Category Archives: Park

Hike the Underground Railroad Experience Trail at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park

 

I first mentioned Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park on the blog back in mid-June after the kids and I had just visited the locale in Montgomery County.   I’d heard about the park and the Underground Railroad Experience Trail at least a couple of years before that, and it had been on my long list of places to check out.  But as the Black Lives Matter movement really began to swell, it moved up.  An outing there seemed like a timely experience and educational opportunity for all of us, as well as a good place to go for a socially distanced outing.

The Federal-era manor

The newer Woodlawn Museum

Located in Sandy Spring, MD (just down the road from the popular Adventure Park), Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park offers a glimpse into the area’s past.  It contains a Manor House built in the 1800’s and a newer museum “where echoes of the past tell the story of a bustling farm, its community, and those who made a bold bid for freedom on the Underground Railroad.”  (That last part is in quotes because it’s straight from the website, as we couldn’t visit the museum ourselves; along with the Manor House, it was — and still is — closed due to Covid.)

But the Underground Railroad Experience Trail alone warrants a visit.  At the time we visited, the Montgomery Park’s website had said the trail was part of a network of routes that enslaved people used to escape to freedom.  However, it now has been modified to say that “there is no documented evidence that Woodlawn Manor’s property, owners or buildings were involved in the 19th century Underground Railroad.” Regardless, you still can get an idea of what an escape to freedom entailed.

The walk through dense woods and along edges of fields is an interesting, enlightening, and active way to spend time outdoors. It’s about two miles each way  — there and back; the trail doesn’t loop — and  generally flat and easy for little legs to tramp. During non-covid times, guided tours are available that explain the experience and highlight the conditions enslaved people encountered on the Underground Railroad.

Currently, all hikes are self-guided, but a KFDC reader suggested the great idea to print out the map and an explanation of the trail to bring along for context.  With information about timing of escapes, areas along the route best for hiding, obstacles they may have faced, and other notable aspects of the trail, it helps provide insight on the Underground Railroad experience.  And it’s an outing everyone should move up on their list.

Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park is located at 16501 Norwood Road in Sandy Spring, MD.  The park and trail are open dawn to dusk. Admission is free.  Guided tours will be available after park programming begins again.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Hike — & Après Hike — at Sugarloaf Mountain & The Comus Inn

Hanging out on the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain

 

Two kinds of outings many of us are seeking these days are activities outdoors with space to social distance and dining outside that’s family-friendly and heated.  And when you easily can combine both into one adventure, well, that’s like hitting the Covid day trip jackpot.

Enjoying the scenic surrounds of The Comus Inn

We experienced such luck a little while back the day after Thanksgiving.  I got the best tip from a friend about The Comus Inn, a newly renovated restaurant (and more) just down the street from Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, MD.  Her family had recently gone for a hike then stopped for a bite after, and she raved about the fantastic time they had there.

A view from the Sugarloaf summit

Hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain wasn’t new to us, but we usually paired it with a visit to the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, also a short drive down the road from the park.  We’re always up for something new, though, especially when it comes as a very enthusiastic recommendation.

Space to social distance

The start of the White trail

Sugarloaf Mountain, in Montgomery County about 10 miles south of Frederick, is a great place to go for a family hike.  If you’re with older kids or avid hikers, you can start at the base and opt for an seven-mile loop up and down the mountain.  With younger children, or if you just want a shorter, easier jaunt, you can drive farther up to the East View parking area, where several trails to hop on are nearby.  A couple of good ones are the white trail, which winds around and ascends gradually to the summit, and the orange trail that is a steeper, more direct climb up.  Drive a little further to the West View parking areas for more, similar options.  However you go, you’re guaranteed great views on the way and at the top.  

Group hike on the Orange

Scrambling up to the top

On this trip, we met up with friends and opted for the orange trail. While all of us parents followed the route, the kids went off-trail and scrambled up a hill and over rocks, but we all met at the summit.  It’s a large area, so you can enjoy the scenery and climb outer rocks.  There are no big drop offs, but it’s always a good idea to make sure kids aren’t doing anything precarious, of course.   You can also bring along a picnic and, if it’s not crowded, enjoy it on some of the large rocks along with sweeping views.  There are also picnic tables near the parking areas.  However, I highly recommend saving snack time for après hike…

 

A perfect setting for a post-hike meal

The Comus Inn is part of what made this whole adventure special.  The  family-friendly community recreation and entertainment destination (as they describe it) could be an outing in itself.  There is a lovely outdoor dining area with long wooden tables and smaller round ones, string lighting for added charm and ambiance, and more seating around a fountain and in the nearby expanse of grass. Tall heaters are placed throughout for warmth.  The menu has everything from snacks and starters to entrees with something for every palate, plus beer and wine and coffeehouse selections. The bonus: Fun games available to play — shuffleboard, corn hole, and ping pong.  And all of it is surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

Someone’s ready to eat

Ping pong to work up an appetite

Our large group walked right in and got seated, but I’m guessing that won’t be so easy as word gets out about The Comus Inn.  Unfortunately, they do not take reservations, but if there aren’t any tables readily available, it’s a pretty awesome place to have to wait.

Even more games to play… shuffleboard and corn hole

 

The Comus Inn is located at 23900 Old Hundred Road in Dickerson, MD. Hours are 7-11am and 4-8pm Thursday & Friday, and 7am – 8pm Saturday & Sunday.

Sugarloaf Mountain is located at 7901 Comus Road in Dickerson, MD, just over an hour drive from DC. Park ours are 8am – sunset.  Admission is a suggested donation of $5/vehicle.

 

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Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Free, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Patapsco Valley State Park

 

I have a long list of posts waiting to be written about some excellent adventures around the area. (So many great places, so little time…)  Patapsco Valley State Park has topped it for awhile, a local spot well overdue for a write-up here on the blog. I guess since it was included among the original recommendations for good Walks in the Woods with kids over 10 years ago, I just never made a full post a priority.  But these Covid times when everyone is looking for more outdoor activities, plus a couple of fantastic visits during the socially distanced months, have inspired me to get Patapsco crossed off that list.

Patapsco Valley State Park is located about 40 minutes from DC in Maryland, its 16,000+ acres sprawling through both Howard and Baltimore counties. It’s so big there are eight recreational areas, all of them offering different opportunities for outdoor recreation during all seasons.

The forested area is full of trails, many for hiking only, but some of them allow mountain biking and horseback riding, too.  Of course, the river for which the park is named has to be mentioned.  Over 32 miles of the Patapsco flow through the park, and visitors are welcome to swim in some areas during the warm months and paddle in others.

The trails vary, which keeps the hiking interesting. There are easy, flat routes along the river and rooty paths that wind through the woods, some leading to waterfalls or crossing over footbridges. We usually head in at the Avalon or Hilton entrances and hit the trails from there.  Both also offer the best access to swimming areas, and the Cascade Falls loop trails that leads to the pretty waterfall.  I recommend checking  the Patapsco website or Trails.com to find the right hike for your family and detailed info.

Where you go in the park may depend on what you want to do, as the various areas have different offerings.  There are the nice swim spots mentioned above.  Hilton and Pickall have playgrounds.  There’s paddling, tubing, and fishing in the Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove areas. Disc golf and basketball are in the McKeldin area. And just about all of them have picnic spots and pavilions, so you can easily make a Patapsco day of it. You can find more specifics on the website.

The park is also well known among mountain bikers as a great place to ride.  Levi has been riding the trails for years, and Owen is getting in on the action now, too.  Both recommend it for older kids/riders with some experience; it’s not a place for newbie mountain bikers.  They start at the Patapsco Trail Head at Landing Road, parking nearby along the road, but there are plenty of other areas to ride — you can find some recommendations here.

Like most outdoor places, Patapsco became a much more popular weekend destination during Covid, with some of the areas reaching maximum capacity by 10am!  Both times we went, we tried the Avalon entrance first, then rerouted to Hilton when we learned our first try was full.  I recommend checking Maryland State Parks on Twitter — they usually post when parks/areas are full, so you can plan accordingly.

 

Winter may be around the corner, but don’t let the cold stop you from enjoying the outdoors at Patapsco (or anywhere, for that matter).  As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!  Also, I read that Patapsco is a local destination for cross country skiing — a hobby we’re hoping to pick up this Covid winter.

Patapsco Valley State Park
Where: Howard & Baltimore Counties, Maryland
When: Open daily year-round, 9am – sunset
Admission:  April- October: Weekdays: $2/vehicle MD residents, $4/vehicle non-residents
Weekends/holidays: $3/person residents, $5/person non-residents
November – March: $2/vehicle residents, $4/vehicle non-residents

 

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Filed under 2020, All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Scenes from a Lovely Fall Outing to Brookside Gardens

 

Is it just me, or has this fall been especially beautiful?  The scenery seems ablaze with golden yellow, fiery orange, and deep red as the foliage puts on its seasonal performance. Perhaps the general gloom of this past year makes the bright spots that much more vivid, or maybe Mother Nature just knows how much we need it right now.

The fam framed by fall foliage

It’s this autumn luster that brought us to Brookside Gardens this past weekend — well, coupled with a little photography agenda.  We wanted to get out and enjoy the day before the rain came, someplace relaxing that would showcase the season.  So, I checked the round-up of the best outdoor places for ideas (yep, I use my own blog!), and in one glance I knew where we were going: Brookside Gardens, the beautiful public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park in the Montgomery Parks system.

Owen, circa 2010

Owen, circa 2015

The lead image in that post, the one of oh-so-sweet, four-year-old Owen chilling in the tree, was taken at Brookside almost exactly 10 years ago.  We recreated the photo when we happened to be back there five years later, so when I saw it again and did the math, I realized it was time for the next installment.

Paved paths traverse the gardens…

…as do leave strewn dirt trails

As those photos indicate, we’ve been enjoying Brookside Gardens for a long time.  Along with an occasional fall visit, we usually go for the wonderful annual Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit and Garden of Lights holiday display, however, both were among the many beloved area events cancelled this year.  But this autumn outing was lovely and serene and perfect for right now.  Plus, we got that shot.

Owen at 14

Of course, we had to capture our best girl, too

Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, MD.  Right now, the grounds are open to wander and enjoy daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center 10am – 2pm.   The sweet Children’s Garden is not accessible during Covid.  Along with the links above, read more about Brookside in this KFDC post.

And get more of a glimpse of the gorgeous fall in the pics below…

 

Goose watching

 

And it was all yellow

 

Japanese maple…wowza

 

View from a gazebo

 

Shimmering woods

 

A serene pond scene

 

This pergola turns into a fab pink walkway during Garden of Lights

 

Masks highly encouraged!

 

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Filed under 2020, All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Fall, Free, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend