Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the craziness of life and get out into nature for a while. One of our favorite places in town to do just that is Tree Hill Nature Center. Tree Hill is located on Lone Star Road, just off the Arlington Expressway. It is truly a hidden gem. Since the mid-1970s, Tree Hill has offered hands-on educational programs and wildlife exhibits to school groups as well as the general public. They promote environmental stewardship and aim to give the people of Jacksonville access to nature and wildlife in the midst of our urban surroundings. It’s hard to believe that such a serene pocket of nature exists right in the heart of the city. But it does, and it is the perfect place to connect with the outdoors and maybe learn a thing or two while you’re at it.
Tree Hill has 50 acres of land to explore, seven trails to traverse, and an incredible indoor Florida Natural History Museum. The huge pyramid-shaped building itself is a pretty amazing sight. Inside you’ll find a ton of interactive, hands-on exhibits, including a brand new touch tank that let’s you get up close with nature. If you’re into reptiles and amphibians, the museum is the place for you. There are plenty of snakes, frogs, and geckos for your viewing pleasure. Once you finish touring the indoor museum, head outside to the gardens and visit the barred owl, gopher tortoises, alligator, and other animals on site. The butterfly house is a favorite of my kids. And don’t forget to stop by and feed the pygmy goats…they are incredibly friendly! Just be sure to ask for animal crackers when you stop by the front desk in the main building. That’s the goats’ favorite snack. If you’re looking to enjoy a snack yourself, there are plenty of picnic tables available.
If you’re up for a short walk, I would highly recommend the Joseph A. Strasser Boardwalk Trail, which winds it’s way through the forest, giving you plenty of opportunity to view some amazing Florida native plants and animals. The boardwalk crosses over Red Bay Branch Creek and leads to the other side of Tree Hill. On that side of the property, you’ll find more trails to explore, picnic tables, and a Community Garden. This is also the site of the Joseph A. Strasser Amphitheater, a beautiful open-air structure with wide open seating and a gorgeous exposed wood beam ceiling. This is where a lot of special events are hosted throughout the year, including their annual Butterfly Festival.
At Tree Hill, it’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of nature and forget that the city is just beyond the trees. It’s a great, affordable place to bring the family and get away for a while. Tree Hill is open to the public Monday – Saturday from 8am until 4:30pm. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for kids age 3-17. Or you could go for the $40 Family Membership, which gets you access to Tree Hill for a whole year, as well as free admission to the Butterfly Festival. For all the natural beauty, educational opportunities, and peace and quiet Tree Hill offers, I’d say that’s quite a bargain.