Here is where my wife and daughter went this weekend (Father’s Day) in Ft. Lauderdale–and it was free and fun

Secret Woods Nature Center

2701 W. State Rd. 84, Dania Beach, FL 33312
Phone: 954-357-8884 • Fax: 954-357-8885 • Email:

Wi-Fi available in the Julia Hall.

Broward County’s first nature center, which opened in September 1978, comprises three vegetative communities found along and influenced by the New River: an inland freshwater cypress/maple wetland, a pond apple/mangrove community along the river, and, farther inland, a laurel oak hammock. The 57-acre site is now designated as an Urban Wilderness Area.


The nature trail along the New River

Nature Trails


                           Julia Assembly Hall
Monarch Interpretive Center

Butterfly Island
A 3,800-square-foot walk-through butterfly garden where you’ll find more than 20 different species of plants that attract butterflies. A 250-foot mulched path winds through the garden and has three benches along the way where you can sit and relax. Among the butterflies commonly seen in the area are the monarch, zebra longwing, cloudless sulphur, queen, gulf fritillary, giant swallowtail, and atala hairstreak.

Julia Hall
Rustic charm is abundant in this 2,175-square-foot hall, which has tongue-and-groove walls and a ceiling with exposed wooden beams. The room will comfortably seat 75 for a banquet. There is a fully equipped kitchen off the main room, and the adjacent 100-capacity open-air amphitheater measures 2,400 square feet. Wi-Fi is available.

Rental of the facility includes chairs and tables (both 60-inch-diameter round tables and 72-by-20-inch rectangular tables are available), as well as use of the kitchen and the amphitheater, which can also be rented separately within 30 days of the rental date (provided the hall has not been rented. The Butterfly Glade is available as an addition to the Julia Hall rental for intimate al fresco ceremonies. The hall is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Rental times include setup and cleanup.

Laurel Oak Trail
A 1,200-foot mulched nature trail that takes you from a hardwood hammock through a tidal marsh area and back. When you begin your walk along the Laurel Oak Trail, you are surrounded by laurel oaks, live oaks, sabal palms, wild coffee, green- and red-tipped cocoplum, beautyberry, and white stopper. As you continue down the trail, you will come to a series of four bridges that will carry you through a tidal marsh. There you will see leather ferns, pond apple trees, white mangroves, and a variety of palms. You are also likely to see many birds, squirrels, crabs, and lizards. There are several seating areas along the way.

New River Trail
This 3,200-foot boardwalk trail, constructed almost entirely from recycled plastic lumber, will take you through three different ecosystems. Your journey begins in a hardwood hammock where you are surrounded by native Florida vegetation such as laurel oak trees, sabal palms, white stopper, wild coffee, strangler figs, and cocoplum. As you get closer to the river, you will come to a tidal marsh area. The boardwalk will then rise above the water line, and you will be able to walk through a tidal marsh area that is completely under water during high tide. There you will see leather ferns, red and white mangroves, pond apple trees, and cypress.

Monarch Interpretive Center
A 2,000-square-foot facility with interpretive displays and hands-on activities focusing on the nature center’s flora and fauna. The center opened in October 2002 and includes a working beehive, along with a reptile habitat with snakes native to the area. Three computer kiosks feature interactive programs about plant, animal, and marine life, as well as weather and soil. There are also displays of Native American artifacts, and a mural depicting Native Americans as they approach historic Stranahan House to trade their wares. The center’s video room offers presentations on the Everglades and other nature-related topics, available upon request.

Public Art and Design
The Monarch Interpretive Center is home to a project called Metamorphosis, a ceramic tile floor by Raymond Olivero that represents the flight pattern of the butterfly. The artist also designed brightly colored butterfly “fresco glass” doors to grace the building’s entryway. This site-specific, integrated artwork fuses nature with art and design. “I have taken the flight pattern of the butterfly as the basis for the pathway,” the artist says in a statement. “I chose the butterfly not only for its unique flight pattern, but also because it is featured at the park, particularly at its entrance area….I also chose the butterfly motif for the butterfly’s innate variety and beauty as well as its metamorphosis, which makes it one of nature’s mysteries and secrets. In short, the butterfly offers the greatest degree of aesthetic and metaphorical possibilities.”

Swallowtail Classroom
An environmental education classroom that can accommodate classes of up to 20. Nature center staff can customize a lesson plan to meet the needs of most groups looking to learn more about the local environment. The classroom can be rented for four hours for $120 plus tax. For program information and reservations, call the park office at 954-357-8884.

No pets are allowed within the nature center’s boundaries.

Broward County Transit
The nature center is accessible via Route #6.

A Little History
When the approximately 30 acres known as the Rebecca Cohen Subdivision were scheduled for rezoning to make way for a marina parking lot in 1971, there was an outcry from local citizens who wanted to preserve their “secret woods.” The rezoning was canceled and the Nature Conservancy (a nonprofit organization) bought most of the property. Broward County made an agreement with the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land back within three years. In 1975, and over the next decade, the county purchased additional parcels of land while also receiving some donations, to bring the park to its current size of 57 acres. A matching Land and Water Conservation Fund grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, was also used during the nature center’s development.

This nature center is home to wildlife. If you have questions regarding wildlife or wish additional information, please call the park number above. The following safety tips are recommended for our guests: 1. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid the water’s edge. 2. Alligators, snakes, and other animals live in this area. 3. Do not approach, feed, or taunt alligators, snakes, or other wildlife. 4. No swimming or wading except in designated areas. 5. Use common sense while in this nature center.

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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7 Responses to Here is where my wife and daughter went this weekend (Father’s Day) in Ft. Lauderdale–and it was free and fun

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