One tank trips: The ultimate guide to 10 Georgia nature centers

The half-mile trail at Newman Wetlands Center offers a sun-dappled walk winding through the center. Visit henryherald.com to listen to the sounds of the wetlands center. (Courtesy of Heather Middleton)
Heather Middleton

It’s always a great time to go outside and explore, no matter the weather or season. If you want to make it an afternoon trip or a full day trip, we’ve got you covered with 10 amazing nature centers not far from Atlanta. So hop in the car and go for a quick drive to start experiencing all of the beautiful nature and wildlife that the great state of Georgia has to offer.

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center

About a 30-minute drive from Atlanta, Autrey Mill is a 46-acre nature preserve with 3+ miles of trails in Johns Creek featuring a farm museum, live animal exhibit, heritage village with historic buildings and exploration zones. While visiting, you will gain insight into the area’s 400-year history and rural heritage from the mid-1800′s to the 1900′s. From guided group hikes to guided cell phone tours, there is plenty to do here on your own or with the whole family. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer or intern for Autrey Mill, get more info here. Be sure to check out all of their fun programs and family activities they have to offer like Feeding Fridays, Sunday Socials and much more.

Location: Johns Creek - 9770 Autrey Mill Rd.; Website: autreymill.org; Contact: 678-366-3511; Admission: Free (Donations are appreciated)

Bear Creek Nature Center

Bear Creek Nature Center (BCNC) is a brand new nature preserve aiming to bring meaningful environmental education to the local community. Opened in the spring of 2020 and located just 20 minutes from Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, there is so much to learn here. Bear Creek houses a variety of ecosystems, native and non-native organisms, and they are the only nature center in the state of Georgia with live bats on exhibit (how cool is that?). “Where learning meets nature,” BCNC teaches a vast array of wildlife and environmental sciences such as zoology, botany and ecology. For more learning opportunities, click here.

Location: Chattahoochee Hills - 6300 Cochran Mill Rd.; Website: bearcreeknaturecenter.org; Contact: 770-306-0914; Admission: $5 for a car and driver and $3 for each additional person ages 3 and up

Dauset Trails Nature Center

About an hour south of the city, you’ll find the hidden gem of Dauset Trails Nature Center. Come and enjoy 1,400 acres of beautiful wildlife, creeks, trails and landscape that include 20 miles of scenic hiking/biking trails. Kids can enjoy visiting farm animals like chickens, goats, cows, donkeys and more at the barnyard exhibit. Throughout the year, the nature center hosts a variety of fun events and festivals like a Movie Under the Stars event in October, the Cane Syrup Festival in November (the Saturday before Thanksgiving), and the annual Bluebirds and Bluegrass Festival in April. Dauset Trails’ YouTube channel features neat videos showcasing some of their native animals like an otter chase or a gopher tortoise hatchling (that hatched out of a golf ball-sized egg).

Location: Jackson - 360 Mount Vernon Church Rd.; Website: dausettrails.com; Contact: 770-775-6798; Admission: Free

Newman Wetlands Center

Owned and operated by the Clayton County Water Authority, Melvin L. Newman Wetlands Center (NWC) offers an environment for members of the community to explore and connect with the natural world. Their educational programs are rooted in the land’s rich history as a reminder that they are an integral part of the local community. Every year on the first Saturday in October, NWC hosts their free Wetlands and Watershed Festival providing learning experiences about water education for all ages.

Location: Hampton - 2755 Freeman Rd.; Website: newmanwetlandscenter.com; Contact: 770-603-5606; Admission: Free

Elachee Nature Science Center

Nestled inside one of Georgia’s largest ecologically diverse protected green spaces, Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, the Elachee Nature Science Center was founded in 1978 by five Gainesville women. With a mission to preserve the local environment, Elachee serves as an outdoor classroom to over 30,000 visitors offering live animal exhibits and hiking trails, and is a nature academy for preschool to 2nd grade. Be sure to check out all of their fun upcoming events!

Location: Gainesville - 2125 Elachee Dr.; Website: elachee.org; Contact: 770-535-1976; Admission: $5 per adult, $3 per child (ages 2-12)

Sandy Creek Nature Center

Just a short drive to Athens, Sandy Creek Nature Center is a perfect day-trip destination described as a “gateway to outdoor exploration.” With over 225 acres of woodlands and wetlands, 10+ hiking trails, a historic log house from 1815 and live animals, there is plenty to explore here for all ages. They offer interactive special events like “Talk Like a Pirate Day” coming up in September.

Location: Athens - 205 Old Commerce Rd.; Website: accgov.com; Contact: 706-613-3615; Admission: Free

Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center

Managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center (about an hour east of Atlanta) offers a wide variety of recreational activities for a fun-filled day: archery, astronomy programs, birdwatching and camping, just to name a few. Charlie Elliott, the first Director of Georgia State Parks, dedicated his life to conserving the natural world and is well-represented at the 6,400-acre wildlife center.

Location: Mansfield - 543 Elliott Trail; Website: georgiawildlife.com; Contact: 770-784-3059; Admission: Free

Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center

As a collaboration with Columbus Water Works, Columbus State University and the City of Columbus, the center opened in 1995 with a mission to educate, inspire, and empower all people to engage actively with their environment. Their interactive displays, nature trails, summer camps and educational programs provide plenty of outdoor exploration for everyone. Fun for adults and families to connect with nature, here are some great upcoming programs.

Location: Columbus - 3535 S Lumpkin Rd.; Website: oxbow.columbusstate.edu; Contact: 706-507-8550; Admission: Free (Suggested $5 donation for admission)

Mill Creek Nature Center

Owned and managed by the Georgia Wildlife Federation, Gwinnett County’s hidden gem of Mill Creek Nature Center (MCNC) is a wetlands/wildlife reserve. Across the street from the Mall of Georgia, the nature trails of MCNC include both natural and boardwalk pathways, a stage amphitheater, an observation tower and bridges creating many opportunities to take in nature’s beauty from all angles.

Location: Buford - 2355 Mall of Georgia Blvd.; Website: gwf.org/millcreek/; Contact: 770-787-7887; Admission: Free

Chattahoochee Nature Center

This 127-acre nature center right off of the Chattahoochee River in Roswell will feel like you just stepped into the backyard. Founded by local activists in the mid-1970′s, here you can elevate your observation skills to new levels with all of the different education programs they have to offer. From shootin’ the hooch to harvest on the hooch, there are concerts, festivals, hikes, races and all kinds of fun events throughout the year to connect you with nature and make you (quickly) realize how Atlanta got its nickname of “city in a forest.”

Location: Roswell - 9135 Willeo Rd.; Website: chattnaturecenter.org; Contact: 770-992-2055; Admission: $15 for adults, $11 seniors (65+), $11 students (13-18), $9 children (ages 2-12), Free (children 2 and under)

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