You have to be on the ball to score tickets to Glenstone, the modern art museum sprawling gloriously over 300 acres in Potomac, MD. Even pre-Covid, passes were hard to get. They are released on the first of every month for timed-entry admission for the following two months. So, tickets that are released tomorrow, April 1, will be for visits in May and June. This takes some patience and planning, but I promise it’s worth it. [Update: They now offer Guaranteed Admission for students age 12+, active-duty military personnel, and staff from other museums — and one guest can join them.]
Glenstone is more than just a museum; it’s a whole experience. One that transports you to what feels like a destination far, far away from the city. Both indoor galleries (that should start to reopen April 8) and expansive grounds showcase a remarkable collection and traveling exhibits that are interesting, evocative, and beautiful. Design and architectural features are practically works of art themselves, and you will likely find yourself studying lines of the buildings and the pool of aquatic plants in the courtyard as much as the paintings and sculptures.
Exploring all of it on foot in the galleries and along paved paths spanning through open grassy areas, trails winding through woods, and boardwalks that zigzag over thick brush (or straw during cold months) add some recreation to the outing. It’s like an art-filled hike or an active art adventure. There’s also a cafe to make it a lunch date or to enjoy a snack in a very scenic setting.
Pick up a paper map on your way in or scan a QR code for one. You definitely want to know where you’re going as some of the outdoor installations are a bit hidden, and you don’t want to miss them. Inside, the galleries are numbered, so make sure you count them all off, too. There’s at least one that is easy to miss, and we had to search a bit to find it (though that also added some extra fun).
With its 12-and-older age policy for visitors, Glenstone is automatically a spot for the T(w)een Scene. And while this may be a bummer to parents with younger kids, I get why they do it. It’s not just that the art might be considered sophisticated for little ones. (In the “eye of the beholder” vein, I think all art could be enjoyed and appreciated on some level by every age.) Part of the Glenstone experience is the peaceful, “contemplative environment,” as they call it. I could see it being tough to keep kiddos from wanting to bolt through wide open spaces outside and use inside voices in the echoing galleries. I’ve been a few times sans kids, with friends, and on my own — a different season each visit — and I highly recommend it for a grown-up outing, whether a day date, a visit with friends, or solo.
That said, both of my kids are finally old enough to go, and I’m looking forward to bringing them. I had tickets for all us to visit when they had a day off from school recently, but a crazy downpour that day thwarted those plans. Thus, I’ll be online tomorrow trying to score those elusive tickets again.
Glenstone is located at 12100 Glen Road in Potomac, MD. It’s currently open Thursday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm. You must have a ticket to visit. As mentioned, free tickets are released the first day of every month at 10am for the following two months. Photography is not permitted indoors, hence all the outdoor images here.
One might hear Calvert Cliffs State Park and immediately think awesome shark tooth hunting. After all, the features for which the locale is named are well known as the source of millions-of-years-old fossils along Chesapeake shores. However, in our experience, fossil finds are not what make the park an excellent day trip destination; whenever we have visited, we’ve found just a few small shark teeth at most. [Note: The pics here are from a visit this past summer… ’cause I have to keep the theme going of posting months after our visits. 😉]
What is more appealing about Calvert Cliffs State Park are its other main recreational activities: Hiking, beaching, and swimming. There are 13 miles of trails total within the park, including one that is the direct route to the beach. It’s pretty evident where to catch the Red Trail from the parking lot, then it’s a two-mile ramble to reach the sand and surf, but a fairly easy and very scenic one.
The route is flat and mellow for the most part, so little ones can tackle it, and stretches through woods and along edges of marshes. Part of the trail is a wide dirt path shaded by tall leafy trees and part is a boardwalk that extends along wetlands. You can walk and take in expansive views of the marsh areas filled with lily pads and aquatic plants. In a few places, the boardwalk extends out into them for a closer look, and there are a couple of benches on the way to sit and enjoy the scenes.
When you come to the one fork in the trail, there’s a sign that points the way to the beach. Follow that and you’ll eventually hit the stretch of sand where you can find a place to park your stuff and hang out awhile. It’s not a huge area as barriers are in place to keep people from accessing the actual cliff areas. Expect to share the space with a good amount of other people on nice days, especially weekends, though not too many that it’s crowded. The park limits capacity, even more during Covid, so it’s not overwhelming.
Swimming is permitted, and the water is shallow and calm, but look out for jellyfish. If you’re into fossil hunting, definitely do some searching for relics — like I said, I have found some small pieces there — but don’t be disappointed if you don’t find much. And what you don’t find fossil-wise, you’ll make up for with a nice little hike and beach fun.
Calvert Cliffs State Park is located at 10540 H. G. Trueman Road in Lusby, MD, about a one-hour drive from DC. Entry to the park is $8/vehicle, and it’s open sunrise to sunset. Bring along a picnic as there are no concessions in the park, just keep in mind that whatever you pack you’ll be carrying two miles. And make a stop at the bathroom near the parking lot as there isn’t one at the beach area.
[Note: This guest post was written by JoAnn Hill, a DC area educator and author of the upcoming book “Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.” You may be aware of some that have been featured on KFDC, but JoAnn provides more background and details to make a visit to see them even more interesting and fun!]
Spring is here, and Mother Nature is summoning us to get outside, explore, and relish in the abundant sunshine and crisp fresh air. While our nation’s capital is brimming with parks, gardens, and urban green oases, taking a day trip outside of the city can serve as a welcome change of pace and lovely opportunity to reset and recharge. A respite from the city is sometimes the exact remedy for chasing away those lingering winter blues and jumpstarting the highly anticipated new season.
Below are four outdoor, family-friendly, off-the-beaten-path places to explore outside of Washington, DC. A couple of them are free and can be explored further in local DC author JoAnn Hill’s upcoming book Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Check out Secret DC to discover dozens of additional outdoor and family-friendly spots in and around the Washington, DC, area.
Enchantment in a Storybook Forest
Many of our childhoods were defined by the stories and games that we played. Those looking to recapture their favorite childhood memories will be delighted to know that less than 45 minutes outside of Washington lies an enchanted forest, a storybook haven brimming with innocence, nostalgia, and magic.
In August 1955, the Enchanted Forest opened its storybook park in Ellicott City, MD. For over thirty years, families from near and far visited the popular fairy tale complex. Generations were captivated by the park’s ability to recreate a spellbinding world filled with delight and allure. As larger and more impressive entertainment complexes began to open throughout the area, the Enchantment Forest’s appeal began to wane, causing the park to close in the early 1990s.
More than a decade later, nearby Clark’s Elioak Farm made the decision to revive the storybook-themed park by gradually acquiring and reinstating a number of the forgotten fairy tale items. In 2004, much to the delight of parents and kids, they procured the Cinderella pumpkin coach. A year later, they restored a slew of other items, including Mother Goose and her Gosling, the Beanstalk affixed with the Giant at the top, multiple Gingerbread Men, the six Mice that pulled Cinderella’s Coach, and the Crooked House and the Crooked Man.
Over subsequent years, more items were obtained and refurbished, further enhancing the revived forest by adding over 20 new fairy tale characters and a newly created Enchanted Forest Pine Tree Maze.
Read All About It: Read more about the Enchantment Forest at Clark’s Elioak Farm on pages 134-135 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. You can also find it in the KFDC round-up of best outdoor places around the area and among the places to go for Easter fun.
Go and Explore: Clark’s Farm will reopen on Thursday, April 1. The farm and forest are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $7 per person.
Where: Clark’s Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD
Gravelly Point Park
Aviation enthusiasts and those simply dreaming of escaping to faraway destinations should look no further than Gravelly Point Park, a small grassy park located a mere hundred feet north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It’s here in this delightful park in which both aircraft lovers and travel addicts can convene to witness commercial planes soaring overhead throughout the course of the day.
Situated along the George Washington Parkway in northern Virginia, the attractive picnic spot is where arriving planes descend to their landing strips. Flights arriving at the capital city travel over the Potomac River to reduce noise disturbances to the city. The park’s proximity to the north end of Reagan’s runway 1/19 makes it one of the premier spots in the United States for airplane sightings. Spectators willing to brave the thunderous noise are rewarded with unobstructed views of aircraft departing and arriving at the airport.
While flight tracking is the primary draw here, Gravelly Point Park attracts more than just aviation fanatics. It’s also a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic lunch, throw a frisbee or football, walk your dog, or ride a bike while surrounded by arresting scenic views. Regardless of your reason to visit, you’re guaranteed to be flying high in this picturesque park.
Read All About It: Learn more about Gravelly Point Park as you soar through pages 50-51 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. You can also find it in the KFDC round-up of best outdoor places.
Go and Explore: Entrance and parking are free to the public. By car, Gravelly Point is only accessible heading north on the GW Parkway. Runners and cyclists can access the park by taking the scenic Mount Vernon Trail.
Where: George Washington Parkway, Arlington, VA
The Abandoned Shipwrecks of Mallows Bay
Near the shores of Mallows Bay, a small bay on the Maryland side of the river, lies what’s known to be the largest shipwreck armada in the Western Hemisphere. Over the last century, the bay’s turbid waters have become home to nearly 230 fallen ships, creating an enormous fleet graveyard.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, 1,000 wooden steamships were commissioned for construction to help boost the number of transport vessels needed. Due to time constraints, the wooden ships were hastily and shoddily built, falling far below the standard of being ready to be used in wartime. In fact, not one of these poorly crafted vessels ever even crossed the ocean. The following year Germany surrendered, and the availability of steel increased, causing the ill-conceived wooden ships to become abandoned and obsolete. The decaying remnants of the nearly forgotten ships continue to occupy the muddy waters of Mallows Bay to this day.
In the 1960s, researchers began to evaluate the environmental effects of the shipwrecks on the river and its inhabitants. It was determined that the wooden shipwrecks were non-toxic and had in fact become a foundation for a flourishing ecosystem. The ghostly ships have managed to bring new life to the river, completing the circle of life!
Read All About It: Plunge into Mallows Bay and learn more about its abandoned shipwreck fleet on pages 60-61 of Secret Washington, DC: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.
Go and Explore: Kayakers and canoeists who paddle up and through the wreckage will ultimately get the best views of the neglected ships. Charles County Recreation & Parks will soon be offering guided kayak tours of Mallows Bay. Visit their website to learn when 2021 tour dates will be added.
Where: Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, MD
The Awakening at National Harbor
Over the past several years, National Harbor has burgeoned as an expansive multi-use waterfront development. Conveniently located across the Potomac River from the District and Alexandria, VA, the lively complex is an ideal place to escape the city and enjoy a relaxing day. One particular attraction here, particularly for kids, is “The Awakening” sculpture, a gigantic statue emerging from a man-made beach along National Harbor’s waterfront. The statue is practically begging to be touched and climbed upon by gaggles of giggling children.
Constructed from five cast-aluminum pieces and measuring more than 70 feet across and 15 feet high, “The Awakening” was created in 1980 to portray a bearded man trapped on Earth who has been aroused. Artist J. Seward Johnson’s colossal creation is comprised of a man’s head, hand, outstretched arm, bent knee and foot that’s been arranged to suggest that he’s breaking free from Earth. The aluminum sculpture was previously buried at the public parkland at Hains Point in Washington, DC and was owned by the Sculpture Foundation, an organization that promotes public art. The foundation sold the colossal sculpture for a whopping $740,000 and subsequently dug it up from its previous residence and transported it by trucks to its current waterfront home.
While no real restoration was needed when “The Awakening” arrived at National Harbor, a small change to the art installation was needed. When the sculpture resided at Hains Point, the five pieces were slightly askew, causing the figure to be anatomically incorrect. When the statue’s wire base was reburied in the man-made beach, one of its legs was marginally moved. “The Awakening” instantly became a popular attraction of National Harbor and continues to be a major draw today.
Read All About It: See more about visiting The Awakening and National Harbor in this KFDC post.
Go and Explore: National Harbor is accessible from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, I-495, I-95, and I-295, as well as by water taxi from Washington, DC, and Alexandria, VA.
Where: National Harbor: 153 National Plaza, Oxon Hill, MD
* * * * *
JoAnn Hill has lived in Washington, DC, with her husband Thalamus and dog Jackson for over 19 years. An avid traveler and foodie, JoAnn writes about their DC living and dining experiences, as well as their global travel adventures, on her blog dcglobejotters.org. Her writing has been published in BELLA Magazine, Escape Artist, and Triptipedia. JoAnn served as a DC Public Schools teacher for 17 years before co-founding Capitol Teachers, a tutoring company servicing the greater DC area. This is her first book.
I’ve mentioned before how, in the early days of Covid, I was apprehensive about posting write-ups of new places we visited. Even though I felt it was good to get out of the house and enjoy a change of scenery, I wasn’t always sure what to encourage through KFDC and thought it best to err on the side of caution and save those posts for later.
Some of them, it turns out, I’ve been saving for a really long time. It was last Mother’s Day that we visited Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area in Queenstown, MD, about an hour and 15 minute drive from DC. How did we end up there? Well, it’s somewhat of a tradition for our family to go for crabs on Mother’s Day because it’s one of my favorite things. We usually opt for an outdoor activity that takes advantage of what’s often great weather that time of year — hiking, paddling, beach time, or even pontoon boating — then enjoying a crab feast afterwards.
Like everything in 2020, last spring was a little different. Because of Covid, we couldn’t go to any of our favorite crab places, but heading out to the Eastern Shore for a hike was still in line with our annual celebration. Plus, we wanted to go someplace we could be pretty certain wouldn’t be crowded. So, Levi checked the map, did some online research, and on Mother’s Day morning we headed to Wye Island.
About 15 minutes beyond the Bay Bridge, Wye Island NRMA is lovely to explore. The land was almost turned into a housing development in the 1970s, but the state purchased it with Program Open Space funds to preserve the natural environment. It’s 2400+ acres are located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay between the Wye River and the Wye East River. There are about 12 miles of trails that edge fields of tall grass and ponds, wind through the woods, and run along the Wye River. All of it is flat and easy for little ones to walk.
We started our hike on the Ferry Point Trail, which we caught near the parking lot, walked along through a field, then into the woods. It eventually led right to the beach. [Note: While it looks so tempting to jump in, swimming is not permitted.]
The area is known for birding — over 200 species have been reported there, and large waterfowl make it home during winter. We saw lots of small birds and a great blue heron in the distance. Keep an eye out for other wildlife, too — we got a close look at a skink on a tree by the water!
There is a variety of vegetation on Wye Island. Large open expanses meet verdant wooded areas studded with tall old growth trees, including a holly tree that is nearly 300 years old. Green marsh plants blanket and brighten the ground. The sandy shores are lined with long grass and woods, and tree branches jut out over the sand, making for great seating. Shells are scattered around the shore, which we used for a little beach art.
We returned a different way, which turned out to be the Schoolhouse Woods Trail. From there we walked down the road we drove in on, about a quarter mile, back to our car. (View a trail map of Wye Island to help plan your hike.)
There is a restroom right off the small parking lot as well as a picnic table, but you can bring your lunch along the hike and enjoy an alfresco meal by the river. We found a great spot by the water along the nice stretch of sand, where we stopped for snacks and just to hang out and take in the wonderful nature around us.
Even though we couldn’t go for our traditional crabs after — though we made up for it by ordering in a seafood feast from Chasin’ Tails back at home — I highly recommend stopping for them to enjoy Maryland’s best treat.
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area is located in Queenstown, MD. It’s open daily sunrise to sunset, and admission is free. Good to know: When you arrive on Wye Island, you’ll come to a very small parking lot first. Drive past that one a couple of minutes to a second lot that is more convenient to the trails.
Even though I have a backlog of posts waiting to be written about places we’ve visited over the past many months, I’m skipping over them to cover a spot we just went to over the weekend: Fountainhead Regional Park. It actually should have been on the blog (or at least that long list), as we’d already been there several times, the first over 10 years ago. But as it’s fresh in my mind and a great locale for enjoying the spring weather, here we are now.
Located in Fairfax Station, VA, about 35 minutes from DC, Fountainhead is a 2,000-acre sprawl of trails and the Occoquan Reservoir, all of it practically screaming active recreation. It’s known as one of the better mountain biking spots in the DC area — and that’s what brought us there yesterday. Levi, Owen, and some friends were eager to do some trail riding after a hiatus this winter. (Even though we’d had nice weather before this past weekend, they were waiting until the trails were dry enough, so as not to damage them.)
I enjoy mountain biking, too, but prefer it a little more mellow than what they were planning to ride at Fountainhead. There are lots of steep climbs, fast descents, rocky areas, and jumps within the 15 miles of biking routes in the Fountainhead woods (you can read more about it here). The riding crew had a blast tackling several miles of it over a good couple of hours. However, Sasha and I decided to stay on our feet.
So, while the boys were two-wheeling it, a few of us parents, a couple of younger siblings, and our pups enjoyed a hike. The Bull Run Occoquan Trail winds through the park and actually continues through Bull Run Marina, Hemlock Overlook Park, and Bull Run Regional Park. We hiked out and back, a little over an hour each way, along the well-maintained trail. There’s a lot of up and downhill, but it’s not too strenuous, and the path is mostly flat, with just a few rocky and rooty areas. The surrounding scenery full of tall trees is lovely, most of it leafless this time of year, but come later spring and summer, the landscape turns into an oasis of green as the foliage returns.
A small 19th-century family cemetery is near the start of the trail, and there are several short footbridges to cross and small creeks on the way. From some parts of the hike, glimpses of the Occoquan Reservoir can be caught through the trees from above, or you can walk down to the banks for closer views. And while we only saw small birds and squirrels on this visit, wildlife sightings could include deer, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, turkeys, snakes, and a few more small creatures.
Hiking and biking aren’t the only ways to enjoy Fountainhead. Boat rentals are available from early March through mid-November, and you can paddle the reservoir by kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard. Or you can cruise the water in a jon boat. Fishing is permitted, too. (See rates for all of them here.) If you’ve got your own watercraft, you can use the boat launch (for a fee). We haven’t taken to the waters yet, but a paddling excursion is the plan the next time we go.
Fountainhead Regional Park is located at 10875 Hampton Road in Fairfax Station, VA. It’s open daily sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. For mountain biking, be sure to check the park’s Facebook page for trail status.
Some good things to know:
* There are parking lots about a half-mile beyond the entrance to the park and near the boat rental area.
* Hiking and biking trails start right from the main parking area.
* Portable restrooms are located in the parking lot, and modern ones at the boat launch area.
* A concession stand is located in the boat launch area as well, operating when the rentals are open.
* Picnic tables are available in the park (one right next to the main parking lot) and pavilions can be reserved.
* Fountainhead is a great place to contemplate Objectivism. 😉