When the weather is rough, but you don't want it to keep you at home all weekend, it might be a perfect time to find a nature center near you and explore nature indoors -- especially if you have kids. The extent of the exhibits varies widely from center to center, but you're likely to find live turtles and/or snakes as well as hands-on activities. Most centers have naturalists available to answer questions and lead programs; some even offer birthday parties!
The map below shows 18 nature centers in the DC metro area. Click on a marker for more information -- or see below for a printable list. We could use your help, though: we haven't been to all of these centers. If you've been to one, we'd love to hear what you thought about it.
View Nature Centers in the DC Area in a larger map
Rock Creek Park Nature Center
Park: Rock Creek Park is an amazing 1,754 acres in the middle of the city.
Nature Center: Exhibits tell about the park's wildlife and forest, including both stuffed and live animals. And there's a planetarium that has regularly scheduled programs about the night sky.
Address: 5200 Glover Road NW, Washington DC.
Long Branch Nature Center
Park: 17 acre Long Branch Park connects to 97 acre Glencarlyn Park, with access to Long Branch stream, Four-Mile Run and the W&OD bike trail.
Nature Center: A very large one, with animal and plant exhibits, a children's discovery room, and an indoor pond. Closed Mondays.
Address: 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington, VA 22204
Gulf Branch Nature Center
Park: Gulf Branch Park is 38 acres with wooded nature trails and open fields. The park also includes a log cabin and a blacksmith shop, which may be open on weekends.
Nature Center: has exhibits, a children's discovery room, live animal exhibits (including a beehive), and a pond. Closed Mondays.
Address: 3608 Military Road, Arlington, VA 22207
Phone: (703) 228-3403
Park: 70 acres of woodland, trails, educational gardens, and a small picnic area.
Nature Center: has live animals, natural history exhibits, and an "Energerium" with exhibits that examine the role that energy plays in living and non-living systems. Closed Mondays.
Address: 2845 N. Marcey Road, Arlington, VA 22207
Riverbend Nature Center
Park: Riverbend Park is 418 acres along the Potomac River, with over 10 miles of trails.
Nature Center: Overlooks the Potomac River. Has live animal displays, natural and cultural exhibits, and activities for children.
Address: 8700 Potomac Hills Street, Great Falls, VA 22066
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
Park: Annandale Community Park has 52 acres, with a short nature trail.
Nature Center: An exhibit called Urban Woodlands: Habitats and Havens explores the different levels of the forest (from underground to treetops), including hands on learning activities as well as live turtles and snakes. Closed Tuesdays.
Address: 7701 Royce St., Annandale VA 22003
Hidden Pond Nature Center
Park: Hidden Pond is a 1 acre pond adjacent to wooded 700 acre Pohick Stream Valley Park.
Nature Center: Exhibits and live displays to orient you to the park and the natural world. Closed Tuesdays.
Address:8511 Greeley Boulevard, Springfield, VA 22152
Great Falls Visitor Center
Park: Everybody loves Great Falls. The park is 800 acres with many miles of trails besides the ones that go to the falls.
Nature Center: A children's room includes games and puzzles as well as a please-touch table, where children can explore items they may encounter in the park. There's also a short video you can watch on the 11,000 year history of Great Falls.
Address: 9200 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, VA 22102
Huntley Meadows Visitor Center
Park: Huntley Meadows boasts 1,425 acres -- the highlight is the wetlands, but it also includes woods and meadows.
Nature Center: Exhibits about the park and the animals found there, including some hands-on exhibits for kids and recordings of different birds.
Address: Alexandria, VA 22306
Walker Nature Education Center
Park: Located on 72 wooded acres, with 2 miles of trails.
Nature Center: Opened in late 2009, the LEED_certified nature center includes turtles and snakes, other exhibits, and multimedia materials. Closed Tuesdays.
Address: 11450 Glade Drive, Reston, VA 20191
Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center
Park: Dora Kelley Nature Park is 50 acres, with a mile-long trail through woods and marsh.
Nature Center: Live and stuffed animals including live fish, turtles, snakes, toads and salamanders, and mounted black bear, red fox, turkey and bobcat; games and activity stations for children; interpretive exhibits on local geology, prehistory, and history. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Address: 5750 Sanger Ave. Alexandria, VA
Brookside Nature Center
Park: Wheaton Regional Park has 536 acres with 11 miles of wooded trails as well as developed playground and botanical garden areas.
Nature Center: has live animal exhibits, including snakes, a tank with turtles and fish, and an observation beehive, as well as hands-on children's nature discovery areas. Closed Mondays.
Address: 1400 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD 20902
Meadowside Nature Center
Park: Rock Creek Regional Park is 1800 acres, with 2 lakes and 13 miles of trails.
Nature Center: a kid-sized cave, live animals, and hands-on materials like animal skins, as well as exhibits on Native Americans and Maryland pioneers. Outdoors, there are several rehabilitating raptors in an aviary area. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Address: 5100 Meadowside Lane, Rockville, Maryland 20855
Locust Grove Nature Center
Park: Cabin John Regional Park is 528 acres, with a few short trails connecting to the 8.8 mile Cabin John Stream Valley Trail. There are also more developed recreation activities (most famously an indoor ice skating rink).
Nature Center: An oak tree is the focal point of the main room, with an exhibit on the life cycle and the living things the tree supports. The center also has live animals, and nature related toys and activities. Outside, the Nature Exploration Area includes a sand pit for digging, logs and blocks for building, tubes for musical exploration, and other hands-on nature play. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Address: 7777 Democracy Boulevard, Bethesda, Maryland 20817
Croydon Creek Nature Center
Park: Rockville Civic Center Park includes 120 acres of forest, open meadow areas, and the creek with about 2 miles of trails.
Nature Center: Live animals include turtles, snakes, and frogs, hands-on activities, a watershed themed exhibit,and computer resources such as a birdsong training program. Closed Mondays.
Address: 852 Avery Road, Rockville, MD 20851
Prince George's County
Clearwater Nature Center
Park: Cosca Regional Park is a 690 acre mixed use park that includes both undeveloped areas and recreation facilities, including a lake and 25 campsites.
Nature Center: The nature center features a small indoor pond, live animals (including live mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and a bald eagle), and a rock laboratory.
Address: 11000 Thrift Road, Clinton, MD 20735
Watkins Nature Center
Park: Watkins Regional Park is 850 acres, including facilities ranging from basketball and tennis courts to a farm and a campground. The park has several miles of hiking and biking trails.
Nature Center: The nature center has lots of opportunities for observing live animals, including indoor and outdoor ponds, a songbird feeding area, a squirrel gym, native owls, hawks, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Address: 301 Watkins Park Drive Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center National Wildlife Visitor Center
Park: The 12,841 acre Patuxent Research Refuge has a few miles of trails that go through woods and wetlands areas. Tram tours run March through November.
Mount Rainer Nature/Recreation Center
Park: Located in an urban park with a soccer field next to the PG swimming pool.
Nature Center: Hands-on exhibits, live animals, and the self-guided Mount Rainier Tree Trail.
Address: 4701 31st Place, Mount Rainier, MD 20712