North Texas is experiencing gorgeous days lately, and we’re taking advantage of the terrific weather by getting outside. Most families in North Texas find summers too hot, so an early spring means there’s 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’m not terribly outdoorsy. While there are plenty of great playgrounds in the Dallas 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 hike suggestions may be more difficult terrain to navigate for some, but keep in mind we are in no way avid outdoors people. Rather, these are fun places around Plano where my kids can get out and learn about nature while exercising and enjoying the spring weather.
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 spot because 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 Arbor Hills Nature Preserve can be a chore on weekends, but don’t get discouraged by the crowds. There are plenty of less populated areas in this large city park to picnic or explore. The paved walkways are great for strollers or wagons and there are a lot of shaded areas to walk. If you have older children, I’d highly suggest getting off the beaten path. This park has so much to offer with more rugged hiking areas, shallow waters, and lots of lush green. Every time we go, we find new places or areas to explore. You’ll find the large playground area near the pavilion.
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 spans both sides of Holford Rd. with paved parking at both addresses. The 1770 side 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 a few of the walkways dead end into a great waterway. Some of the trees in this area are reportedly 100–300 years old and 4 feet in diameter, which is a sight to see.
The 1787 Holford Rd. side is less developed but is my favorite part of the nature preserve. This side has shaded picnic tables but no restroom facilities. There are several unpaved hiking trails that lead down to various parts of the waterway that runs through the land. If you hike fifteen minutes into the woods, you’ll find several spots where you can easily walk down to running water that’s usually 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. Most areas have clear, clean water but there are a few spots where the water becomes deeper and stagnant. This land is a nature preserve, so you’ll see a lot of downed trees that are the home to all sorts of critters. I remind my children we should avoid stomping through because this is a habitat for wildlife and plants.
Spring Creek Forest Preserve is not a city park; it’s more rugged and in its natural state. But it’s 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 street to safely park your car. This city park has a great playground with lots of established trees overhead providing good shade for 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 always 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 here and discovered the most delightful creek. The water is pretty clear and shallow with stepping stones placed so 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. We found the area to be clean and free of debris or litter, making it an easy outing with small kids. My boys spent 2 hours exploring 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 place 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’re 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. Any time 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 artwork along the stone walls.
Being prepared is essential when out on hikes or “in the wild” with kids. We always wear tennis shoes and long pants and spray ourselves for bugs. I also find it helpful to bring a change of clothes so my boys can explore and get dirty. I’ll leave them in my car along with a towel to put down when they change. While some places have great picnic areas, we usually hike between meals for simplicity and only 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 shenanigans for mom or dad.