an urban environment.”
Location/Tips: It’s located on Roswell Road in Buckhead, across from Pike Nurseries. Parking is free. It’s open to the public every day from 6 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Rundown: The Sandy Creek Nature Center is one of our favorite places! Their visitor center is a wonderfully-interactive place with amphibians, snakes, large aquariums full of fish and turtles, bees busily making their honey, and an interactive natural history exhibit. They have a wonderful resource library, and a planetarium!
They host summer camps, birthday parties, homeschooling classes, and many special events. They have four miles of trails, and they connect to both the Oconee River Greenway and Cook’s Trail. One of their trails leads to a log cabin that was built in 1815!
My kids love walking to the pond viewing area, or one of the side trails leading to the river to hunt for frogs and other wildlife. They have gardens, a boardwalk trail, and picnic areas.
Why you should go: Its visitor center is one of the best I’ve ever seen. There is so much to do there, and my kids never tire of it. There are buttons to push for animal noises, a “tree” to play in, and blocks for building. You can check out a “trail pack” from the visitor center to take with you on your hike – and it’s filled with all sorts of neat stuff, like binoculars!
Location/Tips: It’s located in Athens. You should bring your kids’ scooters/bikes, because the main trail is paved, and you can just park them on the side to take the side trails to the river. Bring a picnic! The nature center is closed on Sunday and Monday, but the property and trails are open sunrise to sunset every day.
Cost: FREE!! The camps and classes have an extra cost.
Rundown: The Reynolds Nature Preserve is a 146-acre preserve located in Clayton County with three miles of hiking trails through forests, wetlands, and around spring-fed ponds. They have a nature center with animals, and environmental displays. And they have old farm equipment, a spring house, a heritage garden, and a barn from 1867 on the property.
Why you should go: It is a beautiful area with awesome scenery, and it’s kid-friendly and dog-friendly! They host some fun programs – like building bird houses, or learning about snakes!
Location/Tips: It’s located in Morrow, in Clayton County. Fishing is not allowed in their ponds. It’s open 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Rundown: Autrey Mill Nature Preserve has 2.5 miles worth of trails that travel along creeks and through a hardwood forest. They have so many amazing activities going on all the time! They host birthday parties, homeschool and preschool programs, summer camps, and scout days.
Their programs seem genuinely awesome – like an adopt-a-stream program where participants can learn about stream sampling. It’s a beautiful and historic area, with so much to do!
Why you should go: They have a cell phone audio tour that will tell you all about the historic buildings and things you will experience along their trials. How cool is that?
Location/Tips: It’s located off Old Alabama Road in Johns Creek. It’s definitely a family-friendly and dog-friendly place! The preserve grounds are open from 8 a.m. to dusk every day. The visitor center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday from Noon-4 p.m., and it’s closed on Mondays.
Rundown: Arabia Mountain is part of this 2,550 acre preserve in DeKalb County. There are miles of hiking trails, you can hike up Arabia Mountain, fish in Arabia Lake, or ride your bikes on the PATH trails. They also have a wildlife rehabilitation center, and a nature center!
Why you should visit: Climbing Arabia Mountain is one of my kids’ favorite things to do. It’s like a miniature Stone Mountain. It’s a pretty easy climb, but the sense of accomplishment – from young kids especially – is huge!
If you visit in the spring, you’ll see the red diamorpha growing in pools at the top – and it’s so incredibly beautiful. The views from the top are amazing, and kids and adults alike will love all of the exploring there is to do up there.
Arabia Mountain also has a geocaching program called, Geo-PATH, along the entire 30 miles of the PATH biking/hiking trail – there are over 60 geocaches to find!
Location/Tips: It’s located in Lithonia, just off I-20. We like to bring our lunch along with us and eat at the top of the mountain!
Phinizy Swamp and Nature Park
Rundown: The Phinizy Swamp and Nature Park in Augusta is part of the Phinizy Center and offers guided hikes, bike rides, and other community events. There are lots of short, kid-friendly hikes, a fishing pond, and boardwalk overlooks. You can bike ride on some of the trails, and see lots of different types of wildlife – like alligators and snakes! They host birthday parties, summer camps, and homeschooling events, too!
Why you should visit: They have so many different, short, and kid-friendly trails to choose from! And they host a free storytime and guided nature hike for kids on the second Saturday of each month.
Location/Tips: Augusta. The park is free and open to the public every day.
Rundown: The Newman Wetlands Center is a 32-acre site that has wetland hiking trails, a learning center with educational exhibits, and a picnic area!
Why you should go: They have neat nature and birding checklists for you to take while you explore – so fun for the kids! Their hikes are very family-friendly, and they have an awesome boardwalk trail that is handicap-accessible.
Location/Tips: It’s located south of Atlanta in Hampton. Dogs are not allowed. The trails are open every day, the visitor center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9-5.
Rundown: This place is amazing! You can walk their animal trail and check out the rehabilitated wildlife they have rescued, and stop by their Visitors Center – which includes a room full of animals to see!
They have a barnyard where you can visit their farm animals, a bridge where you can feed their fish, 17+ miles of trails for every type of hiker, and a picnic area overlooking a beautiful lake.
They also host camping trips for larger groups, and you can bring your horse and explore their horse trails! This place is extremely family-friendly, and a great stop if you’re headed south of the city.
Why you should go: It has all the animals, and is a total kids paradise! My sister took her kids this summer, and they voted it their favorite thing they did. A definite must-do.
Location/Tips: It’s located in Jackson (close to High Falls and Indian Springs state parks). Bring your lunch and spend the day! You’re going to be so happy you did.
Rundown: This preserve located in Decatur has hiking trails, geocaches, a seasonal pond, and outdoor classrooms for group use.
Why you should go: It’s basically in the heart of the city! And it’s extremely family-friendly. Two of their geocaches are geared specifically for kids.
Location/Tips: It’s located in Decatur, and you can walk there from a MARTA bus stop! There is street parking near the entrance.
Rundown: Okay, this one isn’t in Georgia – but it’s close, and it’s so good! This nature center is located in Chattanooga, and has so much to offer.
They have an arboretum where you can visit their gardens, they have beautiful, family-friendly hiking trails, you can rent a canoe and paddle down Lookout Creek, they offer guided tours, host special events – like a moonlight paddle, and are dog-friendly.
They also are home to many animals who have been injured, or cannot live in the wild – and they live in their Native Animal Exhibit or their Snake Tale Alley. They also host school programs, and scouting programs.
Why you should go: I mean, being able to see endangered animals is super cool, right? Reflection Riding hosts the 8th most endangered mammal in the world – the Red Wolf! I also think the fact they have so much to see and do is a definite plus. Visiting animals and canoeing in the same day? Can’t be beat!
Location/Tips: It’s located just over the Georgia border in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You could definitely make a weekend out of all the fun things to see and do there! It’s open Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Sunday from 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m., and it’s closed on Mondays.
Cost: Adults $10, Kids (4-11) $7, Seniors $7, Active Military FREE!
If you can’t make it to play at one of these great Nature Centers, then try to find your nearest Atlanta Park – and get outside today!
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After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.