Category Archives: Outdoor

MTB in the DMV: Six Spots to Mountain Bike Around the DC Area (Suggested by Owen!)

[Note: This is another post written by Owen!  His first KFDC contribution about activities with teens in DC got such a great response, we thought it would be fun for him to do more.  Also, while I do a little mountain biking, I’m not nearly as good as he is and haven’t ridden as wide a variety of trails in as many places. He has way more insight to offer on MTB in the DMV.]


I started mountain biking about four years ago, shortly before Covid began. While I had done a lot of biking around DC, I didn’t have much experience with all-terrain riding. But when I was about 13, I started joining my dad, who has been mountain biking since he was in college. He was a great teacher, and in a few years, I’ve gone from relatively no mountain biking experience to riding difficult trails with all sorts of challenges (both locally and in other parts of the country) and can now confidently recommend some great places to ride in the DC area. So, whether you already have a genuine interest in mountain biking, are thinking about getting into it (with or without kids), or you’re into the outdoors and looking for more ways to enjoy it, this round-up of places to MTB will help get you going.

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Schaeffer Farms
Schaeffer Farms was the first place I ever mountain biked in the DC area. Although I was initially a bit nervous being new to it all, it ended up being an awesome experience because the location is perfect for someone who is a beginner and new to mountain biking. There are easy trails to ride on along with options for something more difficult if you’re up to the challenge. Additionally, the area is beautiful with a ton of diversity in terms of trails to explore. Some are in the woods, and there is great single track through farm fields. It’s just under an hour from DC and worth the drive. I’ve been there plenty of times with my dad and have always enjoyed it, no matter my skill level, from those early days when I was just starting to having several years of mountain biking experience. Out of all locations in the DC area, Schaeffer Farms is the most accessible for all skill levels, which is why it is a must-go MTB spot.

More Insight: There is one parking lot right next to the trailhead. All rides begin on the same trail, but there will be some options for different routes. The shortest one is about seven miles. View the trail map.

Schaeffer Farms
Where: 14920 Schaeffer Road | Germantown, MD
When: Open daily, no set hours
Admission: Free


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Fountainhead Regional Park
Fountainhead is the top of my list for a fun, challenging ride. I don’t recommend it for beginner skill levels; you should have a reasonable amount of experience before biking here. But once you feel comfortable enough to give Fountainhead a try, you definitely won’t be disappointed. With a ton of jumps, drops, and a variety of technical trails, Fountainhead has it all. There is also a good amount of smooth downhill which is hard to come by on the east coast, so it’s a great spot to go. Out of all the local MTB places I’ve been to, this is probably the best location I’ve biked so far, and I always try to join my dad there when I have the chance.

More Insight: The parking lot is a short drive from the entrance, and the trailhead to start all rides is right off it. We usually do the green and blue trails, sometimes part of the black. I think the green here is harder than most at other places. Parts of the green have a lot of roots, which is fun for experienced riders, but might be intimidating to newer riders.  View a trail map.

Fountainhead Regional Park
Where: 10875 Hampton Road| Fairfax Station, VA
When: Daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free
Read more about Fountainhead in this KFDC post


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A peak at the boardwalk through the trees at Meadowood

Meadowood Mountain Bike Trail
Meadowood is right outside Lorton, VA, about 45 minutes from DC, and it’s a great MTB option in the area. It is much like Fountainhead in that it has a lot of jumps and drops for more experienced riders to try, but Meadowood is still good for many levels of riders, maybe just not complete beginners. One great aspect of Meadowood that I really like is its BOSS Trail, a short, purely downhill ride that has super fun wooden features like a staggering boardwalk, a wall  (or “a sideways” section), and a long stretch that dips up and down. It’s a technical trail best for more advanced riders, and it took me a few tries to get it down, but it was definitely worth working at it. Overall, Meadowood is a great MTB option, and if you’re looking for something in the same domain as Fountainhead, but with some extra features, it’s a perfect spot to explore.

More Insight: There are a couple of parking lots, and we always park at Gunston Road, and there is a trailhead right there that will lead to the BOSS  Trail. View the trail map.

Meadowood Trail
Where: 10100 Gunston Rd | Lorton, VA
When: Year-round, 6am – 7pm
Admission: Free


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Patapsco Valley State Park
Patapsco Valley State Park stands out from the rest of the places included here for the wide range of activities that are in the area. Not only does it offer great mountain biking, Patapsco also has an abundance of beautiful trails for hiking, historic sites, small waterfalls and swimming areas, playgrounds, and more features all across the park. And yet with all of these other features, the mountain biking in Patapsco never fails to disappoint. The park offers the most trails out of all the spots on this list [nearly 150 miles of them!] and the area is so big that it feels like you can bike forever. The scenery is beautiful, and many of the biking trails wind through woods, cross pretty creeks, and even lead to waterfalls, making the experience even better. Patapsco is like Schaeffer Farm in that there’s something for a wide range of skill levels, from beginners to advanced riders. You just need to find a suitable trail. There are a lot of blues [moderate difficulty], but also plenty of greens [easy] to choose from, as well as black [most difficult] if you’re up for the challenge.

More Insight: As mentioned, there are a lot of trail options at Patapsco. We usually start with Morning Chase, then connect to other trails. There is a parking lot on Landing Road to access it. However, Patapsco is huge, so take a look at the trail map to help you figure out where to ride and park.

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/residents, $5/non-residents
November – March: $2/resident vehicle, $4/non-resident vehicle
Read more about Patapsco in this KFDC post


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Cosca Regional Park
Cosca Regional Park is a place I highly recommend for someone who’s more of a beginner, as the trails are pretty mellow and better for a casual ride. Located in Clinton, MD, it’s densely wooded, so the scenery is really nice, especially in the fall. There are about nine miles of trails total, but you can do short sections, and they’re pretty easy to ride (much easier than places like Fountainhead or Meadowood).

More Insight: The trailhead is right across from the Park Office. There is one main loop to ride that is a mix of green and blue, but you can make it longer or shorter depending on what you’re up for. You can probably do all of the short, easy parts even if you’re just starting out. View the trail map here.

Cosco Regional Park
Where: 11000 Thrift Road | Clinton, MD
When: Daily, 10am – 7pm
Admission: Free


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Fort Dupont Park
Fort Dupont Park in Anacostia may not be the typical place you’d think of when you’re looking for a spot to mountain bike, but it’s one to be aware of. Since it’s right in DC, it’s much more accessible than the other locations on this list [if you live in the city]. Additionally, the trails in the park are easy to ride if you just want to get some practice riding in the woods. Although you’re right in the city, it still feels as if you could be miles out because the park is so wooded. This is the best place on this list for a quick ride without having to drive outside of DC. The trails are generally welcoming for riders of all skill levels, so there’s no worry if you’re a beginner.

More Insight: We bike to Fort Dupont Park right from our house and start the trail by the amphitheater [3600 F Street, SE — there is a parking lot nearby, too].  It starts as a paved path, then a dirt trail in the woods that will cross a road after a bit and continue into more woods.

Fort Dupont Park
Where: 3600 F Street SE | Anacostia, DC
When: Daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free

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More MTB Tips (added by Linda):
* Trailforks and Traillinks are great sites for more details on local mountain biking trails.
* If you want to try mountain biking, but don’t own a mountain bike, rent one from one of these local shops: Conte’s, Big Wheel Bikes, REI, and The Bike Lane.
* REI offers an Introduction to Mountain Biking class for ages 14+. They tend to fill up fast, so reserve spots while you can!
* Some recommended gear: Gloves, helmet, mtb shorts/pants, water bottle or hydration pack.

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Filed under DC, Maryland, Outdoor, Virginia

You’re Never Too Old (or Cool) for a Visit to the National Zoo


Too old (or cool) for the zoo? Never!  We proved this a few weeks ago when our family — yes, even the two teens — went to the National Zoo.  It started off as Sasha and I deciding what to do on a nice day. She didn’t have soccer or other plans with friends, so I snagged the opportunity while I could.   I suggested a hike, but she said, “Nah.”   So, I asked somewhat randomly, “How about the zoo?” thinking I’d probably get a thumbs down and a response that it’s for little kids.  But she instead surprised me with an enthusiastic, “Okay!”

When we mentioned our plan to Owen and Levi, they unexpectedly wanted to join, too.  Though looking back,  it was silly of me to assume they wouldn’t want to go.  The zoo isn’t just for young children… I mean, Levi and I used to go before we even had kids.

The National Zoo is a great place for anyone to enjoy a day out.  Besides just visiting the residents — and there are so many different species! — you can catch animal demos, like elephant feedings and reptile meetings.  When the kids were younger, they’d enjoy spins on the carousel. It’s also really nice to just stroll the grounds and even enjoy a picnic (BYO or buy food from concession stands there).

A surprise visitor in the elephant habitat

It had been since pre-Covid that most of us had been to the Zoo. (Owen had been on a photography field trip with school, but that was it.) Some things are a bit different now, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share current logistics, upcoming events, and a few tips for visiting.

And, by the way, we saw loads of people there without young children, from couples of all ages to adult friends on an outing…  and even groups of teens.

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Timed-entry passes have been required for entry to the National Zoo since it reopened after Covid. They can be reserved in advance online. And don’t fret if you like to pop in to places if you’re in the area… passes don’t seem to sell out, and there are signs with QR code displays at the entrances, so you can get online with your phone and register for passes right there (but you can’t just walk in without passes). And admission to the Zoo is still free.

While admission to the Zoo is free, parking in the lot on site is $30 per car. Parking passes can be purchased in advance online. Note that cars can no longer access the parking lot from Beach Drive. The only vehicle entrance is at 3100 Connecticut Ave. NW.

KFDC Tip: If you don’t need to park that close and want to save the $30, you can look for street parking nearby. We found a spot on Adams Mill Road NW and walked to the back entrance at Harvard Street Bridge just off Beach Drive. Of course, you can avoid parking altogether by taking Metro (Woodley Park is the closest stop) and walking a few blocks down Connecticut to the Zoo.

The Zoo is open daily, with the exception of Christmas Day, though hours vary by time of year. Summer hours (July 1 – September 30) are 8am – 6pm with last admittance at 5pm. Winter hours (October 1 – June 30) are 8am – 4pm with last admittance at 3pm.

KFDC Tip: Go early during warmer months if you can for more animals sightings, as some retreat to their indoor areas on hot days.

The National Zoo hosts several annual events that are fun to attend. It’s worth keeping an eye on their Events page to see what’s coming up.
* Boo at the Zoo, the annual Halloween fest, is back in person this year on October 28, 29, and 30 — and it’s super fun for young kids (we went several time when the kids were little).
* ZooLights is the annual animal-themed holiday light display. It’s free and always very popular.
* Easter Monday always takes place the day after Easter welcoming the public for an egg hunt, live entertainment, and special activities (2023 info TBA).
* Adult events like Brew at the Zoo are occasionally hosted at the zoo.
* Events to celebrate animal birthdays, zoo anniversaries, and more come up throughout the year and are always fun times to visit.

The Zoo is a big place, and it can take a long time to walk the whole thing, especially if you like to spend a decent amount of time watching the animals and/or you’re with little ones with little legs. It’s not a bad idea to look at the map before you go and strategize on animal visits based on location. Also check the Daily Animal Demos schedule so you can factor that in to your timing.

For lunch or snacks, concession stands and a few food trucks are located throughout the Zoo selling burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, etc. plus sweet treats. As mentioned above, you can also BYO — there are tables where you can sit down to eat as well as some grassy spots.

More to know
* Paved paths are very stroller friendly.
* Some fun beyond the animals: Speedwell Conservation Carousel ($4), Me and the Bee Playground, The Good of the Hive Mural, and the Squirt Zone (in summer).
* There is a limit on the number of people allowed inside the animal houses, so there could be a short wait to go in.
* The Visitor Center near the Connecticut Ave entrance usually has an exhibit on display and a gift shop with lots of cute items.
* There are two more gift shops near the pandas and lions, plus a few kiosks around the park.
* If you’re so inclined, the Vintage Views food (drink) truck offers cocktails and beer along with coffee and lemonade.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Where: Woodley Park, DC
When: Daily, except for December 25
Admission: Free with timed-entry passes

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Filed under 2022, DC, Outdoor, Weekdays, Weekend

Hike & Hang: Patuxent River State Park & Waredaca Brewing Company


Remember how I mentioned last week that I’m a bit behind on posting about some of the fun things we’ve done this summer?  Well, I’m crossing another off my list with one that we enjoyed way back on Father’s Day.  And just in time for Labor Day, because this would make for a great family outing over the holiday weekend.

It became our tradition to celebrate Levi every June with a crab feast worked into the plan.  We usually do something active, either a hike or bike ride, or Levi does a long ride on his own, then we all  go out for crabs after or pick them up at the Fish Market at The Wharf and have a feast at home.   It’s a fun, tasty, and seasonal way to celebrate the day, and one that he really likes.

However, this year we happened to have crab feasted not long before and weren’t really up for it again so soon.  So, when a friend asked if we wanted to join their family for a Father’s Day hike, we were into it.  But we still wanted to make it special for the dads with a post-hike meal and fun, so my friend suggested going to Waredaca Brewing Company in Laytonsville, MD.

I’d heard good things about it, but she had actually been there and gave it a big thumbs up.  With that part of the day planned, we just needed to find a hike.  We did a little research on trails nearby, and decided on Patuxent River State Park in Gaithersburg, MD, just a few minutes’ drive from Waredaca.  (KFDC Tip: Sometimes it’s better to plan a hike around the après-hike destination!)

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Patuxent River State Park
The park is fairly large, spanning nearly 7,000 acres in Montgomery and Howard counties.  There are generally three areas of the park — the North End, the Wildlands, and the South End.  We explored the south section, where there are marked trails; we read the other areas tend to have more social (unmarked) trails that are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and hunters during the season.

As mentioned, we chose our area based on post-hike plan, and it was a good call, both for its proximity to Waredaca and the hike itself.  We weren’t looking for anything hardcore that would take a long time; we just wanted to do something active outdoors before heading to the brewery.

There are only two trail options in the South End, one about a mile and a half, and the other two miles, and they conveniently connected for a nice walk in the woods.  While there wasn’t anything unique about the hike, it was very pleasant.  The trails were well maintained with some twists and turns and a few slight uphills, but nothing too strenuous. We could easily walk, talk, and keep track of our dogs who were along for the day.  The path winds through an area of tall trees and plants blanketing the grounds, and it was all that bright saturated green of early summer.  Blues skies and lovely mid 70s-degree temps rounded it all out perfectly.

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Waredaca Brewing Company
Where there used to be a camp for kids is now the beautiful Waredaca Farm that is the site of Waredaca Brewing Company.  Located in a serene pastoral setting along with equestrian facilities, it was a great place for the “special” part of our Father’s Day outing.  There is a beer truck near the entrance, where you check in (and get a brew or lemonade), and just beyond are picnic tables with umbrellas spread out around the grassy orchard.  There is more seating inside the Tap Room and right outside it on a patio, where there was also a bluegrass band playing when we were there.

My friend knew to make a reservation, as it gets crowded on nice days, especially one when many people are celebrating. You can walk in, though availability is limited, and it’s on a first-come, first served basis.  Waredaca is very family-friendly, welcoming kids and dogs, with some large in-ground tires to climb on and open space for running around and playing lawn games. They also occasionally have “Pet a Pony” days!

As for the house specialty, there is a wide selection of beer on the menu along with bar snacks like pretzels and charcuterie boxes.  A food truck is also on site, but it varies by day.  You can also bring your own food and just enjoy the brews.  Our crew did a mix of everything  — some of our own snacks, bites from the bar, burgers from Boxcar Burgers, and, of course, beers for the adults.

Cheers to a super fun Father’s Day (and finally getting this post done)!

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Patuxent River State Park – South End
Where: 11950 Clopper Road | Gaithersburg, MD
When: Daily, sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free


Waredaca Brewing Company
Where: 4017 Damascus Road | Laytonsville, Maryland
When: Thurs-Friday 4-8pm | Sat-Sun, 12-6pm
Admission: Free (but plan to spend on brews and food)


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Filed under Eats, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Weekend

Scenes from a Lovely Fall Hike at Rock Creek Park


How lucky are we to have a large, beautiful national park right here in our city?  Rock Creek Park sprawls gloriously through Northwest DC, its 1,700+ acres encompassing an amazing mix of recreation.  There are nice hiking trails that traverse the tree-filled woods; historic sites like Peirce Mill and Old Stone House; a wonderful Nature Center that contains a planetarium (the only national park in the country to have one); tennis courts open for public play and the Rock Creek Tennis Center that also hosts a major annual tournament; the Carter Barron amphitheater that presents annual music series and more entertainment; the Horse Center, and of course, the beloved National Zoo.

Our family has enjoyed all of the above mentioned sites and activities over the years, most of them many times.  But the ones we’ve taken advantage of most are the Zoo and hiking, the latter most recently over Thanksgiving weekend on Black Friday, when we always make a point to #optoutside instead of getting sucked in by the sales. Rock Creek is a go-to for many locals for a good hike in the District  — the varying trail options and feeling of escaping the urban bustle (while still being in the city) are major appeals.

It was a pretty fall day, albeit it a cold one due to the wind.  But that never stops us from getting out… as the saying goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  (Not to mention my kids never seem to get cold!) We often begin our Rock Creek hikes at Peirce Mill.  There is a small parking lot right across the street that always has open spots in our experience, and the paved path that runs along the creek next to it leads right to the green-blazed Western Ridge Trail.

There is a short uphill walk on the first section of the trail where we catch it near the Tilden Street Bridge, but it’s fairly mellow with just some gentle hills beyond that (the shorter section we often hike, anyway).  The foliage was still in full effect this past weekend with plenty of leaves still on the trees, and we all remarked that it seemed especially brilliant this year — and so pretty with sunlight spilling through it all.

The full Western Ridge Trail winds a good 10-ish miles through Rock Creek Park, but we usually just hike to the Nature Center or a bit beyond and back, about three to four miles total.  This visit we did less, turning around about a mile in, but hanging out in different areas longer to let Teddy the pup sniff around and find sticks.

During pre-Covid times, a lot of great ranger led programs were available at Rock Creek, from guided hikes to planetarium shows to kids activities.   The Horse Center also offered trail and pony rides and welcomed people to tour the stables.  All of those activities are suspended right now, but hopefully will be offered again soon.

I should mention that the Nature Center is another good starting point for a hike on the Western Trail, especially right now. There is a larger parking lot that tends not to fill up quickly while the facility is closed.  And you can find even more great Rock Creek Park hikes here.  Whatever route you choose, you’re in for a great walk in the woods.


Rock Creek Park is located mostly in Northwest DC (parts are in Maryland). Peirce Mill is located at the corner of Tilden Road and Beach Drive NW, and the parking lot is right next to it. The Rock Creek Nature Center is located at 5200 Glover Road NW. It’s open daily during daylight hours.


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Filed under 2021, DC, Fall, Nature, Outdoor, Park

A Fossil Hunting Stop at Westmoreland State Park


Last week I popped in for a visit at Westmoreland State Park in Montross, VA, a nearly two-hour drive away from DC.   And before you think I’d just pop-in to a place that far away, I should mention that this was on my way back from the Tides Inn, where I’d enjoyed a lovely, quick getaway with a couple of friends. (Note: While my pop-in at the park was sans kids, it’s definitely a place for the whole family!)

While I hadn’t planned on going to the park then, Westmoreland has been on my To-Go list for about a year, ever since friends mentioned the park was known as a fossil hunting spot.  Located on the Potomac River, prehistoric remains found there are from the Miocene Era, up to 30 million years old.  We’ve definitely done our share of searching for shark teeth and fossilized remnants over the years — it’s a favorite activity that I’ve written about a lot here on the blog. So, when I hear of a place to fossil hunt that I haven’t visited, the name naturally sticks in my mind.

Anyway, as I was driving home from the resort in Irvington, VA, I passed a sign on the road that read “Westmoreland State Park 4 Miles.”  That sparked a little jolt of excitement as I remembered the name, so I did like any fossil hunt diggin’ lady would do and made a little detour on my route home — and popped in.

I drove down the entrance road and eventually came to the gatehouse where I paid $7 admission and asked the ranger about the fossil hunting area.  She handed me a map and told me Fossil Beach is accessed via the Big Meadow Trail that starts right from the parking lot by the Visitor Center.  It was about a half-mile drive to the lot, and I parked right in front the trail with a kiosk displaying the trail map on one side and a “Fossil Beach” sign on the other.  I found an old ziplock bag stuck in the back seat (thanks, kids!) that could hold my fossil finds, then headed out on the trail.

It’s a little over a half-mile hike to the beach on a wide, mostly flat trail under a canopy of leafy trees. There are small info signs on the way that identify  trees and other nature. It took me about 10 minutes to reach the beach mostly walking briskly, also jogging a bit, so it would take longer with young kids along.  I saw a dad pushing a stroller on the way,  albeit a large sturdy one that handles trails well.  The Big Meadow Trail is marked well and leads directly to Fossil Beach.  A couple of short boardwalk paths let you know you’re almost there.

When the woods finally opened up to the beach area, I took a minute to take in the pretty scene.  It reminded me a lot of Calvert Cliffs State Park with about a quarter-mile stretch of sand backed by grassy wetlands and cliffs on each side.  There weren’t many other people there, just a small homeschool group and a few couples, but it was a weekday; I assume it gets more crowded on weekends.

After enjoying the views, I went right to the waterline and got to it, bending over and examining the sand all around below for several minutes, hoping to spy the familiar triangle-ish shape of a shark tooth.  After many years of doing this, my eyes have become trained, and I usually can spot one somewhat easily.  No initial luck here.

But fossil hunting often requires patience, so I slowly made my way down the shoreline, stopping to scoop up piles of shells in some places and spending time watching the gentle tide wash in new pieces.  Still not a single shark tooth, however, I did find a few ray fossils and picked up other pieces to try to identify at home (I use to help with that).  Chatting with other folks there, I learned they didn’t have much luck finding shark teeth either.

I spent about an hour on the beach before I had to head back to the car and resume my drive home.  And while it may not have been a very successful fossil hunt, my curiosity was sated and I had a chance to check out the park a bit.

There’s more to do there than just search for shark teeth.  It’s a beautiful forested area with campgrounds and cabins, plus several trails to hike and one that allows bikes. Kayak, paddleboat, and standup paddle board rentals are available from mid-April through Columbus Day, there’s another beach area, a playground, plus boating and fishing opportunities (permits needed).  Of course, you can also enjoy a little beach day and even do some swimming — the water looked quite nice and fairly shallow there.

So, while I wouldn’t recommend the park just for fossil hunting — sure, it could have just been a slow shark tooth day, but it’s a long way to go to find out — it looks like it would be great for a fun, easy camping adventure or beach day trip with kids.

Westmoreland State Park
Where: 145 Cliff Road | Montross, VA
When: Daily, dawn to dusk | Visitor Center, M-F 10am – 4pm
Admission: $7/car daily (see website for camping/cabins)

* If you’re keen to fossil hunt, check out this post with info and links to more places to go that are closer to DC, plus tips on making the most of your experience.


Filed under All ages, Outdoor, Virginia