Does the spring weather have you itching to explore beyond the backyard? Twin Cities-area nature centers and outdoor education centers are wonderful places to seek out signs of the seasons and play in the natural world. Most of them offer programming specially designed for preschoolers, free family events, and indoor exhibits to stimulate little explorers.
For more nature play ideas, see our list of Nature Playgrounds in the Twin Cities.
TWIN CITIES NATURE & OUTDOOR EDUCATION CENTERS
Carl Kroening Interpretive Center | Minneapolis
For kids: Nature Nuts: Nature Play Group is for kids under 6 to get out and explore nature along the Mississippi with their caregivers. Meets Wednesdays, March-August 2019, 10:30-11:30am. $16/4 wk session.
For families: Family Fundays let you drop in for naturalist-led activities and self-guided exploration of the visitor center’s interactive exhibits including a farmer’s market, brick factory, a dress-up trunk and lots more. One Sunday/month, 1-3pm. Nature Art takes place one Saturday/month. Times vary, but this program generally takes place in the afternoon. Both family programs are free.
Dodge Nature Center & Farm | West St Paul
For kids: Nature Playdates meets one Friday per month March-August 2019, 10-11:15am. Through outdoor adventures, stories, artifacts, live animals and creative play, naturalists will provide new experiences each month. These are recommended for ages 2-5 w/ caregiver, $7/child.
For families: Wander the trails through the working farm and observe the animals. You can’t access the barns unless registered for a program, but there’s plenty to see through the fences. Dodge’s annual family festival, Rock the Barn, takes place 5/18/19, 3-7pm. $6/advance, $8/gate.
Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary | Minneapolis
For kids: Nature Tots will explore nature throughout the Wildflower Garden with activities, hikes, crafts and stories. Pre-registration required, limited to 10 children with caregivers. Select dates April-August 2019, 10:30-11:45am, ages 2.5-5 yrs w/ caregiver. $5/child, adults free.
For families: Borrow a Family Adventure Backpack at the visitor shelter to take along as you explore the garden. Family Forest Walks take place Sundays, 1-1:45pm and Garden Storytimes are held Wed & Sat, 10:30-11am starting mid-April. Free.
Fort Snelling State Park | St Paul
For kids: Minnesota State Parks are loaded with naturalist programs that come free with a $7 daily vehicle permit. Though there are not many at Fort Snelling specifically designed for kids, they can tag along on easy hikes and learn about the critters who call the river bottoms home. Occasionally, a Pre-K Nature Adventure will be offered in the springtime. Always dress for the weather.
For families: Hike the trails along the intersection of two great rivers, check out a GPS unit for geocaching or a fishing pole at no charge.
Harriet Alexander Nature Center | Roseville
For kids: Sprouts nature program sessions include seasonal hands-on activities, snack, make it/take-it projects and games. 1st consecutive Thurs & Fri/month, 10-11:30am. $15 per child/adult pair, $7.50/additional child per session or $38 per pair for three-month series, $19/additional child.
For families: Celebrate Earth Day with a FREE celebration at the event. April 20, 10am-12pm.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Bloomington Education & Visitor Center
For kids: Mine enjoyed checking out “Let’s Go Outside” backpacks for a nature hike (keep in mind these trails descend towards the river and can be a moderate climb back up), spying on birds at the outdoor observatory, going on an indoor nature scavenger hunt, and completing activity booklets to become Jr. Refuge Managers. Free for all.
Richardson Nature Center | Bloomington
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs – Spring Programs. Explore seasonal changes and make a craft. Ongoing spring Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30am, $10/child. Stay to explore the colorful and highly interactive nature center or build outside with natural materials in the Nature Exploration Area.
For families: Free Family Fun Days, ongoing spring Sundays in April & May, 3-4pm. Free. Richardson also hosts numerous seasonal family programs that charge a small fee to attend.
Wood Lake Nature Center | Richfield
For kids: Nature Adventurers, ages 3-5 w/ a caregiver, nvestigate a different natural topic each visit through stories, crafts, hands-on activities and outdoor time. Snack included. Pre-registration required. Indoor exhibits at Wood Lake are interactive and highly kid-friendly. Select Tues & Wed, March-May, 10-11:30am.Aages 3-5 only w/ caregiver. $8/child, adults free.
For families: Wood Lake hosts many inexpensive Sunday Specials for families.
Eastman Nature Center | Dayton
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs lets you drop off the kids ages 4-5 to explore nature through stories, art, songs, games, and hikes. Snack included. Ongoing Mondays through early May, morning and afternoon sessions. $10.50/child.
For families: Eastman is always busy hosting events for families. Its location, tucked within the sprawling Elm Creek Park Reserve, and makes a nice stop on a day exploring the nature trails, ginormous Elm Creek Play Area and, when the temps heat up, the swimming beach.
Springbrook Nature Center | Fridley
For kids & families: Saturday Family Fun Days are hosted the 2nd Sat/month and are completely free to attend (donations always accepted). A new nature-themed playground, complete with a sand and water splash area (dress for a mess), opened summer of 2017.
Tamarack Nature Center | White Bear Township
For kids: Frogs & Polliwogs preschool spring series is presented select spring Fridays, 9:15-10:30am, $42 adult and child; $28 additional child; $14 additional adult – registration is by series only. Stay to explore the grounds – Discovery Hollow Nature Play Area is amazing (and FREE!).
For families: Drop-in Discoveries is hosted the 1st Sat/month. Drop in for hands-on learning, animal encounters and more. 10am-12pm. Free.
Wargo Nature Center | Lino Lakes
For kids: Nature Play gets kids ages 2-5 playing outside with their caregivers. Presented the 1st Thurs/month, 10-11:15am, $6/child-adult pair, $3/additional children.
For families: Borrow an Activity Backpack from the Nature Center and explore the Maple Hollow Nature Play Area.
Warner Nature Center | Marine on St Croix
For kids: Acorn Adventures involves art projects, simple stories and exploring the great outdoors for kids ages 1-5 with their caregivers. Meets 1-2 times per month through the end of the school year, 9:30-11am. $15/class.
For families: Check the public programs calendar for occasional seasonal events.
Carpenter St. Croix Nature Center | Hastings
For kids: Preschool Storytime offers a nature story, an art or craft project, exploring the outdoors, and observing live animals for kids ages 2-5 w/ caregiver. Meets monthly from 10-11am, $5/child. Older kids may find the interesting topography of the area fun — there are some steep trails to climb and lots of natural building materials.
Maplewood Nature Center | Maplewood
For kids: The nature center often programs for kids in conjunction with Early Childhood Family Education. Additionally, there are engaging indoor exhibits, a nice-sized nature play area, and easy hikes for children.
For families: Family programs can be found here.
Oakdale Discovery Center
For kids: Curious Critters Club held select Fridays, $7/class.
For families: An exhibit room is stocked with touchables, including owl pellets to dissect (an anomaly among Twin Cities-area nature centers, I’ve noticed). Before heading outdoors, check out a Discovery Backpack to help identify wildlife, and a scavenger hunt to redeem for a prize.
Lebanon Hills Regional Park Visitor Center |Knee-High Naturalists singles out kids ages 3-6 w/ caregivers for hands-on activities, outdoor exploration, art projects, storytime and more. Select Thursdays & Saturdays, 10-11:30am, $8/child.
For families: Forever Wild Family Friday, provides free entertainment and activities for families such as geocaching, campfires, and wildlife education. 1st Friday/month, 7-8:30pm.
Eden Prairie Outdoor Center | Eden Prairie
For families: Nature Rocks! Outdoor Center Open Houses host family activities such as hiking and hands-on interaction with live animals and crafts. Ongoing Saturdays, 9am-noon. Free.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum | Chaska
For kids: The Green Play Yard is a delightful place for outdoor nature play. It may be billed as appealing mainly to preschoolers, but I’ve personally had to pry my significantly older children away from the sand-and-water space in order to move on with the day.
For families: PlantMaker Studio Weekend Activities for all ages are offered from noon-4pm. Included with Arboretum admission at $15/adults, children under 13 free.
Lowry Nature Center | Victoria
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs explores the natural world through hands-on learning, stories, art, songs, live animals and hikes. Ongoing spring Mondays, 1-3pm. $10/child. My Preschooler & Me: Lowry Little Ones, involves both little ones and their caregivers with indoor activity stations, songs, stories, crafts and outdoor exploration. Plus, stay to enjoy outdoor play at 2 nature playgrounds. Ongoing 2nd Mon/month for ages 2+, $5/pp.
For families: Tucked within the large Carver Park Reserve, there are numerous opportunities on all sides for nature play as a family.
Westwood Hills Nature Center | St Louis Park
For kids: Westwood offers puppet storytimes, and Tuesday Turtles preschool classes throughout spring 2018. See the Preschool Programs page for details on registering. Outdoors is a beautiful raptor exhibit, trails, and a small nature playground.