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Turtle Rock Nature Center

Location: Irvine: 1 Sunnyhill Drive
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Trail may close after extreme rain.
Cost: Free!
For ages: Best for younger kids

Tucked inside Turtle Rock Park in Irvine is the little Turtle Rock Nature Center with its quarter-mile paved path that leads visitors through examples of typical Californian natural terrain.

You can start your afternoon in Turtle Rock Park itself, where picnic tables and a play area provide a peaceful retreat near the parking lot, then return your picnic items to the car and head over to the Nature Center, which you’ll walk through to get to the trail on the other side.

The trail is only a quarter mile and is paved – easy for even the littlest little ones. Numbered displays correspond to a trail guide pamphlet you can get inside the center, highlighting the trail’s trees, which include everything from arroyo willows and white alders along a stream bank to Monterrey pines and palms next to the pond. There are plenty of lizards to spot along the paths, as well as rabbits and the occasional gopher-snake holes. Inside the stream are crayfish that are fun to look for; and a western pond turtle reportedly lives in the pond, but we’ve never seen him. The kids can sketch the animals they see; or have them keep tallies of the lizards, hummingbirds or crayfish they spot.

The trail takes less than an hour to walk.

You can extend your day by going back to play in the playground in Turtle Rock Park or, with hearty children, trying out the Shady Creek trail that leads off the other side of the parking lot (bring bottled water).

Throughout the year, the center offers children’s nature programs to help kids have a greater appreciation of the environment, including Pet Animals, Local Wildlife, Caring Connections, Protecting the Earth and more. The center also offers badge programs for scouts.

Where to park: Parking is free in a lot off Sunnyhill

What to bring: Picnic if you wish to enjoy in the park; sketch pad/pencil to bring on the trail

Best time to go: Each season shows off slightly different foliage; summer is least scenic, as everything is a little dry.

For more information: 949-724-6738; City of Irvine website

Do you like to bring your kids to the Turtle Rock Nature Center? Do you have any fun tips to share?

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