There is no better place in central Dallas/Fort Worth to test out your hiking boots, to get a just a little lost in nature, or to find a corner of quiet amid the suburban sprawl. Arbor Hills is ideal for an afternoon getaway without having to drive too far.
The 200-acre Arbor Hills Nature Preserve on the western edge of Plano, is a remarkable oasis of forest, river, and prairie in the heart of the northern suburbs. The park offers six miles of paved and unpaved trails for hiking and running and an additional 2.8 miles of trail designated specifically for off-road cycling. While the park’s location makes it popular destination, the unpaved trails that ring the preserve are lightly travelled even on busy weekends. There may be longer walks in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) area, but few that traverse Blackland Prairie, upland forest, and riverine habitats in one loop trail.
What Makes It Great
The main, paved trails at Arbor Hills offer a pleasant walk across low hills and past some rare (in North Texas) upland forest habitat. In spring and early summer the blackland prairie portions of the park are dense with blanket flower and blue bonnets, and the centrally located observation tower has views over miles of surrounding suburbia. If you want a walk through nature while pushing a stroller, or if your shoes are not up to a more rugged trek, the paved path is a beautiful walk.
The real treasure of Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, however, is the network of unpaved trails that circles the park. Major junctions are marked, but the winding paths often braid together and you will often find yourself navigating by landmarks and dead reckoning. Due to the modest size of the park, it is impossible to get truly lost. The sense of discovery that comes of finding your own path across the hillsides is its own sort of joy.
Although the unpaved trails make a loop of barely four miles, two areas in particular are worth seeking out. The northwest corner of the park is furthest from the paved trail, and the park is bordered here by a quiet residential neighborhood on one side, and a rarely-used set of train tracks on the other. With the forest and hills elsewhere in the park acting as a buffer, you can find some real peace here. The landscape in this corner is a rare patch of virgin Blackland Prairie dotted with mesquite. Very little of this original prairie remains in DFW.
The other region worth seeking out is the tiny loop, Trestle Trail (as labeled on the trail map), in the far southwest corner of the park. Although it seems hardly worth noticing on the map, this little side path dips into Indian Creek and actually crosses it in several places. The creekside sand bars and shady groves make a wonderful picnic area, or a quiet place to rest awhile away from the city bustle. Be warned, though, poison ivy is thick in this zone, and this portion of trail seems particularly neglected. Pay attention to the plants crowding the path, and consider wearing long pants and waterproof shoes.
Who is Going to Love It
Arbor Hills is best for those looking for a walk in nature, but who don’t need an epic trek to feel satisfied. The winding, sporadically marked trails will also appeal to those who enjoy discovering the path as they walk, and to those who don’t mind getting a little lost in the process.