NOTE: I can’t stress enough that it’s best to stay at home right now, as even outdoor spots might draw too many visitors to make them safe. I recently heard from a KFDC reader who went shark tooth hunting at Purse State Park that she felt very uncomfortable with so many others there, and it’s usually empty. Thus, I am now recommending not going to there right now.
You’ve got to love when a recommendation for a great adventure comes straight from an expert. I also appreciate when friends think of KFDC upon finding out about cool places to explore. Those two things combined are exactly what what brought us to Purse State Park in Charles County, MD, a couple of weeks ago.
On a recent visit to the National Museum of Natural History, my friend Jody got into a conversation with a paleontologist about searching for fossilized shark teeth (a random obsession she and I share), and learned that Purse is known for yielding excellent fossil finds. Once she shared that information with me, it wasn’t long before we made a trip out there with our kids for a day of digging, swimming, picnicking, and exploring.
Purse State Park is just over an hour’s drive away from DC along a part of the Potomac River called Wades Bay, where woods meet water. There’s a very small parking lot across the street from the trail head that leads to the pretty and peaceful beach area about a quarter of a mile away.
A narrow strip of sand stretches along the shoreline, tree branches from the woods overhanging in a few spots. But the “jewels” of the locale are hidden among the piles of shells and small rocks at the water’s edge, where you’ll easily find fossils from sharks, fish, shells, even crocodiles, many of them over 30 million and some up to 60 million years old.
It’s important to check the tide table (search Potomac River/Liverpool Point, MD) when you plan a visit, since the already narrow strip of sand thins out even more at high tide. Not only is it easier to sift through the piles of shells and rocks, but the kids have space to play in the sand and spread out a bit. The water is also nice and shallow for swimming (yes, in the Potomac!) at that time.
Having those extra activities for the kids was ideal, since they did their fossil hunting in short spurts, though Sasha found one of the larger shark teeth of our stash. Jody and I, however, were crouched by the river for long stretches of time, plucking all kinds of fossils from handfuls of sand and shells. A small area at the end of a little stream trickling from the woods to the river was a boon for shark teeth of all sizes, dental plate fragments, shellfish molds, fossilized shells, and possibly part of a turtle shell (this website is great for helping identify fossils). We met an Arlington woman there who does a lot of fossil hunting, and she said Purse is by far one of the higher yielding spots for shark and occasionally crocodile teeth.
We both left with nice stashes of fossils, and back home I added our new findings to a collection in a mason jar, save for a few teeth that Sasha included in birthday cards for friends. And I have to confess: I’m already jonesing for a fossil hunting fix — it’s that addicting! — and the nerd in me really, really hopes to score a crocodile tooth next time.
Purse State Park is located in Charles County in Nanjemoy, MD, according to GPS. It’s open sunrise to sunset, and admission is free. There are no concessions or facilities, so plan accordingly. (August 2019 Update per a KFDC reader: “…when you’re almost there, 5 miles away, you run into a “ROAD CLOSED” sign and need to u-turn and follow detour signs around the closed road. It was about 15-20 extra minutes. The sign said road closed since June but didn’t seem to have an end date.”)