As the rain pours down outside, this time of year can seem very limited when it comes to outdoor fun.  Even when it does get nice outside, it can still feel impossible to get the kids away from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.  If you live in the South Sound, you and your children are in luck.  Nestled right inside the heart of the city is an amazing 70 acre wetland and wildlife preserve around Snake Lake, owned by Metro Parks Tacoma it is known as the Tacoma Nature Center. With a number of trails, play areas, exhibits and nature-themed activities, visiting the Center with your kiddos will make you feel a world away.

When to go:  The great thing about the Tacoma Nature Center is that they offer both indoor and outdoor activities, so you can visit on a beautiful spring day or stop by when it’s raining out.  If you do plan to stop by during inclement weather, make sure it’s not on a Sunday, as the Visitor Center is closed that day and only the trails and uncovered outdoor play areas will be available.

How to get there: Located right near the on/off ramp to Highway 16, the Nature Center is easy to access for families all around the Sound.  If you already live in the Tacoma, the Center is located on the corner of south 19th Street and South Tyler Street, close to Foss High School.  The actual park entrance is located off of Tyler Street, where a free parking lot exists for patrons.  Using your GPS to get there? Check below for the address.

How to Dress: Like any well trained Washington resident, its best to dress in layers and that goes for you and your kiddos.  The Nature Center has two-miles of soft surface trails to hike and explore, so make sure everyone is wearing good sturdy walking shoes.  As you make your way through the nature preserve, there will be shade and tree cover on trails, but very little in the discovery pond play exhibit.  Make sure to have coats available for anyone who gets chilly and moms already know it’s a good idea to have sunscreen and hats for extended sun exposure.

What to Do: What you do might depend on the age group of the children you visit with.  If you can get everyone to cooperate, an adventurous walk through the two mile trail system is a great way to start the day.  Spanning 70 acres, the Nature Center is packed with mammals, reptiles, plants, amphibians and beautiful birds.  Grab a stroller for the littlest travelers and take your brood on a walk that serves up everything an urban nature preserve could possibly offer.

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Next up you might want to head inside the Visitor Center to get a closer look at the animals of Snake Lake and ask any questions you may have to the friendly center staff.  This is also where you can grab hand outs and information on the extensive list of classes and events held year round at the Center.  Options include enrolling in Science Groups, Family Nature Walks, Nature Discover Hour, and Nature Alphabet classes, just to name a few!

After you are done in the Visitor Center, head right out the front door into Discovery Pond to wrap up your day.  A “natural playground”, Discovery Pond was designed to combine “creative play and environmental learning”.  Geared toward the younger visitors, play structures include a tree house, a fish filled pond with log crossing, trails, a slide and more.  If you packed any food for the trip, this is the perfect spot for kids to burn out all their energy, grab a bite and get ready to head home for naptime.  Discovery Pond is open every day from 9:30 am until 30 minutes after sunset.  The area can be rented for private play and birthday parties, so try to head over before 10:30 am or after 2:30 pm to avoid the prime rental hours.

Where to Eat: Tacoma Nature Center doesn’t have any meal option onsite and isn’t situated within safe walking distance to any restaurants.  The best plan is to pack a lunch or snacks that the family can stop and eat outdoors on your journey through the trail systems or inside the Discovery Pond play area.  Quick, easy to eat meal like sandwiches, string cheese, and other healthy snacks would be great to bring along.

Tacoma Nature Center
1919 South Tyler Street
Tacoma, Wa 98405
253-591-6439

Online:  metroparkstacoma.org

–Sarah Bartz