Ten Best Ways for Nature-lovers to Discover the Wilder Side of Dallas

Dallas may not be near the mountains or sea, and yes, it can get quite steamy during the summers–but that doesn’t stop locals from enjoying the great outdoors. In fact, this predominately sunny city (averaging 232 days of sunshine annually) boasts more than 22,000 acres of parkland and 125 miles of hike and bike trails for nature enthusiasts to explore. One of the most popular among the crop is White Rock Lake, a 1,015-acre urban oasis offering 9 miles of running and biking trails as well as recreational activities like sailing, kayaking, fishing, and bird-watching. Located adjacent to White Rock Lake is the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, a stunning 66-acre pocket of tranquillity filled with seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs and exotic plants.

Oh, and did we mention that Dallas is home to the Great Trinity Forest, one of the largest urban hardwood forests in the nation?  One of the best ways to view it is on a zip line tour with Trinity Forest Aerial Adventure Park. Those who prefer to stay more grounded can also explore the forest by foot at the Trinity River Audubon Center.

The fun doesn’t stop here. No matter what your preferred outdoor pursuit may be, this cheat sheet will come in handy for anyone wishing to get out and about in the Dallas area.


Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary
Photo courtesy of Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

For those looking for the ultimate urban escape, this scenic wildlife sanctuary and natural science museum will definitely hit the mark. Set on 289-acres in McKinney Texas (around 30 miles north of downtown Dallas), the Heard boasts 6.5 miles of nature trails, a two-acre native plant garden and live animal exhibits as well as a replica 1800s prairie settlement, complete with eight playhouse scale buildings. There's also an indoor education center filled with interactive exhibits featuring everything from venomous snakes to a children's fossil dig. Oh, and keep an eye pointed toward the sky too, this place is an Audubon Society designated birding area.

Dallas Zoo
Photo courtesy of Dallas Zoo

Boasting over 2000 animals from roughly 400 species, the 106-acre Dallas Zoo, founded in 1888, is the largest and oldest zoological park in the state. But there's more going on here than your usual walk-through animal exhibits. Most of the enclosures have been constructed to replicate the animals' natural environments. Among them include the 11-acre Giants of the Savanna, the only zoo exhibit in the United States to mix elephants and other species in the same habitat. There's also a children's zoo, daily animal demonstrations, and a monorail safari through areas not accessible by foot. Want to take your zoo experience to the next level? Then be sure to reserve a spot on the 90-minute backstage safari for a truly memorable behind-the-scenes tour. Check the website for dates and times.

Klyde Warren Park
Photo courtesy of Klyde Warren Park

Perched atop a sunken freeway in the Dallas Arts District, this 5.2-acre linear park is considered one of Dallas' premier community gathering spots, boasting everything from a butterfly garden to special areas allocated for kids, for dogs and for playing games. It is also flush with year-round programs, including fitness sessions, dance lessons, yoga, children's entertainment, musical performances and even film screenings. In case you work up an appetite while you're here, you can tempt your taste buds from an array of food trucks as well as at the park's sleek gastropub, Savor. Did we mention that this is a great place for a selfie with a backdrop of the Dallas skyline?

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy of Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Set along the shores of White Rock Lake, this 66-acre oasis boasts endless seasonal flowers and plant displays as well as an 8-acre, interactive children's garden featuring everything from cascading waterfalls to a treetop canopy walk and a two-story tree house. In addition to educational programs for children and adults, the Arboretum hosts a variety of public events, ranging from art shows to concerts and seasonal festivals. Try to plan your visit during the spring when the Arboretum puts on Dallas Blooms, the largest floral festival in the Southwest.

Dallas Running Tours
Photo courtesy of Dallas Running Tours

Want to take in the sites of Big D and burn off a few calories along the way? Then hit the pavement with Dallas Running Tours where you'll learn about Dallas' history, architecture and art on the run. Choose from 3 to 18-mile tours through Downtown Dallas; the West End Historic District; the Katy Trail and White Rock Lake. Tours are priced at $35 per person for the first 4 miles with a $5 surcharge for each additional mile. For those who need a little extra incentive or are training for a race, the company offers running buddy services as well. Not into running? No worries, you can also go for a fitness walk if that's more your speed.

Trinity River Audubon Center
Photo courtesy of Sean Fitzgerald

You've heard the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Well, before this 120-acre nature preserve and environmental education center opened in 2008, the area was home to the largest illegal dumping site in the state. Nowadays, the center (located ten miles south of downtown) serves as a gateway to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in North America. The area is home to a variety of wildlife all of which can be viewed along five miles of hiking trails that meander through forests, wetlands and blackland prairies. In addition to trails and picnic areas, there is a butterfly garden, a discovery garden, and a state-of-the-art visitor's center filled with hands-on exhibits. Keep an eye out for seasonal festivals, guided hikes, birding classes, kayak river adventures, camp-outs and owl prowls.

Widowmaker Trail Rides
Photo courtesy of Widowmaker Trail Rides

It may be a stereotype that all Texans own horses, but that's not to say we don't enjoy channeling our inner cowboy (or cowgirl) every now and then. And one of the best ways to do it is by taking a riding adventure with Widowmaker Trail Rides. Geared for small groups ages 12 and up, the two-hour rides wind through 1000-acres of stunning landscape along the scenic shores of Lake Grapevine. Rides are priced at $90 per person and are offered year-round. Best of all, since it's by appointment only most of the rides end up being private ones.

Trinity Forest Adventure Park
Photo courtesy of Trinity Forest Adventure Park

Looking for an adrenaline rush? Then you're in luck. Just minutes from downtown Dallas lies Trinity Forest Adventure Park, a seven-acre combination obstacle course and zip line park boasting over twenty zip-lines spread out over six aerial obstacle courses. The courses are all self-guided to allow everyone to move at their own pace, but it's important to watch your time since tickets are only valid for three hours. In addition to aerial courses (weekends only), the park also offers a slew of other recreational activities (think pedal boats, pony rides and rock climbing) during the summer.

White Rock Lake Park
Photo courtesy of Ilene Jacobs

Located only five miles east of downtown, White Rock Lake Park provides an ideal escape without having to leave the city limits. And as one of Dallas' largest parks (twice the size of Central Park in New York City), this urban oasis offers something for everyone. Visitors will find everything from a variety of wildlife (it's an Audubon Society-designated bird watching area) to over 9 miles of trails for hiking and biking. Not to mention, the 1,015-acre lake is a prime spot for activities like paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Keep a watch out for events like boat races and music festivals too.

Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve
Photo courtesy of Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve

Contrary to common belief, Dallas' topography is not as flat as you think. At least not at this 600-acre paradise located 20 minutes south of downtown. Situated at an elevation of 755 feet, the preserve offers 9 miles of unpaved trails that wind through a lush terrain of native foliage and wildlife. Best of all, there's a wide variety of trails to please any type of outdoorsy adventurer. Be sure to make your way up the Escarpment Trail to get a bird's eye view from the highest point in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Take note that no bikes are allowed, but dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.


Meet Ilene Jacobs

As a perpetual wanderer, foodie freak and wannabe chef, Ilene is always on the lookout for the best places to see, eat, drink and sleep. When she's not writing about the latest happenings in...  More About Ilene