Tag Archives: Daytrip from DC

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 FossilGuy.com 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

Explore Chesapeake Bay Heritage and History at the Calvert Marine Museum

The Megalodon model is one of many cool highlights at the Calvert Marine Museum

Last fall, when we went on a fossil hunting excursion with Ruddy Duck Adventures, one of the stops on our all-day outing was the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD. It was perfect for that tour, and a trip there would also make a great outing on its own.

The Drumpoint Lighthouse

The museum tells the unique story of the Chesapeake Bay’s prehistoric past, natural environment, and maritime heritage through an array of fascinating exhibits that are engaging for all ages. They range from small items in display cases to large installations, with areas to tour both indoors and out. Some are compelling just to look at, others welcome interaction.

Inside, there are areas dedicated to different eras in the Bay’s history. You can view fossils and artifacts in display cases, see different kinds of boats that cruise the waters, and learn how people and businesses have thrived in the area over time. A Discovery Room lets guests get hands on with different activities, including a sand box “beach” where you can go on a little shark tooth hunt, turtles to touch, and a little lighthouse to climb.

Outside, you can walk through a small craft building to see different kinds of boats of the Chesapeake. The Drum Point Lighthouse is really neat to tour, made to look just as it did during its days in operation. You can watch otters at play, and stroll along the Marsh Walk, where you could see wildlife and vegetation and learn how the marsh helps the Bay.

Along with the exhibits, the museum also hosts special events and programs, many of them especially for kids. You can see what’s coming up on the website.

The Calvert Marine Museum is located in Solomons, MD, about an hour’s drive from DC (get directions). It’s open daily 10am – 5pm. Admission is $9/adult, $7/senior, $4/ages 5-12, free for ages 4 and under.

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Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Weekdays, Weekend

Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake

A pirate battle on the high Chesapeake seas


To celebrate the end of the school year back in June, a friend organized a little cruise on the Chesapeake for a group of us.  But not just any cruise. This one included some jolly good adventure — of the pirate variety. And it made for one mighty fine time on the high Chesapeake seas.

We set sail from Annapolis with Pirate Adventures, a company that specializes in, well, pirate adventures for children.  (I mentioned them a few months ago in this post about birthday parties.)  And it truly is an adventure, one that begins even before the Sea Gypsy pirate ship leaves port.

After checking in and getting their pirate names (Octopus Owen & Sea Star Sasha), the kids were invited to suit up for the experience by donning some pirate togs — vests and head gear — and having their faces or arms painted with curly mustaches and beards or mermaids. The crew then had the kids line up as they explained the rules of  the sea, then got them psyched up for the adventure with some pirate chants.

Dressed (and painted) for adventure!

We all boarded the boat together, the kids sitting on a low bench along the bow, the adults finding seating towards the back. This experience was all for the kids; we were just there to watch them enjoy it.  Once seated, the crew explained the mission — to find sunken treasure, of course.

Learning about their mission

On the lookout for loot

And it’s all an adventure from there.  On their quest for treasure they find a message in a bottle and discover another pirate has the keys to the treasure chest.  When they encounter Pirate Pete, the kids battle him with water cannons and win, then get what they need to finish their mission.  With the treasure chest on board, everyone gets their pick of the booty, along with a cup of grog (orange soda) to celebrate. And all this happens with a soundtrack of “adventure” music and sound effects in the background, adding to fun of the whole experience.

Little mateys battle Pirate Pete

Booty… score!

The cruise takes over an hour, and I have to note the crew was absolutely crucial in making it a fantastic excursion for the kids. They directed the mission with enthusiasm, giving the kids special tasks and gathering them together to discuss important plans. I think my kids really believe they triumphed over Pirate Pete and discovered sunken treasure. They still have their plastic gold coins and jewels as proof.

The Sea Gypsy at port

Pirate Adventures operates daily until Labor Day, then just weekends through October.  There are six sailing times throughout the day, starting at 9:30am and the last at 5pm. Reservations are highly recommended, but you can pay upon arrival. Tickets are $19, $12 for children 2 and under.  If you go, I highly recommend wearing sunscreen and bringing a water bottle. There is shaded seating on the boat, but the kids will be in the sun for most of the ride.


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Filed under All ages, DC, Destination from DC, Maryland, Outdoor, Weekdays, Weekend

Touring Ships at Baltimore Inner Harbor

All little hands on deck on the USS Constellation


Our visit to the Maryland Science Center for the bug exhibit opening last Thursday inspired a family outing this weekend.  As I took in the view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor through the museum’s massive windows, I thought about how little we take advantage of all the city’s great attractions. Sure, we’ve been to many over the years, just not often enough considering they are only a 45-minute drive from DC. Lately, our Charm City trips usually involve visits with friends, Maryland crabs, and Port Discovery.  So, this past Saturday we decided to head north and experience something different.

It was my husband who suggested we do a ship tour at the Inner Harbor.  We’d admired the historic vessels moored at the harbor from the outside, but had never been aboard any of them. Plus, it seemed like something we’d all enjoy. We timed it so we would arrive in time to eat lunch — there are plenty of dining options along the Inner Harbor — then start our maritime explorations.

The USS Torsk

The USS Constellation, a U.S. Navy ship from the Civil War, was the one we had in mind, but there are actually four vessels you can tour — the USS Torsk, USCGC Taney, and LV116 Chesapeake are the other three.  Admission to tour one ship is $11/adult, $5/ages 6-14, free for ages 5 and under), and you can add on for just a few dollars more per ship. We opted for just one to start, since we didn’t know how long it would take or what the kids would be up for, but ended up tacking on another, the USS Torsk submarine, since we liked the first one so much and we had the time.

Touring the rooms below - the captain's dining room

As for the ships, the fun and fascination for the kids began as soon as we walked on deck of the USS Constellation. Just being on board the big boat was a blast for them. They immediately rang the large ships’ bell in the center of the deck, then checked out the cannons all around the outer parts. And, of course, they had to take turns at the helm of the ship and pretend to steer the wheel. Below deck, we got to glimpse what were the inner workings of the ship and crew: more cannons and guns aimed out portholes; captain and officer quarters and their nice dining area; rows and rows of hammocks hanging from the ceiling, where crew members slept and the mess area where they ate; a clinic for the injured; and storage areas.

Sub par space for a big guy

Our tour of the USS Torsk, a World War II submarine, was just as cool. The kids especially loved that the exterior is painted to look like a shark. Once inside, the tour began in the torpedo room, then we pretty much walked along the narrow hallway, peered into the small rooms on either side, passed through the navigation room, then walked down the tight hallway again until we arrived in the engine room.  There are sleeping and eating areas, captain and officer quarters, kitchens, weapons storage, all nestled efficiently along the “walls” of the sub. It was a bit creepy being down there, imagining living in such a tight space, hundreds of feet underwater (but not enough for claustrophobia to kick in).  And it was funny to see my 6’4″ husband wriggle through the tiny doorways.

Tours on both ships are self-guided, and audio tour wands for the USS Constellation are available at the information desk on the way in. We decided to forgo them figuring it would be hard to listen while keeping up with the kids, but there were plenty of information panels as well as crew members on board to answer questions.

All in all, a great way to get our Baltimore fix. But, of course, we’ll be back for more!


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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Maryland, Outdoor