You might not expect to find an outdoor haven just minutes from the hectic doorstep of Fort Worth. But that’s exactly what you will discover at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge! As a local Texan who has spent much of my life in the area, this is one of my favorite gems, and you can’t beat the convenience in location. Find out just what makes this refuge so endearing to visitors, with serene hiking trails, boating opportunities, wildlife spotting, and more!
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Guide to the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
At over 3,000 acres in size, and more than 20 miles of hiking trails, there is much to explore at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. In fact, it is one of the largest city owned nature centers in the entire United States!
What to Know Before You Go
Entrance Fees: $6 per person ages 13 – 64 / $2 per child ages 3 – 12 / FREE for children under 3 / $3 per senior ages 65 and older
Hours: September – April 8AM – 5PM / May – August 7AM – 5PM (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Days) *Last Entry at 4PM
Hardwicke Interpretive Center Hours: 9AM – 4:30PM
Pet Policy: Leashed pets are allowed
Best Time of Year to Visit: late fall – late spring
Bathrooms: there are several bathrooms located in the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. There is one centrally located at the Hardwicke Interpretive Center, one located in the southeast portion of the park at the trailheads for the hiking trails, and one located in the northern portion of the park near the trailheads for the hiking trails.
Parking: there are multiple places to park across the Fort Worth Nature Center, and these are all indicated on the map you will receive upon entry. There is parking at all the major trailheads.
Hiking Trails: there are separate hiking trails in the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, although many of them connect to each other. Each trail is coded with a color and symbol, and trail intersection are well marked with signage. It is recommended to pick up a trail map upon entering the Fort Worth Nature Center, and familiarize yourself with the symbol and color codes of your planned hiking trails before starting, as well as the locations of bathrooms, picnic areas, and parking lots.
Location of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge is located in northwest Fort Worth, Texas. The address is 9601 Fossil Ridge Road, Fort Worth, TX, 76135. It will show up when plugged into Google Maps.
Tips for Visiting the Fort Worth Nature Center
- Get a Map – make sure to grab a map upon entry. It is very helpful for locating bathrooms, parking, picnic areas, and trailheads, as well as helping to familiarize yourself with the hiking trails, especially those that connect to other trails. Hiking trails are color coded on the map, and are coded with both symbols and colors when hiking the trails in person.
- Bring Food – there isn’t food for sale inside the Fort Worth Nature Center, so prepacked / picnic lunches or snacks are the best way to go if you are staying for several hours. There are several great picnic spots located throughout the center.
- Respect Wildlife – you may spot many examples of native wildlife here, from snakes, turtles, deer, even alligators! Be sure to respect them from a safe distance, and never feed wildlife.
- Stay on Designated Trails – this helps protect fragile areas, as well as maintain the integrity of the natural areas.
- Fishing from Shore is Not Permitted – you can fish from a boating vessel
- Respect Fellow Visitors with No Audible / Loud Music
- Camping is NOT Allowed – day use only
- Check Water Levels Before Boating – if maximum levels are exceeded, this can cause occasional closures of boat launches.
Fort Worth Nature Center Map
Upon entry, you will receive a map like the one below, which shows hiking trails, parking lots, bathrooms, picnic areas, and more.
Top Things to Do at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
The Fort Worth Nature Center is a multi faceted outdoor escape, set just minutes from the hustle and bustle of Fort Worth. There are a handful of great ways to enjoy your time here. Here’s a few of the best:
- Hiking Trails
- The Hardwicke Interpretive Center
- Wildlife Spotting
- Special Events
Hiking Trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
Hiking is one of the biggest draws to visiting the Fort Worth Nature Center. There are over 20 miles of trails, made up of 12 individually designated hiking trails. These range from easy to moderate difficulty, and including various lengths, from miles to miles. Many of the trails connect, which means you can create even longer day hikes to suit your preferences.
The Fort Worth Nature Center excels at highlighting various ecosystems and environments that all harmoniously exist side by side here. Even the trail names give a hint as to the kind of diversity you can expect.
There’s the popular Crosstimbers Trail, a forested trail through groves of trees. There’s the Riverbottom Trail, another favorite that parallels the river and offers a glimpse of the wetlands. There’s the Caprock and Limestone Ledge, which traverse rockier escarpments and vistas. There’s the Oak Motte Trail, dotted with namesake red and live oaks. There’s the Prairie Trail, which, as you might guess, weaves through graceful and open grasslands, as well as a Prairie Dog Town. There’s the Marsh Boardwalk Trail, a short boardwalk that extends out into the wetlands of the center. There are several distinct ecosystems on display at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, and each has something unique and special to offer its guests. Not just that, you can visit several “ecosystems” in one visit, almost like taking a tour across Texas in one stop!
In addition to the variety of hiking options at the Fort Worth Nature Center, there are two other qualities that really make these trails stand out!
- Water Views
Two things Texas is not automatically known for, but the Fort Worth Nature Center surprisingly gets right! Many of the trails here contain fantastic, and lengthy, water views. A few of these examples include the Riverbottom Trail, the Marsh Boardwalk, and the Crosstimbers Trail. This is quite an endearing quality to be appreciated in this area of Texas.
Shade is the other welcoming thing to enjoy along the hiking trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center. When the Texas sun starts to get warmer, you can prolong your hiking season by taking advantage of the large amount of shady trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center. Some of my favorites include the heavily wooded Crosstimbers Trail, the Caprock Trail, and the Oak Motte Trail.
Breakdown of the Top Hiking Trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center
#1: Crosstimbers Trail
This is a personal favorite of mine, simply because I love the combination of water views and shady trees. At 3.37 miles roundtrip, it’s also the perfect length for a day hike. This trail is rated easy, with feet of elevation gain.
The Crosstimbers Trail is what I like to refer to as a “lollipop” trail. The “stick” follows from the trailhead straight past the river on the right hand side, and then after entering the forest, picks up the loop portion of the trail,or the “lollipop” part.
There is a bathroom and plenty of parking located near the Crosstimbers Trailhead.
#2: The Greer Island Trail
This 1.5 mile roundtrip loop trail, rated easy with just feet of elevation gain, circles Greer Island, a small outcropping located in the river. To reach Greer Island, you’ll first cross over the bridge, before entering the shady canopy of this forested trail.
There is plenty of parking and a bathroom located at the Greer Island Trailhead.
#3: The Riverbottom Trail
The Riverbottom Trail does just what the name implies, it follows the river! If water views are what you are primarily after, this is a great choice! It is rated easy, contains feet of elevation gain, and is just under 3 miles roundtrip, although there are several places to access this trail, and thus several shorter hiking options along the Riverbottom Trail. It runs from east to west across the heart of the center. Refer to the trail map you receive upon entry to determine where you want to pick up the Riverbottom Trail, and how long you want to follow it.
There is plenty of parking and a bathroom located near the main trailheads for the Riverbottom Trail.
#4: The Prairie Trail
This hiking trail embraces the open grasslands and prairies of the Fort Worth Nature Center. It is a great hiking option for those warmer winter days where you want to feel the sunshine on your face! Or those moderate spring and fall days as well. The Prairie Trail is just over a mile long, rated easy, and contains feet of elevation gain.
The Prairie Trail encompasses the bison range, which means you may spot a glimpse of them along this path. They are fenced off from the Prairie Trail, but still visible. There is also a prairie dog town along the Prairie Trail.
#5: The Limestone Ledge Trail
The Limestone Ledge Trail is located adjacent to the Hardwicke Interpretive Center. It is a soft gravel trail that runs parallel to some of the limestone ledges in the park, and is 0.2 miles in roundtrip length. There is some educational signage along this nature trail, and it is rated easy with almost zero elevation gain.
#6: Caprock Trail
This is a moderately rated trail, just over 0.5 miles in roundtrip length. This trail contains some stunning vistas on rocky outcroppings, where you can see ancient fossils embedded in the caprock ledges. This trail is moderate due to several series of stairs and some portions of steeper inclines.
Besides being hiked as an individual trail, the Caprock Trail is a popular connector trail to other trails in the park, like the Riverbottom Trail and the Prairie Trail. In the image below, you can see the accompanying trail signs indicating the connecting trails to the Caprock Trail, with their corresponding symbols. The trailhead is located directly behind the Hardwicke Interpretive Center, making it convenient to access and centrally located.
#7: The Canyon Ridge Trail
This is the hardest and longest hiking trail at the Fort Worth Nature Center. There is over feet of elevation gain, several series of stairs and inclines, as well as the lengthier 6.5 mile roundtrip length. This trail contains both fantastic overlooks, plenty of stately forest, as well as some historic remnants like the stone “Rest a While” and Lone Point Structures, located along the middle portion of the trail, built by the CCC (Civilian Corps).
Keep in mind this is an out and back trail, so either plan to hike a shorter portion of it and turn around, or be committed to completing the entire 6.5 miles and then having a way to get back to your vehicle parked at your starting end.
Boating at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
The still, calm waters around the Fort Worth Nature Center are ideal for boating and kayaking. There are several launch spots located around the park. The most active launches are near the trailhead of the Crosstimbers Trail.
It is free to bring your own vessel, launch, and boat the waters of the Fort Worth Nature Center. There is even a designated TPWD Paddling Trail, which is marked on the map you will receive upon entry. It navigates along the shoreline of the West Fork of the Trinity River, before spilling into Lake Worth and circling around Greer Island.
Another popular boating spot is the small channel that parallels the beginning portion of the Crosstimbers Trail.
Many boaters and kayakers also enjoy fishing from their vessel, which is allowed.
The Hardwicke Interpretive Center
The Hardwicke Interpretive Center is a great way to learn more about the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, as well as check out some local natives. There are several outdoor wildlife exhibits that are home to residents like the Caracara and the Red Hawk. There is also a small amphitheater just outside the Interpretive Center.
Inside the center, there are several more wildlife exhibits that include local turtles, frogs, snakes, and even a baby alligator! There are also exhibits of “treasures” found from visitors that are now on display, like shells, fossils, and bones.
Inside you can also find a monthly schedule of special events posted, as well as a meeting room, bathrooms, water fountains, and a small gift shop.
Wildlife Spotting at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
Local wildlife flourishes in abundance at the Fort Worth Nature Center, and it is an exciting part of any visit, whether you are hiking, boating, or picnicking – the chances of spotting native wildlife are in your favor!
So what might you expect to see during a visit? Birds like hawks and vultures. Mammals like deer, squirrels, raccoons, possums, and armadillos call the Fort Worth Nature Center home. Snakes, turtles, toads, and even alligators, are some of the reptiles and amphibians you might see! And then there’s the bison herd!
The Fort Worth Nature Center houses an entire bison herd, which is roaming and on display during the non-winter months (the bison herd is off display during the winter). There is even a bison viewing platform located off the main park road.
Picnicking at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
There are several great spots to enjoy a picnic at the Fort Worth Nature Center. There is outdoor seating located outside the Hardwicke Interpretive Center, with additional picnic tables and benches located throughout the remainder of the park. These are designated on the park map you receive upon entry. Just remember to pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace!
Special Events at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
Throughout the year, there are special events that take place at the Fort Worth Nature Center. Some of these rotate seasonally, and some of them are more permanent monthly offerings. These are great ways to get more acquainted with the landscape and wildlife of the Nature Center, as well as engage with the surroundings in a creative way. Some of these special events include examples like:
- Bison Hayrides
- Aquatic Bird Tours
- Refuge After Hours
- Canoe Tours
- Preschool Discovery Club
- Full Moon Paddle
- Kayak Tours
- Yoga Outdoors
- Nature Hikes
- Nature Center Bus Tours
- Bird Translation
- Woodpecker Walk
And much more! The monthly offerings can be found posted up inside the Hardwicke Interpretive Center, as well as online at the park’s main page and social media.
The Fort Worth Nature Center also offers personalized events like birthday parties, field trips, and summer programs. You can also find volunteer opportunities at the center.
Gear Recommendations for Visiting the Fort Worth Nature Center
- Footwear – traditional hiking boots would probably be considered overkill for the trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center, but a good reliable trail runner, like my favorite HOKA One One Speedgoats, can provide you with the grip and cushion that is perfect for a day exploring the center.
- Performance Socks – nothing can derail a fun day exploring outdoors or hiking the trails faster than lack luster socks that don’t protect, or even worse, cause blisters. If you are planning to spend significant amount of time on your feet during your visit, take care of them by wearing some good performance socks, like these Hilly Twin Skin socks. The “twin skin” is what prevents friction, therefore preventing blisters. If you are blister prone, these socks are a life saver.
- Daypack – if you are planning a full day of hiking, bring along a comfortable daypack that is capable of carrying plenty of water, whether its a traditional water bottle, or a system like a water hydration bladder, as well as hiking snacks, and any other personal gear you may need.
- Sun Protection – especially in the summer, but also in late spring and early fall, it is important to protect from the strength of the Texas sun with a head covering, sunscreen, and cooling towels.
- Maps – whether its an online/downloadable map through an app like AllTrails, or a handheld trail map you get upon entering, make sure to have a way of navigating. There are multiple trail intersections at the Fort Worth Nature Center, and it takes some familiarizing to know them all. A map is extremely helpful!
FAQs about the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
- How much is a Fort Worth Nature Center Membership?
Annual memberships start at $60 per individual, $75 per couple, or $100 for a family. There are discounts offered for teachers, students, and senior members. There are also certain membership levels with additional perks, for an additional cost.
- What is the Most Difficult Hiking Trail at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge?
The Canyon Ridge Trail is the most difficult trail in the center, due to the length, steep sections, series of stairs, and overall elevation gain.
- What are the Most Family Friendly Hiking Trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center?
The Deer Mouse, Prairie, Riverbottom, and Wild Plum Trails are all short, low elevation gain, easy trails that are great for children and families. There is also the Marsh Boardwalk and the Limestone Ledge Trail, which is a gentle gravel nature trail near the Hardwicke Interpretive Center.
- Besides Hiking, What are the Other Top Things to Do at the Fort Worth Nature Center?
- The Hardwicke Interpretive Center
- Wildlife Spotting / Bison Herd
- Special Events
- Are Pets Allowed at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge?
Leashed pets are allowed.
- What Wildlife Can You Expect to See at the Fort Worth Nature Center?
Local residents like deer, squirrels, armadillos, raccoons, possums, waterfowl, hawks, vultures, rabbits, turtles, toads, and even alligators. There is also the resident bison herd which is located on site at the center (except when they are off exhibit during the winter months).
- Can I Have a Picnic at the Fort Worth Nature Center?
Yes, picnics are the best way to enjoy a meal at the center, and there are multiple picnic spots throughout the center. These are clearly marked and labeled on the map you can pick up upon entry.
- Are There Additional Events at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge?
Yes, there are ongoing monthly events at the center. Info can be found on the website or social media, or posted inside the Hardwicke Interpretive Center.
- What are Some Other Great Hikes in the Area?
The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge are located just a few minutes northwest of Fort Worth. And the Fort Worth area happens to be home to a handful of additional hiking trails definitely worth checking out:
- The Eagle Mountain Lake Trail
- Tandy Hills Natural Area
- Cedar Hill State Park
- Lake Mineral Wells State Park
- Cleburne State Park
- River Legacy Parks
- Quanah Hill
You can check out these and all 13 of the best hikes near Fort Worth HERE!
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