For a relaxing break from city hustle, venture down the following urban trails…and learn about nature along the way. Regulations vary, but everywhere, follow the hiker's credo: Take only photographs and leave only footprints. Stay on marked trails to prevent erosion. Wear sturdy walking or hiking shoes. Carry insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water, plus a camera and binoculars.
River Legacy Living Science Center is at 703 NW Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington 76006; 817/860-6752. Web site: www.riverlegacy.com. Take Interstate 30 to Cooper St., and go north to the center's entrance. The center's exhibit hall features a simulated river-raft ride, live animals, interactive displays, and a gift shop. Open Mon-Sat 9-5. Admission is free. Wheelchair accessible. A guided hike takes place Sat. at 10 a.m., and an animal presentation on Friday afternoons. Oct-Dec hikes include searches for the rare Devil's Cigar fungus. Family activities such as night hikes, nature programs, and kite-making occur one Sat. each month. Educational programs include nature school for preschoolers, school field trips, and teacher workshops.
River Legacy Parks is next to the Living Science Center, at 701 NW Green Oaks Blvd. Hours: Daily 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible. Write to the Arlington Parks & Recreation Dept., Box 231, Arlington 76004-0231; 817/459-5474 (information) and 817/459-5473 (facility reservations). The park features pavilions, picnic areas, playgrounds, and nature trails. Call 10 days in advance for pavilion reservations.
McKelligon Canyon Park is on the east side of the Franklin Mountains, at 1331 McKelligon Canyon Rd. From I-10, take US 54 (Patriot Fwy.) north to Fred Wilson Rd., turn left, proceed to McKelligon Canyon Rd., then turn right, and go to the park entrance. Hours: Mon-Fri 8-5, Sat-Sun 6:30-8. Admission: $5. McKelligon Canyon Rd. ends in a loop fronted by parking lots and covered picnic areas. Unmarked trails lead from the picnic areas. (Once you leave the picnic areas, you enter Franklin Mountains State Park.) Trails are rated difficult; none are wheelchair accessible. The area is primitive, so hike in pairs or more; cell phones are advisable.
McKelligon offers private rental of a 450-seat rock pavilion and the popular McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater, home to concerts, the summer pageant Viva El Paso!, and the Shakespeare on the Rocks Festival. Write to McKelligon Canyon Park, Box 31340, El Paso 79931-0340; 915/565-6900 or 800/ 915-8482. For state park information, write to Franklin Mountains State Park, Box 200, Canutillo 79835; 915/566-6441.
Rock climbers enjoy the established climbing routes along unmarked trails in a box canyon behind the amphitheater. Contact the state park to register and get a required backcountry permit. Fee: \$2 per person per day. For climbing maps or a copy of the useful guidebook The Franklins by Lowell Stevenson (\$5.95), write to W.A.R.T.S. Army Surplus and Climbing, 4019 Van Buren Ave., El Paso 79930; 915/562-7515.
The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is at 9601 Fossil Ridge Rd., Fort Worth 76135; 817/392-7410. Take Loop 820 to Texas 199 (Jacksboro Hwy.), go west 4 miles, and look for signs. Refuge and trail hours: Daily 9-5. The Hardwicke Interpretive Center offers trail maps, a gift shop, herbarium, and exhibits. Center hours (year round): 9-4:30. Refuge hours: 8-5 (Oct-Apr), 7-5 (May-Sept), 7-7 (Summer weekends). Admission: $5 adults, $2 child, $3 seniors. Dogs on leashes only; no bikes or jogging on trails. The interpretive center, an adjacent short trail, a boardwalk to the marsh, and one picnic area are wheelchair accessible. Call for details on a variety of nature tours and programs.
Armand Bayou Nature Center is at 8500 Bay Area Blvd. (Box 58828), Houston 77258; 281/474-2551. Have big fun on the bayou, 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston. Take I-45 south to the Bay Area Blvd. exit, and go 6 miles northeast on Bay Area Blvd. Web site: http://www.abnc.org/. Hours: Wed-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5. Admission fees: ages 3 & under get free, $2 for ages 4-12 and 60+, and $4 for 13-59. The center includes a gift shop and an interpretive building that features exhibits, a bird blind, and two ponds. Wheelchair accessible (as is a viewing platform overlooking a prairie environment). Some paths are primitive, though rated as "easy walking" (not wheelchair accessible). No bikes or dogs allowed on trails. Maps are available. Call for information regarding guided hikes and pontoon boat tours.
At the center's Jimmy Martyn Farm, a replicated turn-of-the-century farm, buildings open Sat 1-4 and Sun 1-4, with guided tours and farm-life demonstrations.
Oct. 29, 2016, returning again for the first time in years is the Creepy Crawlers Halloween, including night walks in the woods. Open to the public and no admission fee. Nov. 14-15 brings the Martyn Farm Fall Festival, with music, crafts, demonstrations, wagon rides, and food.
Friedrich Wilderness Park is at 21395 Milsa, San Antonio 78256. Take I-10 west past Loop 1604, exit on Camp Bullis Rd., and watch for signs. Open everyday from sunrise to sunset. Arrive at least an hour before closing. Admission: Free. Forest Range Trail is wheelchair accessible; other trails rated easy to very difficult. No pets allowed. School and other group tours available with 60-day notice. Guided hikes offered the first Sat. of each month, and public education programs take place the second Sat. of each month. Call 210/207-7275 to make reservations today.