I’ll never forget the first day that I took my toddler to our local nature center for a Mommy & Me class. A few minutes into the nature walk, he stopped, balled his hands into fists, and shouted, “This is a GREAT IDEA!” When we later brought my other son at the same age, he started running up the trail, shouting, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” on repeat.
There is something about the freedom of being able to explore all of the sights, sounds, and smells of nature that inspires my kids. We’ve been to a few nature centers around Atlanta since, and they always deliver an easy and great day of adventure.
Why we love to visit nature centers:
There are countless nature preserves, mountains, state parks, greenways, and hiking trails in Georgia. And if you’re looking for a more secluded, immersive (read: quiet) nature experience, those are great choices. A nature center (at least for the purposes of this article) is designed for education and includes some kind of interactive exhibits or special programming in addition to walking or hiking trails. We love visiting nature centers because:
- Low stress–we pack a lunch, water, and bug spray and go.
- Low admission prices–many nature centers are free; others offer admission for $3-5 per person over 3 years old. Even if we go and it rains or tantrums ensue, we haven’t lost much and can try again another day.
- The kids get to be in charge. Other than, “stay on the trail,” there aren’t lines to wait in or rules to follow. Exhibits are fewer than at other museums and spread out in a way that my very young kids can explore at their leisure without getting overstimulated.
- Well-maintained facilities and trails, some paved, others with boardwalks, and easier walking trails mean that I can worry less about strenuous hiking or trail hazards with little legs in tow.
Nature Centers In and Around Atlanta
Trails & Playgrounds:
Each of the following nature preserves features hiking & walking trails, wildlife viewing, and education via signage and/or audio tours. Most of these locations also offer special programming throughout the year, usually for a fee.
Blue Heron Nature Preserve (Buckhead)
4055 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta, GA, 30342
Facilities: Maintained trails and buildings; No public restrooms
Things to Explore: Walking and hiking trails, Butterfly Garden, Turtle Sanctuary, Bee Apiary, indoor and outdoor art exhibits
Special Programming: Summer camps, after-school and community classes (registration & fees required), Youth Conservation Leaders Program
Dunwoody Nature Center (Dunwoody)
5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody, GA 30338
Facilities: Maintained trails and boardwalk; playgrounds; public restrooms
Things to Explore: Walking and hiking trails, Wildcat Creek, playgrounds, beehives, wetlands boardwalk, treehouse, geocaching, and more
Special Programming: Summer camps and nature classes/clubs for kids as well as adults (registration & fees required), Annual Butterfly Festival
Green Meadows Nature Preserve (Marietta)
3780 Dallas Highway, Marietta, GA 30064
Facilities: Maintained trails, public gardens, historic house, restrooms
Things to Explore: Bluebird trails, Cherokee Indian medicine & food plant gardens, Civil War period house, and garden, honeybee hives
Special Programming: Guided Bluebird Tours
Mill Creek Nature Center (Buford)
Entrance is at the intersection of Nature Center Parkway and Mall of Georgia Dr
Facilities: Maintained trails and boardwalk; no public restrooms
Things to Explore: Wetland trails and wildlife viewing
Special Programming: Annual events: Rivers Alive, Earth Day
Panola Mountain State Park (Stockbridge)
2620 Highway 155 SW, Stockbridge, GA 30281
Admission: $5 parking fee
Facilities: Hiking trails and boardwalks, nature center, playground, restrooms, picnic shelters
Things to Explore: lots of hiking with unique waterways and rock formations, fishing
Special Programming: Tree climbing excursions, archery range, campsites, guided ranger hikes, geocaching
NOTE: Pets are not allowed in the park. You cannot climb the granite mountain without booking a guide.
Interactive Buildings & Exhibits:
The Nature Centers below have interactive visitors centers and/or historic buildings to explore on the grounds in addition to walking and hiking trails. Most of these locations also offer special programming throughout the year.
Outdoor Activity Center (Southwest Atlanta)
1442 Richland Road SW, Atlanta, GA 30310
Facilities: Maintained trails, playground, aquarium, restrooms
Things to Explore: Trails, community gardens, ropes course, nature-themed playground, nearby nature preserves with additional trails.
Special Programming: Environmental education programming (elementary through college-age), team-building ropes course
Chattahoochee Nature Center (Roswell)
9135 Willeo Rd, Roswell, GA 30075
Admission: $10 Adults, $7 Students, $6 Kids (ages 3-12)
Facilities: Nature center, wildlife enclosures, restrooms, paved paths
Things to Explore: Indoor Discovery Center, wildlife exhibits, pond, nearby walking trails
Special Programming: Canoe trips, annual butterfly festival, summer camps, classes for adults and kids, ziplining
NOTE: At the time of publication, admission requires booking a time slot online.
Autrey Mill Nature Preserve (Johns Creek)
9770 Autrey Mill Road, Johns Creek, GA 30022
Facilities: Visitor center, Farm Museum, restrooms
Things to Explore: Exploration Zone & Forest Trail, Visitor Center with animals to learn about, Living Lab, cell phone audio tour highlighting historic buildings on the property
Special Programming: Summer & Fall Break camps, docent tours on select Tuesdays & Saturdays
NOTE: At the time of publication, the Visitor Center and Farm Museum are only open for limited hours. Check the website for details.
Sawnee Mountain Preserve (Cumming)
4075 Spot Road, Cumming, GA 30040
Facilities: Visitor center, maintained trails & treehouse, playground, restrooms
Things to Explore: Interactive Visitor Center, multiple trails, treehouse
Special Programming: Tree climbing & zip lining, paddling adventures, and guided nature hikes; classes for preschoolers, kids, adults, and homeschooling families
Elachee Nature Science Center (Gainesville)
2125 Elachee Drive, Gainesville, GA 30504
Facilities: Visitor center, maintained & paved trail options, gardens, picnic pavilions, restrooms
Things to Explore: Pollinator gardens, multiple trails, including Storybook Trail (stroller accessible), Live Animal Room & Aviary, nearby lakefront wildlife observation areas
Special Programming: Summer camps, Nature School (Preschool-3rd grade), Discovery Saturdays, adult programming
NOTE: No pets are permitted on the grounds.
Stay for the Day:
Looking for a bit more adventure? These Atlanta destinations offer enough outdoor activities to fill an entire day. If your family loves nature centers, these are well worth the cost of admission.