if your family enjoys nature walks and learning about wildlife, the MK Nature Center is one of the best places in Boise for a kid friendly summer activity that is absolutely free.
The 4.6 acre MK Nature Center is located behind the south end of the Idaho Fish and Game building at 600 South Walnut Avenue, just minutes from downtown. The highlights of the center is the easy and wheel chair accessible stream walk with viewing windows that give visitors a glimpse into the life beneath the water’s surface. Depending on the interest level of your child, plan on taking between 1-1.5 hours to view all the exhibits.
Before we explore the streams, our family always visits the Education Building, located near the main entrance. The Education center is filled with an assortment of hand-on activities that keep kids of all ages entertained. Your children can make animal tracks in the sand and create tracings of wildlife. There are also stuffed fabric fish to pick up that will give them some idea of how heavy fish can be. In a smaller room are terrariums containing lizards and snakes, plus tables of animal pelts, horns and skulls that can be picked up and touched.
One of the more impressive exhibits are the full body taxidermy mounts of Idaho wildlife and birds which include cougars, a grizzly bear, wolf, elk, caribou and many more. There’s even a replica bear cave for smaller children to crawl into! The center also has a computer with an interactive stories and free back issues of Idaho Fish & Game’s “Wild Life Express” publication for children. Don’t forget to step into the lecture room where you can view the wild birds feeding; near the window are instructions for making your own bird feeders as well as other environmental tips.
Exiting out the rear door brings you into a patio; turn right to connect up with the stream walk. The pathways aren’t marked; going left will lead you around native plant gardens, butterfly gardens, and bird viewing shelters while the trout pond and connecting stream paths can be found directly ahead. Our family always begins our stream walk by stepping onto the wooden bridges that span the trout ponds. From here you can view several dozen large trout, in addition to a beaver dam, wild ducks, and Canadian Geese.
The stream walk itself takes between 20- 30 minutes and includes a series of viewing windows that allow you to observe the fish underwater. Interpretive panels identify all 10 different types of fish to be found in the pond, and will also help you to understand the life cycle of the fish. Depending on the time of year, you may see small fry working their way upstream and into the ponds. There are also several bird watching stations located near feed and nesting platforms; if you sit quietly for several minutes, you will see a wide range of birds drinking from tiny streams or enjoying bird seed.
The Stream walk is open year round from Sunrise to Sunset, 7 days a week. The Educational Building is open Tuesday – Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, and weekends 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is free, however, there is a small donation box in the lobby of the educational building that kids won’t want to pass by.