Disconnect from the world for a bit and immerse yourself in nature. Nature centers across Arizona offer an escape from your bustling, everyday life in favor of the peace and quiet that only the natural world can provide. In Arizona, there are a number of nature centers worth visiting to observe wildlife, learn about the environment, and enjoy the great outdoors. Here are our 10 favorites.
The Arboretum began as a research station for philanthropist Frances McAllister. Over the last 35 years it has evolved into one of the go to spots for nature lovers in Arizona. Today, it provides an educational look into the unique plants and animals that comprise the Coconino National Forest. The Arboretum is comprised of gardens, greenhouses, and natural habitats featuring horticultural collections and 750 plant species. Visitors are encouraged to take guided garden tours, bird walks, and explore the butterfly greenhouse.
The Hassayampa River Preserve is a lush riparian habitat that is home to over 280 species of wildlife. The river is 100 miles-long and runs mostly underground but emerges at the preserve. This 770-acre preserve is crucial in providing life for its surrounding cottonwood-willow forests and the plants and animals that call it home. According the to Nature Conservancy, an estimated 90 percent of these landscapes have been lost or damaged in the last century. It's an important piece of preservation that offers a look into the rare flora and fauna of Arizona.
The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center may seem like a mouthful—but it has earned its lengthy title. Its mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems for wildlife. Focusing on preservation of the Sonoran riparian habitat, this award-winning nature center is home to over 200 species of birds and wildlife. It's located in the middle of the 600-acre Salt River corridor only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The center has interactive exhibits, hiking and riding trails, birding classes and bird walks, and more.
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a 110-acre wildlife preserve that is focused on educating and raising awareness for Arizona's ecology and natural resources. The Riparian offers family bird walks, overnight camping, tours of the preserve, and events for field trips. The Riparian also includes the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory and Water Ranch Lake—a popular fishing destination.
The White Mountain Nature Center has been constantly growing since being established in 2003. Located on 10 acres in the Pinetop-Lakeside White Mountains, this nature center is currently undergoing an expansion to add a wildlife rehabilitation center and a learning center. In the meantime, visitors can check out the 583-acre Woodland Lake Park. The park has nature trails consisting of wetlands, spring-fed ponds, and the majestic animals of the northern mountains.
The Ramsey Canyon Preserve is ecologically unique. It's located in the Huachuca Mountains—an intersection of the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains. The result is an unusually cool desert environment and lush habitat that is hospitable to a variety of plants and animals. The canyon is friendly to many water-loving plants including sycamores, maples, and columbines. Animal lovers may spot some of the 15 species of hummingbirds native to the area, including the rare violet-crowned hummingbird.
The Colorado River has been an integral water source for the Southwest for thousands of years. The goal of the nature center is to preserve the wetland that provides habitat for a diverse wildlife species, including bird species and waterfowl. This 500-acre reserve has some of the best water activities that the desert has to offer. Amenities include beach access to the river for fishing, picnicking, and wildlife watching.
The Community Nature Center is an 18-acre site that features hiking trails, guided nature walks, and bird watching. It may not be the biggest nature center, but it's a great spot for exploration and learning. The Habitat Garden has over 25 plant species in addition to the 41 found on the hiking trails. The headquarters are in a cozy log cabin with a lot of information on the flora and fauna of Northern Arizona.
Veterans Oasis Park is a watering hole in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. This 113-acre park has shallow basins that pick up reclaimed water in an effort to help with Chandler's water management plan. Hiking and equestrian trails and playgrounds surround the wetlands and lake. The park is also home to a butterfly and hummingbird habitat, educational exhibits, and an astronomy project called the Solar System Walk.
Located alongside the San Pedro River, The Gray Hawk Nature Center is a key player in the conservation of the wetlands of southern Arizona. It's part of the Riparian National Conservation Area and is a resting spot for many breeds of migratory birds. Guided natural history tours will give visitors an encounter with the plants and animals that rely on the San Pedro as a resource. As an added bonus, live reptile displays showcase native animals like the regal horned lizard.