Located on the western border of Plano, Texas, just 20 minutes from downtown Dallas, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve spans 200 acres of natural beauty. When you visit the preserve, you can walk or hike the trails, view the wildlife, and enjoy nature at its finest. This dog-friendly nature area is an ideal way to explore stunning scenery while remaining close to the city. Use this guide to learn what you can see and experience at this free, family-friendly nature preserve.
Explore the Eco-Regions
The City of Plano established the Arbor Hills Nature Preserve to protect the natural landscape from potential commercial and residential development. As a result, there are distinct eco-regions found within the massive space for you to explore. The variations depend upon the land elevation and amount of water. There’s a sign near the parking lot where you can learn more about each designated eco-region.
- Blackland Prairie: Named because of the black clay soil, this eco-region has vast expanses of wildflowers and grasses with few trees. In late spring, the prairie is dotted with numerous wildflowers, including Indian blanket, horsemint, and bluebonnet. This area is maintained through mowing, controlled burns, and seeding. It’s the largest of the three eco-regions.
- Riparian Forest: This eco-region is nestled along the preserve’s creeks and has an abundance of trees, shrubs, and vines. Expect to find the majestic bur oak and red oak trees along the river, while poison ivy and vines climb the trees.
- Upland Forest: Located at higher elevations in the preserve and away from the creeks, this eco-region is atypical since most of the preserve’s trees sit along waterways. You’ll find cedar elm is a common shade tree, and small flowering trees bloom in this area during the spring. This eco-region is an ideal place to walk on hot days due to the cool shade and relatively open forest floor.
Enjoy Some Recreation
Near the entrance to the preserve is a large interconnected set of playgrounds conveniently located near the bathrooms. Bring a picnic lunch or have a birthday party celebration at one of the preserve’s three covered pavilions, which are named Burr Oak, Hawthorne, and Red Bud. If you’re interested in renting the pavilions for a gathering, contact the preserve’s office to reserve a six-hour time slot.
When you’re ready to eat, use the barbeque grills to prepare some delicious fare and fill up your water bottles from the nearby water fountains. The playground located near the pavilion also has free Wi-Fi if you need to stay connected.
Go for a Hike or Ride
Circling the park are 3.3 miles of looped paved trails that are perfect for walking with your family or taking a meandering stroll. There are also 2.7 miles of off-road cycling trails and another 3.6 miles of natural unpaved trails for hiking and trail running. Cyclists tackle the trails counter-clockwise, while foot traffic goes clockwise.
Keep in mind that when wet weather occurs, the natural surface trails are closed to prevent trail damage and erosion. It might take a few days for the trails to dry completely, depending on how much moisture accumulates. For updated trail conditions, contact (972) 210-2936, option 9. You can also download the free RainoutLine.com 2017 app to view the current rainout status.
The off-road cycling trails, which are maintained by the Dallas Off-Road Bike Association, have their entrance about 50 feet from the playground. Winding around 25 acres of the park, the cycling trails are easy enough for beginners yet have quick drops and banked turns that will test seasoned riders. There’s a large white sign at the trailhead dictating the rules for the trail. Be careful of rabbits that may dart across the trails in the warmer months.
Major junctions are marked on the paved trails, and there’s an interactive trail marker that highlights some interesting details about the preserve. Two of the more popular ones are the Arbor Hills Loop Trail and Tower Trail. The Arbor Hills Loop Trail passes through all three eco-regions, while the Tower Trail has an observation tower near its end. Stop in at the tower and take in the panoramic views of the park and its surrounding neighborhoods. The tower is also an excellent place to watch the sunset.
Many of the trails have you cross bridges that rise above the preserve’s creeks and streams. Even though several trails intertwine, all of them lead back to the parking lot, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost. If you get tired, rest for a bit at one of the benches located along the trails.
Watch the Wildlife
The preserve is home to numerous types of wildlife, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. You might come across venomous snakes and other wild animals. Wildlife activity and sightings tend to increase during the winter mating season, and you might be able to spot tracks in the mud. If you encounter a coyote or bobcat, you’re advised to scare it off by yelling, throwing a small rock in its direction, or making it uncomfortable so it knows to avoid people. Never approach or interact with these animals.
The preserve is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Site, meaning that it has protected the environment and maintained the natural habitats of birds. Many types of birds call the preserve home. Keep your eyes open for scissor-tailed flycatchers, killdeer, and turkey vultures in the prairie. Owls, egrets, and herons stay closer to the river and its tall trees. Turtles and snakes also live along the two branches of Indian Creek.
To accommodate its many visitors, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve recently expanded the parking lot. With more than 225 spaces available, it’s almost a guarantee that you will find a spot to park your vehicle. If you’re in the market for a vehicle so you can explore Plano and all it has to offer, including this nature preserve, reach out to Huffines Hyundai Plano. We have hundreds of vehicles ready to purchase and can help you drive off in the vehicle of your dreams.
Image via Flickr by spasticsparky