Twenty-three. That is the number of parking spaces at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. And on a recent Saturday afternoon, 23 was not enough. As we headed back down the one-lane road toward home, the three-year-old in the backseat screamed and sobbed, “But Mama! I wanna go to the NATURE CENTER!”
We shouldn’t have been surprised: Long Branch Nature Center is a very busy place. (Fortunately we were lucky enough on our next visit to find one of several available spots.)
Let me tell you, it’s worth it! This place has a lot to offer and here I’ll share everything you need to know before you visit so you know just what to expect.
Long Branch Nature Center
Nestled in a quiet wooded area behind a medical building off S. Carlin Springs Road, Long Branch Nature Center features:
- Live animal displays
- Native plant and fern gardens with accessible paths
- Both indoor and outdoor ponds
- A Great Horned Owl habitat
- And a terrific children’s Discovery Room
Outside Long Branch Nature Center
But that’s not all. Adjoining Long Branch Nature Center are 17-acres of forest that connect to Glencarlyn Park, with access to Long Branch stream, Four-Mile Run and the W&OD bike trail.
The best part of the Nature Center’s outdoor surroundings? The rocky stream!
It babbles and bubbles along, just waiting to welcome the many sticks and stones that gleeful visitors toss in it over and over again, just to hear the splashes.
It really is a pretty and peaceful place surrounded by very tall trees. It’s hard to be too stressed with sunlight dappled on the path, a breeze blowing, birds calling and water tumbling over all those big rocks.
If the weather is not cooperative when you visit, no worries.
Indoors at Long Branch Nature Center
Long Branch Nature Center’s indoor offerings are a great diversion for folks of all ages.
Though the building itself is on the older side and smells a bit musty, kids won’t mind when they’re captivated by the:
- Indoor pond with turtles and fish
- A bird watching area well-stocked with books and periodicals
- Aquariums housing frogs, toads, more fish, and about a half dozen slithering snakes
On our visit, the Eastern Ratsnake and Cornsnake were curled up together in a portion of a hollow log suspended in a glass case in the center of the Nature Center. What a nice nap they appeared to be sharing in there.
Incidentally, according to a Nature Center publication, “Long Branch is the only nature center in Northern Virginia to take in and rehabilitate injured wild reptiles… injured by automobiles, predators, or garden mesh from peoples’ yards.”
Children’s Discovery Room
And then there’s the Children’s Discovery Room!
Though not a large room, it’s still a grand destination for young nature lovers. The room really welcomes little visitors to play and learn within cheerful, mural-painted walls.The kids have access to:
- Stuffed animals
- Wildlife puppets and paper masks
- Drawing supplies
- Junior microscope
- Felt board
- Beanbag chairs
- An easel
- Tadpole aquarium
A smaller adjoining room holds a wooden playhouse, a favorite spot for imaginative play.
READ NEXT: 19 Nature Centers in the DC Area
The paved trail along this stream is wide and easy to maneuver with a stroller.
There are also more rustic trails (not stroller-friendly) that lead through the wooded areas. Our family explored and enjoyed the variety of flora.
Ornamental / Rose Garden
One great feature of Long Branch Nature Center that we love is it’s Rose Garden that also exhibits wide variety of butterflies and other invertebrates.
Programs & Events
Programs for the youngest explorers include Babies in Backpacks and Tiny Tots, giving parents and their littlest ones time together in the great outdoors.
Hands-on preschool programs include, among many others, “Wonderful Worms” and “Exploring Elephants.” Wild Ones is a fun-loving gathering for older children ages 6 to 10, and features program titles like “The Scoop on Poop” and “Rodents Rule!”
Campfire programs are held for families on weekend evenings, as are “Flying Squirrels: Lore & More” and “Peeper Prowls,” the latter an Our Kids favorite!
This offers a fun and informative program on flying squirrels, including a chance to observe them feeding at the center’s feeders. The program is only offered in the winter.
You can also check this to know more details of the Flying Squirrels Program.
There is also the Long Branch Puppet Theater. Whew!
Family volunteer opportunities include a monthly effort to remove invasive plants, as well as occasional stream clean-up days, which are for children and adults, ages 6 and up.
Program registration can be done online, by phone through number 703-228-6535 or in person at an Arlington County office location, not the Center itself.
Another special offering: birthday parties for children ages 4 and up. A Center naturalist – along with live critter(s) – present one of three themes: “Snakes Alive,” “Turtle Time” or “Hop to It,” which features either rabbits or frogs.
To book a spot for your party, call 703-228-6535, or [email protected]
Pricing & Admission
Admission is to Long Branch Nature Center is free.
If you decide to attend a program, they require advance registration. Some are free, but most range from about $3 to $5 per participant.
Sunday – Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Wednesday: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Thursday – Friday: Closed
Saturday: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Good to Know
- Restrooms, including changing tables in both the men’s and women’s rooms, are just steps away from the Discovery Room.
- The Center’s staff is knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. In addition to interacting with Center visitors, in the spacious classroom they’re able to provide numerous hands-on programs for a wide variety of ages and interests.
- Staff is also available to lead organized groups.
- If you want to attend a program, make sure to sign-up well in advance before it fills up.
Getting There & Parking
Long Branch Nature Center & Park is located at 625 S Carlin Springs Rd Arlington, VA.
Parking is somewhat limited so it can fill up. You can also visit the nearby playground (see below) or other nearby places for a bit and return to see if a post has opened up.
If you visit during the week, you should have no problem getting a spot.
Things to Do Nearby
- Let the kids enjoy a woodland theme playground at Glencarlyn Park (5 minutes)
- Enjoy the pool, trails, mini golf & batting cages at Upton Hill Waterpark (8 minutes)
- Cool off on the waterslides and the 500-gallong dumping bucket at Ocean Dunes Waterpark (9 minutes)
- See a mid-19th century home & farm at Cherry Hill Farmhouse (14 minutes)
- Visit the nature center with live animals & an organic garden at Potomac Overlook Nature Center (17 minutes)
- Take a tour at Tudor Place to see home items from the 1700s-2000s (19 minutes)
- Snap some selfies with the life-size wax replicas Madame Tussauds (20 minutes)