Exploring the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

3/1/20 - By Amy Gilmore

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a tranquil escape in the middle of Houston's busy Galleria area. The 185-acre nature sanctuary has two entrances, one on 610 at the Woodway exit and another on Woodway Drive. It is the perfect place to take kids of all ages to get exercise on more than five miles of walking trails and to see animals along the way.


The Houston Arboretum is a great place for a day trip with kids of all ages. Recently, I visited with my 15-year-old son, my six-month-old daughter, a friend, and her two kids ages 14 and 16. Getting the older kids out of the house to enjoy nature can sometimes be a challenge, but they all enjoyed our adventure.

In addition to being open daily between 7 a.m. and dusk, you can visit the business office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and you can purchase gifts in the shop between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There are also many classes and events held each month. Some are appropriate for children and others are for adults only. So, if you are interested in attending an event, I recommend checking out the calendar before planning your visit.

There are informational maps and signs around the property to help you plan and navigate.

Arriving at the Arboretum

We entered off of Loop 610, where there is a parking lot in front of the visitor center. The parking is five dollars for the entire day. We did not plan to stay for longer than a few hours, however, we went ahead and paid for the full day because the money the arboretum makes from parking helps to support the facility.

After we parked, we went into the visitor center and were met by a very friendly employee who showed us a map of the different trails. She explained what we might see on each trail and how to make our way to the pond where there are lots of turtles and baby alligators. She also told us that on the backside of the outer trail there might be coyotes, but that there have not been any reports of them being aggressive. 

You are also not allowed to eat on the trails or feed any of the animals. So, you should plan to have a snack before you go. There are snacks and drinks for sale in the visitor center if you are interested in getting the kids a treat before or after your visit. Another important thing to note is that there are no bathrooms on the trail, so make sure you go before you head out. 

See wildlife around every trail corner.

Exploring the Trails

I was a bit hesitant about the coyotes and the length of the trails because I did not want to be stuck in the middle of a trail with a crying baby. However, each trail is not too long. So, we set out on our walk on the Outer Loop Trail which is the longest of the 13 trails and I was very pleased. My baby loved looking up at the trees and being in nature and the older kids really enjoyed the scenery as well. Every few feet, there are benches that you can stop and sit at, and there are lots of places that you can rest at and take in the surroundings.

We made our way around several of the trails stopping at the pond where we saw lots of turtles. We also saw birds, squirrels, butterflies, and lots of different plants. We did not see any coyotes on the trails, which I cannot honestly say I minded. However, I am sure the older kids would have enjoyed that.

My friend and I were able to talk while we were out on the trails with the kids a bit in front of us which was really nice. There is no biking or jogging aloud, so the visit was very relaxing and peaceful. There were not a lot of people walking the trails but we did see some and we also saw people walking their dogs. We did not bring our dogs this time, but the ability to bring a beloved family pet makes this place even more appealing.

The only thing I can say is at the pond there is no fence, so you do need to be very careful about your stroller and you have to keep a close eye on small children near the water. Parents must watch their children at all times in the arboretum as well. 

If you want more information about the trails, you can find it here along with a trail map here. There is also a really cool scavenger hunt you can do to get kids more involved during your visit. You can print the Forest Detective Scavenger Hunt checklist out by visiting here

The Savanna Field Station provides both shade and information about the nearby flora and fauna.

Supporting the Arboretum 

We really fell in love with this beautiful and majestic place in the middle of the city. Even my baby loved riding in the stroller on the trails. She looked up at the trees in amazement and was delighted when the breeze brushed against her skin. So, we will definitely be coming back frequently and we plan on supporting the arboretum by purchasing a family membership. 

Memberships start at $40 for an individual and $75 for a family of four. The memberships give you free parking and discounts on plant sales, special classes, and events. If you want to take photos at the arboretum you can pay $25 and that gives you the ability to take non-commercial photos for special events. Professional photographers are able to take photos by paying a fee of $125 for one photoshoot or they can use the arboretum on an ongoing basis with the purchase of the $150 Magnolia membership. You can also rent areas in the arboretum for showers, weddings, and birthday parties. 

New Attractions Coming Soon to the Arboretum 

There is a lot of construction going on at the arboretum right now. Several of the trails were closed for maintenance the day we were there and there are some new buildings that are being built. Several of the programs for kids have been suspended until after the construction is complete. However, the popular Tyke's Hike story time and nature walk is still taking place on select Mondays between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. The cost is $7 per person for non-members and you can find more information here

All photos by Charles Mayer courtesy the Houston Arboretum

Places featured in this article:

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center