North Texas is experiencing gorgeous days lately, so we are taking advantage of the terrific weather by getting outside. Most families in North Texas find summers too hot, so an early spring means there is more time for fun, outdoor play. I have very active 6 year old twin boys so we often get out and hike. I’m using the term “hike” loosely here since I have two smaller children and I am not terribly outdoorsy. While there are plenty of great playgrounds in the area, my children are at a curious age where they like to explore and pretend they are Ewoks or Hobbits running though the woods on exciting adventures.
Some of these suggestions can be more difficult terrain to navigate for some and we are in no way avid outdoors people. Rather, these are some fun places around Plano that I have found for my children to get out to learn about nature while exercising and enjoying the weather before the dog days of summer arrive.
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve
When we first started hiking a few years ago, we started out with Arbor Hills Nature Preserve located at 6701 W. Parker Rd. in Plano, TX. I picked this area since it has nice amenities like restrooms, shaded pavilion areas and a playground in case hiking was an epic failure with four year old twins. Parking at this city park can be a chore on weekends, but don’t get discouraged by the crowds. There are plenty of less populated areas in this large park to picnic or explore. The paved walkways are great for strollers or wagons with a lot of shaded areas to walk. If you have older children, I’d highly suggest getting off the beaten path. This area has so much to offer with some more rugged hiking areas, shallow waters and lots of lush green. Every time we go, we find new places or areas to explore. If the hiking is a big failure for your little ones, there is a large playground area near the pavilion where they can get some good exercise.
Spring Creek Forest Preserve
Recently, we discovered the Spring Creek Forest Preserve at 1787 and 1770 Holford Rd. in Garland, TX just where it meets Plano on the President George H.W. Bush Turnpike. This area on either side of Holford Rd. with paved parking at both addresses. The 1770 address has a pavilion with large stones to sit and picnic, paved walkways and a restroom. This side of the preserve may be easier to navigate if you have a stroller or really small children. The paved area has multiple forks in the road and some walk ways dead end into a great waterway. Some of the trees in this area are reportedly 100-300 years old with some 4 feet in diameter and are a sight to see.
The 1787 Holford Rd. side is less developed but is my favorite part of the nature preserve. This side has some shaded picnic tables but no restroom facilities. There are several unpaved hiking trails that lead down to various parts of the waterway running through the land. If you hike fifteen minutes into the woods, you can see several spots where you can easily walk down to running water. There are plenty of spots with water only a few inches deep. While we do hike in tennis shoes, water shoes would be great to have in your backpack at this location so kids can wade in the water safely without fear of sharp rocks. Most areas have clear, clean water but there are some spots where the water becomes deep and stagnant. This land is a nature preserve, so there are a lot of downed trees that are the homes for all sorts of critters. I reminded my children we should avoid stomping through there since we were in nature and this was the habitat for wildlife and plants. Spring Creek Forest Preserve is not a city park, so it is more rugged it it’s natural state, but is still very accessible and certainly a great place to hike.
My favorite new discovery is Steeplechase Park at 1500 Balcones Dr. in Plano, TX. There is no paved parking area, but plenty of space on the curb to safely park your car. This city park has a great playground with lots of established trees overhead providing good shade a large part of the day. There is a pavilion area with a lot of tables for picnics, but no restroom area. The park has huge fields and my kids used to run on them to get energy out. There are plenty of paved walkways that are stroller friendly, but the fields are not quite as easy to navigate on wheels. Recently, we ventured into the small wooded area in this park and discovered the most delightful creek area. The water is pretty clear and shallow with some stepping stones placed where you can easily cross over it. Heavy vines dangle down from the trees and someone had fashioned a fun swing with handles. My boys got to swing through the woods like wild men. The best part is there are several small play houses made entirely of brush or tree trunks. The huts are large enough to picnic or play in if desired. The area is clean and free of debris or litter, making it an easy outing with small kids. My boys spent 2 hours exploring this area the day we found it and said it was “the best adventure ever.”
Plano Veterans Memorial Park
The Plano Veterans Memorial Park at 5024 Custer Rd. in Plano, TX is a great area for walks with strollers. Older kids can go off the paved walking trail to explore and still be within sight. This park as a wonderful memorial for our veterans mixed in with a playground area and restroom facilities. If you are more adventurous, you can explore the creek where there are plenty of ducks and nutria, which are similar to beavers but with a rat-like tail. Anytime there has been a lot of rain, we hike in this area on the walkways to avoid major mud. The walkways extend under several major roadways in Plano and have fun stone artwork along the walk.
Being prepared with kids is essential when out on hikes or “in the wild.” We always wear tennis shoes and long pants, and spray ourselves for bugs. I also find it helpful to bring a change of clothes to leave in the car for my boys so they can explore and get dirty and a towel to put down in my car while they change. While some places have great picnic areas, we usually hike between meals for simplicity and simply bring our water bottles. Any snacks we bring can be eaten along the way and I usually pack a few because all the exercise makes for hungry kids. Lastly, I like to be sure when we leave an area, we leave no trace. We always take our trash or anything else we bring on the hike. These natural areas are so much more fun for others to explore when they are free of litter or debris. It also helps teach my children to respect nature and that we are visitors in the park or forest we have chosen to explore.
I hope that you can get out with your kids this spring season and create your own adventures. I’ll let you in on a fun secret too; kids who have moved all day are very tired at night so it makes for a particularly easy bedtime with no evening shenanigans for mom or dad.