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HomeIndoorsNature and AnimalsFive Fantastic Indoor Nature Centers in Maryland

Five Fantastic Indoor Nature Centers in Maryland

Looking for a nature center in Maryland that has great indoor activities for kids? Cold, rainy or extra-hot weather may have you looking for indoor activities for kids—and nature centers with indoor activities can help with that.

A number of local nature preserves and parks have indoor activities just right for families. We have rounded up five fantastic nature centers with indoor activities to keep the kids entertained. Plus, a bonus nature center with a glimpse of the stars.

National Wildlife Visitor Center at Patuxent Research Refuge

National Wildlife Visitor Center display

Address: 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD
Phone: 301-497-5772
Admission: Free
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am – 4:30 pm; The grounds are open sunrise to sunset

The National Wildlife Visitor Center at the Patuxent Research Refuge is the largest science and environmental education center run by the Department of the Interior. Interactive exhibits explore global environmental issues, migratory bird routes, and endangered species recovery efforts. Learn about the life cycles of gray wolves, whooping cranes, sea otters and other creatures, and observe wildlife on the viewing pond. It’s surrounded by over 12,000 acres of refuge land, including hiking trails and lakes.

Howard County Conservancy

Address: 10520 Old Frederick Rd., Woodstock
Phone: 410-465-8877
Admission: Free
Hours: Nature Center- Monday – Saturday, 9am-3pm, closed Saturdays during the winter; trails open dawn to dusk, daily

The Howard County Conservancy takes its commitment to nature very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that it was the first Maryland Green Center in Howard County, recognizing it as a model for conservation and environmental best management practices and a provider of high-quality environmental education. Large windows provide daytime lighting, and the roofing materials were selected to limit heating and cooling costs. Everything from the driveway to the floors were selected with sustainability in mind.

The Gudelsky Environmental Education Center sits on over 200 acres and offers educational programs, a children’s corner and live animals. Other areas to explore include historic farm outbuildings, a butterfly garden and 5 miles of trails. Learn about animals and farm life on a walking tour or go geocaching along the trails.

Clearwater Nature Center

Address: 11000 Thrift Road, Clinton
Phone: 301-297-4575
Admission: Free
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday: 11 am-4 pm

Clearwater Nature Center offers exhibits, displays, programs and special events. The nature center has an indoor pond and live animal exhibits, including a bald eagle who lives at the center. There are a variety of special programs for all ages, or you can take a self-guided tour. The center is located on Cosca Regional Park, which encompasses nearly 700 acres and includes a playground and other recreational areas, as well as undeveloped land.

Watkins Regional Nature Center snake exhibit

Watkins Nature Center

Address: 301 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro
Phone: 301-218-6702
Admission: Free
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 am-5 pm, Sunday: 10 am -4pm

Watkins Nature Center has live animal displays that include insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds of prey as well as indoor and outdoor ponds and a “squirrel gym.” There are nature and animal programs for different ages, with some programs especially geared toward homeschoolers.

Outdoors, explore more than 6 miles of trails, a nest box, butterfly/hummingbird garden and Old Maryland Farm, located within Watkins Regional Park.

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary and Visitor’s Center

Address: 11704 Fenno Rd., Upper Marlboro
Phone: 443-510-9920
Admission: Free
Hours: Grounds open sunrise to sunset; Frank Oslislo Vistor Center is temporary closed.

The Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary and Visitor’s Center is the winter home to several thousand Canadian geese, who hang around from October until early March. The Frank Oslislo Visitor Center offers great views of ponds, fields and woods and has exhibits on Canadian geese and the area’s wildlife.

The children’s discovery room has live snakes, toads, turtles and screech owls. A coloring table, book nook, animal tracks and sand box, historical dress-up clothes and pirate ship also keep kids interested. A history corner highlights the War of 1812 on the Patuxent, pirates of the Chesapeake and local American Indian heritage.

If you want to get outside but avoid adverse weather, drive along the 4-mile, self-guided Critical Area Driving Tour, open Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. A 2 mile portion of the trail is open for hiking, biking and horseback riding daily.

Bonus Nature Center

Robinson Nature Center

Address: 16692 Cedar Lane, Columbia
Phone: 410-313-0400
Admission: $5 Adults, $3 Children ages 3-17 yrs, Free Children under 3 yrs
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: 9am-5pm; Sunday: Noon-5pm; Closed Mondays & Tuesdays

The Robinson Nature Center also offers an afternoon’s worth of fun things to do inside with a planetarium and dome-style theater, programs and hands-on exhibits. If the weather is nice, check out the trails throughout the property to cross a stream, enjoy views of the Middle Patuxent River and see an old mill.

Looking for more great nature centers? Check out these Seven Nature Centers for more trails to explore in the greater Annapolis-Baltimore area.

This post was originally published December 2009 and was updated 2023.

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