Category Archives: Outdoor

Scenes from the Finally Reopened, Very Much Missed Dumbarton Oaks Garden


Of the many re-openings happening over the next month, the Dumbarton Oaks Garden may just be the one I am happiest about, mostly because it’s the first time visitors can return since it closed last spring.  While many places welcomed the public for a brief period last summer and fall, the Garden’s gates remained closed — and I, for one, really missed being able to visit.

Dumbarton is one of my go-to places for peace and calm, when I just want to stroll around and relax in a beautiful setting.  (So, it’s probably understandable why I missed it so much over the last year.)  The Garden’s 16 acres are a horticultural haven, with countless varieties of flowers, plants, and trees throughout the many plats of the terraced grounds.  It’s breathtaking year-round, but especially vibrant right now with spring blooms and bright, fresh foliage.  Pre-Covid, Dumbarton was a regular recommendation from me, and I’ve written about it several times —  you can read more here, here, and here.


The hardscapes are just as lovely as the landscapes. There are several fountains (that look freshly cleaned!), benches and other lovely spots to sit, and many garden sculptures.  And the Pebble Garden, probably my favorite area, is a patterned pebble mosaic with a fountain at one end and encircling walls covered in wisteria.  It’s absolutely enchanting… though, really, the whole garden feels like it’s out of a fairytale,.


Dumbarton isn’t just a place I love; our whole family enjoys visiting together.  We’ve been there many times over the last decade.  When the kids were younger, we’d take them to play next door at Montrose Park or go for a short hike on the Dumbarton Oaks Park trail (located behind the estate), maybe have a little picnic, then head to the garden for its afternoon open time (note that picnics are not allowed at Dumbarton).  They always loved walking around, exploring, and seeing what delights awaited around every corner.

As the kids have gotten older, we usually pair a visit to the Garden with a meal in Georgetown.   If we want something quick, we walk down to Jaco Juice and Taco Bar a few blocks away on Wisconsin Avenue and sit outside.  We might also walk a little farther to Martin’s Tavern (a DC institution), Peacock Cafe, or Cafe Milano.

Right now, the Garden is only open to those with season passes, which are available for purchase and start at $75 for one person (and you still need to get timed-entry tickets).  Beginning May 15, it will be open to all with timed-entry tickets to control capacity.  Masks are also required as a safety precaution, and the bathrooms are not open, so prepare for that.


Dumbarton Oaks Garden is located at 31st and R Streets NW in Georgetown.  You can usually find two-hour street parking very close to the entrance.  Hours right now are 3-6pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Beginning May 15, it will be open Tuesday – Sunday, 3-6pm.  You must reserve a timed-entry ticket in advance.  Admission is $10/adult, $5/child | FREE November thru mid-March.

Get more of a glimpse in these snaps from my recent visit…










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Filed under 2021, All ages, COVID-19, DC, Outdoor, Social Distancing

Take Your T(w)eens — or Enjoy a KidFree Visit — to Glenstone


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.

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 every month at 10am for the following two months. Photography is not permitted indoors, hence all the outdoor images here.


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Filed under Art, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Hiking, Beaching, & a Little Fossil Hunting at Calvert Cliffs State Park


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.

As mentioned, the park limits capacity, so have a Plan B in mind in case you get there and it’s full.  Annmarie Sculpture Garden is just a few minutes down the road and just a bit further is the Calvert Marine Museum.


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Filed under All ages, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Weekdays, Weekend

Four Outdoor, Family-Friendly, Off-the-Beaten-Path Places to Explore Outside of DC

[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


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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 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.


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Filed under All ages, Maryland, Ongoing, Outdoor, Virginia