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Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
[ 7701 Royce Street Annandale, VA 22003 ]   [ 703-941-1065 ]

Audio Transcript

Hidden Oaks Nature Center, minutes inside the Beltway, features a pond and an interactive exhibit ideal for children 2 yrs. and older. Located in the 52-acre Annandale District Park, the center is nestled among woodland trails and creeks with gardens and a nearby playground.

Inside the nature center, facilities include live animal displays, a climbing "tree" loft/puppet stage, a resource library and the Urban Woodlands interactive exhibit. View the nature center rain garden.

Group programs by reservation. Closed Tuesdays. Grounds open dawn to dusk.

Months Weekday Weekend
Normal Hours (March to November) 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tuesdays noon - 5 p.m.
Winter Hours (December to February) 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Nature PlayceNature Playce

No reservations required. Dawn to dusk. Free (Families) . Discover nature's wonders while your family plays in our 1/3-acre unstructured woodland play area. Make mud pies, dig into woodchip and leaf piles, make ground forts or just rest next to a tree and watch the clouds float by. At the nature center, become an Official Nature Snooper and receive a complimentary gift from the Friends of Hidden Oaks. Free.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center also serves as an information source for the public on local flora and fauna. Students are welcome to use the resource library for research projects.

Outdoor Play Every Day

Download Brochure
Including 365 Ways to Enjoy Playing Outdoors

Monarch Butterfly Monarch butterflies are in peril. The only food the caterpillars eat, milkweed, is fast disappearing. Hidden Oaks Nature Center is distributing free native milkweed seeds plus providing gardening and butterfly conservation tips. Learn more about how you can help the monarch.

Fun Facts and FAQs

Expand Are there dangerous/venomous animals at Hidden Oaks?

Typically this question is about snakes but some students have asked about tigers, bears and non-native snakes such as pythons and king cobras! The only native venomous snake in Fairfax County is the northern copperhead. Staff who have been at the park for 25 years have never seen the snake in the park. Nevertheless, we are in their region. Everyone should learn how to recognize this snake and fortunately Hidden Oaks maintains a live copperhead on display to help families recognize the striking and distinguishable pattern and color. The young are just as toxic as the adults, but the venom takes several hours to take effect. No human in Virginia has ever died from a copperhead bite. If a bite were to occur, call 911 and get to a hospital for observation and possible treatment.

Other potentially dangerous animals include black widow spiders (under logs), ticks and mosquitoes. Always check yourself and family members for ticks after any outdoors activity. Should you wish to see the comparison of a deer tick to a dog tick, come by Hidden Oaks to look at a Lucite display. For more information on ticks, visit Fairfax County Health Department Ticks & Lyme Disease Prevention.

During the summer months, yellow jackets and ground nesting bees are particularly active. They are best avoided! If you see wasp or bee activity around a log in the park, please report the location to the nature center manager.

Expand I brought my kids here when they were little, and now I am bringing my grandkids! When was this place built?

Hidden Oaks opened in 1969 as Fairfax County’s first nature center. The county’s first park was Eakin Community Park on Prosperity Road in Fairfax. Hidden Oaks’ volunteer Carolyn William leads a free bird walk at this park every Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., no reservation required. The nature center originally was just what is now the exhibit half of our present day center. Annandale was considered a great location because it was located just down the path from the Park Authority’s then-headquarters at the Packard Center. In 1981 the addition of the classroom and office spaces enabled the staff to offer more programs. Originally the nature center enjoyed displaying a wider range of animals, including a live opossum, great horned owl and skunk. County regulations now limit our display of mammals and birds of prey.

The most recent exhibit was built in 2003 with the theme Urban Wildlife: Habitats and Havens. This interactive exhibit focuses on the young child, ages 2-9 years, and engages them and their families to explore the abundance of life at every level of the park’s oak-hickory forest. Even though bears and tigers do not call Annandale home, the area teems with wildlife, both flora and fauna.

ExpandWhat can you do at Hidden Oaks with young kids?

Hidden Oaks is a destination location for the preschool and elementary school set and their loved ones. We start with natural and cultural history programs for children as young as age 2. From the popular Little Acorns preschool programs most Monday mornings, to summer day camps, tea parties, science series classes and evening campfires, the naturalists combine education with entertaining engagement. View Hidden Oaks Programs.

Hidden Oaks’ Nature Playce is open dawn to dusk daily for unstructured outdoor play in a woodland setting. This is a perfect place to make mud pies, watch clouds go by or challenge your balance by walking over logs or boulders. In season, the waterscape adds the fun of splashing in shallow pools of water. The Old Oak Trail and the stream trail as easily managed by young kids and take-along activities are available for free at the front desk.

Inside the learning continues with the kid-friendly exhibit, Urban Woodlands: Habitats and Havens. The youngest visitors will enjoy the Acorner area, filled with discovery boxes, tea sets, costumes and a big tree to cuddle up inside to read a nature story. Older children will want to continue to explore the four levels of the forest, live and preserved animal displays and explore the mysteries behind all the doors and drawers. Whatever they can reach, they can get into. The Wentzscope, courtesy of Bailey’s Rotary Club, gives young scientists an up-close view of nature. Children handle unusual objects on the touch table, and temporary exhibits highlight anything from the metamorphosis of different butterflies to what hatches from eggs.

ExpandMy kids used to like to visit, but now that they are in elementary school. I think they have aged out. What is there for them at Hidden Oaks?

Children are natural scientists as they grow. Hidden Oaks welcomes children of all ages and has many ways to keep them engaged. Older kids enjoy challenging themselves to build a fort or creating physical challenges for themselves in Nature Playce. A further walk to the stream or other trails with a magnifying lens or net from the front desk would stimulate a child’s curiosity. Looking for relationships and defense strategies for the live and preserved animal species beats out Pokémon every time! Families can enjoy a wider array of activities with older children including several of Hidden Oaks’ popular events such as October’s Fear-less Fest, the Pirate Treasure Hunt, our Dino Egg Hunts, children’s literature-themed tea parties, snake & turtle feedings, flying squirrel viewing and monarch tagging, just to name a few! Others may want to fulfill a scout program requirement or enjoy a group activity in the day or evening. View Hidden Oaks Scouting Programs. As children get older, they may visit Hidden Oaks for a school field trip. Over 20 topics are available for school or group field trips on site, with a smaller number of options available to be conducted at the school or meeting site. View details on School Programs, onsite or Outreach. Hidden Oaks now offers online reservation requests.

A new addition at Hidden Oaks is the option to rent one of five nature or American Indian-themed backpacks for $10/week. The bags contain puppets, DVDs, specimens, books and other materials to enjoy at home or in class. The Adventure Backpacks for $20/wk also include a Junior Naturalist Workbook to keep, plus tools to explore a specific environment. All backpack rentals require a refundable security deposit. Rentals are arranged at the nature center.

ExpandWe parked at the Packard Center. What is that building and did someone named Packard ever live there?

The Packard Center, named after Fred Packard, houses the Artisans Gallery, a handicrafts gift shop supported by local artisans, plus environmental and community group offices. Fred Packard, 1913-1981, was Fairfax County’s first director of parks, as well as the executive secretary of the Northern Virginia Parks Authority. Previously he had served with the National Park Service and was noted for his work with the International Affairs Office in NPS. His wife, conservationist Jean Packard, 1923-2014, was the first woman in Virginia to serve as a Director and Chair of a Soil and Water Conservation District, and served as the Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

The Packard Center, originally the home of Malcolm Morrow, was acquired along with the surrounding 39 acres in the late 1950’s. It has been expanded and served from then until the mid-1980’s as the headquarters of Fairfax County Park Authority.

ExpandOn the trail are signs about an unfinished railroad. What is that about?

In the early 1850’s a railroad was planned through this area, connecting Alexandria to Manassas lines further to the west. Although berms and some bridge abutments were built, no track was ever laid, since the entire concern went bankrupt before the American Civil War. The war ended any further speculation or plans for completing the line. Visit Hidden Oaks to get more fun info about this and the nearby Manassas Gap Railroad Park!

ExpandI rescued this box turtle which was wandering through my yard! Do you want it or can I release it here?

Eastern box turtles are native to Fairfax County as are many other reptiles. Unless the box turtle is in danger, such as being attacked by a dog or in the middle of the road, please leave the turtle alone. If it is in the middle of the road, only if it is safe for you to do so, pick it up and move it across the road in the direction it was headed, ideally 10 feet or more beyond the road. By moving the turtle to a new location, you may inadvertently be injuring the turtle population by introducing bacteria, and you are removing the animal from its home. Should the turtle be injured or cannot be returned, contact the Wildlife Rescue League, staffed by volunteers, at 703-880-0400.

If you have found an eastern box turtle in your yard – congratulations! You have the opportunity for a wonderful learning opportunity! Please do not try to keep it as a pet but you could treat it to a variety of healthy snacks. For example, a hard-boiled egg crumbled with the shell still on will help support the turtle with protein and calcium. Dark leafy green and orange vegetables, such as chopped up kale, spinach or carrots, provide a boost as would chopped up strawberries or blueberries. You could also toss a slug or earthworm your visitor's way.

To see if you are being visited by a boy or a girl turtle, have an adult gently lift the turtle with two hands, similar to if the turtle was a sandwich. If the underside shell, the plastron, is curved in, you have a male. If it is flat, your guest is a female!

ExpandI found a baby bird on the ground and I brought it to the nature center in a shoebox. Can you care for it?

Fairfax County park Authority facilities, including Hidden Oaks , are not allowed to take in and care for wildlife. Before you put a bird in a shoebox, find out if you are helping or bird-napping by calling the Wildlife Rescue League at 703-440-0800 or go online to

Unfortunately we also have to turn away donations of used bird nests. These may harbor dermestid beetle larvae, fleas and other creatures that could damage our exhibit specimens.

ExpandWhat do the animals on exhibit eat and where did you get them?

Many of the animals on exhibit were provided by a wildlife rehabilitator who, by virtue of the injury or the length of time kept, could not release the animal back into the wild. Some were born in captivity, such as the snapping turtle and the corn snake. We rarely add to our exhibit animals, and never can accept a non-native such as a red-eared slider or iguana. Although the exhibit animals do have names – not that they respond when called! – we consider them as educational exhibits and not pets. Reptiles make poor pets insomuch as they do not respond positively to human contact or want attention. Reptiles can transmit salmonella through their excrement. Some, such as eastern box turtles, can live over 100 years. Should you want to know about a specific animal, please ask at the front desk!

ExpandI see signs by the animal exhibits that some people adopted the snakes and turtles. How long do you get to keep them at your home?

Visitors are welcomed to financially support the upkeep of the exhibit animals but the animals must stay at Hidden Oaks! By "adopting" an animal through our Animal Sponsorship Program, families receive a thank you letter "from" the selected animal, a photograph and an adoption card. Sponsors are also invited to attend a snake & turtle feeding program as our guest. For a snake adoption, the benefactor also receives a portion of their creature's shedded snake skin! The adopters name is posted for the contracted period by the animal with our gratitude. Contact for more information.

ExpandWhat part of the park is open when?

The park grounds, including Nature Playce and the trails, are open dawn to dusk. The exception is for scheduled programs at Hidden Oaks and the Packard Center, and seasonally for the lit tennis courts in the evening until 10 p.m. The hours of Hidden Oaks Nature Center March – November are M - F from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., weekends and holidays 12-5 p.m., closed on Tuesdays. December-Feb. the hours are 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily, closed on Tuesdays.

ExpandWhat is the length of the trails? How big is the park?

The Old Oak Trail, a loop wood chipped path with a gentle incline, is just under 1/2 mile. This trail is great for families, for at each of ten posts, visitors are challenged to identify an animal track. Families with young children may borrow from the nature center a seasonally appropriate Discovery Bag with trail activities, or a pictorial scavenger hunt for young children. For all ages, pick up a seasonal trail guide by the front door. Follow the orange blazes on the posts for the Old Oak Trail. Follow the blue blazes for a longer and steeper walk to loop over the creek. This path is about 1 mile. In total the connected paths are just over 2 miles in length.

Annandale Community Park is 52 acres with 33 acres under canopy. Included in the park is the Packard Center, a Park Authority maintenance facility, senior and girls’ league softball fields, a picnic shelter, tennis and basketball courts, three parking areas, a traditional playground, Nature Playce and Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

ExpandWhat is the name of the creek in Annandale Community Park?

Hidden Oaks and the land around it are all part of the Accotink Stream Valley watershed. There are two creeks which converge by the water easement in the southwest portion of Annandale Community Park. The blue-blazed trail crosses an un-named tributary referred to by Hidden Oaks as Bugg Creek, named in honor of a former trail volunteer. The creek is officially un-named, because it generally does not flow year-round, tending to dry up in August. The creek which flows parallel to the ballfields is Coon Branch. Both streams become Coon Branch, which flows southwest under Rt. 495 (the Beltway) and feed the Accotink Creek on the other side. This creek flows south, through Lake Accotink, and into the Accotink Bay. Together with Pohick Bay they form Gunston Cove which feeds the Potomac River.

ExpandI see a drawing of a bear on the Birding & Wildlife sign along the Old Oak Trail. Are there bears in the park?

Hidden Oaks’ trails are part of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries birding and wildlife trail system. The logo of VDGIF includes the graphic of the bear. Fairfax County is not home to bears although a few sightings of black bears as close to Annandale as Vienna do make the news.

ExpandWhat are common invasive plants in the park and how is the park managing the land to promote native species?

The most problematic non-native plants that we are currently trying to remove from the park grounds include: Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), and English Ivy (Hedera helix). The only way Lesser Celandine can be controlled is by an herbicide that has been applied by Park Authority certified sprayers. The other invasive plants are controlled by hand pulling and disposal. We depend on a variety of volunteers for labor. Teams from the Youth Conservation Corps removed Multiflora rose a few years back. Fairfax Master Naturalists have had work days at the park. Japanese stiltgrass and English ivy have been pulled by seventh grade students as part of their Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience fieldtrip to Hidden Oaks. Students from Poe, Luther Jackson and Longwood Middle Schools have removed hundreds of bags of nonnative plants and planted native plants including goldenrods, wood asters, ferns, milkweeds, phlox, and foamflower.

ExpandHow did you get the non-living animals on display?

Most the preserved animal specimens are donated from a variety of estates or other nature centers. Often people move elsewhere and don’t want to see a wonderful learning tool go to waste. The juvenile bald eagle has been on loan from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service since the early 1970s. Hidden Oaks maintains a federal permit for its display for educational purposes. The juvenile flying squirrel, which was found dead in the park, was preserved by a local taxidermist. The chipmunk and grey squirrel were purchased online in the last five years.

ExpandWhat kind of snakes do you have in the park outside your doors?

In Annandale Community Park the public or naturalists have seen eastern rat snakes, garter snakes, earth snakes, worm snakes, king snakes, ring-necked snakes and northern brown snakes.

ExpandWhat are the rules for Nature Playce?

Other than not putting anything in your mouth, there aren’t any! Staff requests that sand be kept in the sand areas and not spread across the ground. Our motto is , “Enter with a sense of wonder and a spirit of adventure!”

ExpandWhat are the rules for visiting the exhibit area?

Walking feet and inside voices. Please keep shoes on for safety. Please do not tap on the animal enclosures: the vibrations annoy and scares them, and can make them sick. Please do not let children throw anything in the animal enclosures. The animal could mistakenly eat or otherwise be injured by a foreign object. Please pick up any toys or books you played with and return them to the correct bin or place. Please no eating or drinking other than water inside. Picnic tables outside are available for your use. Please be gentle with toys and touch table items. The inside area is for exploring and learning – for play, outside is the best side!

ExpandAny rules for visiting the park with our four-footed friends?

Other than service animals, dogs, cats and other furry and feathered friends (even scaly) need to stay outside of the nature center. Outside animals greatly disturb the inside animals, which can smell and sense them. Everyone has to share the trails, so dogs should be on leashes and under control by the owners. That is the law in Fairfax County. Please pick up feces and dispose of them.


Additional parking is in Annandale Community Park. Upon entering the park from Hummer Road, take the right fork of the driveway and park in the lot adjacent to the Packard Center. Follow signs for a short walk through the woods to the nature center. The path to the rear of the parking lot does not have steps. The path leading in front of the Packard Center has steps with railings. Alternatively, you can bear left at the fork of the driveway into the park to the parking lot next to the shelter, playground and ball fields. Follow the marked paths behind the ball field or from the playground behind the shelter. Both paths are unpaved.

Facility Address and Phone Number:
Annandale Park/Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce Street
Annandale, VA 22003

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