Looking to get out into nature with your kids, but not sure where to start? Or perhaps you want to explore different territory from what you’re used to? Check out our guide to nature centers around Milwaukee:
Havenwoods State Forest
6141 N. Hopkins St., Milwaukee, WI 53209
Did you know that Havenwoods State Forest is the only state forest in the city of Milwaukee? And that it is Wisconsin’s only urban state forest? It offers over 200 acres of grasslands, woods, and wetland. There are four ponds, and one is just a short hike from the Environmental Center. There is also a 120-foot bridge to enjoy, and several geocaches to hunt for.
Hawthorn Glen Outdoor Education Center
1130 N. 60th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208
Hawthorn Glen spans 23 acres and offers a Little Nature Museum with animals, kid-friendly paths, a playground, and more. It is a popular spot for school field trips, but the self-guided nature trail and nature center are open to the public in the evenings or on weekends.
Mequon Nature Preserve
8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097
Mequon Nature Preserve is home to an epic natural playground, as well as a square mile of natural wetlands, prairie, and emerging forest.
To climb the observation tower, park in the parking lot on Swan Rd. and follow the trail around Pat’s Pond.
For good wildlife watching, park near the Pieper Power Education Center, and find the Observation Platform along the Streich Family Wetlands.
Retzer Nature Center
S14 W28167 Madison St., Waukesha, WI 53188
Explore a small nature center with fish, small animals, and educational materials, plus many beginner level nature trails perfect for hiking with kids.
Even for the littlest feet, Retzer Nature Center’s “Adventure Trail” is filled with majestic pines, picnic tables, and is very short. You can also explore “Vista Trail” where you’ll get a good view of Waukesha, and the “Nature Trail” where there are boardwalks and babbling brooks.⠀
Riveredge Nature Center
4458 County Hwy Y Saukville, WI 53080
Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., Bayside, WI 53217
The Center offers six miles of trails through 185 acres of habitats such as forests, wetlands, prairies, and Lake Michigan shoreline.
Hike on the stroller and wheelchair friendly boardwalk through Mystery Lake. Climb a 60-foot Observation Tower. Take the paved trail down to Lake Michigan. Stop in the visitor center and see Emerson, a resident snapping turtle, and other animal ambassadors.
Enjoy family programming for people of all ages, starting at 6 months. Visit on weekend afternoons to see a raptor up close, or go on a guided hike. Schlitz Audubon also offers a preschool, summer camps, birthday parties, and scouting programs.
Urban Ecology Center
The Urban Ecology Center is an innovative environmental education organization with three branches, all adjacent to Milwaukee County Parks.
1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee, WI 53211
Check their website for the most up-to-date hours. You can spend a whole afternoon discovering all that the sun-soaked, plant-filled lodge has to offer, including games, instruments, puzzles, and blue slides with a secret door! Don’t miss the Native Wisconsin Animal Room, where you can greet turtles, snakes, fish, and frogs.
1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208
The Washington Park branch has thriving gardens throughout the park and a Young Scientists club for kids who want to participate in hands-on nature activities. They also have a Native Wisconsin Animal room with a 560 gallon fish tank. You’ll get to see turtles, snakes, frogs, and fish. In the summer, you can canoe on the fresh water lagoon, and in the winter, it turns into an ice skating rink.
3700 W. Pierce St., Milwaukee, WI 53215
This branch is part of an exciting partnership that aims to revitalize the Menomonee Valley. They offer a young scientists club, nature playgroups, family hikes, nature crafts programs, and more throughout the year. P
Wehr Nature Center
($4 parking fee)
9701 W. College Ave., Franklin, WI 53132
The 220-acre nature preserve features more than 4 miles of hiking trails that wind through five distinct plant communities, including a mature forest, 15-acre lake, wetland, prairie, and oak savanna. Enjoy a bird blind, observation deck and an ADA-accessible boardwalk. The visitor center has nature displays and exhibits. A dedicated staff offers programming for everyone from pre-K to adults, year-round.
Cost: $4 per car. Seasonal pass available for $35.