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5 Places for Shark Tooth Hunting Adventures Near the DC Area


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 these places.

Recently, another publication contacted me about using some of my photos for a piece they were doing about places in the area to go shark tooth hunting. I’m always happy to share, but it also got me thinking: If the publication didn’t have their own images, did that mean the writer hadn’t actually been to all of these places? Isn’t it better to get recommendations for an activity like this based on real experience rather than just research? (And am I being totally catty right now? 😼)

In that vein, I decided to put together this round-up of places within day-trip distance of DC to search for shark teeth and other remnants of millions-of-years-old marine life. Just about all of them have been either written up or at least mentioned on KFDC already, and it makes sense to have them all in one place. And I can assure you that we have, indeed, experienced every single one. Happy hunting!

Shark teeth for the picking at Purse State Park

Purse State Park

Purse State Park is by far our favorite place to gather shark teeth — and I say gather instead of search for, because chances are very good that you will collect lots of teeth and other prehistoric remains at this Charles County locale. The beach area at Purse is very narrow, but it stretches far along the Potomac River, and it is loaded with Paleocene Era gems, i.e. fossils from sharks, fish, shells, even crocodiles, that are 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 to Purse, since the already thin strip of sand dwindles even more at high tide. If it’s warm, we often swim a bit, too, as the water is shallow and usually very mellow. There are no concessions or facilities, so bring a picnic and be prepared to pee in the woods or water.

To get there, follow GPS directions to Purse State Park in Nanjemoy, MD. It will take you to a wooded area with a very small parking area across from a trail head. Follow that trail about a half-mile to the beach, where your “treasure” hunting adventure will begin. Hours are sunrise to sunset, and admission is free. See more scenes from Purse State Park here.

Enjoy the calm waters as you search for shark teeth at Flag Ponds

Flag Ponds Nature Park

NOTE: In response to COVID-19, Flag Ponds is open to Calvert County residents only.

About an hour’s drive from DC in Calvert County, Flag Ponds Nature Park is just up the road from the well known Calvert Cliffs that are the source for many of the fossils found in that area. And in my opinion, it’s the best place to go for a day’s beach outing that involves shark tooth hunting. Not only can you search for teeth and other remains from the Miocene Era — that’s up to 30 million years old — there is a vast sandy expanse where kids can play, and the Chesapeake where they can swim (check for jellyfish first, though). Fossil finds, in our experience, aren’t as plentiful as they are at Purse State Park, but if you keep an eye out as you walk the shoreline or even sit in one spot and sift through shells and pebbles, you’re bound to come across some small teeth. And who knows… you might get really lucky and score a prized megalodon tooth — the largest shark ever existed during that time and its mega-sized teeth have been discovered there.

You pay to get in at an entrance gate, then park in a lot near the Visitor Center. From there, it’s about a quarter-mile walk on a paved road, then a dirt road to the beach. It’s best to set up close to the shoreline, as it can get buggy and hotter inland near ponds that form with the changing dunes and tides. There are restrooms and a rinsing shower at the entrance to the beach. And there are drink vending machines at the parking lot, but no other concessions, so be sure to bring snacks and water.

Flag Ponds Nature Park is located at 1525 Flag Ponds Parkway in Lusby, MD. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, hours are 9am – 4pm Friday and Monday, 9am -5pm Saturday and Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hours are 9am – 6pm weekdays, 9am – 8pm weekends. Admission is $8/car. See more about Flag Ponds here.


Beach fun + shark tooth hunting at Calvert Cliffs

Calvert Cliffs State Park

NOTE: In response to COVID-19, the beach area is closed, but Calvert Cliffs State Park remains open.

This is the park that most people have heard about, its cliffs somewhat famous for the prehistoric treasures they hold. They were formed over 20 million years ago beneath what was then an ocean that submerged the region during the Miocene Era. As the waters receded and exposed the terrain below, the preserved remains of prehistoric sea life have also been revealed, and, hence wash up on Chesapeake shores now. However, while I like the park itself, in my experience it has not been a boon for shark tooth hunting; I have found only small amounts of fossils on my visits. (Perhaps this is why I have yet to do a write-up about it on the blog.)

The park is worth a visit, though. The beach area nestled between cliffs is very pretty, the water is swimmable, and fossil hunting makes for a nice activity while you’re enjoying a beach day. It’s about a two-mile hike through woods and marsh areas to the beach and cliffs, which adds some extra recreation and neat nature sights to an outing there, but also extra effort — something to keep in mind with little ones and/or strollers in tow.

Calvert Cliffs State Park is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Admission is $5 per vehicle. There are restrooms near the parking lot and portable toilets along the trail close to the beach. There are no concessions, so BYO food and drinks.

Younger days at Brownie’s Beach

Bayfront Park aka Brownie’s Beach

Brownie’s Beach was the first place we enjoying shark tooth hunting, though I use the term “hunting” loosely because it was almost effortless to find fossils there. The park in the town of Chesapeake Beach was our go-to, easy-from-DC beach destination when the kids were much younger. It’s a nice little spot with a small stretch of sand, gentle shallow water, and the cliffs edging the shoreline. It’s also a beach known for shark teeth finds, and they were always aplenty at Brownie’s. We would scoop up a handful of small shells and rocks near the water, wash away the sand, pick through, and small fossils were practically guaranteed in the mix.

I talk about Brownie’s (officially called Bay Front Park) in the past tense, because we haven’t been in several years, since they increased the summer admission fee to $18/adult, $10/age 3-11 for out-of-county residents. But the steep price likely means less people, so if you’re willing to pay, you probably get more shark tooth hunting space to yourself. You could also go during cooler months and avoid the cost.

Bayfront Park is open 6am – 9pm. As noted above, entrance fees from Memorial Day to Labor Day are $18/adult, $10/child and can only be paid by credit card — Visa, Mastercard, or Discover. While there are eateries in the town of Chesapeake Beach, there are no facilities or concessions at the park, so plan accordingly.

A pretty but chilly day at Matoaka Beach

Matoaka Beach

I can’t even remember where I learned about this beach a few years ago; the link above is a random one I just found. But after I read about it back then as a place to search for fossils, we checked it out with friends on a chilly February day (because who says all fossil hunting adventures have to be warm ones?). It was a pretty spot, less than 10 miles from Calvert Cliffs, in St. Leonard. We found a few shark teeth there, but it didn’t make a strong enough impression at the time to be post-worthy. We also paid $20 for parking to a man who seemed to be running things, even though I had read it was $5.

All that said, I’ve been thinking about giving it another go; we may have just been cold and not up for a long outing there. Again, there are no facilities or concessions, something to plan for. Find directions to Matoaka here. Once you park, it’s a very short walk to the beach.

The right footwear makes a big difference

Shark Tooth & Fossil Hunting Tips:

* Wear proper shoes! Water shoes in warm months and rubber boots in cold ones, so you can walk along the shell and rock laden shore without discomfort or freezing your tootsies off.

* Bring along a small shovel and sifter if you like to dig for your fossils.

* Hat and sunscreen always recommended, even on cold days… if it’s sunny, faces can still burn being outside for a long time.

* Bring water and snacks. Fossil hunting works up appetites!

* Take a good look at directions, maybe even write them down, in case GPS fails in remote areas (this has happened to us, but luckily I knew the way).

* Bring a container with a small hole cut in the lid to easily store your fossil finds.

* If you’re not sure whether or not something is a fossil, bring it home anyway and do some research to identify it when you get home.

* The Fossil Forum and Fossil Guy are great resources for more about your fossil finds.

* The Calvert Marine Museum is also a wonderful place to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay, including prehistoric marine life there.


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Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 26-30

Hanging out in the Asian Collection at the National Arboretum



Monday – Make a day of it at the National Arboretum. Explore the plant collections, go for nature walks through the woods, visit the Washington Youth Garden, and see the old Capitol columns. There are so many ways to enjoy one of the loveliest places in the city. Hours are 8am – 5pm, and admission is free. Read more about the Arboretum in the round-up of the best places to spend a day outdoors — it tops the list!

Tuesday – Get on board the Regal Summer Movie Express! The series begins this week, presenting family films for just $1 every Tuesday and Wednesday at participating theaters during the summer. See what’s playing at a theater near you — there are two movie choices every week.

Wednesday – Head to the National Museum of American History, where they’ve joined forces with LEGO Systems for visitors to experience The Nation We Build Together. A nine-foot-tall LEGO Statue of Liberty model will be displayed, and guests of all ages are invited to take part in a hands-on building activity and have a chance to take home their very own miniature LEGO brick-built Statue of Liberty. Festivities begin at 10am. Building activities begin at 12:30pm on a first-come, first-served basis. Admission is free.

Thursday – Make it a beach day at Flag Ponds Nature Park. Swim in the Chesapeake (or just dip the toes if it’s jellyfishy), build sandcastles on the shore, have a picnic, spot wildlife in the woods, and definitely do some fossil hunting — the park is a great place to search for shark teeth and other prehistoric remnants. Hours are 9am – 6pm, and admission is $8/car. Get a glimpse and read more about it in this KFDC post.

Friday – Spend the day at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival where circus arts and the movement of people in America are the focus. The annual celebration of living cultural heritage is full of hands-on activities, performances, demos, and much more from June 29 – July 4 and July 6-9, 11am – 5pm each day, with the opening ceremony at 10am the first day, and evening dance parties at 5:30pm and circus performances most nights at 7pm. Find it all on the National Mall from 7th to 12th Streets. Admission is free.


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Where to Play on the Weekdays: July 5-8

Kick off the flip flops and enjoy a day at Flag Ponds

Kick off the flip flops and enjoy a day at Flag Ponds



Tuesday – Visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, where the water lilies and lotus flowers are beginning to bloom — it is gorgeous! There will be a big festival to celebrate it in a couple of weeks, but it’s also nice to enjoy without the crowds. Meander through the park to see ponds full of giant lily pads and dazzling flora, walk out on the boardwalk and peer over to watch snapping turtles in the water below, and take in views of the acres of marshland. And did I mention this is all right in NE DC? Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Wednesday – Make it a beach day at Flag Ponds Nature Park. Swim in the Chesapeake, build sandcastles on the shore, have a picnic, spot wildlife in the woods, and definitely do some fossil hunting — the park is a great place to search for shark teeth and other prehistoric remnants. Hours are 9am – 4pm (beach closes at 3:30pm), admission is $6/car.

Thursday – Catch a bilingual kids’ concert by Moona Luna at Strathmore’s Backyard Theatre for Children. The annual summer music series for kids kicks off this week and will take place every Thursday through July. Performances are at 9:30am and 11:30am. Tickets are $8. Enjoy some evening entertainment, too, as the Capital Fringe Festival begins! The first day of performances includes the all ages show Once Upon a Bedtime by Silver Finch Arts Collective at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Showtime is 6pm, and tickets are $17.

Friday – Enjoy free admission for kids to the Newseum while you can! The annual Summer Fun Deal, which runs July 1 – Labor Day, waives the entrance fee for youth with one paid adult admission. The deal benefits kids ages 7 and up most, since children 6 and under always get in free, and much of the Newseum’s collection will be better appreciated by older children. Adult tickets are $22.95. For a museum outing with little ones, head to National Postal Museum, a fantastic but often overlooked museum full of interactive exhibits that all ages can enjoy. Hours are 10am – 5:30pm, and admission is free.

*Plan ahead for summer weekends!* Check out Ruddy Duck Adventures packages that explore all kinds of cool fun in Solomons, MD. And KidFriendly DC readers can get a discount using the code KFDC!


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Beach Fun & Fossil Hunting at Flag Ponds Nature Park

flagponds_hangingout

We had an incredibly busy spring. Between multiple sports, ballet, the school play, and other random commitments, it seemed like someone always needed to be somewhere — practices, games, lessons, rehearsals — and our “chill” time was rather limited.

So, I’ve decided to make up for it these first two weeks of summer break. Instead of the kids starting camp right away as they usually do when the school year ends, we’re slowing things down and, save for a couple of drop-in camp days, relishing some carefree, undemanding time together. This includes lazy, loungy mornings, heading out whenever we’re ready with no worry of being tardy. Bathing suits and towels are part of our everyday wardrobe and gear. And we’re planning fun adventures that take advantage of the season and are best enjoyed in immersive, unhurried fashion.

flagponds_view

We kicked off our stretch of leisure in the most apropos way possible: By hitting the beach, of course. And we did so with a bit of serendipity. The original plan was to visit our go-to, easy-from-DC beach destination, Bayfront Park aka Brownie’s Beach. (And here I have to confess that I’ve never posted about it because the friend that introduced me to it years ago asked me not to share with the masses, but it’s apparently become better known, and for good reason.) It’s a fantastic little spot in Chesapeake Beach, MD, with a small but nice stretch of sand, gentle shallow water, and the Calvert Cliffs edging the shoreline. But the best part is the fossil hunting. It’s one of the beaches known for shark teeth finds, and they are aplenty at Brownie’s — scoop up a handful of small shells and rocks near the water, wash away the sand, pick through, and you’re practically guaranteed to find a few small fossils in the mix.

Younger days at Brownie's Beach

Younger days at Brownie’s Beach

Anyway, when I mentioned to a friend that we were going to Brownie’s, she informed me they now charge a pretty steep admission fee for non-residents of Calvert County ($16/adult, $9/child). However, as luck would have it, my friend Rebecca at Not-So-SAHM had just posted about a visit to Flag Ponds Nature Park, also out that way. It sounded nice — the $6 per carload admission fee a big plus — so we coordinated with friends, packed up beach gear and a picnic, and headed southeast. (UPDATE: Admission is now $8/car.)

flagponds_entrance

Flag Ponds is just an hour’s drive from the city, a straight shot out Pennsylvania Avenue. Really, you drive out PA Ave., which becomes Rt. 4 (but has a several other names along the way), and stay on that until you make a left onto Flag Ponds Parkway. A park ranger at a small trailer collected the entrance fee and directed us to a parking lot up the road. Next to the lot is a Visitor Center, and while we didn’t go in, I read that it’s interesting with displays of sea, plant, and wildlife that you might find in the area.

flagponds_road

Skink sighting!

Skink sighting!

The beach is about a half-mile walk down a dirt road from the lot, so we had bit of a load to carry with a cooler and our gear. There are tables near the parking lot where you can eat, but we were set on a beach picnic. (I recommend bringing a rolling cooler and stacking the rest of your stuff on it.) The road winds through a lovely wooded area, and you can hear bird calls and maybe catch a neat wildlife sighting, like the skink we spied. Near the end of the road, a narrow boardwalk leads to the sand, and there are restrooms and a rinsing shower right before you cross to the open beach area.

flagponds_boardwalk

flagponds_beach

The beach at Flag Ponds is fairly expansive (much bigger than Brownie’s), which has its pros and cons — more to explore, but more space for wandering children. It’s quite picturesque with a wide expanse of sand, sea grass blowing along the dunes, and pond-like inlets formed by sand washing in. We initially set up near one of the ponds, but quickly realized the water was kind of mucky and full of dead crabs, so we relocated to the outer edge of the beach close to the water. It’s very shallow, so the kids could easily swim and play, and with lots of shells and pebbles along the shoreline, it’s good for fossil hunting.

flagponds_waterplay

flagponds_sasha

Even though it was a hot day, there was a nice breeze blowing, and swimming kept us cool. The kids had a blast playing in the water and sand and taking nature walks to collect dead crabs and an eel(!).

flagponds_crabs

Owen joined me for some fossil hunting, though I probably enjoy finding shark teeth more than my kids and spent a lot of time sitting right at the shoreline grabbing handfuls of shells and sifting through them for fossil treasures — it’s quite therapeutic! However, I only found two shark teeth, much less than I would usually find at Brownie’s, something to keep in mind if that’s your main mission.

flagponds_fossilfinding

flagponds_sharktooth

After a good few hours of sun and surf, we decided to call it a day. On the way back to the car, we encountered a park ranger, who gave us the lowdown on the trails within the park. Apparently, there are a a few gentle mile-longish hikes that lead to ponds and wind through the woods.

With a great beach day in the books, we headed back to the city, thoroughly satisfied with a terrific start to our leisurely fortnight. And it gets even better, so be sure to check back here soon…

Flag Ponds Nature Park is located at 1525 Flag Ponds Parkway in Lusby, MD. from Labor Day to Memorial Day, hours are 9am – 4pm Friday and Monday, 9am -5pm Saturday and Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hours are 9am – 6pm weekdays, 9am – 8pm weekends. Admission is $8/car.


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