2021 Update: Most features of Watkins Regional Park are now open! The Wizard of OZ playground and hiking trails are accessible. Old Maryland Farm is open for walk-ins, though limited capacity could mean a wait to get in. Watkins Nature Center can be explored with an advance reservation. The antique carousel and miniature train are open weekends. Mini golf is still closed.
Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, was one of my early parent discoveries. And by parent discovery, I mean it took having a child to realize the place existed, even though I had lived in the area for years. We first start visiting when Owen began toddling around, not long after his first birthday, and it’s been a constant in our rotation of go-to outings since.
So, the park is far from new to KFDC (as you probably knew if you’ve been reading the blog awhile…I recommend it quite often), but with a new, recently opened Wizard of Oz themed playground, it seems like a perfect time to spotlight one of our favorites.
When I first heard about the playground, which was replacing an older one, I thought it could either be terribly cheesy or super cute. Luckily, it turned out to be the latter, full of vibrantly colored apparatuses that embrace the story of Dorothy and friends: Children can slide down ruby red slippers, swing over the rainbow, play in and on a farm house, romp down the yellow brick road, and so much more.
That’s not all there is to do at Watkins — far from it, in fact. Just across the road from the playground are the Chesapeake Carousel, Miniature Train, and Mini golf that open from mid-spring through summer. And just beyond that is Old Maryland Farm, where you can visit chickens, peacocks, turkeys, bunnies, llamas, cows, horses, and ducks.
A bit further up the road, but still within walking distance is the Watkins Nature Center, one of the best in the area, in my opinion. Inside, rescued birds and reptilian creatures are on view in caged areas and terrariums, along with a small turtle pond. There are also sweet activity areas for puppet shows and bird watching. Outside, you can visit larger rescued birds like owls and hawks and stop by the frog pond and try to spot them hiding among the lily pads. A small amphitheater, where story time sessions and other programs sometimes take place, is a fun place for spontaneous performances when it’s not in use. And short trails nearby that loop through the surrounding woods make for nice easy hikes with the kids.
Even more, the park is fantastic for birthday parties! Owen and Sasha had a joint bash at the Nature Center, and it was easily one of the best parties they’ve had. We’ve attended many others there and at Old Maryland Farm (which includes a hayride), and they’ve never disappointed. The Carousel area also offers parties during the season, though we’ve never been to one.
The carousel, train, and golf, which all require a small fee, are only open during the week from Memorial Day weekend until early September and weekends through the end of month beyond that. The rest, though, is open year-round, and even better, it’s all free to explore and enjoy. And I highly recommend you do so.
Watkins Regional Park is located at 301 Watkins Park Drive in Upper Marlboro, MD. Park hours are dawn to dusk, and admission is free, but some venues within the park have their own hours and fees:
– Old Maryland Farm is open Tuesday – Friday 9am – 4pm, Saturday 9am – 4:30pm, Sunday 11:30am – 4:30pm (Hours are Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 4pm during Covid.)
– Watkins Nature Center is open Monday – Saturday 8:30am – 5pm, Sunday 11am – 4pm — you must reserve a time-slot for a self-guided tour. (Hours are Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 4pm during Covid.)
– The Carousel, Train, and Golf are open seasonally – see the website for details. (Closed during Covid.)