Last Monday afternoon, I channeled my inner Amber Storm (local mom blogger / hiking extraordinaire), and took my kids on a nature hike at Havenwoods State Forest. Havenwoods State Forest is the only state forest in the city of Milwaukee, located on the north side, and it's absolutely beautiful. It boasts 237 acres, hiking trails, colorful wildflowers, a pond, and more. Plus, it's open every single day from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
I had my six, three and one-year-old in tow, so I did not go into this excursion lightly.
I packed. I planned. I foreshadowed.
In my backpack:
-Snacks (turkey/cheese sandwiches, apple slices, pretzels and granola bars)
-Water bottles for everyone
-Just enough diapers and wipes for the afternoon
-Picnic blanket (it's the cutest thing ever. It's basically the only reason why I decided to do this hike.)
-A few crayons and colored pencils
-Nature tools (we happened to have binoculars and a magnifying glass in the house, but you can check them out in the nature center, too. More on that later)
-Toilet paper (yup)
My kids each wanted to bring their own backpack, too. Of course.
Even though I knew that their backpack carrying efforts would last all of two seconds, I obliged. My son also brought a soccer ball along.
The Nature Center
The first thing we did was stop into the nature center. The staff was so friendly and helpful, and the kids were enthralled with the live animals behind the glass. There were frogs, turtles and snakes.
Inside the nature center you can also check out a pond kit that includes buckets and nets, and other outdoor nature discovery tools like binoculars. In the winter, you can even borrow snow shoes.
Be sure to pick up a Wisconsin Explorer booklet, provided for free by Wisconsin DNR. Each booklet has nature activities, scavenger hunts, games, hikes and crafts for kids ages 3-5, 6-8, and 9 and up. Besides the unique experiences you'll have together as a family and the free nature education provided in the booklets, your kids can earn unique patches for completing the activities.
Now that we had our bearings, it was time for a hike. And by hike, I mean that we walked for three minutes down the main trail before my three year old got tired.
I brought along a single stroller, but next time I'll opt for the double.
Here is the trail head, right off of the parking lot:
Even though our hike was short, we were still able to take in the beautiful scenery and do some exploring with our magnifying glass. And no, I did not stage this picture! He found a bug on this log, and was very excited about it.
Besides the main trail pictured here, you can head behind the nature center and take a less-than-one-mile hike to the pond.
Exploring the garden
One of the highlights of our excursion was exploring the beautiful gardens maintained by staff, volunteers and local university programs. All produce grown in the garden is donated to local food pantries.
The kids even got to pick ripe tomatoes with one of the staff members. Too bad they spit them right out. :( Gotta work on that.
Now that we had worked up an appetite, it was time to do some eating and simple crafts.
There are picnic tables off of the parking lot near the nature center, but I wanted our picnic to feel like we were in the wilderness. We set up camp under the first tree on the main trail.
We were literally next to the nature center, and around the corner from the parking lot, but in our own little corner, it felt like we were immersed in nature.
The kids drew the things they saw, ate snacks, screamed about ants, played catch, scribbled, and stomped around. And we read our favorite story "I am a bunny."
Despite how idyllic this looks (and it really was going well for awhile!), the day ended with my three year old running into the parking lot when I wasn't looking, and me sounding like a horrible mom monster yelling at her.
It really was worth it, though. We could have had a picnic in our own backyard, but getting out to a new place excited the kids and ignited their inner explorer.
Havenwoods State Forest is a true gem in the middle of the city. Let's all use it, care for it, and appreciate it so it doesn't go away.