nature centers & programs
Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Dr., Hales Corners
The Boerner Botanical Gardens are located inside Whitnall Park in Hales Corners. They contain nearly a dozen different specialty gardens featuring annuals, perennials, roses, rocks, herbs, shrubs, and trees It's the perfect place to get across the idea that it's okay to "stop and smell the roses" once in a while. A group can easily spend an hour or more on a leisurely stroll. There are picnic tables and open spaces near the gardens, so there are also places for kids to run.
Because the gardens are fragile and include plants with thorns, adults should keep a close eye on their young charges.
Children age 5 and under get in FREE; admission for children ages 6 to 17 is $3.00. Any age student with ID $4.00. Adult admission is $5.00; seniors 60 and over $4.00.
Group rates: Minimum group of 20. Admission is $2.50 each for children 6 to 17, $4.00 for adults. Advance purchase is required.
The gardens are open between 8:00 a.m. and dusk, from April through October. Free parking. The building is open Monday through Friday, April through October, 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Call (414) 525-5600 or visit http://www.county.milwaukee.gov/GardensampNature10112.htm
Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Dr., Hales Corners
For a fee, The Friends of Boerner Botanical Gardens offer educational programs developed especially for kids. These programs can be set up for different age groups.
Call Monica Jeske at (414) 525-5659 for details or visit www.boernerbotanicalgardens.org
The Domes, also known as the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory
524 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee
The Mitchell Park Domes are one of Milwaukee’s most unique attractions. The Arid Dome houses desert plants and the Tropical Dome is home to rainforest plants. The Floral Show Dome offers themed horticultural displays that change from time to time.
Adult supervision of children is essential inside the Domes because of the narrow paths and delicate nature of the plants and habitats. Seasonal exhibits often feature attractions that are especially fun for kids.The Domes also features a hands-on educational facility that even very young children will enjoy. They can touch different plants and see animals that live in deserts and rainforests. Educational programs for various age groups are available for a fee, which includes admission. These must be arranged in advance.
Admission to the Domes is FREE for Milwaukee County residents on Mondays between 9:00 a.m. and noon (excluding holidays and holiday observances). An adult group leader must show proof of County residency or proof that the group is from Milwaukee County. Letterhead that shows a Milwaukee County business address is accepted as proof.
Non-county resident admission: Children under age 6 are FREE. Children ages 6-17 $5.00, Adults $6.50. Seniors 60+ $5. Persons with disabilities $5.00. Student with ID $5.00.
Call (414) 649-8375 to reach the Education Center. For hours and more information, call (414) 649-9830 or visit www.county.milwaukee.gov/GardensampNature10112.htm
Hank Aaron State Trail
Seven miles of continuous trail for bicyclists, walkers, runners, and skaters runs between Miller Park and the lakefront. The paved trail follows portions of the Menomonee River and Canal Street through the Menomonee Valley Community Park, east to the 6th Street Bridge, through the Historic Third Ward to the new Lakeshore State Park, and then connects to Milwaukee County's Oak Leaf Trail.
Along the trail are picnic tables, bird watching opportunities, trout and salmon runs, a wild rice marsh, and acres of native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs.
For additional information and a map, call (414) 263-8559 or visit www.hankaaronstatetrail.org
Havenwoods State Forest, and the Havenwoods Environmental Awareness Center
6141 N. Hopkins St., Milwaukee
This 237-acre state forest is located south of Mill Road and west of 43rd Street. Havenwoods offers visitors a chance to enjoy open green space in the midst of an urban environment. Six miles of hiking and bike trails lead through grasslands and scattered woodlands. While it’s open to all, kids 6 years and older are probably more likely than younger children to enjoy a visit to Havenwoods.
Kids' groups are encouraged to create their own nature programs when visiting Havenwoods. To help make this possible, insect nets, animal track guides and pond study equipment are available FREE of charge at the education center on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve the equipment, call the number below a week or more in advance of your visit.
Admission is FREE and does not require a State Park vehicle sticker. The grounds at Havenwoods are open daily between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. The education center is open Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Naturalist-run programs are also available for a fee of $2.00 per person. Please contact Sue Johansen.
Call (414) 527-0232 or visit dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/specific/havenwoods/
1130 N. 60th St., Milwaukee
This outdoor education center on Milwaukee's west side includes 23 acres of woodland and prairie, and is home to many species of animals. The facilities include a ¾-mile hiking and cross-country skiing trail, a playground, picnic areas, and a nature museum.
The grounds and museum are FREE to families and small groups. One-hour nature programs are available for $1.00 per person, with a minimum fee of $30.00.
The park is open daily between 7:00 a.m. and dusk. The Nature Museum is open for children and small groups (under 15 people) Monday through Friday between 4:00 and 4:45 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday between 11:00 and 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 and 4:00 p.m.
It's best to make group arrangements in advance for your visit. To reserve a picnic area or meeting room, call Priscilla, Milwaukee Recreation Dept., at (414) 647-6050. For nature programs, call (414) 475-5300.
Milwaukee by Bike
Getting around Milwaukee by bike is a safe, fun way to get some exercise while you see the sites. Whether you plan a short ride with young children or a daylong expedition for teens, you will find on-street and off-road routes suitable for you and your group on the Milwaukee by Bike map.
To obtain a map, visit www.milwaukeebybike.org
Urban Ecology Center
1500 E. Park Place, Milwaukee – Riverside Park
1859 N. 40th Street, Milwaukee – Washington Park
The Urban Ecology Center (UEC) has two locations: Riverside Park on Milwaukee's near north side and Washington Park on Milwaukee’s west side. Both locations offer a variety of seasonal events, day programs and classes for both children and adults.
A popular FREE program at Riverside Park is Animal Feeding, each Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Kids learn about the animals while helping the staff feed them. Weekends also often have drop-in programs available for young children, and the facilities are open to everyone.
Also at Riverside Park are the FREE Scientist Saturday and Scientist Sunday drop-in programs that feature a different theme each month. Self-directed indoor and outdoor activities are provided for kids of all ages.
Riverside's Young Scientist Club meets year round on Monday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. The club is FREE for UEC members, non-members pay a $5 annual fee.
The Washington Park location is open Tuesday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Washington Park’s Young Scientist Club meets Tuesday through Friday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., with different themed activities each day. FREE fishing in the lagoon, with a fishing coach, is offered Wednesday from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. The club is FREE for UEC members, non-members pay a $5 annual fee.
On Saturday, the Washington Park location offers the FREE Animal Feeding at 1:00 p.m. Other events are planned.
While many activities at the Urban Ecology Centers are FREE, there may be a small per person cost to participate in some programs and classes. Most for-fee programs and classes can be designed for a particular age group or interest, if requested.
Summer camp programs led by professional environmental educators are offered for kids age 3 through teens. Before and after care is available.
For more information and hours, call Jamie at Riverside Park, (414) 964-8505, or Scott at Washington Park, (414) 344-5460 or visit www.urbanecologycenter.org
Wehr Nature Center
9701 W. College Ave., Franklin
The Wehr Nature Center is part of Whitnall Park. More than five miles of groomed hiking trails lead visitors through different natural habitats with their diverse plants and animals: prairie, woodlands, wetlands, and an oak savanna. Mallard Lake lives up to its name as home to ducks and a variety of other water fowl. The Visitor Center features natural history displays and live reptiles. Wehr offers special Kids in the Park days, as well as events including Bird Fest, Migratory Bird Day, Astronomy Day, Bug Day, and seasonal activities.
Small, family-size, adult-supervised groups can hike the Wehr trails for FREE, although there is a $3.00 plus tax parking fee. While kids age 3 and older might enjoy the shorter trails, Wehr is more appropriate for kids age 6 and older.
School, scout and other large groups should pre-register for an organized group nature hike led by a Center naturalist. There are fees for these hikes, and they vary depending on the type of group. Call for information on availability and reservations.
The Wehr Nature Center also offers a variety of educational programs through the Milwaukee County Nature in the Parks program. Most require advance sign-up and a fee.
Call (414) 425-8550 or visit www.county.milwaukee.gov/WehrNatureCenter10115.htm
Retzer Nature Center
S14 W28167 Madison St., Waukesha
Located just west of the city of Waukesha, the 400-acre Retzer Nature Center offers visitors a number of short hiking trails through different environments and habitats. One special trail, the 800-foot-long Adventure Trail, includes 30 interpretive stops that highlight animals and plants that are native to Wisconsin. The unique Brown's Fen Boardwalk Trail offers the sights and sounds of the fen and marsh.
All Retzer trails include some interpretive stops and each has a color-coded brochure available at the trailhead. Visitors can climb the two observation towers for a bird's eye view of the area, or enjoy a picnic on the patio. Retzer is most appropriate for kids age 6 and older.
The Environmental Education Center features a touch-and-learn area and runs various programs: some involve fees, and some are FREE. Most events require advance registration, whether they are free or not. Grounds are open from sunrise to 10:00 p.m. daily. The Center is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Parking is $3.00 unless you have a current Waukesha County Park sticker.
Call (262) 896-8007 or visit www.waukeshacountyparks.com
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit
S91 W39091 Hwy 59, Eagle
The southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest straddles Jefferson, Walworth and Waukesha Counties. It is, hands down, one of the most beautiful places to hike in the region. With 21,000 acres and seven self-guided trails, there's lot of room to stretch your legs and all of it is FREE.
Kettle Moraine has a number of special features. One is the Stute Springs & Homestead Nature Trail. The Stute family homesteaded this pretty piece of land, which includes a freshwater spring. Several of the buildings they constructed and the trails they created still exist, providing insight into the lives of Wisconsin's early settlers. There are three restored log cabins as shown on Park maps. Beautiful Paradise Springs is nearby, as is a Visitor Center.
The Forest Headquarters and Visitor Center features a FREE Natural History Museum and 20-minute video that explains how the Kettle Moraine was formed. Groups are advised to call ahead.
There are also several for-fee attractions in the area, including Old World Wisconsin and the Kettle Moraine Ranch. Mountain biking is possible on the John Muir and Emma Carlin trails, but it’s only appropriate for older kids in a supervised group. Please note that Trail Passes are required for all off-road bikers age 16 years old or older. Paved roads do not require the Pass. Bikes and equipment can be rented from the LaGrange General Store in LaGrange. Call the store at (262) 495-8600 for details.
Kettle Moraine’s daily entry fee is $7.00 per car or a State Park vehicle sticker. Fee waivers are available for school and certain other groups.
Call (262) 594-6200 or visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/kms/
Richard Bong State Recreation Area
26313 Burlington Rd., Kansasville
The Richard Bong State Recreation Area is located off Hwy 142 between Burlington and I-94. The 4,515-acre recreation area has more than 41 miles of trails through rolling grassland, wetlands and scattered woodlands. Visitors can swim in the sandy-bottom lake, fish, picnic in one of four areas, or use the horseshoe pits, volleyball courts or baseball diamond. Because it's often windy at Bong, it's a great place to fly a kite.
The Nature Center and solarium are also open to visitors FREE of charge. Bong has a naturalist on staff who can arrange for a FREE group "Bucket Tour." A Bucket Tour consists of different outdoor activities and is designed for groups of 8 to 16 people. Call in advance of your trip and speak to Beth Goeppinger. Explorer Books and Explorer packs are available for family-sized group activities.
Please note that biking on the unpaved trails at the Bong Recreation Area requires a Trail Pass for each biker 16 or older, per the DNR regulations. To visit the park, a fee of $7.00 per car is required, or a State Park vehicle sticker.
For more information and trail reports, call (262) 878-5600 and press "0" or visit dnr.wi.gov/org/land/parks/specific/bong/
River Bend Nature Center
3600 N. Green Bay Rd., Racine
River Bend Nature Center is located on 80 acres along the banks of the Root River in Racine. The forests, fields and wetlands are habitats for many different plant and wildlife communities. There are many recreational opportunities for hikers, cross-country skiers, paddlers, bird watchers, and students of nature.
The YWCA of Racine offers a variety of educational programs for kids preschool through teens, as well as seasonal events at River Bend. Programs include a maple-sugaring event in April, canoe and kayak trips on the Root River, cross-country skiing, teambuilding, scouting programs, and birthday parties. Some building rentals are also available.
The Center's hiking trails are FREE to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Fees and registration generally apply to River Bend programs and events.
For more information and building hours, call (262) 639-0930 or visit www.riverbendracine.org/page1.aspx
Wind Point Lighthouse
The Wind Point Lighthouse has become a familiar icon of the Racine area, thanks to the many artists and photographers who have captured its beauty.
Built in 1880, the lighthouse helped make Racine a safe harbor. Before the lighthouse began guiding Lake Michigan boaters, a lone tree served as a landmark for sailors off the Point. The Fog Horn Building Museum is open to the public during the summer, and lighthouse climb events are suitable for children ages 6 and older for a per-person fee.
The lighthouse buildings serve as municipal offices for the Village of Wind Point and are not open to the public, but the grounds are open from sunrise to 11:00 p.m. and FREE to groups who want to walk the area and look around.
For more information, call Lyle Anderson, Museum Director at (262) 639-8282 or visit www.windpoint-lighthouse.com
Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary
1901 Shalom Drive, West Bend
The preserve's wilderness, lake, forest, and prairie meadows are home to elk, bison, whitetail deer, and Dall sheep in their natural environment. In spring, animals get frisky as they stretch their legs after winter. Baby animals appear in the summer months.
The Sanctuary's grounds are open to the public from May 1 through Nov 1. Self-guided and guided tours are available; guided tours are given in a "buck buggy," a four- or six-person golf cart. Special seasonal events, educational programs and treasure hunts are posted on the web site.
Admission is FREE to children 2 years old and younger. Children ages 3-12 are $6.50, adults $9.00, seniors $8.50. Group rates are available, but reservations are required.
For more information, call Lana Fechter: (262) 338-1310 or visit http://www.shalomwildlife.com/
Aztalan State Park
County Highway Q, Jefferson
Take a step back in time at Wisconsin's most important archaeological site: an ancient Middle-Mississippian village and ceremonial complex that thrived between A.D. 1000 and 1300.
The people who settled Aztalan built mounds and a stockade around their village. They hunted, fished and farmed on the Crawfish River and surrounding floodplain. Portions of the stockade and two mounds have been reconstructed in the park.
The park consists mainly of open prairie, although oak woodlands cover 38 of its 172 acres. The park does not have a boat launch, but visitors with their own equipment can canoe, boat and fish in the Crawfish River.
It is open daily between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. A fee of $7 per day per car or a State Park vehicle sticker is required.
For more information, call Sarah Bolser at (608) 873-9695 or visit dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/aztalan/
N6264 Hwy Q, Jefferson
The Aztalan Museum, operated by the Lake Mills-Aztalan Historical Society, Inc., is just north of the park. It includes two pioneer church buildings and other structures from the 19th century, and displays of pioneer life. The Historical Society celebrates the past with Aztalan Day, a pioneer festival, on Sunday, July 4. The day includes Trash & Treasures, food and fun events for the entire family.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday between noon and 4:00 p.m., mid-May through mid-September, including Memorial Day and Labor Day. Admission is FREE to children under age 6. Admission is $1.00 for children ages 6 to 17, $3.00 for adults. Schools and large groups may make appointments.
For more information, call (920) 648-4632 or (920) 648-4496.
Lake Mills Fish Hatchery
302 S. Main St., Lake Mills
The Lake Mills Fish Hatchery is located off I-94 in Jefferson County. The Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources hatches and rears Coho salmon, Northern pike and walleye. Visitors can stroll the grounds FREE year-round. With 35 ponds at the site, there’s a lot to see, especially in April and May when the hatchery is most active.
Please check in at the office before entering the grounds for the daily update of open areas. Note that the Hatchery has safety precautions in place to prevent the occurrence or spread of any diseases to or from the fish. Visitors and groups are required to comply with these precautions; if they are unable or unwilling to do so, they are not allowed onto the grounds.
Groups of 12 or more should call in advance to schedule a 45-minute tour.
The facility is open to the public Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Please call for Saturday hours. The facility is closed on Sunday.
For more information, call (920) 648-8012 or visit dnr.wi.gov/fish/hatchery/hatcheries.htm#Lake