This day was supposed to be a relatively informal gathering of families from our homeschool group. However, torrential rains on Sunday and the prediction of more on Monday had my phone buzzing with texts from families canceling. After the remaining family dropped out, I sat down with the kids and explained the situation and asked if they still wanted to go. The answer was a resounding “Yes”. So in addition to our normal preparations of lunches & water bottles, we packed TWO changes of clothes for each, several beach towels, and double checked that the rain ponchos were still in the Suburban.
Nestled just inside West Loop 610 on Woodway Drive, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is an oasis in an area filled with high-rises, shopping, and fast paced life. It turned out to be a blessed experience. First, it didn’t rain. At. All. The entire time we were there. Second, it appeared that the rain had scared everyone off. With the exception of a few Tyke Hike participants, we had the place to ourselves.
We started in the Discovery Room which provides interactive and observational opportunities for visitors of all ages. There are aquatic tanks at various levels and little steps to higher exhibits (great for those toddlers in the “me do it” phase), lift the flap quizes, ecosystems, skeletal remains, and the cross section of a 100-year-old tree. Particularly engaging was the wall dedicated to the “Life and Work of Trees” explaining how they gather water, photosynthesis, protection and their service to woodland creatures. They also had a library section. Why read about it when you can go outside & live it? The kids were ready to hike!
The woman at the information desk shared helpful suggestions on trails for first time visitors. We started on the Inner Loop, but soon ventured to the South Meadow Trail and the R.A. Vines Trail. Walking surfaces consisted of mostly gravel or foot bridges. There were several look-out decks built along the marshy areas to allow a close-up look at the habitat. There were a few signs labeling some plant life, but those wishing to beef up their botany should bring a field guide.
We took a break for lunch. There were plenty of benches available, unfortunately the recent rains left everything saturated. We opted for lowering the back seat in the Suburban & camping out there. Even in the parking lot we watched squirrels playing, listened to birds sing, and saw the occasional dragon fly. While not listed on the map, the woman at the information desk mentioned a playground and the kids were ready to check it out.
While not massive, the play area offered a variety of climbing, crawling, and jumping options. There was a rope bridge ~ just high enough to scrape a knee when falling off but nothing too perilous, a crow’s nest lookout, tube to crawl through, and several balance beams. This is where preparing allows you to “Say Yes” to fun adventures. We watched as other kids were told by their parents that they could not fully
explore enjoy this area because it was wet and muddy. First, isn’t that the point? Wet & Muddy are fun! But given that perhaps they had somewhere else to go ~ towels, a package of baby wipes, and a change of clothes would have allowed the parents to embrace the opportunity to stomp in the puddles.
Recommended ages: This adventure is appropriate for all ages and you can even bring the family dog. Families with strollers or wheelchairs can easily navigate several of the trails though the Discovery Room might prove a bit tight on a busy day. This is nature. Talk with children about not “collecting” souvenirs and keep an eye on adventurous ones who might be tempted to wander off trail or test the water.
Anything we wish was different? Not that we experienced.
How do I set up a trip? The Arboretum is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 7am to dusk. I would recommend checking the schedule if you wish to include the Discovery Room as part of your visit. It is often booked for classes and guided tours. We haven’t utilized any of their offerings, but you can find out more about organized group visits by clicking the “Learn” tab from the main menu.
A note about parking. Parking is free at the Arboretum.
What else is there to do nearby? Just East of the Arboretum, Woodway merges into Memorial Drive and immediately thereafter is the exit for Memorial Park.