Looking for an experience rich with the natural wonders of the world that will delight the entire family? There are plenty to choose from in and around Gilbert. Whether you’re interested in exploring hidden gems found on a nature trail, shooting some hoops on a court, or discovering a slice of local history, Gilbert’s got you covered. Read on to discover some of our favorite nature-filled experiences within and near to the Gilbert area.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
Just about 50 miles east of Gilbert lies the beautiful Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. This state park is the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona. With over 19,000 plants spread across 135 acres, Boyce Thompson Arboretum is sure to offer something for everyone.
Of particular interest to families with young kids might be the Children’s Garden, which features a maze, a human sundial, and three gardens designed to activate a child’s senses. You might also enjoy viewing the Pollinator Garden, which is filled with plants that aim to attract pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies. If you and the kids want to get a little more exercise, there are also numerous hiking trails to explore.
Discovery District Park
Looking for an adventure that’s a little closer to home? Then you might like the 48-acre Discovery District Park located right here in Gilbert. With its multi-use fields, sand volleyball pits, basketball courts, and a playground with a rock-climbing wall, Discovery District Park is a great place to start up a casual game of just about any sport or just let the kids run free.
This park also has access to two ponds that are kept well-stocked with a range of fish thanks to the community fishing program. If you want to take a break, there are eight picnic ramadas with grills for barbecuing. Other highlights of Discovery District Park include walking trails, a learning path with self-directed play activities, and a butterfly garden.
Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
If your kids are a little older and into hiking, consider making the hour and 45-minute trek outside of Gilbert to the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. This state park offers numerous hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels that lead toward an exquisite stone arch that’s believed to be the largest bridge of terrestrial limestone on the planet.
The shortest trail, at 300 feet, is the Waterfall Trail, which takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to hike. Adventurers who don’t mind hiking for around an hour might consider the Pine Creek, Anna Mae, or Gowan Trails. Picnic tables are conveniently located throughout the park. If you want to take a break inside, check out the museum exhibitions inside the historic lodge or browse for souvenirs and snacks at the park gift shop.
Whether you want to give an amusement park ride a whirl or just soak in the natural beauty around you, Freestone Park will keep you entertained. Opened in 1988, this park was Gilbert’s very first major district park, currently featuring an astonishing 88 acres of developed land and an additional 32 acres of undeveloped land. Kids will have a blast exploring the amusement park section, which features a miniature Ferris wheel, an antique carousel, and a small train.
Freestone Park also offers a range of ways to make exercise fun for the whole family, with its skate park, tennis courts, softball fields, and volleyball courts. Various benches, ramadas, and picnic tables with nearby barbecue grills give you a variety of pleasant locations to take a break or eat. Freestone Park underwent some renovations in 2015 to make the park more wheelchair accessible, making this a top spot for Gilbert families of all ages and abilities.
Japanese Friendship Garden
Families looking to give their kids a taste of international culture from the comfort of their home state may want to explore the Japanese Friendship Garden. Located in Phoenix, it provides visitors with an authentic Japanese garden that spans 3.5 acres and displays over 50 types of plants.
Soak in the garden’s natural beauty as you cross stone bridges, wander paths created with hand-picked rocks, and enjoy the gentle mist of the 12-foot tall waterfall. Kids of all ages are sure to enjoy discovering the garden’s many hidden paths and seeing how many colors of koi fish they can spot in the shimmering ponds.
Veterans Oasis Park
Just a short drive away in Chandler sprawls the stunning landscape of the 113-acre Veterans Oasis Park. Whether you want to explore the wetlands, encounter desert flowers, or spot exciting species of birds flitting through the trees, the Veterans Oasis Park is there for you. The lake alone spans five whole acres and community members regularly stock it with new fish that you can either keep or catch and release. There are also multiple hiking and biking trails where you can work up a sweat while enjoying the natural beauty.
For the even more adventurous spirits out there, there are several designated horseback riding trails, too. Veterans Oasis Park also features a self-guided Solar System Walk, where you can encounter a series of objects designed to represent the various planets and other celestial bodies and give you an idea of how close they are to one another. Other park amenities include a playground, pavilions, and a visitor center with educational programs for all ages.
Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
Education meets the environment with a healthy dose of fun at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Located right here in Gilbert, this park and educational center proudly boasts seven distinct aquifer recharge bases that provide diverse habitats for many types of wildlife creatures.
At the Riparian Preserve, families can learn about the importance of water resource management, potentially view close to 300 species of birds, and encounter a range of thriving desert flora. The preserve also features over 4.5 miles of trails for casual strollers, hikers, bikers, and even equestrian riders. Kids are also sure to enjoy the interpretive educational panels placed all along the trails, not to mention the dinosaur dig site.
Do you and your family have a favorite nature-filled experience in or around Gilbert that we didn’t include on our list? Be sure to let us know. We’re always excited to learn about new places where both children and adults can soak up the beauty of the natural world.