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. Keep an eye pointed toward the sky, this place is an Audubon Society designated birding area.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary is appealing to nature enthusiasts of all ages.
Ilene's expert tip: Heard also offers night hikes and ziplining on specific dates, check the website under events for more information. Parking is free.
Boasting over 2000 animals from roughly 400 species, the 106-acre Dallas Zoo 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, giraffe feedings and daily animal demonstrations as well as a miniature train and carousel. 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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: A trip to the Dallas Zoo is one of the best ways to keep everyone in the family entertained outdoors.
Ilene's expert tip: Score $8 admission on the first Tuesday of the month. Note that all guests are required to reserve tickets online prior to visiting.
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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Dallas Running Tours offers the best way to see the sites and get a workout at the same time.
Ilene's expert tip: Local runners get 50% off after first 4 miles, and visitors can receive 50% off their second run.
More unforgettable experiences in Dallas
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. The park also offers a broad range of year-round programming, including daily fitness classes, yoga, children's story times, musical performances and even film screenings. Did we mention this is a great place for a selfie with a backdrop of the Dallas skyline? The food trucks parked along the side are a big draw, too.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: With a plethora of activities offered throughout the week, Klyde Warren Park is tops when it comes to outdoor entertainment.
Ilene's expert tip: Park for free in the West Village off McKinney Ave and hop on the complimentary M-Line trolley to get to the park.
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. Don't miss the annual Dallas Blooms festival in the spring, where over 500,000 blooming bulbs and annuals blanket the entire park with a vibrant display of color.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Arboretum is ranked as one of the best botanical gardens in the United States.
Ilene's expert tip: Tickets and parking must be reserved online or by calling the venue. On Wednesdays, guests can score one free admission with one paid admission.
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 and a discovery garden.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Trinity River Audubon Center is one of the country's premier bird watching facilities.
Ilene's expert tip: Advance ticket purchase is required. Also note that presently the Center is limiting visitors to timed entry. If Great Trinity Forest Way does not show up on the GPS, use 6500 S. Loop 12.
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 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. Did we mention that this is an Audubon Society-designated bird watching area? Keep a watch out for events like boat races and music festivals.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: White Rock Lake offers city-dwellers a quick escape without having to leave the city limits.
Ilene's expert tip: White Rock Paddle Co. (469-888-0620) provides kayak, canoe, and SUP rentals on the lake during spring and summer.
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 offered year round and are priced at $100 per person weekdays/$120 weekends. Best of all, since it's by appointment only most of the rides end up being private ones.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For those who want to explore the great outdoors in a saddle, Widowmaker offers one of the best rides in DFW.
Ilene's expert tip: Groups are usually limited to 4-6 riders, but if your party is larger, Widowmaker can accommodate up to 10 riders at a time.
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. The price for a 3-hour adventure tour is $59.95 for ages 16 and up. In addition to aerial courses, Trinity Forest Adventure Park also offers a half-hour of outdoor laser tag for $75, which includes up to 18 players at a time. Note that advance reservations are required.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Trinity Forest Adventure Park is the best place in the metroplex for nature-loving thrill-seekers.
Ilene's expert tip: Reserve online and save $5 off the listed ticket price. Note that weekends often sell out in advance. Minors (anyone under the age of 18) must be accompanied by an adult while at the park.
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.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve is one of the city's best places to hike.
Ilene's expert tip: The preserve requests a donation of $3 or more when you visit. Note that the Preserve is closed on Mondays.