Best Places in OKC to Explore Nature - MetroFamily Magazine
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Best Places in OKC to Explore Nature

by Jennifer Sharpe

Get outside and enjoy nature in the metro as a family this spring!  “Exploring nature provides many benefits, especially when experienced as a family,” said Jennifer McClintock, spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. “First and foremost, it helps you re-connect with the people closest to you. When you’re hiking in the woods or along a trail, you can let go and experience the world as it was intended to be.”

“Families can look for wildlife together, play a game of nature ‘I Spy,’ go geocaching, or participate in a nature scavenger hunt, all of which can improve observation and communication skills, especially as it gets everyone away from video screens and smartphones, which are such a constant part of our lives these days,” McClintock adds.

There is no better time than spring to get outside and enjoy nature with your family. And the best news is, you don’t have to travel far to experience the wonders of nature. It’s all right here in Oklahoma. Ready to unplug and reconnect with your family? Here are five beautiful places to rediscover nature close to home.

Urban Paradise

Martin Park Nature Center (5000 W. Memorial Rd, www.okc.gov/parks) is a 144-acre preserve located in northwest Oklahoma City. Martin Park is home to many species of animals including butterflies, squirrels, deer, foxes, coyotes, armadillos and a multitude of birds. Hiking trails weave through the wooded and grassland areas of the park, with signage and trail maps available to guide and educate visitors. Additional park amenities include a playground, pavilion for rent, restrooms and an education center offering a variety of educational programs. Regular park hours are 5 a.m. – 6 p.m., Oct. 1 – March 31 & 5 a.m. – 9 p.m., April 1 – Sept. 30.

The Path to Good Health

The Bert Cooper Trails at Lake Hefner (Britton Road near Lake Hefner Parkway, www.okc.gov/trails) are multi-use paved paths that loop around an approximately 9.1-mile circumference of the lake. The 6- and 12-foot wide paved trails are perfect for biking, roller blading, walking and running and are open from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily. Clear signs and maps help to keep park goers oriented. Other amenities along the trails include portable restrooms, drinking fountains and picnic areas. Lake Hefner, its parks and the Bert Cooper trails offer many activities for all ages to enjoy, including access to fishing docks, ball fields, playgrounds, restaurants and the Lake Hefner Golf Course. Ample parking is offered at a variety of points around the lake, with large lots along the east side of the lake accessible from Britton or Hefner Roads, or on the south side of the lake at Stars & Stripes Park.

Horticulture Heaven

Located in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City,  the Myriad Gardens (301 W. Reno, www.myriadgardens.org) is a 17-acre park between West Reno, West Sheridan, South Hudson and South Robinson Avenues. A children’s garden, an off-leash dog park, restaurant, splash fountains and paths for walking and jogging provide families with ample opportunities to explore nature right in the city. The outdoor grounds hours are 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily and access is free.

The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory in the center of the Myriad Gardens allows visitors to explore more than 2,000 varieties of plants, plus a 35-foot waterfall beautifully displayed inside a unique, cylindrical building. The Crystal Bridge includes 13,000 square feet of plant display area in two distinct climates: a Tropical Wet Zone and a Tropical Dry Zone. Hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, students and active military, $5 for children ages 4–12. Children under 4 are free.

The Myriad Gardens offers a variety of events including classes, festivals and horticultural education programs for adults and children throughout the year.

Outdoor Adventures

Arcadia Lake is located approximately two miles east of I-35 between 15th and 2nd Streets in Edmond. The lake is part of the Deep Fork River and offers 26 miles of total shoreline for lots of outdoor adventure, including fishing, boating, skiing, swimming and other water sports. Three inter-connected city parks are located in the northwest section of the lake, including the 249-acres Central State Park (7900 E. 2nd St),  Edmond Park (7100 E. 2nd St) and Spring Creek Park (7200 E. 15th St). All parks are open for playing and outdoor recreation from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. for day use, and camping is also available. The parks offer parking areas, playgrounds, swimming, restrooms, pavilions, lake access and trails. Spring Creek Park also offers two 18-hole Frisbee disc golf courses. The lake’s most popular trail is the 6.5 mile multiple-use trail which extends from the main park office to Spring Creek Park. Originally designed for mountain bikers, this single dirt track trail also attracts hikers, cross-country runners and walkers to enjoy the twisting and winding trail that features beautiful bridges and water crossings.

Spring Creek Trail runs from a new Wellness Park on the west side of I-35 to Spring Creek Park and the Arcadia Lake Trail, a paved 18-mile trail around the lake, enables walkers, joggers and cyclists to enjoy the natural beauty of the area while preserving the native habitat and vegetation. Find more information at edmondok.com/418/Trails.

Nature in Norman

The George M. Sutton Wilderness Park (1920 12th Ave N.E., Norman) is comprised of approximately 200 acres of native land, including  a lake, gazebo and walking/jogging course. The park is a thriving ecosystem, designed as a representation of the natural ecology of Oklahoma. Dirt trails connect the park’s various habitats, which include prairie patches, wooded areas surrounding a lake, creeks, ponds and marshes. A variety of plants and animals thrive in this mixed habitat, including reptiles, mammals and a variety of rodents. Named after the internationally-recognized bird artist and University of Oklahoma professor George Miksch Sutton, the park attracts a large variety of both year-round and migratory birds (including great egrets, great blue herons, belted kingfishers, painted buntings, numerous native sparrows, Nashville warblers, red-winged blackbirds, hawks and owls), making it a perfect place to introduce children to bird watching and identification. Free ample parking is located adjacent to the park and the park closes at dusk.

Plan Your Adventure

In addition to spending the time outside, numerous studies have shown that even a short walk in a natural environment can help improve mode and decrease stress. “Regular contact with nature can improve brain function, and even help children who are affected by ADHD or certain spectrum disorders learn to focus,” McClintock concludes. “There is simply no drawback to experiencing the outdoors, especially when it’s so close at hand.” So unplug, pack some snacks, apply sunscreen and lace up your sneakers for a fun family adventure outdoors.

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