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Explore the Outdoors at Hays Nature Preserve

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Explore the Outdoors at Hays Nature Preserve

  • Open Sunrise to Sunset
  • Located in Owens Cross Roads: 7153 Hwy 431 S. Owens Cross Roads, Huntsville, AL 35763
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If your family enjoys spending time outdoors and doesn’t mind occasionally getting dirty, then a trip to Hays Nature Preserve would fit right up your alley.  Located in Owens Cross Roads, off of Highway 431 S, Hays Nature Preserve is a hidden gem, featuring over 10 miles of trails and greenways that follow the Flint River. It’s a great place to come with your whole family, including leashed dogs.

The Playground at Hays Nature Preserve

Arriving at Hays we chose to park at the natural playground, located near the entrance. Once parked, my kids were excited to see the Terrame Natural Playground. A natural playground is a playground developed using elements of nature, such as water, trees, sand, and dirt, in the design and structure of the playground. This is beneficial to children as it fosters more imaginative and open-ended play and allows them to be more hands-on in a natural setting.

The playground blends beautifully into the surrounding trees. There is a giant two story fort that my son ran into right away. The fort even has a rock climbing wall that the kids can climb to get to the next level. Right next to the fort is a Hill Slide, which my two year old had a blast climbing the muddy hill and sliding down it instead of the intended plastic slide.

Besides the fort and the Hill Slide, my children loved the music station the most. Comprised of colorful drum buckets and repurposed piping, the kids loved banging on the different instruments and practicing their acoustic skills.


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Children have so many different areas to play and create in, but the wooden seesaws, play kitchen, swinging bridge, and Swamp Moat (that can also serve as a stage), stood out the most. The playground had several small picnic tables for families to take snack breaks and a covered educational pavilion, conveniently located near the restrooms. There was even a free library box filled with wonderful books.

The playground is great for all ages and definitely allows children to get a full physical and sensory experience in a wonderful natural setting, just make sure to bring extra clothes/shoes and maybe even a towel if you choose to go after there’s been some wet weather!

There is a public restroom in the playground and we used it quite a bit. There are both Women and Men’s stalls, each with a changing table, and the restroom was heated, adding a nice feature for chillier days.

There’s plenty of space to climb and explore.

The Trails

After letting them run around, we brought out the kid’s bikes for a ride. We started our ride at Bar Lake (located across the road from the playground) and saw that you can actually fish the lake. There are rules posted for fishing, and while Bar Lake does not require a fishing permit, fishing in the nearby Flint River does, so keep that in mind. We followed the paved road for a little ways down and kept to the right side as it’s a road shared by cars, cyclists, and walkers. The entrance to Flint Trail was across from the lake and we saw several folks, with their leashed dogs, going into the trail.

The paved road is the only one leading in and out of the Preserve so you do have to keep an eye out for cars. We didn’t follow the road to the end, but it connects to the Green Space and golf course located behind the Publix on US-431 S, so you could always start your walk from the other end of the Preserve.

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There’s Something for Everyone at Hays Nature Preserve

Children can explore several areas in the natural playground.

In addition to the Flint Trail and Terrame Natural Playground, there’s so many things to do at Hays! There are over 10 miles of trails and greenways to explore! One could hike while birdwatching, go kayaking in the Flint River, try orienteering on the Flint Trail, or enjoy one of the many horse riding trails. Girl Scout Troop 455 even researched the Animal Track I.D. Trail around Bar Lake.


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Hays also provides free events, such as Yoga by the River, and these events are usually posted on the big activity board located at the entrance of the playground.

In the warmer months it’ll probably be a good idea to bring some sunscreen and bug spray as there are lots of surrounding trees and water areas.  We visited at the end of winter so we didn’t have to worry so much yet, but I can see it being helpful to bring those items for sunnier and hotter times.  My family thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to Hays and we can’t wait to go again during warmer weather.

Plan Your Visit to Hays Nature Preserve

Address: 7153 Hwy 431 S. Owens Cross Roads, Huntsville (Map)
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
Cost: Free, but donations can be made to Huntsville’s Green Team.
View Website | Follow Operation Greet Team on Facebook for Hays events

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