Exploring with Kids: A Round-up of Milwaukee Nature Centers

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Hawthorne Glen Nature CenterSpending time outdoors as a kid fosters a lifetime love for nature. We’re lucky here in southeastern Wisconsin to have some pretty amazing nature centers to explore – filled with kids’ play areas, hiking trails, scavenger hunts and more! We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Milwaukee nature centers to make your next outdoor adventure a little easier to plan. 

Before you enjoy a day outdoors, here are some helpful tips for nature center visits with kids:

  • Wear good walking shoes or rain boots. Not all trails are the same and some may have rougher terrain than others. Make sure you’re prepared to explore on all surfaces. Many trails are also muddy so consider waterproof shoes or rain boots!
  • Make sure you’re not caught without water or snacks! Keeping everyone hydrated and happy will ensure an enjoyable exploring experience.
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen and bug repellent!
  • Always check yourself for ticks after a visit to a nature center and/or a play session outdoors.

Aztalan State Park
aztalanfriends.org
N6200 County Rd Q, Jefferson, WI 53549

Your kids will love to explore the ancient Native American ceremonial and residential town established in 1050 AD. They will be fascinated by the burial mounds and a reconstructed stockade fence.

Boerner Botanical Gardens
boernerbotanicalgardens.org
9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI 53130

Tucked away in Whitnall Park, Boerner Botanical Gardens is Milwaukee’s outdoor museum where kids can explore the gardens and learn about preserving nature. They hold kid-friendly holiday events and brunches throughout the year. Check their event calendar for other kid-friendly events, including story and craft time in the gardens

Bong State Recreation Area
bongnaturalistassociation.org
26313 Burlington Rd., Kansasville, WI 53139

Bong State Recreation Center features a full outdoor classroom with water play area, dirt and digging area, music and movement area, climbing area, garden and lots more! Plus, they are a participant in the Wisconsin Explorer Program for kids, which includes scavenger hunts, games, hikes and crafts. You’ll have a blast exploring the recreation area and earning all nine badges!

Havenwoods State Forest
friendsofhavenwoods.org
6141 N. Hopkins St., Milwaukee, WI 53209

With over 237 acres of forest, grassland and wetland, Havenwoods is the state’s only urban state forest. Enjoy over six miles of trails and habitats.

Hawthorn Glen Outdoor Education Center
milwaukeerecreation.net/hawthorn-glen
1130 N. 60th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208

Hawthorn Glen is the official nature center for Milwaukee Public Schools, and it guarantees that Milwaukee kids get extra-special time in nature. Their hands-on education-center features live animals that you can meet, including turtles, fish and birds.

Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area
horiconmarsh.org
N7725 Highway 28, Horicon WI 53032

This wildlife area has an explorium education center with hands-on exhibits which let you and your kids see, listen to, touch and even smell the way the marsh was thousands of years ago. The exhibits include a wooly mammoth replica the kids can climb on.

Lynden Sculpture Garden
lyndensculpturegarden.org
2145 W Brown Deer Rd. River Hills, WI 53217

Explore the Lynden Sculpture Garden and discover unique experience of art in nature through its collection of more than 50 monumental sculptures sited across 40 acres of park, lake and woodland.

Mequon Nature Preserve 
mequonnaturepreserve.org
8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097

Over six miles of trails across 510 acres of forests, wetlands, prairies, and agricultural fields. Check out the Kids Craft Corner on their website before your visit for ideas to extend your visit back home with you!

Retzer Nature Center
friendsofretzer.org
S14 W28167 Madison St., Waukesha, WI 53188

Whether it’s the Nature Trail Loop, the Fen Boardwalk Trail, the Prairie Vista Trail, or a winter snowshoe trail, Retzer Nature Center offers a variety of different trails for your next adventure.

Riveredge Nature Center
riveredgenaturecenter.org
4458 County Hwy Y, Saukville, WI 53080

Explore 402 acres and 10 miles of trails that weave through colorful prairies, tranquil forests, and dazzling ponds all along the Milwaukee River. Be sure to stop by the Riveredge Farm and learn about sustainable agriculture from a holistic approach to food production that follows the principles of natural eco-systems

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
schlitzaudubon.org
1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., Bayside, WI 53217

The best way to experience the abundance of nature at Schlitz Audubon is to hike the trails. They offer beautiful nature hikes, birding trails, wheelchair-accessible trails, and more. Take the hiking trail to Mystery Lake and then visit the Observation Tower. The tower provides a beautiful view of the nature preserve and Lake Michigan. Mystery Lake has a boardwalk that lets you get close to the frogs and turtles.

Urban Ecology Center 
urbanecologycenter.org
Riverside Park
1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee, WI 53211

Washington Park
1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208

Menomonee Valley
3700 W. Pierce St., Milwaukee, WI 53215

At the Urban Ecology Center’s three locations the wonders of the outdoors bring curious people together. Kids acquire the science skills they need to succeed, and adults keep on learning about how our changing world around us works. Members can rent canoes, kayaks, bikes, ice skates, sleds, snowshoes and lots more!

Wehr Nature Center
friendsofwehr.org
9701 W. College Ave., Franklin, WI 53132

Wehr Nature Center’s highlight for little learners is their Early Childhood Nature Play Space. The outdoor classroom features rocks to climb, a sand and rock area, a sensory garden, a prairie grass maze and even a little log cabin. The exploration area has a variety of natural history displays and an indoor beehive. Just outside the native stone and wood Visitor Center are labeled gardens featuring prairie, woodland, and other plant varieties.

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