[2020 Update: Purse State Park is now known as the Purse area within the Nanjemoy Wildlife Management Area in Charles County, MD. And since this post was first published in August 2015, it has grown greatly in popularity and is not quite the special find it once was. The small parking lot is now often full, cars are parked down the side of the road near the trailhead that leads to the beach, and many more people fill up the narrow stretch of sand along the river. It may not be a bad idea to check out some alternative places to find fossils around the area.]
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 (now the Purse Area of the Nanjemoy WMA) 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 trailhead 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 (now the Purse Area in the Nanjemoy WMA) 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.
12 Responses to Dig the Recreation at Purse State Park
We are going to stop by Purse Park today. A little chilly but I think the kids will have fun getting fossils. Should I just put Nanjemoy, MD into the GPS and then look for signs or is their a specific address that you used? Also, is do we just park on the side of the road? Thank you so much for posting about this Purse Park!
Heather – Apologies, I only just saw this. Hope you made it okay and had a great time! If for some reason you didn’t go, but plan to another time… I put Purse State Park in the GPS. And there is a tiny lot where you can park just across the street from the trail head.
Hi! Where exactly do you park? I plugged in purse State Park and looking at satellite images I’m not seeing where to park.
There’s a really small parking lot right across the street from the trail head that leads to the beach. It’s more of a dirt area right off the road to the left as you’re driving there. Just be in the lookout as you’re nearing the park, so you don’t pass it. Have fun fossil hunting!
we went to purse sunday.there is a chimney with concrete floor.what was that building?we were on the southern trail
I know exactly the chimney you are describing. I think it’s just remnants of an old house… as far as I know, there’s no historical significance. Hope you had fun fossil hunting!
Forgot to say, good luck finding fossils! Calvert county for the megs, btw.
We were thinking of heading there with a 4 and 2 year old. Is it rugged stroller friendly (like a BOB?). Also, is the water safe, as in not polluted, to swim in? Thanks! Bonni
Hi Bonni – I think it might be tough with a stroller, even a rugged one. You could probably get it down the trail to the beach, but it might be hard to move it once on the sand, depending on how wet or dry it is. Also, there are often large tree branches and other obstacles on the beach. The water is usually pretty clean, and my kids have gone swimming there. Hope you have a great time if you go!
According to the state park website, this park is now part of Nanjemoy Wildlife Management Area: https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/publiclands/southern/nanjemoy.aspx
Been their twice this month was shocked at the amount of sharks teeth we found probably 700 or so great beach clean will be back.
Great park clean and full of sharks teeth been their twice this month and found 700 or so sharks teeth one about 11/2 by 11/2 inches