Category Archives: Park

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

Outdoor Recreation in NoVa at Fountainhead Regional Park

 

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. 😉

 

 

 

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Filed under All ages, Free, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Hike the Underground Railroad Experience Trail at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park

 

I first mentioned Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park on the blog back in mid-June after the kids and I had just visited the locale in Montgomery County.   I’d heard about the park and the Underground Railroad Experience Trail at least a couple of years before that, and it had been on my long list of places to check out.  But as the Black Lives Matter movement really began to swell, it moved up.  An outing there seemed like a timely experience and educational opportunity for all of us, as well as a good place to go for a socially distanced outing.

The Federal-era manor

The newer Woodlawn Museum

Located in Sandy Spring, MD (just down the road from the popular Adventure Park), Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park offers a glimpse into the area’s past.  It contains a Manor House built in the 1800’s and a newer museum “where echoes of the past tell the story of a bustling farm, its community, and those who made a bold bid for freedom on the Underground Railroad.”  (That last part is in quotes because it’s straight from the website, as we couldn’t visit the museum ourselves; along with the Manor House, it was — and still is — closed due to Covid.)

But the Underground Railroad Experience Trail alone warrants a visit.  At the time we visited, the Montgomery Park’s website had said the trail was part of a network of routes that enslaved people used to escape to freedom.  However, it now has been modified to say that “there is no documented evidence that Woodlawn Manor’s property, owners or buildings were involved in the 19th century Underground Railroad.” Regardless, you still can get an idea of what an escape to freedom entailed.

The walk through dense woods and along edges of fields is an interesting, enlightening, and active way to spend time outdoors. It’s about two miles each way  — there and back; the trail doesn’t loop — and  generally flat and easy for little legs to tramp. During non-covid times, guided tours are available that explain the experience and highlight the conditions enslaved people encountered on the Underground Railroad.

Currently, all hikes are self-guided, but a KFDC reader suggested the great idea to print out the map and an explanation of the trail to bring along for context.  With information about timing of escapes, areas along the route best for hiding, obstacles they may have faced, and other notable aspects of the trail, it helps provide insight on the Underground Railroad experience.  And it’s an outing everyone should move up on their list.

Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park is located at 16501 Norwood Road in Sandy Spring, MD.  The park and trail are open dawn to dusk. Admission is free.  Guided tours will be available after park programming begins again.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Hike — & Après Hike — at Sugarloaf Mountain & The Comus Inn

Hanging out on the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain

 

Two kinds of outings many of us are seeking these days are activities outdoors with space to social distance and dining outside that’s family-friendly and heated.  And when you easily can combine both into one adventure, well, that’s like hitting the Covid day trip jackpot.

Enjoying the scenic surrounds of The Comus Inn

We experienced such luck a little while back the day after Thanksgiving.  I got the best tip from a friend about The Comus Inn, a newly renovated restaurant (and more) just down the street from Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, MD.  Her family had recently gone for a hike then stopped for a bite after, and she raved about the fantastic time they had there.

A view from the Sugarloaf summit

Hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain wasn’t new to us, but we usually paired it with a visit to the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, also a short drive down the road from the park.  We’re always up for something new, though, especially when it comes as a very enthusiastic recommendation.

Space to social distance

The start of the White trail

Sugarloaf Mountain, in Montgomery County about 10 miles south of Frederick, is a great place to go for a family hike.  If you’re with older kids or avid hikers, you can start at the base and opt for an seven-mile loop up and down the mountain.  With younger children, or if you just want a shorter, easier jaunt, you can drive farther up to the East View parking area, where several trails to hop on are nearby.  A couple of good ones are the white trail, which winds around and ascends gradually to the summit, and the orange trail that is a steeper, more direct climb up.  Drive a little further to the West View parking areas for more, similar options.  However you go, you’re guaranteed great views on the way and at the top.  

Group hike on the Orange

Scrambling up to the top

On this trip, we met up with friends and opted for the orange trail. While all of us parents followed the route, the kids went off-trail and scrambled up a hill and over rocks, but we all met at the summit.  It’s a large area, so you can enjoy the scenery and climb outer rocks.  There are no big drop offs, but it’s always a good idea to make sure kids aren’t doing anything precarious, of course.   You can also bring along a picnic and, if it’s not crowded, enjoy it on some of the large rocks along with sweeping views.  There are also picnic tables near the parking areas.  However, I highly recommend saving snack time for après hike…

 

A perfect setting for a post-hike meal

The Comus Inn is part of what made this whole adventure special.  The  family-friendly community recreation and entertainment destination (as they describe it) could be an outing in itself.  There is a lovely outdoor dining area with long wooden tables and smaller round ones, string lighting for added charm and ambiance, and more seating around a fountain and in the nearby expanse of grass. Tall heaters are placed throughout for warmth.  The menu has everything from snacks and starters to entrees with something for every palate, plus beer and wine and coffeehouse selections. The bonus: Fun games available to play — shuffleboard, corn hole, and ping pong.  And all of it is surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

Someone’s ready to eat

Ping pong to work up an appetite

Our large group walked right in and got seated, but I’m guessing that won’t be so easy as word gets out about The Comus Inn.  Unfortunately, they do not take reservations, but if there aren’t any tables readily available, it’s a pretty awesome place to have to wait.

Even more games to play… shuffleboard and corn hole

 

The Comus Inn is located at 23900 Old Hundred Road in Dickerson, MD. Hours are 7-11am and 4-8pm Thursday & Friday, and 7am – 8pm Saturday & Sunday.

Sugarloaf Mountain is located at 7901 Comus Road in Dickerson, MD, just over an hour drive from DC. Park ours are 8am – sunset.  Admission is a suggested donation of $5/vehicle.

 

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Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Free, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend