Review: Considered the gateway to the Trinity Forest, the Trinity River Audubon Center is located in SE Dallas and home to five miles of trails that encompass wetlands, forest and blackland prairie. Built on the location of an illegal dumping site, this nature preserve has a fascinating story of reclaiming nature from an ecological disaster. Not only does this facility boast beautiful trails and views, this is also one of the premiere locations in Dallas for bird watching!
Distance: The official site says the center has 5 miles of trails to explore
Area of Town: Southeast of downtown, along the banks of the Trinity River
Facilities: The LEED certified facility is a work of art itself! You’ll find bathrooms, but also a learning center (when open), which is also used to host events (including corporate events and weddings).
Suitable for: Hiking, Bird Watching
Type of Trail: Natural trails, as well as boardwalks
Shade: Variable. There is a trail that goes into the forest, much of the park is open to the sun, although there are some bird blinds that provide shade, as well as shelter to watch the birds.
Where to Park: There is a parking lot here
Official Website: Official Site
The 120 acre Trinity River Audubon Center is considered the gateway to the 6,000 acre Great Trinity Forest, the nation’s largest hardwood urban forest. This is a redemption story as well. While the Trinity Forest may hold the honor of being the largest urban forest in the country, this treasure has suffered from neglect and abuse, and only in the last few decades have city planners realized what a gem this is for the outdoor community. That tarnished history is embodied in the history of the site, where this center now sits.
For decades this part of the forest was used as an illegal dumping ground for solid waste. Even though the city was aware of the complaints from nearby residents, little was done through the 80s and 90s to resolve the situation, until a lawsuit forced a resolution to the constant dumping, fires and ecological damage being done here. There is a documentary on YouTube that tells the story, Out of Deepwood. You can also read more about the history of this site from Green Souce DFW’s article here.
The transformation from an illegal dump site to the Trinity River Audubon’s site is nothing short of miraculous. From underground fires and trash heaps, to a state of the art LEED certified facility surrounded by serene wetlands, forest trails, and a home to wildlife. It’s an impressive turnaround story!
At the moment, if you want to visit the site, you’ll need to make an appointment early on via their website, due to COVID restrictions. While I was visiting, the facility itself was closed to visitors, so I am going to focus on the trails. I have been the center in the past when it was open for an event, so I can say it’s an amazing location with a nature store, and exhibits talking about the importance of wetlands and the history of the Trinity River.
Primate Forest Trail / Forest Trail
From the parking lot, I first tackled the two forest trails. Neither of these trails were difficult. They take good advantage of the hardwood forests of the Trinity Forest, and you walk through these ancient woods along the border of the center’s grounds. The trails were well marked, with signage indicating what trail i was on, and even a kiosk to help visitors understand the local flora and fauna. At a few points the trails pass little ‘ponds’ with water. I encountered very little wildlife on my visit, except for some butterflies pictured below. It was quiet and peaceful, although not a long walk. Fine for kids of all ages and people of all abilities.
Primitive Pond Trail
From here i went into the primate pond trail. This trail meanders around some large ponds on the property, near the central building at the heart of the center. As i wandered around these ponds, they were teaming with life. Birds, fish, and turtles make this place their home. The trails are well marked, but the land around them has been allowed to return to the wild, so tall grasses surround the ponds and area, with trees in the distance closer to the river. Views of the back of the Audubon center can be viewed as well. This trail connects to the Trinity River trail, which takes you to the only view of the Trinity River, accessible via the trails.
Trinity River Trail
From the Primitive Pond Trail, you can take a quick hike into the trees, on the Trinity River Trail. This is the only trail that approaches the river, beyond a wooden fence. Here you can see the Trinity river in it’s natural state, as many locals probably only ever experience the Trinity from downtown Dallas, between the levees near the Trinity Skyline / Levee Trails. Here you can stand and watch the waters flow. This is also a good spot to grab lunch if you’ve brought food, at the picnic tables at the apex of the trail.
Wetland Trail / Prairie Trail / Overlook Trail
The trail continues from the Trinity River, and you’ll find yourself on the other side of the center now. From here you’ll have access to the wetlands, and also views of the gorgeous Audubon Center itself. Parts of this trail are on a boardwalk, some parts taking you back towards the center, others taking you further away into the extensive wetland areas where the birds and other wildlife are more likely to be encountered. This was my favorite part of the Trinity River Audubon Center. It’s hard to believe this natural paradise was once an illegal landfill, the work that was done to reclaim this land into what it is today, is a testament to the passion and ingenuity of the teams that made this possible. Here you’ll find more ponds and wetlands that serve to purify the waters, and provide a home for the birds and other species that call this area home. Make sure to check out the various bird blinds in the area, which for the patient, allows you to watch the local wildlife unseen. There is also an overlook that provides access to broader views of this side of the preserve. For the bird waters, this is one of the premiere spots in the metroplex to watch and observe.
Beyond the trails, the center itself is beautiful. I had a hard time getting great shots, and depending on the angle, the Center looks very different. The building is the first LEED Certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) project by the Dallas Parks and Recreation department, with many features designed to reduce it’s environmental impact including use of rainwater, heat island reduction, efficiency in heating and cooling and low environmental impacts. I have been inside the center, but it’s been years ago prior to Covid, so I don’t have any photos of it from the inside. However you can walk through the outside sections, accessible via the parking lot and boardwalks. It really is a beautiful building, which fits into the natural landscape and complements it rather than competes with it.
This is another one of those trail systems that I wish i had discovered sooner. Since Trinity River Audubon Center does not boast a lot of trail miles, and since i generally like to hit the trails for distance, it never hit on one of the top spots to explore. Hitting distance isn’t the goal here, there is so much to see and enjoy and take in. The Trinity River Audubon Center is a beautiful slice of nature, with a fascinating backstory of reclaiming nature from a tragic history. I plan to come back again and again, with better equipment to see and capture better images of the wildlife that calls this place their home.