Arbor Hills is one of Plano’s best-known sites for a day in the sun and has been for as long as I can remember. When our kids were younger, we have met friends there, celebrated birthday parties, and taken the kids on nature walks. I distinctly remember going up to the observation tower but have never made it past that area. To rectify that, Mr. JJ and I went to take our weekend walk two Sundays ago. By the time we got there, it was already close to 9 am and cars packed the parking lot. Not wishing to waste time looking for a spot, we went elsewhere for our hike. But last weekend, we woke up early and made it to the parking lot at Arbor Hills just as the sun was a beautiful orange ball on the horizon.
Spread out over 200 acres of land, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve has three distinct ecoregions: Blackland Prairie, which is what most pioneers had to contend with, Riparian Habitat bordering the Indian Creek and Upland forest. We spent most of our time in the prairie and the forest areas. The paved trails (Arbor Hills Loop, Tower Trail) were the ones we first took. There was a steady stream of other hikers, but we were able to remain socially distanced. We climbed the Observation tower to take in the view before completing the Tower Trail through the forest area. The day was warming up, and as we transitioned from prairie meadow to forest, we enjoyed the shade from the canopy above. We walked up to #20 on the interpretive map before finding the road ahead closed for construction (Arbor Vista Trail portion). The trail detour took us back to the old pond area (#6 on the map).
By that time, we had walked only about 45 mins and just a couple of miles. So we walked back on the paved road and took the outer loop trail that is unpaved and single track. We followed this path along the creek for a while, enjoying the water flow, so clear against its creek bed, the massive tree roots along the creek banks, and the play between sunlight and shade. Eventually, the trail led back to the prairie, and we walked past the observation tower in the distance, once again looping around the forest’s outer boundaries. We saw train tracks just past the fence of the nature reserve. The juxtaposition between something so natural like the preserve against a set of manmade tracks, both lying side by side, was thought-provoking. There were far fewer people on this trail, but we had to stop and give way for the others to pass at places where the trail narrowed. Almost about 3 miles into this loop, we came across another barrier since work was on track. We had to retrace our steps and take another trail to cut across and reach the paved road. All in all, we walked about 5 miles that morning. We were glad of our sturdy walking shoes and the water bottles; we certainly needed both on the outer loop trail.
Although we walked the paved and the unpaved trails, the latter was definitely our favorite. Not only were they less crowded, but it felt we were on a small adventure; tracking the creek along its winding path, watching birds flying from tree to tree, and hiking up and down as the path undulated or rose slightly and fell. Of course, we had to watch for critters and open roots. But we will be back to hike these trails again.
Have you enjoyed walks along the trails at Arbor Hills? What’s your favorite portion of the Preserve?
Arbor Hills Nature Preserve is located at 6701 W Parker Road, Plano, TX 75093. Open all days from 5 am to 11 pm (except Wednesday from 2 pm to 11 pm). Check for trail closures prior to visit. Carry water, binoculars, interpretive trail map. Wear sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable walking shoes.