Rust Nature Sanctuary

As a child, I was always outside. If my brother and I weren’t playing with the neighbors, we were getting our hands dirty at the creek. I don’t know if my mother was more upset with the mud on our clothes or the amphibians we wanted to keep as pets.

I read a tag line about Rust Nature Center that said “kids grow better outside!” It was such a powerful statement that it made me hop in the car with my child and head to Leesburg.

The Rust Nature Sanctuary is the largest of three sanctuaries run by the Audubon Naturalist Society. My child scoffed at the idea of it as there is no playground or visitor center filled with tanks of fish to marvel at.

The drive may be confusing as the entrance to the sanctuary is a neighborhood cul-de-sac. The narrow, dual road leads to the Rust Manor House which is open for programs and special events like children’s birthday parties. Rust Manor is also home to the Children’s Discovery Center. This whimsical room is divided into two parts.

The first area displays a chalkboard for doodling, animal puppet theatre, insect beanbags, and a neat book nook under a tree led by a stone and grass path. Enter the garden trellis that leads to the “classroom.” Be sure to look up at the balloon chandelier! Bathrooms are located in the Manor. While the Sanctuary is always open, the Manor is not so be sure to call before heading out as the Discovery Center is great for little explorers.

More fun awaits you outside. Bring a picnic and sit at one of the tables located in front of the parking lot. Open space awaits with the Toddler Trail. The area consists of an alphabet garden, mulch mountain and mini wooden log bridge. The mud kitchen is really just a box with dirt in it. There was no water available on our visit. If you really want your kids to get their hands dirty, bring along a bottle of water.

The archaeological dig was a disappointing sandbox with no fossils in it and the table and chairs with rocks and a sifter seemed boring for an outdoor activity. The giant bird’s nest is very cool. Kids can enter by climbing a raised wooden platform with railing. The meadow behind here is popular for bird watching. We even spotted a family of eagles.

There are short, mulch trails that lead to meadows and a paved one that is stroller friendly, but on a slight hill that leads to the pond. Past several trees and a rotting, bird observation deck is the pond and dock. While we didn’t see any animals in the water, we passed by several trees such as Paw Paw and Black Willow. In fact, there are a dozen trees planted in the sanctuary.

The Oak Hickory Forest was my favorite part of the visit. Benches are dotted under giant trees providing shade and the peaceful sound of birds chirping. The nearby Pollinator Garden has a lovely gate entrance guarded by cat statues, a broken birdbath, seating area and brochures on wildflowers and butterflies that make this area their home.


  • Children’s Nature Book Club every Thursday for ages 3 to 5.
  • Little Explorers held the second Saturday of each month for ages 4 to 6.
  • After school programs for ages 2 to 10 and scout groups.
  • Week-long summer camp in July and August for ages 4 to 10.

Know Before You Go

  • Dress for the weather. Wear long pants and pack bug spray as ticks and poison ivy are present.
  • Bring binoculars.
  • There are no trash cans here so be sure to pack up what you bring.
  • You can download a trail map online or stop into the shed next to the manor house to view a giant trail map and brochures on nature programs. Enter the shed quietly as there is a nest of Carolina Wrens inside.

Rust Nature Sanctuary is open year round and free. Located on the same road, Foxridge Park has a popular playground.

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OK Editorial Team

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