Clearwater Nature Center: Live Animals, Caves & More

Located within Cosca Regional Park is Clearwater Nature Center.  And let me tell you, the website does not describe what a wonderful gem this nature center is for families!

The Nature Center

When you enter, the first thing you notice is an octagon-shaped structure.  Get close, but not too close, to see a pond filled with a mama and baby catfish, and a quintet of large turtles.

Inside the nature center is a miniature zoo with:

  • Turtles
  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Half a dozen different snakes (including an albino rat snake that is sensitive to smells)
  • Australian bearded dragon
  • Leopard gecko
  • Madagascar hissing cockroaches
  • Holland Lop-eared rabbit
  • Chinchilla
  • Apair of Eastern Screech owls
clearwater nature center
Source: PG Parks Nature

In the exhibit room are two quiet zones where Eastern Screech Owls reside in cages. 

Due to the animal’s sensitivity, no loud noises are allowed.  This was hard for my child and her friend who were darting in and out of caves. 

It did make me wonder why the exhibition room would have a quiet area when there were active activities to do.  However, it did not dampen our visit.

Among the animals are various sections spilling over with education tidbits for young explorers such as:

  • Touch the fur of a fox and raccoon
  • Crawl inside a fox’s den
  • Uncover where bats sleep
  • Peer into a squirrel’s burrow
  • Search for fossils built into cave walls
clearwater nature center animal displays
Source: PG Parks Nature

The Caves

Be a nature detective and reach in the cave wall to feel a rock, piece of wood, and examine an insect skeleton. 

My daughter was intrigued by the above mentioned caves, the stuffed beavers and animals positioned above the caves, and the display case of Prince George’s County butterflies. 

The Lobby & Puzzles

In the lobby is a small tree trunk table with children’s books.  There is also a small auditorium used as a classroom.

I saw three puzzle matching areas including pairing the animal to its habitat and the predator with its prey, and matching the appropriate leaf to its tree. 

The last puzzle is perfect for children to learn about leaves changing during this time of year. 

The Outdoor Patio

White Oak, Sycamore, Beech, and Tulip Popular can be best viewed on the outdoor patio attached to the building. 

Return in spring when the butterfly garden is a flutter.

The Raptors

We were already impressed with Clearwater Nature Center, but even more so when Kirk, the naturalist, informed us that there are raptors outside. 

Source: PG Parks Nature

Kirk spent a great deal of time giving us information about the raptors who are housed inside caged enclosures. 

All of the birds of prey are unable to be returned to the wild due to injuries.  Talon, the bald eagle, lost his wing when it got caught in a fishing line. 

I have encountered many eagles, but this was the closest I have gotten to one.  You will also see a Barn Owl, Red-Shouldered Hawk, and Red-Tailed Hawk. 

My family and I could have stayed for hours watching these beautiful creatures, especially Talon.

READ NEXT: 19 Nature Centers in the DC Area

Events & Programs

They also offer environmental education programs that the kids can join.

Advance registration is required so slots for walk-in participants are not guaranteed. Make sure to book ahead through their website.

Source: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Hours & When to Go

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Sunday: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Holidays: 11:00am – 4:00pm
Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day


Admission is free but the programs have fees depending on what program you are going to join.

Good to Know

  • Bathrooms have changing areas and quirky facts on animals and how they poop!  It sounds gross, but is entertaining so you have to find out for yourself.
  • The nature center is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 5 pm and on Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. 
  • Admission is free, but there is a cost if you attend a program such as the monthly lapidary workshop.
  • Combine your visit to the nature center with a visit to Cosca Regional Park playground.

Getting There

Clearwater Nature Center is located at 11400 Thrift Rd, Clinton, MD 20735

To get there, take the ramp from the parking lot along fact panels about trees and animals in the area. 

Follow the small, lingering waterfall up to the top where there are two small ponds of colorful Koi. 

The building is decorated with stones giving it an earthy feel, perfect for its woodland setting.

Things to do Nearby

  1. Visit one of the many attractions at the National Harbor (25 minutes)
  2. Go shopping at the Tanger Outlets
  3. Walk the trail and see the site of a 1800s lighthouse at Jones Point Park
  4. See original artillery from the Civil War-era at Fort Foote Park

Upon leaving Clearwater Nature Center, Kirk asked us if we would be returning to visit the birds.  Having completely forgotten at this point that the park has a nearby playground, my child asked me, “can we come back tomorrow?” 

To me, that says something and we’ll definitely be back to Clearwater Nature Center.

Photo of author

OK Editorial Team

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