12 Nature Centers to Visit with your Family about 1 Hour from Appleton

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha

The weather is getting nicer and that is a perfect opportunity to explore the great outdoors! If you love nature then you may want to check out some great nature centers that are near the Fox Cities. Some of the nature centers listed below have extra fun things included outside of a walk or hike such as classes/camps, opportunities to celebrate birthdays, weddings, or hold corporate events, and of course, ways to learn about the creatures and plants in Northeast Wisconsin! We also have included other great things to visit around each center like coffee/ice cream shops, places to eat, and other surrounding businesses for a fun day with your family and friends.

Tips Before You Visit 

  • Call ahead. Although most trails remain permanently open some of the main buildings in the centers are closed to the public due to Covid-19 which means public bathrooms may not be accessible. Also, there may be special programs that day you can attend if you research/register before you go!
  • Wear good walking shoes. Not all trails are alike; some may have rougher terrain than others so it is best to be prepared to walk on all surfaces. In the spring, many trails will be muddy, consider waterproof shoes or rain boots! 
  • Bring water and snacks. Keep everyone hydrated and happy for a pleasant exploring experience. 
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen and bug repellent!
  • Keep your dog(s) at home. Although it’s a nice thought to bring your furry friend, the majority of nature centers on this list do not allow pets on their trails or in their centers. 

List of Nature Centers 

  1. 1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna
  2. Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay
  3. Brillion Nature Center, Brillion
  4. Bruce B. Purdy Nature Preserve, Appleton
  5. Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton
  6. Collins Marsh and Nature Center
  7. Fallen Timbers Environmental Center, Black Creek
  8. Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha
  9. Ledge View Nature Center, Chilton
  10. Mosquito Hill Nature Center, New London
  11. Navarino Nature Center, Bonduel
  12. Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve

Worth the Drive Mentions

1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna
1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna 

1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna 

1000 Islands is located on the Fox River in Wisconsin and has year-round opportunities for exploring nature. Boardwalk trails and the new Nelson Outlook put you in a perfect location for observing eagles and other wildlife. 

At-A-Glance

Highlights

  • Gives a wide view of the island.
  • Trails are barrier-free the boardwalk has no railings obstructing the view.
  • They are the only nature center on the fox river.
  • Konkapot creek allows crawfishing and turtle hunting with nets and buckets provided.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay

This year Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is celebrating its 85th anniversary! Located in Green Bay Wisconsin near Bay Beach amusement park the sanctuary has great trails and also features live animal exhibits and educational displays. All trails remain open but please call ahead to see if the sanctuary building is open as Covid-19 cases affect what days it will be open to the public.

At-A-Glance

Highlights

  • 600 acres with 6.5 miles of paved trails and hiking trails.
  • Wildlife viewing areas including deer, wolves, cougars, otters, and more.
  • Nature Center with fun areas for kids to explore and lots of interesting displays.
  • Fishing for kids 16 and younger.
  • Corn to feed birds available for purchase from the Observation Building. 
  • The water area has lots of ducks to feed, a waterfall, and a bridge. Bring dollars (exact change) for corn to feed ducks.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary Green Bay Waterfalls
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay

Brillion Nature Center, Brillion

Brillion Nature Center is great as it has a lot of what your typical nature center has to offer but in addition, has special programs for all ages and also is a great spot to hold a birthday party or small event!

At-A-Glance

Highlights

  • 7 miles of Snowshoe/hiking trails
  • “Trail Tails” where you can walk the trails and read a story book “billboard style” May 15th – June 27th
  • Birthday Parties! Have a “Nature Center Birthday” details on the site

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Coffee and Ice Cream

Bruce B. Purdy Nature Preserve, Appleton

Bruce B. Purdy Nature Preserve, Appleton was established in 2005. This preserve requires a YMCA membership to visit however guest passes may be purchased. The 3 mile trails are home to many different local animals and plant life to observe as you walk or run them.

At-A-Glance

  • Address: Apple Creek YMCA, Apple Hill Blvd, Appleton
  • Phone: (920) 733-9622
  • Website: ymcafoxcities.org

Highlights

  • Trails are open from dawn to dusk and are a little more “hilly” than most trails
  • April and May is a great time to visit to see beautiful flowers around the center

Nearby Things to Do

  • Plamann Park – Disc Golf and Seasonal Swimming, 1375 East Broadway Drive, Appleton

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Buboltz Nature Preserve
Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton

Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton

For 45 years the Bubolz Nature Preserve has been a beautiful preserve to visit with community programs such as Summer Camps and Winter Camps along with the hiking trails. It is also a popular spot to have wedding ceremonies/receptions and other events! 

At-A-Glance

  • Address: 4815 North Lynndale Drive, Appleton 
  • Phone: (920) 731-6041
  • Website: bubolzpreserve.org

Highlights

  • 8.5 miles of trails.
  • Kenna’s Kabin –  indoor play area for 10 and under (currently closed due to COVID-19) 
  • Natural Playscape
  • Observation Deck
  • Pond with turtles and fish to feed. 
  • Snowshoe rentals available in the winter when snow conditions are favorable.
  • Monthly highlighted family events.
  • Perfect venue for wedding and events.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Bubolz Nature Preserve, Appleton

Collins Marsh and Nature Center

Collins Marsh is a 4,200 acre state wildlife area located just 20 minutes west of Manitowoc. It is ideal for viewing birds — many make their home. This Marsh and Nature Center is locally run by an on-site naturalist and currently visitations are appointment only. Call or email ahead to visit this Marsh and experience what it has to offer!

At-A-Glance

  • Address: 20021 County Rd JJ, Collins 
  • Phone: (920) 772-4258 
  • Website: collinsmarsh.org 

Highlights

  • Canoe rentals are available for rent at the nature center for only $10 a day and free for CEI members to explore the marsh (includes life vest).
  • There is a 110-foot Observation Tower that offers an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Fallen Timbers Environmental Center Black Creek

Fallen Timbers is an educational environmental center in Black Creek that is owned by six Wisconsin school districts. The trail system is open to the public with all of the same rules that one would expect to find on a school campus. 

At-A-Glance

  • Address: W4531 Robin Road, Black Creek 
  • Phone: (920) 833-6432
  • Website: fallentimbers.ne 
  • Use the large parking lot nearest to Robin Road. The lower parking lot is reserved for staff. 

Highlights

  • Several miles of trails for walking and hiking.
  • Virtual/Home Learning Support – visit the site to see how students and families can get suggestions for activities to do in your own backyard or nearest green space.

Nearby Things to Do

  • Lion’s Park, 506 Field Crest Ln, Black Creek

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve trail system is open 365 days/year from 6 am – 9 pm. It is always free of charge to visit but donations are welcome. 

At-A-Glance

Highlights

  • Heckrock features The World Above Your Feet Children’s Canopy Walk, with tree houses, ziplines, mud kitchen, and fun natural play area that is fun year-round.
  • This reserve has a boardwalk for at least a mile and is almost always guaranteed to see wildlife on your visit walking the trails.
  • Pond viewing areas. 
  • Bird and butterfly gardens.
  • Life size eagle nest.
  • Nature center with live fish and small reptiles. 
  • Discovery Den in the nature center has puzzles, puppets, and books.
  • Annual programming for families include Romp in the Swamp and Creepy Crawlies.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha
Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, Menasha

Ledge View Nature Center, Chilton 

This center is best known for its caves, but also contains woodland, and trails.  There is no fee to hike the trails or walk through the nature center. Caves are currently not available to tour due to Covid-19 but hope to re-open in the future. 

At-A-Glance

  • Address: W2348 Short Rd, Chilton
  • Phone: (920) 849-1471
  • Website: ledgeviewnaturecenter.org
  • This is one of the only nature centers on our list that allow dogs as long as they are on a leash and waste removal is done.

Highlights

  • Restrooms available
  • Cave tours
  • 60-foot observation tower
  • Miles of looping trails that are easy to combine for longer walks/hikes.
  • Family events throughout the year, including Maple Syrup Sunday.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Mosquito Hill, New London
Mosquito Hill, New London

Mosquito Hill Nature Center, New London

Mosquito Hill Nature Center, located two miles east of New London in Outagamie County, features one of the highest elevation points in the area. The center’s acres border the Wolf River and includes one of the last intact stands of bottomland hardwood forest on the bottom of the river.

At-A-Glance

  • Address: N3880 Rogers Road, New London 
  • Phone: (920) 779-6433
  • Website: outagamie.org 

Highlights

  • Three miles of hiking and walking trails.
  • Large interpretive building includes natural history exhibits and hands-on displays.
  • Many different kinds of classes are offered at the center for all ages such as Yin Yoga, Bike Basketweaving, Build a raised garden bed, Spring Bird hikes and more! ALL classes must be paid for in advance by calling the center no walk-ins available.  
  • The “All People’s Trail” is a paved trail (.6 mile one-way) for more accessible wheelchair access.
  • Snowshoeing available in the winter.

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Navarino Nature Center, Shiocton

This Nature Center was established in April 1986 by a group of  residents concerned about ecology and environmental education. Since then it has grown and there are a variety of recreational opportunities available to all visitors. 

At-A-Glance

  • Address: W5646 Lindsten Road, Shiocton 
  • Phone: (715) 758-6999
  • Website: navarino.org
  • Dogs on leashes allowed April 15th to July 15th, dogs can be off-leash but must be under control outside of that window.

Highlights

  • Nearly 100 miles of hiking trails through different types of habitats including prairie, upland and lowlands forests, wetlands, and around flowages.
  • Nature center with a viewable beehive and nature displays.
  • Canoeing and kayaking.
  • Navarino’s Trail Fun Run/ Walk, Saturday, April 17th, 2021 
  • The Renewable Energy Education Addition at Navarino Nature Center displays and demonstrates green ideas and designs such as solar panels.
  • Storytime with activities for ages 3 and up. Call ahead to make a reservation. $3 per child.

Nearby Things to Do

  • Blueberry Haven, W9967 County Road XX, Black Creek
    • Blueberry picking mid-July through August

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve, Two Rivers

Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve contains over 1,500 acres of hardwood & conifer forests, wetlands, and prairies and is located between Two Rivers and Manitowoc Wisconsin.

At-A-Glance

  • Address: 3000 Hawthorne Avenue, Two Rivers
  • Phone: (920) 793-4007
  • Website: woodlanddunes.org

Highlights

Nearby Things to Do

Nearby Ice Cream and Coffee

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