Get to Know Retzer Nature Center

Nature-lovers rejoice! The Retzer Nature Center offers visitors so much to do and see, including 450 acres of prairies, forests, wildlife habitat, nature trails and ponds, a children’s garden and environmental learning facilities. It’s also home to the state-of-the-art, 90-seat Horwitz-DeRemer Planetarium operated by the Waukesha School District. Stop by and soak in all that this beautiful gem in Waukesha County has to offer.

Wisconsin is blessed with four fabulous seasons. Fall is upon us, what does Retzer Nature Center offer those visiting this time of the year?

Retzer Nature Center offers year-round activity and beauty, but autumn is a special season. Hiking, birding, and special events are taking place at Retzer Nature Center during fall. And yet, coming to Retzer again and again throughout the seasons can offer a different experience each time… the same tree can be an amazing blaze of fall color, a stark support for icicles, wildlife and snowdrifts, and a beacon of transition as the leaves bud and open into a cool shady canopy. There are multiple public clubs, groups, general programming, planetarium shows, scouting events, citizen science opportunities, and special events that occur

The trails are perfect for hikers and the scenery is unbelievable. Tell us about the different trails available to guests.

Retzer Nature Center boasts trails that traverse a number of different ecosystems, each with their own unique wildlife and beautiful scenery. Guests can hike a trail to the top of a glacial drumlin, one of the many drumlins visible from the Retzer Vista and also hike to the lowest elevation at Retzer to discover Brown’s Fen, a unique alkaline wetland with unique plants. Trails take guests though tall grass prairies, oak savannahs, pine forests and deciduous forests. Many different difficulty levels and trail lengths are available for all hiking and walking enthusiasts to enjoy, including a paved, accessible trail near the Environmental Learning Center.

New in September 2019 will be additional mowed trails. A variety of loop trails to take you to the many environments found at Retzer, there truly is something for everyone.  Shorter trail loops will take you to shaded forest locations, sunny hilltop prairie vistas, majestic pine stands, and a variety of dry and wet pond environments.  For the more adventurous hikers, who don’t mind a long stroll, you can venture into mature oak woodlands, Brown’s Fen and a variety of twists and turns where you’ll see beautiful spring ephemerals, a multitude of wildlife, stunning fall colors, and so much more.

A new boardwalk is going in at Retzer, which will allow visitors to immerse themselves into the peaceful woodland environment. Anticipated completion is 2021.

Trails are also open during winter for hiking and snowshoeing. This is a great place to try snowshoeing for the first time, with snowshoes available for rent at the front desk.

What kind of local wildlife can a visitor expect to see while exploring at Retzer?

In autumn, Retzer Nature Center is a great place to see butterflies, bumblebees, and moths. Also, many species of dragonflies are flying over the Retzer pond and around Brown’s Fen this time of year. Be sure to look for the brilliantly red autumn meadowhawk and swarms of migrating common green darners.

There are many migratory grassland and forest bird species to be seen at Retzer during autumn before they begin their migration south. More common bird species are resident at Retzer year-round. In fact, a grand total of 171 different bird species have been observed at Retzer!

More information about Retzer’s conservation efforts can be found here.

Tell us about Retzer’s Environmental Learning Center and the Horwitz-Deremer Planetarium.

The Environmental Learning Center is a wonderful place to discover more of what is going on at Retzer Nature Center. The interactive exhibits integrate recycling, composting, natural resources and water conservation with ecology, space and programming at Retzer Nature Center.

While wandering the Environmental Learning Center, be sure to visit the 700-gallon freshwater aquarium and our animal ambassador turtles, snakes, birds, gerbils, walking sticks (and more!). Retzer’s Prairie Underground exhibit will show you how many animal species live in our prairies and give you a close up look at how they live beneath the prairie. Nature Discovery Tables let kids see, touch, and explore natural objects.

The Horwitz-DeRemer Planetarium is not only an accurate day and night sky projection system, but the program serves as a district and community science resource center. This state of the art planetarium offers weekly weekend shows for audiences of all ages. The 40-foot dome with 90 theater-style seats now boasts a new 4k Digistar system with surround sound. Each show consists of a presenter-led star talk and a full dome planetarium show. Not only can you catch a show, but the planetarium also offers free skywatching events the first Friday of each month.

How is an ideal day spent at the Retzer Nature Center for an out of town sightseer?

Start early for a sunrise hike through an amazing circuit of environments that will show you the variety that Southeastern Wisconsin has from shaded woodland ponds, through tallgrass prairies, to an incredible hilltop vista, through a lowland fen, and back through a mature oak savanna. Eat a picnic lunch in the Pines, on the West Patio, or atop the Prairie Vista. Head inside to discover unseen wonders of the prairie in the Prairie Underground exhibit, watch freshwater fish in Retzer’s aquarium, and check out an animal ambassador at work. View a planetarium show, then learn how Waukesha County recycles in our award-winning interactive sustainability exhibit. On the evening walk to your car, you will be serenaded by the occasional spring peeper, grey tree frog trill, or migrating Sandhill cranes flying overhead.

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