Dragon Park is not so much a park as it is a place of enchantment, tucked away on a tiny parcel of lush, landscaped land in the Oak Lawn neighborhood. Though finding it is the difficult part, and as such, it remains under the radar of even most locals. But the payoff is sweet: this serene space is dotted with secret nooks, water features and a myriad of eclectic statues: think angels, gargoyles, dragons and such, all delicately arranged to give visitors a magical moment of Zen. Whether you're looking for a quiet place to read a book or an ideal spot for a picnic, this little slice of Eden offers a refreshing respite in the heart of the city.
Not only is this 17-acre park one of the city's most inviting green spaces, but it's also one of the oldest. Created as Oak Lawn Park in 1909, the park was renamed Robert E. Lee Park in 1936 after a 6-ton statue of Lee was erected and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then in 2017, the statue was removed by Dallas City Council resulting in the restoration of the park's original name. In addition to lush landscaping, shaded seating areas, and numerous walking trails that meander along Lakeside Creek, the park features Arlington Hall (a scaled-down replica of Arlington House in Virginia), a formal garden and two stately pavilions for hosting events. Speaking of events, the park is notable for its annual Easter celebration, which includes live music and a famed pooch parade.
Nestled inside the Dallas municipality of Highland Park (two miles from the downtown), an area best known for its multi-million dollar homes and manicured lawns, lies Lakeside Park, a stunning 14-acre swath of green space running parallel to Turtle Creek. It's a terrific place to take a stroll or a run as well as for picnics. There's not a bad time to visit, but the park is especially beautiful between the end of March and first of April when a multitude of azalea bushes are showing their true colors. Be sure to traverse the bridge to the other side to check out the enormous Teddy Bear sculptures. Also note that you can walk along Lakeside past Armstrong Parkway to cruise the Turtle Creek Greenbelt Trail, a 1.8-mile path that winds through Oak Lawn and Reverchon Parks.
For decades, the Continental Avenue Bridge (now known as the Ronald Kirk Bridge and the Felix H. Lozada, Sr. Gateway) served as a viaduct for vehicles between downtown and West Dallas. These days, the bridge is a pedestrian-only linear oasis spanning 1.2 miles over the Trinity River. It's filled with gardens, water features, playgrounds, a bocce court and even human-sized chess boards. And not only does the park boast sweeping views of downtown Dallas and the Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, but it also offers a host of free activities, ranging from fitness classes and children's programs to movie screenings and special events. If you're looking for an ideal skyline photo for your Instagram feed, this is the place.
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 and over sixty species of birds which can be viewed along five miles of hiking trails that meander through forests, Blackland prairies and thriving wetlands. In addition to hiking trails and picnic areas, there is a butterfly garden, a discovery garden for children, and a state-of-the-art visitor's center filled with hands-on exhibits. Keep an eye out for an assortment of activities, ranging from seasonal festivals to guided hikes, birding classes and kayak river adventures.
More proof of the area's unyielding natural beauty lies within this 1,300-acre oasis along the west fork of the Trinity River in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. It's part of the 75-mile greenbelt parkland that stretches from west Fort Worth through East Dallas. The park features eight miles of paved hike and bike trails, a 10-mile mountain bike trail plus plenty of opportunities to see wildlife (think armadillos, raccoons and wild boar). And talk about awesome playgrounds: this one includes two tree houses replete with slides, ladders and suspension bridges that wind a path through the trees. Be sure to also stop in at the River Legacy Nature Center to check out the interactive exhibits highlighting plant and animal life along the banks and woodlands of the Trinity River.
Located less than twenty miles from downtown Dallas in the suburb of Plano, this 200-acre pocket of tranquillity is ideal for city-dwellers looking to reconnect with the natural world without having to venture too far. The park features 3 miles of paved trails and 3 miles of unpaved trails, as well as a 2.8-mile off-road bike trail that winds through a variety of scenic terrain. There is also a large recreational area boasting an interconnected set of play-structures. Don't leave the park without heading up to the observation tower, it's a great spot to watch the sunset.
Located 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, over twice the size of New York City's Central Park, this urban oasis truly offers something for everyone. Visitors will find everything from lush forests and a variety of wildlife (it's an Audubon Society-designated bird watching area) to over 9 miles of trails for hiking and biking. There are picnic areas, playgrounds, a dog park and a cultural center, not to mention a 1,015-acre lake for activities like paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Speaking of activities, White Rock Lake also hosts a multitude of events, ranging from marathons to boat races and music festivals. Oh, and did we mention that there's a replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon house here? Head over to the west side of the lake if you want to check it out.
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.
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 after all the activities, there's always a slew of food trucks around or you can dine in style at Savor, the park's chic gastro-pub.