1. KLYDE WARREN PARK
Perched atop a sunken freeway, this nationally acclaimed 5-acre oasis is just one of the examples of what makes Dallas’ downtown area so dynamic. The park was opened in 2012 for the purpose of encouraging more pedestrian foot traffic to the area as well as to be a central gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy. Today, the resplendent space is abound with year round programming, ranging from fitness sessions, dance lessons and lawn games to children’s entertainment, musical performances and film screenings. There are also special areas within the park allocated for kids, for dogs and for playing board games. In case you work up an appetite after all of the activities, you can tempt your taste buds at the park’s chic gastro-pub, Savor– or from a variety of food trucks stationed along the side.
2. DALLAS ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDEN
Nestled along the shores of White Rock Lake, this oasis of horticultural magnificence is arguably one of the most enchanting as well as most visited botanical gardens in the country, welcoming nearly a million visitors to its grounds each year. And with 66-acre acres of endless seasonal flowers, ornamental shrubs, trees and exotic plants, there’s plenty to marvel at. Families with younger children will want to also explore the Rory Meyers Children Adventure Garden, an 8-acre garden of delights boasting everything from cascading waterfalls and a treetop canopy walk to a two-story tree house and more than 150 interactive science exhibits. In addition to a slew of educational programs for children and adults, the Arboretum hosts a variety of public events, ranging from art shows to concerts and seasonal festivals. Try to plan your visit during the spring when the Arboretum puts on the largest floral festival in the Southwest, Dallas Blooms– showcasing more than 500,000 blooming bulbs and annuals. And be sure to reserve a spot for high tea or lunch at the historic DeGolyer House restaurant, the views are as spectacular as the food.
3. WHITE ROCK LAKE PARK
Located only five miles east of downtown, White Rock Lake Park provides an ideal escape without having to leave the city limits. And as one of Dallas’ largest parks, over twice the size of Central Park in New York City, this urban oasis truly offers something for everyone. Visitors will find everything from vast forests and a variety of wildlife (it’s an Audubon Society-designated bird watching area) to over 9 miles of trails for hiking and biking. There are picnic areas, playgrounds, a dog park and a cultural center, not to mention a 1,015 acre lake for activities like paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Speaking of activities, White Rock Lake also hosts a multitude of events, ranging from marathons to boat races and music festivals. Oh, and did we mention that there’s a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon house here? Head over to the west side of the lake if you want to take a look.
4. ARBOR HILLS NATURE PRESERVE
Located less than twenty miles from downtown Dallas in the suburb of Plano, this 200-acre pocket of tranquillity is ideal for city-dwellers looking to reconnect with the natural world without having to venture too far. The park features an awesome trail system: 3 miles of paved trails, 3 miles of unpaved trails and a 2.8 mile off-road bike trail–that winds though a variety of prairies and forests. And for kids of all ages, there’s a large recreational area complete with an interconnected set of play-structures. There’s also running streams that are perfect for toe-dipping on hot days, as well as an abundance of wildlife such as rabbits, armadillos, owls and white-tailed deer. Don’t leave the park without heading up to the observation tower, it’s an especially good spot to watch the sunset.
5. RIVER LEGACY PARKS
More proof of the area’s unyielding natural beauty lies within this 1,300-acre oasis along the west fork of the Trinity River in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. It’s part of the 75-mile greenbelt parkland that stretches from west Fort Worth through East Dallas. The park features eight miles of paved hike and bike trails, plus more than 10 miles of some of the best cross country trails in the metroplex. And did we mention wildlife? Along the way you’ll see armadillos, raccoons, wild boar, bobcats, and a variety of birds (there are around 193 species). The park is a wonderland for youngsters too: The playground, which includes two treehouses, replete with slides, ladders and suspension bridges that wind a path through actual trees– looks like it came straight from the pages of the Swiss Family Robinson. Be sure to stop in at the River Legacy Science Center while you’re there and check out the interactive exhibits highlighting plant and animal life along the banks and woodlands of the Trinity River.
6. TRINITY RIVER AUDUBON CENTER
You’ve heard the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well, before this 120-acre nature preserve and environmental education center opened in 2008, the area was home to the largest illegal dumping site in the state. Nowadays, the center (located ten miles south of downtown) serves as a gateway to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in North America. The area is home to a variety of wildlife and over sixty species of birds which can be viewed along five miles of hiking trails that meander through forests, blackland prairies and thriving wetlands. In addition to hiking trails and picnic areas there is a butterfly garden and a discovery garden for children, as well as a state-of-the-art visitor’s center filled with hands-on exhibits. Keep an eye out for an assortment of activities, ranging from seasonal festivals and guided hikes to birding classes, kayak river adventures, camp-outs and owl prowls.
7. LAKESIDE PARK
Nestled inside the Dallas municipality of Highland Park (two miles from the downtown), an area best known for its multi-million dollar homes and manicured lawns, lies Lakeside Park, a stunning 14-acre swath of green space running parallel to Turtle Creek. It’s a terrific place to take a stroll or a run (don’t be surprised if you see Troy Aikman jogging past you) as well fish for bass and feed the ducks. There’s no bad time to visit Lakeside Park, but it’s especially beautiful during the last weeks of March and the first weeks of April, when a multitude of azalea bushes are showing their true colors. Be sure to traverse the bridge to the other side to check out the enormous Teddy Bear sculptures. Also note that you can walk along Lakeside past Armstrong Parkway to cruise the Turtle Creek Greenbelt Trail–a 1.8-mile path that winds through Lee and Reverchon Parks.
8. ROBERT E. LEE PARK
Not only is this 17-acre creek-side park one of the city’s most inviting green spaces, it’s also loaded with history. Created as Oak Lawn Park in 1909, the park was renamed Robert E. Lee Park in 1936, after a statue of Lee was erected and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his visit to Dallas for Texas Centennial Celebration. In the 1960s and 70s, the park was the scene of the hippie counterculture– and today, it serves as a popular gathering place for the city’s LGBT community. In addition to its gorgeous trees and rolling lawns, the park boasts Arlington Hall, a three-quarters scale replica of Robert E. Lee’s home in Virginia. The park also hosts a variety of public events, including a beloved annual Easter celebration complete with a pooch parade.
9. RONALD KIRK BRIDGE-FELIX H. LOZADA, SR. GATEWAY
For decades, the Continental Avenue Bridge (now known as the Ronald Kirk Bridge and the Felix H. Lozada, Sr. Gateway) served as a viaduct for vehicles between downtown and West Dallas. These days, the bridge is a pedestrian-only linear oasis, spanning 1.2 miles over the Trinity River. It’s filled with gardens, water features, playgrounds, a bocce court and even human-sized chess boards. And not only does the park boast sweeping views of downtown Dallas and the Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, it also offers a host of free activities, ranging from fitness classes and children’s programs to movie screenings and special events. Try to plan your visit at dusk when you can watch the sun setting over the cityscape. And be sure to check out the restaurants at Trinity Groves too, it’s located next to the park’s entrance.
10. DRAGON PARK
Dragon Park is not so much a park as it is a place of enchantment, tucked away on a tiny parcel of lush, landscaped land in the Oak Lawn neighborhood. Though, finding it is the difficult part, and as such, it remains under the radar of even most locals. But the payoff is sweet: this serene space is dotted with secret nooks, water features and a myriad of eclectic statues: think angels, gargoyles, dragons and such, all delicately arranged to give visitors a magical moment of Zen. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to read a book or an ideal spot for a picnic, this little slice of Eden offers a refreshing respite in the heart of the city.