10 Inspiring Nature Centers Around Milwaukee (2024)

Sometimes we all need an escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life to connect with nature.

Luckily, there’s no need to travel far to have an outdoor adventure with your kids!

The Milwaukee area is blessed with a variety of nature centers that provide a perfect opportunity to explore the great outdoors while having fun and learning something new.

Whether you want to go on a nature hike, learn about local wildlife, or participate in hands-on activities, there’s a nature center that caters to your needs.

In this blog post, we’ll take you on a tour of some of the most unique nature centers around Milwaukee, where you and your kids can enjoy a day full of adventure, exploration, and discovery.

So pack your picnic basket, put on your hiking boots, and get ready for a memorable family outing!

1. Wehr Nature Center

9701 W. College Ave., Franklin, WI 53132

Wehr Nature Center is must-visit destination for kids and families!

It’s a 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.

There’s a beautiful waterfall, a nature place space, observation deck and an ADA-accessible boardwalk. The visitor center also has nature displays and exhibits.

A dedicated staff offers programming for everyone from pre-K to adults, year-round.

Read more about Wehr Nature Center >>

2. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., Bayside, WI 53217

Mystery Lake at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

There’s so much to do at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center!

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 accessible boardwalk through Mystery Lake. Climb a 60-foot Observation Tower. Take the paved trail down to the shores of 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.

Read more about Schlitz Audubon Nature Center >>

3. Retzer Nature Center‘s Discovery Trail

S14 W28167 Madison St., Waukesha, WI 53188

At Retzer Nature Center, you can explore a small nature center with fish, small animals, and educational materials, plus many beginner level nature trails perfect for hiking with kids.

Discovery Trail was added as part of a multi-phase project to revitalize the old Adventure Trail, expanding accessibility into nature for all ages and abilities. The trail includes a variety of “Exploration Stations” for outdoor education, sensory-based play experiences, and STEM activities for families and school groups.

Other additions include a gateway feature, a stone seat wall gathering space, a habitat free-play area, boulder scramble, and native plant observation areas.

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. On the Orange Trail (approx. .75 mile with woodchipped and mowed grass, some sloped terrain), you’ll find a self-guided Story Hike.

While you’re there, explore the nature center with fish, small animals, and educational materials, plus many beginner level nature trails perfect for hiking with kids.

Outside of the nature center is a charming Children’s Garden.

Retzer Nature Center is also home to the Horwitz-Deremer Planetarium, which was recently selected to be one of the few sites in Wisconsin to view the first images from the Webb Telescope.

Read more about Retzer Nature Center’s Discovery Trail >>

4. Mequon Nature Preserve 

8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097

Mequon Nature Preserve is home to an epic natural playground, as well as one square mile of natural wetlands, prairie, and emerging forest. 

Mequon Nature Preserve

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.

5. 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?

Havenwoods State Forest
Photo Credit: Instagram, @existentialgoddexx

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.

6. 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.

Hawthorn Glen Milwaukee

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.

Read more about Hawthorn Glen >>

7. Riveredge Nature Center

4458 County Hwy Y, Saukville, WI 53080
(262) 375-2715

One of the most beautifully restored natural sanctuaries in southeastern Wisconsin, Riveredge features 402 acres of forest and prairie, tranquil ponds, and more than a mile of Milwaukee River frontage.

Riveredge Nature Center

There are also ten total miles of trails that meander through the wilderness, and they’re known for their exceptional maple sugaring events.

More than 15,000 lake sturgeon have been raised and released at Riveredge too!

8. Stigler Nature Preserve

17400 W. Liberty Ln., New Berlin, WI 53146

Nestled in the middle of a business park, this nature preserve is surprisingly secluded and peaceful once you’re inside.

Stigler Nature Preserve in New Berlin
Photo Credit: awealthofnature.org

The nature trail loop is just over a mile long and not too strenuous. A shallow creek flows through the preserve, and there are two fun bridges to cross over.

The path is mostly covered in cedar wood chips, but it can get a little muddy and buggy after a rain, so be sure to pack galoshes and bug spray.

There’s a thorough write up of this nature preserve on A Wealth of Nature blog.

9. Urban Ecology Center 

Three branch locations (see below)

Urban Ecology Center
Photo Credit: Instagram, @rugaficionado

The Urban Ecology Center is an innovative environmental education organization with three branches, all adjacent to Milwaukee County Parks. Check the website or call for the most up-to-date hours.

Riverside Park

1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee, WI 53211
(414) 964-8505

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! There’s also a tower with a 40-foot climbing wall, and a pond with a people-powered fountain. Don’t miss the Native Wisconsin Animal Room, where you can greet turtles, snakes, fish, and frogs.

Washington Park

1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee, WI 53208
(414) 344-5460

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 freshwater lagoon, and in the winter, it turns into an ice skating rink.

Menomonee Valley

3700 W. Pierce St., Milwaukee, WI 53215
(414) 431-2940

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.

10. Forest Exploration Center

1800 Forest Exploration Dr., Wauwatosa, WI 53226

Nestled in the heart of an urban landscape, this 60-acre, mature hardwood forest offers a true escape from the city bustle. There’s a unique mix of large oak, maple, ash and basswood trees, and the forest provides a diverse habitat for wildlife, including more than 158 species of birds. ​

Forest Exploration Center
Photo Credit: Danielle Pahlisch

A one-mile self-guided trail offers shaded exploration and discovery under the woodland canopy. The accessible loop was designed and built specifically for wheelchair, foot traffic and strollers.

Keep your eyes peeled for the double-sided signs with rotating panel themes, media interactives and explorations along the trail. You can read one side of the sign when you follow the trail clockwise, then double back and read the other side as you move in a counterclockwise direction.

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