Category Archives: Park

Enjoy the Great Outdoors at Patapsco Valley State Park

 

I have a long list of posts waiting to be written about some excellent adventures around the area. (So many great places, so little time…)  Patapsco Valley State Park has topped it for awhile, a local spot well overdue for a write-up here on the blog. I guess since it was included among the original recommendations for good Walks in the Woods with kids over 10 years ago, I just never made a full post a priority.  But these Covid times when everyone is looking for more outdoor activities, plus a couple of fantastic visits during the socially distanced months, have inspired me to get Patapsco crossed off that list.

Patapsco Valley State Park is located about 40 minutes from DC in Maryland, its 16,000+ acres sprawling through both Howard and Baltimore counties. It’s so big there are eight recreational areas, all of them offering different opportunities for outdoor recreation during all seasons.

The forested area is full of trails, many for hiking only, but some of them allow mountain biking and horseback riding, too.  Of course, the river for which the park is named has to be mentioned.  Over 32 miles of the Patapsco flow through the park, and visitors are welcome to swim in some areas during the warm months and paddle in others.

The trails vary, which keeps the hiking interesting. There are easy, flat routes along the river and rooty paths that wind through the woods, some leading to waterfalls or crossing over footbridges. We usually head in at the Avalon or Hilton entrances and hit the trails from there.  Both also offer the best access to swimming areas, and the Cascade Falls loop trails that leads to the pretty waterfall.  I recommend checking  the Patapsco website or Trails.com to find the right hike for your family and detailed info.

Where you go in the park may depend on what you want to do, as the various areas have different offerings.  There are the nice swim spots mentioned above.  Hilton and Pickall have playgrounds.  There’s paddling, tubing, and fishing in the Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove areas. Disc golf and basketball are in the McKeldin area. And just about all of them have picnic spots and pavilions, so you can easily make a Patapsco day of it. You can find more specifics on the website.

The park is also well known among mountain bikers as a great place to ride.  Levi has been riding the trails for years, and Owen is getting in on the action now, too.  Both recommend it for older kids/riders with some experience; it’s not a place for newbie mountain bikers.  They start at the Patapsco Trail Head at Landing Road, parking nearby along the road, but there are plenty of other areas to ride — you can find some recommendations here.

Like most outdoor places, Patapsco became a much more popular weekend destination during Covid, with some of the areas reaching maximum capacity by 10am!  Both times we went, we tried the Avalon entrance first, then rerouted to Hilton when we learned our first try was full.  I recommend checking Maryland State Parks on Twitter — they usually post when parks/areas are full, so you can plan accordingly.

 

Winter may be around the corner, but don’t let the cold stop you from enjoying the outdoors at Patapsco (or anywhere, for that matter).  As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!  Also, I read that Patapsco is a local destination for cross country skiing — a hobby we’re hoping to pick up this Covid winter.

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/person residents, $5/person non-residents
November – March: $2/vehicle residents, $4/vehicle non-residents

 

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Filed under 2020, All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Scenes from a Lovely Fall Outing to Brookside Gardens

 

Is it just me, or has this fall been especially beautiful?  The scenery seems ablaze with golden yellow, fiery orange, and deep red as the foliage puts on its seasonal performance. Perhaps the general gloom of this past year makes the bright spots that much more vivid, or maybe Mother Nature just knows how much we need it right now.

The fam framed by fall foliage

It’s this autumn luster that brought us to Brookside Gardens this past weekend — well, coupled with a little photography agenda.  We wanted to get out and enjoy the day before the rain came, someplace relaxing that would showcase the season.  So, I checked the round-up of the best outdoor places for ideas (yep, I use my own blog!), and in one glance I knew where we were going: Brookside Gardens, the beautiful public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park in the Montgomery Parks system.

Owen, circa 2010

Owen, circa 2015

The lead image in that post, the one of oh-so-sweet, four-year-old Owen chilling in the tree, was taken at Brookside almost exactly 10 years ago.  We recreated the photo when we happened to be back there five years later, so when I saw it again and did the math, I realized it was time for the next installment.

Paved paths traverse the gardens…

…as do leave strewn dirt trails

As those photos indicate, we’ve been enjoying Brookside Gardens for a long time.  Along with an occasional fall visit, we usually go for the wonderful annual Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit and Garden of Lights holiday display, however, both were among the many beloved area events cancelled this year.  But this autumn outing was lovely and serene and perfect for right now.  Plus, we got that shot.

Owen at 14

Of course, we had to capture our best girl, too

Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, MD.  Right now, the grounds are open to wander and enjoy daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center 10am – 2pm.   The sweet Children’s Garden is not accessible during Covid.  Along with the links above, read more about Brookside in this KFDC post.

And get more of a glimpse of the gorgeous fall in the pics below…

 

Goose watching

 

And it was all yellow

 

Japanese maple…wowza

 

View from a gazebo

 

Shimmering woods

 

A serene pond scene

 

This pergola turns into a fab pink walkway during Garden of Lights

 

Masks highly encouraged!

 

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Filed under 2020, All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Fall, Free, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Bike, Play, & Explore Within this Beautiful Stretch of the Anacostia River Trail

 

Biking with kids along the Anacostia River Trail is not a new recommendation from me.  Spanning the river from Southeast DC to College Park, MD, it’s one of our favorite trails to ride, plus the paved path with just a few gentle hills is a great one for families and kids of all ages to cruise together.

Tackling the whole trail at once would be a bit much for little riders, so biking shorter portions is the way to go with them.  And there is one stretch that is perfect for it, that includes recreation opportunities — hiking, exploring, playgrounding, paddling —  beyond two wheels: From Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to Bladensburg Waterfront Park (or vice versa).

A view of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The wetlands at Kenilworth

It’s the locations themselves that help make this bike ride so great; both make for fantastic visits on their own, so even better when you can incorporate them into one outing.  Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens — boasting lily pad filled ponds, gorgeous lotus flowers and water lilies (in summer), and acres of wetlands — is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the area.  You can hike around, explore the different areas, and look for creatures like frogs, fish, turtles, and all kinds of birds.

Fall colors popping at the Aquatic Gardens

Paddlers at Bladensburg Waterfront Park

Bladensburg Waterfront Park offers different kinds of activities.  There are kayak and canoe rentals (weekends through Nov. 1), a riverside playground, a pedestrian bridge, gazebos to relax in, plus a train caboose and pontoon boat tours (though both are inaccessible during Covid).

Playground with a water view

The pedestrian bridge

The parks are just over two miles from each other on the Anacostia River Trail, a nice, easy distance for small pedalers to ride each way.  You will have to put your bikes on a rack and drive to whichever park you make your starting point (or you can bike, of course, but then it’s not a short ride anymore) — there are free parking lots at both places.

Open scenic stretches

The path leading into Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

You can visit one park first, ride to the other, visit the second one, then ride back. Or you can start off your adventure with the bike ride, visit one park, ride back, then visit the second.  You could also just visit one park, or even just do the bike ride.

Stop for some info and history on the area

Wind your way along the boardwalk

The route is scenic, flanked by expanses of wetlands, leafy trees and flowering plants, and lovely river views.  You’ll ride mostly along a paved path, but occasionally over boardwalks that wind through wooded areas and also right along the river.  It’s especially lovely right now brightened by brilliant fall colors.

Ride along the river

However you plan your outing, I recommend bringing along lunch or snacks and drinks.  There are picnic areas at both parks, but concessions are not available.  Other good things to know: Bike racks are located next to the entrance at Kenilworth and on the sidewalk by the river at Bladensburg.  There are portable restrooms at both. And as noted above, there are free parking lots at both.

A bit of art, too!

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are located at 1550 Anacostia Avenue NE in DC. Hours are 8am – 4pm daily.  Bladensburg Waterfront Park is located at 4601 Annapolis Road in BladensburgMD.  Hours are sunrise to sunset daily. Admission is free to both.

 

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

A Breath of Fresh Air at Sky Meadows State Park

 

When COVID hit, I put a pause on posting write-ups about individual places.  Between stay-at-home orders back in the spring and general uncertainty about what we should and shouldn’t be doing even as those orders let up, it seemed best to take a lighter approach to recommending outings.  I might have mentioned them among the Five Things or included them in larger round-ups, but they didn’t get the KFDC fan fare that they would have pre-coronavirus.

Hence, I now have some catching up to do.  Over the last many months (how long has it been now?), we’ve explored some new places and had some great adventures.  So, now that the DC area is well into new phases of reopening, it’s time to start rolling out write-ups about them — starting with Sky Meadows State Park in Northern Virginia.

Our first visit to the park was our first real outing during the coronavirus beyond the sidewalks and streets of Capitol Hill, where we live, back in the spring. Hiking was permitted, and it was one of few parks still open, plus we heard from friends who’d been that there were barely any other visitors. So, we made a trip out to Delaplane, VA, for an escape from our oh-so-familiar neighborhood walk routine and a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.  We enjoyed it so much, we went back again in the summer.

Sky Meadows encompasses over 1800 acres in a rural area of Fauquier County, about 50 miles west of DC. Rolling hills, knots of woods, and sprawling pastures offer a nice mix of recreational opportunities, beautiful scenery, and a bit of history.  Trails wind through clusters of trees and along ridges overlooking swaths of farmland.

There are 22 miles of trails to hike, including the Appalachian Trail — a three-mile stretch of it runs through the park. Some trails are open to biking and horseback riding (BYO horse) as well. Lengths vary, and there are plenty of short routes that would make for nice walks with little kids. There is even a whole Children’s Discovery Area and a Sensory Explorers Trail (which wasn’t open during our visits because of COVID).

Mount Bleak House located next to the main parking lot offers tours and programs for insight into the history of the park.  (The house was still closed on our visits, so we didn’t get to experience them, but programs have now resumed.) There are also picnic areas and shelters, cabins, and campsites that you can reserve.

On both of our visits, we hopped on a few different trails — many of them interconnect — but we explored different parts of the park each time. We meandered through forested areas, looked for fish in a small pond, wound our way up a hill to enjoy the valley views below, and followed paths edging cow grazing pastures.  There were very few other people there, so we were able to keep our masks off most of the time, too!

We followed up our summer visit with a stop at Barrel Oak Winery and Farm Taphouse, just minutes away (look for a post on that soon).  Some sampling of the house specialty along with a bite to eat was a perfect way to make the most of our time out there and wind down the day.

 

Sky Meadows State Park is located at 11012 Edmonds Lane in Delaplane, VA. The main entrance is on State Route 710. It’s open daily, 8am – dusk. The Visitor Center/Gift Shop is open Thursday – Monday, with weekday hours from 11am – 5pm, and weekends 10am – 5pm.

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