Free Fun in Our Cities Winter Edition!

Posted by Whole Earth | 02.08.2023

Whole Earthlings Bert and Kathy ready for winter hike


Free Fun in Our Cities Winter Edition


Fighting the February blahs? Gray chilly days got you down? Our prescription? Get outdoors! Move and enjoy nature in her winter mode. A sunny day with a touch of warmth is best, but being outdoors can be refreshing even on a cloudy day. Here are a few of our favorite activities and places in our cities to spend some time outdoors no matter the season.



If you live in or near Austin, be sure to check Austin Water Wildland Conservation's activity calendar. It's filled with opportunities for guided hikes on Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and the Water Quality Protection Lands as well as volunteer opportunities to help preserve these important properties, some of which are home to a variety of endangered species. 


Another option for finding new trails to explore is the City of Austin Trail Directory. It's an A to Z listing of all the city's Parks and Recreation trails. It includes information on distance, usage type, area of town, and if the trail is ADA accessible. If you would like more information, do a cross-check with the AllTrails Austin list. 


What about an impromptu winter picnic at a local park? We're thinking of an insulated container of hot soup or stew as well as a hot drink and maybe even a sweet treat from your favorite bakery. The city also has a list of its parks around town, so you may be able to find a park nearby, wherever you are.

We're partial to Zilker Park with its picnic tables, playground, Disc golf course, and the Great Lawn off-leash dog park. A visit to the Austin Nature and Science Center located in the park off Stratford Road could be added to the list. While Zilker is quiet this time of year, it's also the home to some fun free events including the Kite Fest, Shakespeare in the Park, a summer musical at the Zilker Hillside Theater, and Blues on the Green free summer concerts. 


If it's a rainy day and you need to get out no matter what, we suggest a visit to the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus. The Ransom Center is the humanities research center for the University and home to almost a million books, 42 million manuscripts, 5 million photographs, and 100,000 works of art. With collections like that to draw on, there are always interesting exhibits to be immersed in, including one of the few complete Gutenberg Bibles to be found on the planet. 



In Dallas, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano is a favorite for some of our staff members. It's a beautiful 200-acre park located on the western edge of Plano and is a fun destination for walking, jogging, hiking, and other outdoor activities. The trail system is divided between a designated off-road cycling trail and other natural, unpaved trails for walkers, runners, and hikers. The park is a nature preserve and guided hikes are offered. 


While the Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve is not quite free, the suggested donation of $3 seems quite reasonable. The 600-acre preserve located in southwest Dallas county on Mountain Creek Parkway is managed by Audubon Dallas. It's home to a wide variety of birds, trees, plants, and wildlife. There are nine miles of walking trails open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, year-round.


Another Whole Earth favorite is the 9.3-mile hike and bike trail along the shoreline of White Rock Lake. White Rock Lake is a 1000-acre city lake located roughly five miles northeast of downtown Dallas. The park also includes an area set aside for bird watching, a dog park, picnic areas, and playgrounds. It is one of the most heavily used parks in Dallas and is home to many special events. That said, it still offers opportunities to experience natural areas and wildlife in the city. 


On a rainy day, a visit to the Dallas Museum of Art may be just what you're looking for. Admission is free, though the museum requires visitors to have a ticket for entry. You can register online or at the main desk. There is a charge for special exhibitions. The collection is deep. There are galleries devoted to European, African, Indigenous, Asian, Latin American, Islamic, Oceanic, American, Contemporary, and Design and Decorative Art. The museum also offers some free lectures and events that may be of interest. 


Right in front of the museum is Klyde Warren Park. It's a five-acre urban green space built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in downtown Dallas. It has a very special children's playground and is the site of a number of free events throughout the year including holiday celebrations, exercise classes, movies, and more. 



For over 100 years Hermann Park has been a prime destination in Houston. The original 20-acre park has expanded over the years to 445 acres and is located at the southern end of the Museum District. Today the park has hike and bike trails through a variety of natural settings as well as a surprising number of gardens. They include the Japanese Garden, the McGovern Centennial Gardens, and the Family Garden, all ready for exploration. There's also a Lake Picnic area and a Nature Play area for kids. The park is home to community events like the upcoming Hermann Park Conservancy Kite Festival on Sunday, March 26th. Check their event calendar for a complete listing.


Located on the southwest corner of Memorial Park at 4501 Woodway Drive is the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. Their mission is to provide education about the natural environment to people of all ages and to protect and enhance the Arboretum as a haven and as a sanctuary for native plants and animals. You can hike through a variety of natural environments including Prairie, Ravine, Savanna, Wetland, and Woodland Habitats. Admission to the Nature Center and trails are free, but there is a charge for parking except on Thursdays when it is free. The Arboretum hosts events both free and with fees. Check their calendar. A monthly free event is the Second Saturday Bird Survey. Hone your birding ID skills and help the Arboretum track its feathered visitors. 


Another Houston favorite is Discovery Green. It's a 12-acre public green space in downtown Houston located at 1500 McKinney Avenue. It is free and the vast majority of the events in the park are also free thanks to the work of the Discovery Green Conservancy. Activities that require a fee are clearly listed on their website. As the weather warms up there are free events for the whole family including exercise classes, concerts, art installations, and more! 


On a rainy day visit the Menil Collection at 1533 Sul Ross St. in the Montrose neighborhood. The heart of the collection grew from the acquisitions of the museum's founders John and Dominique de Menil. Their appreciation for art in its many forms ranged from Prehistoric and Ancient Art to the Art of Africa, from the Americas and Pacific Northwest, to Medieval and Byzantine, Modern and Contemporary, and Surrealism. The museum is free and open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday. 


San Antonio

A Whole Earth favorite in San Antonio is Phil Hardberger Park. It's a 330-acre park that's a wildlife preserve and a park for people. The park opened in 2010 and the master plan calls for 75% of the park to remain in its natural state. Originally the park was divided by the Wurzbach Parkway. Today the Tobin Land Bridge connects the two sides of the park and reclaims natural habitat over the six-lane highway.  The park has two main entrances - 13203 Blanco Rd. and 8400 NW Military Hwy. There is also a third entrance at 1021 Voelcker Lane, which is the trailhead parking for the Salado Creek Greenway trails.


Hardbarger Park has 7.5 miles of trails. The Water Loop and Geology Trails are 2.5 miles and connect to the greater Salado Creek Greenway trail system. The Oak and Savanna Loop trails are 4.5 miles. The trails are multi-use, which means walkers, runners, bicycles, strollers, roller-blades, and skateboards are permitted on the trails. There are two playscapes on either side of the park, dog parks on both sides of the park, picnic tables, and basketball courts. The park offers free fitness and nature classes as well as those with fees at the nature center and outdoor classrooms. Check the event calendar for more information.


Another San Antonio favorite is McAllister Park. North of the San Antonio International Airport, it has 976 acres with five miles of paved and 10 miles of unpaved trails for runners, hikers, and cyclists. Other amenities include picnic tables, dog parks for large and small dogs, playscapes, fitness stations, and basketball courts. It is also home to the annual kite festival, the Fest of Tails which celebrates kites and dogs. This year's free event will be held on Saturday, March 11th. For more information about trails in the park, check out AllTrails


Looking for a beautiful, serene spot in San Antonio? Try the Japanese Tea Garden! In 1916, the city of San Antonio began the transformation of a limestone quarry into a Japanese garden, and over 100 years later, it's a local favorite. You'll find it near the San Antonio Zoo in Brackenridge Park, at 3853 N. St. Mary's St. The restored gardens feature lush plantings with shaded walkways, stone bridges, a 60-foot waterfall, and koi ponds. The garden is open from dawn to dusk and is free.



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