After nearly eight years of publishing my blog, I’m finally getting around to a post about Great Falls. Why did it take so long to feature a favorite –and one of the most popular and beautiful locales in the area? I’ve been asking myself the same thing, and the best I can come up with is that it’s one of those places that is so obvious and well known I just put a full write-up about it on the back burner. I did highlight it early on in both the round-ups of great hikes with kids and best outdoor places, have included it numerous times among weekday and weekend recommendations, and kind of covered it in when I wrote about a neighboring park.
But Great Falls unquestionably deserves its own post. The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area along with excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations. The Virginia side is officially Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, but with the main attraction — the gorgeous cascades of the Mather Gorge — the same for each, it’s all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.
Active pursuits there include hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking (lots of experience recommended!), fishing, and horseback riding (BYO ride). You can also learn about the C&O Canal, see remnants of nearly 200-year-old locks and structures, and even take a mule-drawn boat ride for a little time trip to the 1800’s. Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers with interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the area.
I still remember my first visit to Great Falls during my college years — I couldn’t believe that such spectacular natural beauty existed so close to DC. Friends and I would head there occasionally to hike the trails and hang out on the rocks high above for deep conversations about life and stuff (because we were so profound and cool back then 😉 ). Who knew then that years later it would be a favorite destination for outings with my two children?
Trips there as a parent began early on, when Owen was still a baby. We’d put him in the Kelty pack, and he’d look around with wonder and delight at the surrounding scenery that was so different from his familiar urban environs. As the kids grew, we’d take them on hikes mostly through the woods, away from high, rocky areas, so we wouldn’t have to worry about precarious situations. Now, both Owen and Sasha navigate the trails competently and safely, and we’re confident taking them just about everywhere (though this acrophobic mama still freaks out when I see them stand too close for my comfort to an edge).
The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park, and maybe even in the DC area. Just under five miles, it winds through trees, over clusters of large rocks, and along rooty paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. It’s rugged and fun and offers some breathtaking views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit tough for young children to tackle. That said, we’ve seen people of all ages and abilities hike it, though the ease with which they do varies.
We’ve also brought bikes to the park — rides along the tow path are pretty and flat, making it nice for little cyclists. I’ve done some rock climbing there with friends — you can often find group lessons through REI or even Groupon like we did.
There are designated overlooks on both sides of the park. In Maryland, there is one just a short walk from the parking lot, and further down the tow path a boardwalk extends over the river, and you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. All of them offer incredible vistas. Really, it doesn’t get much better in the DC area.
If there’s any downside to Great Falls, it’s the crowds. On a nice weekend, the park is guaranteed to be packed with people, and there is often a long line of cars waiting to get through the entrance. Try to arrive early, or go on a weekday if you can swing it.
Other good things to know:
– Wear appropriate shoes, especially if you plan to hike the rocky, rooty trails.
– Swimming is NOT allowed in the park. That section of the river is dangerous, even where it looks calm.
– Concessions are available, but you can also bring along a picnic to enjoy at a table in the snack bar area or a nice spot along your hike in the park.
– There are restrooms located near both Visitors Centers.
Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $20/vehicle, $10/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD.
The last day of my kids’ Spring Break was a gorgeous one, so a friend and I decided to make the most of it and take our broods on a hike along the Potomac. My first idea was to head to Great Falls. It’s a perennial favorite for walks in the woods, plus the long, cold winter had kept us from visiting for awhile. But the combo of great weather and day off from school made us rethink it a bit as we anticipated a crowd, so we came up with another yet similar plan: We’d go to Riverbend Park, just a few minutes’ drive down Georgetown Pike from Great Falls, then hike the two miles to the larger park, where the spectacular vistas of the water rushing through the Mather Gorge would be our reward and turn around point.
I’ve written about both places before in an old post about local hikes with kids and the best outdoor places in the area, not to mention I’ve recommended them countless times as weekday and weekend pursuits. However, I’ve never put the two together in one outing, either on the blog or in my own experience visiting them; usually it’s one or the other. And it’s actually my friend, Jody, who gets credit for that idea, which turned out to be a perfect venture for our crew.
We had packed some lunch, so we started off with a bite by the river. There are picnic tables pretty close to the Visitor Center and parking lot, but you can also spread out a blanket on the grass in the same area or a field not too far away. After lunch, the kids played by the water a bit and chased a few geese before we set out on our hike.
You can get on the trail literally right from the parking lot, and it’s easy even for little ones to follow. Along with it being pretty wide in most places and fairly tame terrain, there are trail markers on trees that the kids enjoyed finding.
It was a beautiful time to be there, and not just because of the sunshine and mild temps. Big clusters of Virginia bluebells were in bloom alongside the path much of the way to our destination. And we saw several butterflies flitting about the flowers. And, of course, the views of the river and woods and cliff sides across the water are great from just about any vantage point.
We stopped a couple of times on the way for a snack and water break and to examine interesting plants and logs, so the whole two-mile walk to Great Falls took about 35-40 minutes. Once there, we immediately made our way to one of the main overlooks, where we all took in the magnificent views of the falls.
We hiked a bit more, before stopping at a picnic table in a large field to relax and let the kids run around and play. Beyond that, though, the trail runs along the river and snakes through the woods. And depending on how far you go and where you might veer off to explore, there are wooden footbridges to cross, big rocks to scramble over, more fantastic views to take in, kayakers and climbers to watch, and peaceful places to just sit and chill out (we’ve been enough times to have done all of the above, even partake in some climbing). We kept it simple this time, and hiked back to Riverbend when the kids finished playing.
Although we didn’t do it on this trip there, I highly recommend stopping in the park Visitor Centers at Great Falls and Riverbend. Both contain interesting exhibits about the nature, wildlife, and history of the area. You can also find out about any special programs, such as wagon rides and nature tours, that might be happening that day — some require a small fee, but they are open to the public.
Riverbend Park is located at 8700 Potomac Hills Street in Great Falls, Va. You have to wind your way through several roads after turning off of Georgetown Pike to reach it. Hours are 7am – dusk, the Visitor Center is open 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.
Great Falls Park is located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, Va. (There is also a Maryland side of the park in Potomac.) Hours are 7am – dark, the Visitors Center is open 10am – 4pm. Admission is $10/car, free for walkers and bikers.
Temps are still high, but the code red days seem to be behind us for now. Thus, both indoor and outdoor activities are among the recommendations this week. Water and shade get special mention, too.
Here’s what’s happening this week, July 25-29:
Monday – Get Up and Go! to the National Children’s Museum’s Launch Zone where families are invited to discover fun summer activities to make them healthy and strong. The program will run several more days through August 6.
Tuesday – Put a little bounce in the day! The Pump it Up Lanham location is hosting “Open Camp Jump” from 1-3pm. Registration is not required, and they will accept campers until space fills up. Admission is $8/camper. (FYI – Camp will also run on Wednesday 1-3pm, Thursday 12-2pm, and Friday 1-3pm).
Wednesday – Take the kids for a hike at Great Falls Park, where there are lots of shaded areas, easy hiking trails, overlooks with stunning vistas of the waterfalls, and picnic tables for lunch amid nature. Admission is $5/car.
Thursday – Swim, slide, and play in sprays at Ocean Dunes Waterpark in Upton Hill Regional Park. An all-day (11am – 7pm) daily pass is $6.75 for individuals under 42″, $8 for those taller than 42″, and free for children under 2. Go after 4pm for the $5 rate.
Friday – As of now, temps are predicted to near 100, so it’ll be a great day for some indoor theatre. Catch The Puppet Co.’s latest production, The Wizard of Oz, at 10am or 11:30am. Tickets are $10 and available for purchase online or at the box office.
Today’s superb weather inspired me to put together a list of places that are made for beautiful days like this. Most of these locales have been recommended before, but never in one easy go-to list. Certainly, there are many more, so I’ll continually add new recommendations. In the meantime, may there be many great days ahead to try them out.
The old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum
U.S. National Arboretum
Hands down one of the best places in the city to chill out with the kids outdoors — which is why I recommend it so often. Its nearly 450 acres contain an amazing variety of plant, tree, and flower collections. Even if little ones aren’t into the flora, there still is plenty they will enjoy. The old National Capitol columns standing smack in middle of the Ellipse Meadow are a big draw – kids can play amid the pillars and check out the fountain, which flows down from the middle to a pool below. In other areas you can hike through woods, cross footbridges over small creeks, and seek out “magic” sitting areas like gazebos and spaces beneath tree canopies. The wonderful Washington Youth Garden invites visitors to watch the cultivation process, and the natural playground lets them engage in fun activities. The koi pond at the visitor center is great fun – the fish will swim right up to the edge and even pop their faces above the surface in hopes of a feeding. Little ones will also delight in the little trees at the bonsai exhibits. And the Grove of State Trees, a collection of trees from all 50 states, is a designated eating area with wooden tables and nice flat spots to spread out a blanket for a picnic. Read and see more about the Arboretum here, here, here and here.
An urban oasis at The Yards
One of the other best places to chill out with the kids, this relatively new recreational space is not a new recommendation from me, and for good reason. The centerpiece of the still-developing Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has many elements that make it a gem — open grassy spaces, lots of artistically designed benches and seating areas, a boardwalk along the Anacostia, the sculptural Pedestrian Bridge, and a fantastic view of the river. But the real bonus for kids is the fountains. Located on the park’s two levels, the water features aren’t just there for people to look at; those who want to get wet can play in the sprays above and wade in the shallow pool below. Just be sure to bring a change of clothes for the kids – getting soaked is guaranteed. (<strongUpdate: There is even more to enjoy now, as The Yards has developed quite a bit since this was originally posted — more eateries, kayaks for rent (see Ballpark Boathouse below), a fantastic summer concert series, and lots of fun events hosted there. However, the fountains and boat rentals are not on during the cold months.)
The Lincoln Memorial
The National Mall
This is an obvious suggestion, but sometimes those are the very ones we need to be reminded of, especially when it’s easy to get lured into the many museums surrounding the Mall that beckon with wonderful collections and free admission. But there’s plenty of art and history along with active recreation to enjoy outside of the galleries, too. Walk or bike among the monuments and memorials, but be sure to stop and take in the magnificent architecture and design. View art al fresco — kids will love the whimsical creations at the National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Gardens. Stop and smell the roses and other pretty flowers at the Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Take a spin on The Carousel for $3.50 a ride (2022 Update: cCurrently closed). Rent a pedal boat and cruise the Tidal Basin ($18-34/hour).
Visiting peacocks at Old Maryland Farm
Watkins Regional Park
Plan on several trips to this PG County park — there is so much to do here, that you need a few outings to thoroughly enjoy it all. Visit bunnies, chickens, peacocks, ducks, llamas, cows, ponies and sheep at Old Maryland Farm. Bring quarters for the food dispensers to feed the birds, and the Watkins Nature Center will have even more critters for guests to see. From there, head over to the sprawling colorful Wizard of Oz-themed playground. As if all that isn’t enough, Watkins gets even better in the spring, when the antique carousel, train, and mini golf open for the season — be sure to check the schedule for days and times.
On the Cunningham Falls trail
Walks in the Woods
One of my favorite ways to relish in a great day is on the trail, immersed in nature. Last spring I discussed how having kids changed the way my husband and I approach outdoor recreation, particularly hiking. We have to be mindful of our babes’ capabilities when hitting the trail, from how far their little legs can take them to how long they have before boredom kicks in. So, we try to find hikes that are short, not too strenuous, and include sights that we know they will appreciate. This post contains a list of some of the best places we’ve found to tramp with the kids.
A pony ride at the Rock Creek Horse Center
Rock Creek Park
The sprawling urban park regularly offers all kinds of ranger-led programs and activities for children, many for free. There are hikes, horseback rides, nature tours, and more. On any given weekend and select dates during the week, there’s something going on to bring kids closer to nature. One of our favorite stops is the Horse Center, where guests can visit equine residents at the stables and sign up for a pony ride through the woods ($20 – check the schedule for days and times). 2022 Update: Rock Creek hiking trails are accessible, but the Nature Center and Horse Center are closed.
Great views abound at Great Falls
Great Falls Park
The park that straddles the Potomac River in Maryland and Virginia is also mentioned among the best local hikes with kids. But it’s more than just a great place for walks in the woods. Along with numerous trails, Great Falls is a showcase of some of the area’s best natural scenery and a harbor of historical sights. The falls, gushing furiously over jagged rocks in the Mather Gorge, are a magnificent must-see. You can view them from a few different overlooks that are easily accessible via wooden footbridges or hike down (or up) dirt trails where it’s less crowded. Remnants of 18th-century locks are still on the Maryland side along the C&O canal, and if you look closely, you can find stone mason marks created to identify their work. Ranger-led programs and tours are available – info about both can be found on the National Park Service website.
Hanging by the river
This is where we go when we arrive at Great Falls to find a long line of cars at the entrance, which is not uncommon on a beautiful day. Riverbend is just a few miles away from its more popular neighbor on the Virginia side of the Potomac in Fairfax County. There are no awe-inspiring falls, and at 400 acres it’s about half the size, but it’s low-key, peaceful, and a lovely riverfront retreat. Hike through the woods along the water or stick to paved paths near the Visitor Center. Picnic tables are available, so pack a lunch to enjoy a bite by the water.
Strolling the boardwalk
There are trails, wildlife sightings, and plenty of nature to explore on the 1,425 acres of woods and wetlands throughout this park in Alexandria. Hike along the paved, dirt, and boardwalk trails, and you’re practically guaranteed to spot turtles of all sizes, frogs, great blue herons, cardinals, and a variety of other birds. The entire hike is just over a mile, and there are lookouts and benches where you can stop for breaks and snacks along the way to make it a few hours’ outing. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats, and water, as there’s no shade through the wetlands section of the park. Directions to Huntley Meadows are available on the website.
What up, Teddy!
I always think of this national memorial honoring President Theodore Roosevelt and his contributions to the environment as very “DC.” Its 91 acres are located amidst a natural woodsy setting accessible by long wooden footbridge crossing the Potomac. Vegetation grows thickly along two and a half miles of paved paths looping through the preserve. And smack in the middle of it all – the “DC” part — is a stone tribute to Roosevelt, a 17-foot bronze statue of Teddy himself, two big fountains (though they have been dry for a long time), and large granite slabs inscribed with Roosevelt’s tenets on conservation. It’s all quite impressive to both children and adults. And the island itself is perfect for an outing with kids with short, easy hikes; wildlife sightings (we’ve seen deer and other small animals there); and a little history lesson while you’re there.
George’s riverfront lawn
George Washington’s old digs, sprawling along the banks of the Potomac across the river from DC, offer a history lesson, some of the best views around, and a good time all in one. Get a glimpse into the life of the first POTUS by touring the Mansion and other buildings, several gardens, and a four-acre working farm on the estate. Staff dressed in costume roam the estate and tell stories about the old days. That’s often a favorite for kids along with the stables, seeing the farm animals, and generally getting an idea of what life was like over 200 years ago. Don’t miss a stroll on the Mansion’s east lawn — the stretch of green grass right along the water offers a beautiful lookout over the Potomac. Admission is $20/adult, $12/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.
Exploring Brookside’s Children’s Garden
This public display garden in Wheaton is beautiful any time of year with spectacular blooms in the spring, the Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit in the summer, brilliant foliage during fall, and holiday lights in the winter. Along with many incredible plant and flower collections there’s a turtle pond, a children’s garden complete with gnome hut and tree house, and plenty of open space for roaming and enjoying the scenery. Admission is free, though there is a fee for Wings of Fancy.
The Hains Point playground
East Potomac Park | Hains Point
Many people, including me, call the whole 300+acre peninsula Hains Point, but that particular locale is actually only the southern part of the entire park. Situated between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River just south of the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park contains a nice variety of recreation, and it all comes with great views of the water as well as the boats and airplanes that cruise and fly alongside it. Within the park there’s a golf course (with FootGolf!), a mini-golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a playground, and plenty of space to run, play, and picnic. Ohio Drive, the road that runs the perimeter of the park is a popular training course for competitive cyclers and runners, but the flat, scenic loop is good for family bike rides, too.
Plane view at Gravelly Point
The small, scenic park just off the GW Parkway next to Ronald Reagan Airport is an ideal spot to picnic, people watch, play ball, and walk along the river — if you really like airplanes. I have to warn: it’s hit or miss with kids (and adults, for that matter). The park is adjacent to the airport runway, so planes take off or land (depending on which way they are going that day) literally right overhead. That’s the hit or miss part. It’s loud and potentially scary for those who don’t like the looks of a plane coming right at them. But for kids who don’t mind and love airplanes, it’s quite a thrill.
PYO apples at Homestead
During fruit and veggie harvests, this is one of our family’s favorite farms to visit. It’s not open to guests until strawberry season begins in May, but when it does open, it’s a great place to pick your own produce and enjoy some time on the farm. Homestead scores just as high on aesthetics as it does on its crops—the lovely pastoral setting in Montgomery County makes you feel like you’re way more than 20 miles from the city. Before you go, be sure to check the website for hours and to see what’s ripe for picking.
Strolling and browsing the market
Weekends at Eastern Market
This one is quite special to me, as it’s just blocks from our house and one of my favorite things about living on Capitol Hill. Something about spending time there feels like a vacation in my own neighborhood. The market is both a community touchstone and a big draw for folks who don’t live here, especially on the weekends when the flea market, stretching along 7th Street SE, is in full swing. Local farmers sell fresh produce, and other vendors sell art, jewelry, housewares, clothes and accessories, food, and a variety of other goods. Live music and food trucks parked nearby are additional treats. Of course, you can’t miss the centerpiece of it all, Eastern Market itself. Inside, food stalls offer all kinds of fresh fare, from meats and cheese to produce and baked goods to fish and flowers. The Market Lunch is an institution, serving some of best pancakes around (don’t let the name fool ya… the breakfast is legendary.) But if the line is too long for little ones to wait, there are plenty of other places both in the market and the immediate area to grab a bite to eat.
The bridge from WV to MD
Just over an hour’s drive from DC, where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah River, this West Virginia locale is a great day trip destination and an easy escape from the Metro-area bustle. Outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, and small-town strolling give visitors plenty to see and do. Located along the famous Appalachian Trail, there are ample tramping options, many that lead to overlooks offering incredible views (these tend to be steep and strenuous so be prepared with little ones). Civil War remnants provide a glimpse into the past. The charming town with quaint shops and cobblestone streets is a fun area to roam and explore. And if the kids are older and confident on the water, take them tubing on the river for a glorious way to enjoy a warm-weather day.
Cabin John Regional Park Adventure Playland
The beautiful natural setting and abundance of play options put Cabin John among the top area playgrounds. A variety of primary-colored play structures are scattered throughout a sublime wooded section of the park. Tall trees surround the area, and their long shadows streak across sunlit surfaces. Kids can climb up, slide down, scramble over, swing from, even pretend to drive the apparatuses. And while there are many structures of all kinds of configurations for varying ages, there’s also a lot of open space in which to run around. As if that’s not enough, there is also a Miniature Train that offers rides through the woods ($2.50/age 3+, free/2 & under with adult). For a complete review of this playground nirvana, see this post.
Catching a taxi ride
Potomac by Water Taxi
The Potomac Riverboat Company operates daily between the National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria (as well as Georgetown and The Wharf). It’s about a 30-minute ride on the river, plenty of time to thrill young mariners. Catch the taxi from either point, cruise to the other side, then stay awhile to eat and explore. Round-trip rides are $21/adults and $15/kids ages 5-11 (timing and rates vary between other points on the river). Be sure to check the website for the schedule.
Rosedale pool in NE DC
Stay Cool at an Outdoor Pool
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun. Starting Memorial Day weekend, DC outdoor public pools are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 6pm. They open daily a few weeks later, though all pools are closed one day a week for maintenance, so be sure to check the schedules before you go. For swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools are open Memorial Day through Labor Day — the Department of Recreation website has locations and hours. In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole waterpark for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim — be sure to check the website for hours, as they vary from pool to pool.
Heading for home plate
When baseball season is in full swing, a day at the ballpark can be a great family activity. (I think so, anyway. As mentioned in an early KFDC post, not all folks agree). It’s an experience that extends beyond just the game — there are the Racing Presidents during the fourth inning; the Family Fun Area outfitted with corporate-sponsored interactive games and activities; the Jungle Gym, full of twisty climbs, tunnels, and slides; and plenty of JumboTron entertainment. Go on Sundays for Kids Run the Bases—after the game children ages 4 and up are invited to loop the infield, high-fiving Nationals mascot Screech and the Racing Presidents along the way. And as you’re planning as ballpark outing, be sure to check these KFDC tips for how to save on a Nats game.
Spray play at The Yards
Play in the Sprays
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, and you can find out where on their website. DPR Spray Parks open Memorial Day weekend on a Saturday-only basis, and a few weeks later, they open daily (check the website for hours). For spray fun with a riverfront view, Yards Park has fountains and a great location on the Anacostia. Georgetown Waterfront Park and The Wharf have refreshing water features that welcome play. More popular spray parks—Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park–can be found in Arlington.
King of the jungle in the city zoo
Lions and tigers and bears…and elephants and pandas and gorillas…oh, yeah! What kid doesn’t love to see the beasts they usually only read about in books or see on TV — all in one place? Our zoo has it all, and it seems to get better all the time with new habitats for many animals and more exhibits for visitors (though updates also require construction, which also seems to be ongoing). Ambitious zoo-goers can tour all of it in a day, but I find it easier to pick a few exhibits in one area and take our time. Cafes and food stands offer a small selection of food, or you can also pack lunch and picnic in the grassy area by the Kids’ Farm (or just find an empty bench). The Elephant Trails exhibit is quite popular as is the Giant Panda Habitat. And there are always daily programs and special events, so be sure to check the calendar before you go to help plan your visit. Woodley Park on the Red Line is the closest Metro stop, or you can pay $25 to park in the Zoo lot (or hope to get lucky and find street parking along Connecticut Avenue or nearby side street).
There was an old woman…
Clark’s Elioak Farm
From a kid’s eye view, this farm must be magical. And from a parent’s perspective, it’s the kind of place that makes me wish I were a kid again. The grounds are straight out of a fairytale, charmingly adorned with recovered installations from an old storybook park. Kids can peek in the windows of the Three Bears’ house, zip down a slide of the Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe, tumble down a hill with Jack & Jill, climb aboard Cinderella’s pumpkin, sit on Humpty Dumpty’s wall. If that’s not enough, there are also hayrides, cow train rides, pony rides, a playground area (not that the whole thing isn’t a giant playground), and farm animals – goats, ponies, sheep, and chickens—including a petting area that kids can actually enter to feed and pet baby goats. Be sure to check for special seasonal events. Clark Elioak’s Farm is located in Ellicott City, Maryland, about a 45-minute drive from DC. Admission is $8/person (free for children under 1), and $2-4 extra each for pony rides, cow train rides, and hayrides.
Time trip at Claude Moore
Claude Moore Colonial FarmSadly, this has closed permanently
This living history farm in McLean is straight out of the 18th-century. Everything at Claude Moore has been recreated to look just as it did in 1771, with a tobacco barn, farm house, garden, orchard, animals, even a family (portrayed by actors) who live and work on the farm and go about their daily life as visitors pass through. The farm isn’t huge — the whole walk is about 3/4 of a mile, and there is a dirt path that winds through it — but it’s a wonderful earning experience for all ages as well as a great way to spend a nice day outside. Admission is $3/adult, $2/children 3 and up. The farm is closed during the winter, but will reopens in early April.
All ages and abilities can play at Clemyjontri
The park’s tag line, “Where every child can play…”, really says it all. Unique among DC area playgrounds, Clemyjontri was designed with children of all abilities in mind and accommodates those who use wheelchairs, braces, and walkers, or who have sensory or developmental disabilities. Swings have high backs and added safety features, ramps and rubber surfacing allow wheelchairs to navigate the entire area, wider openings offer better access to play structures, and monkey bars are lowered for easier climbing. And the beautiful American Classic Carousel is at ground level for wheelchair accessibility. Just looking at the sprawling expanse of brightly colored play structures with a fairytale-esque carousel at its center is an instant boost to any kid’s excitement meter. Parents are often equally captivated by the park, and not just because they know their kids will have a blast there, but also because of the idea that just about any kid can enjoy it. Clemyjontri Park is located at 6317 Georgetown Pike in McLean. Hours are 7am – Dusk, admission is free, and carousel rides are $2/ weekdays, $3/weekend when it’s in operation (check the calendar).
Giant lily pads at the Gardens
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
It’s hard to believe something like this exists right in the city. Yet there it is in northeast Washington, right on the other side of the Anacostia River from the Arboretum. However, you have to go around to 295 to access the entrance. Numerous ponds are filled with giant lily pads, lotus flowers, water lilies, and a variety of interesting aquatic plants. Paths winding among them make for excellent nature walks, letting visitors get a close look at the flora and fauna that thrives there. Along with the vegetation, it’s quite possible to see any number of marshland residents — frogs, turtles, geese, great blue herons, and more. The best times to go are when the weather is warmer and the flowers are in bloom. But a stroll through the Kenilworth any time of year is a wonderful way to get a nature fix without even leaving the city. Hours are 8am – 4pm. Find directions to the Gardens here.
The Children’s Garden at River Farm
The American Horticultural Society’s headquarters located right off the GW Parkway on the way to Mount Vernon are, in a word, lovely. Over looking the Potomac River, the grounds welcome visitors to explore, relax, and play. That’s right, the Children’s Gardens on the north side of the house include all kinds of mini gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature. There’s a little fort that kids can crawl under or over; the Boat Garden with a real row boat to climb aboard; a Little House on the Prairie Garden with – yup! – a little house to play in; and many more charming areas for kids to enjoy. And right next to it all are more gardens with beautiful flowers, plants, brick paths, and nice seating areas that would make great picnic spots. The large house on premises is also open to tour and contains the office, art to view, and bathrooms. Rocking chairs on the back porch practically beckon you to sit and enjoy the tranquil surroundings and beautiful riverside view. River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive in Alexandria. It’s open from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday all year, and 9am – 1pm on Saturday from April through September.
Peek-a-boo pig at Oxon Hill
Oxon Hill Farm
This park in Prince George’s county, just minutes from the National Harbor, makes for a wonderful outing with the kids. Not only is it super fun for little ones, with animals to visit and lots of space to run around, it’s also scenic and serene, a nice escape from the city bustle. And it never seems to be crowded, so parking isn’t a problem and seeing the sights is easy. Along with the animals, there are historical exhibits, including old farm equipment, a display about grain uses, and an area demonstrating the agriculture (tobacco and wheat) of the farm’s past. Be sure to stop in the Visitor Center, where there is a small play area for kids, and to find out about any special programs taking place when you’re there. Oxon Hill Farm is open daily from 8am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.
One of the activities I anticipate most every spring is strawberry picking. I love heading out to the farm and gathering produce with the kids. The slow pace and open space are a nice change from the hubbub and confines of the city. It’s a fun, active way for little ones to see where their food comes from. And then there’s the obvious: the enjoyment continues with a basketful of delicious hand-picked berries at home. Lucky for us, there are many farms within an easy drive from DC that offer pick-your-own opportunities. And some of them host festivals to celebrate the fruit, to boot. For a list of them, see this post about PYO places in the area.
Roses are red (and yellow and pink) outside at the USBG
U.S. Botanic Garden
A great destination no matter what the weather, but even better on a nice day when you can enjoy the wonderful outdoor areas too. Little ones always love the Children’s Garden where they can flex their green thumbs with shovels, water cans, and planters and ground space to dig in. There’s also a working water pump and fountains, a bamboo “forest,” and a little garden house (with a real green roof!) where kids can play. Outside of the building is the National Garden, which is terrific for all ages to tour and explore. The roses are gorgeous, there are little foot bridges spanning a small stream (where Sasha would claim the Grumpy Old Troll lived), a mini amphitheater, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a lovely fountain where you can cool your feet, relax among the beautiful plants and flowers, and take in iconic DC views all at once.
Lots to explore at Burke Lake Park
Burke Lake Park
Whether you’re up for an outdoorsy experience or just seeking kiddie amusement in a nice setting, this is an ideal place to go. Encompassing nearly 900 acres, the park offers alfresco adventures to suit every age and interest. You can hike, bike, fish, run, rent rowboats, spot wildlife, play sports. Back in the pre-kids day, we loved flinging discs through the Frisbee golf course, and there’s also an 18-hole golf course and driving range, volleyball courts, and playing fields for other games. Especially for little ones are the mini train and carousel (open seasonally) , and playgrounds. Choose your pursuit (or two) and make a day of it, or pick a few and overnight it — campgrounds are open to visitors late April through most of October. Admission to Burke Lake is $10/vehicle for non-county residents, and some of the activities cost extra. For more info and specific costs, visit the website here.
Put a skip in your step at Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
The grounds of this historic estate tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of Georgetown are absolutely enchanting. Its sprawling acres are graced with beautifully landscaped plats, artfully designed terraces, and glorious stretches of green grass. Stone and brick passageways meander in every direction to many different areas, each one seeming more lovely than the last. Some of them you arrive at directly, the path leading to the next obvious place. Others you feel like you encounter by chance, as if you’ve discovered a secret oasis within the larger, wonderful haven. You can easily spend a good few hours strolling the grounds and relaxing in the many seating areas. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 2-6pm. Admission is $10/adults, $5/children ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under. There are a lot of stairs and bumpy stone paths, so if you’re bringing a little one, I recommend a wearable carrier over a stroller. (Note: From November to mid-March, admission to the gardens is FREE.)
Hurray for the sprays!
Georgetown Waterfront Park
This recently opened park is like a Joni Mitchell song in reverse: They unpaved a parking lot and put up paradise. A 10-acre sliver of local paradise, anyway. Where there once was a big fenced-in blacktop area where you could overpay to leave your car for a few hours, is now a wonderful stretch of recreational space right along the Potomac River. And with elements that make it great for play and relaxation, plus a location that’s both scenic and convenient, it’s quickly becoming one of the city’s best go-to spots to hang outdoors. Along with a wonderful in-ground fountain that visitors can play in, there’s lots of open green space for relaxing, paths to stroll, artistic elements, and, of course, the gorgeous setting along the Potomac River. Open from dawn to dusk, and free to the public.
Ready to walk among the trees
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
The locale’s five acres of Maryland woods are like a natural amusement park, outfitted with 13 ropes courses with 250 challenges — all amid the trees. Guests navigate from tree to tree via “bridges” made from ropes, wooden boards and slats, nets, and wires (connected by carabiners to wires, of course). You might walk up a thick tree branch, duck through large metal hoops, and whiz gleefully down zip lines to get to the next platform. It’s all self-guided, and they give first-timers a lesson on handling the ropes before starting. In a nutshell: It’s So. Much. Fun. Park hours vary by season, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Participants must be at least 5 years old, and there is a package for ages 5-6: accompanied by an adult (and it must be a one-to-one ratio). Admission also varies by age. 2021 Update: The Adventure Park is open with limited capacity. Advanced reservations are required.
Meadowlark’s Korean Bell Garden
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
This park in Vienna is, in two words, absolutely glorious. Large open expanses of soft grass are traversed by paved paths with plant and flowers collections on view all around. A couple of ponds are great places to see some wildlife — turtles, fish, ducks, and geese can be easily spotted in and around the water. A new Korean Bell Garden is a pretty and peaceful area with Korean inspired structures and art. A woodsy area contains a small creek and bridges to cross it. There is also a little Butterfly Garden, whimsical botanic-themed sculptures, and some live animals to view in the Visitors Center. Meadowlark open 10am – 8pm in August, but it closes an hour earlier every month until November (then stays open later again beginning in March). Admission is $6/adults, $3/age 7-17 and 55+, free/6 & under.
Trail guide in training
Turkey Run Park
A great option for hiking with kids. Located right off the GW Parkway near 495, Turkey Run contains nearly 700 acres of woods, trails that ramble along the Potomac, streams that flow down from the woods to the river, great views from the shoreline, and a variety of wildlife. Hikes are fairly easy, and you can opt for trails anywhere from about one to four miles long. There are clusters of big rocks on the riverbanks where it’s nice to stop and take in the views — or have a picnic if you’re so inclined. Fallen trees are fun to scramble over or walk upon, and a few small footbridges let you cross over streams. Birds and squirrels are easy to spy, and keep your eyes peeled for deer. A few picnic areas with tables are perfect for lunch al fresco, and open spaces are great areas to toss a Frisbee or kick a ball around. Access the park via the GW Parkway, right before the Beltway. Hours are 6am -10pm, and there is no admission fee.
Row, row, row…
While the grounds at Fletcher’s are a nice place to hang out, it’s actually more of a starting point for even more fun: Paddling on the Potomac. Canoes, kayaks, and row boats are available for rent for an hour or the whole day for some fun on the river. The Boathouse is open from 7am – 7pm daily mid-March through October. Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. Rowboats are $16/hour or $30/day. Standup Paddleboards are $22/hour. And if you’re not up for water time, Fletcher’s is still a nice place to enjoy a picnic and Potomac views — an open grassy area includes grills, tables, and space to toss a Frisbee.
Soaking up the fun
The park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood offers both active and relaxing recreation year-round. During the warm seasons, there are two interactive fountains for the public to enjoy: A 135-foot long, 20-foot wide fountain with a gentle, shallow cascade flowing down its scrim surface is a perfect place for really little ones to play. Then there’s the fountain with jets embedded into the concrete over about a 40-foot diameter area that splash water several feet in the air. And the space is not wasted with the changing seasons. Where there’s the big spray fountain during the warm months, is the ice skating rink in late fall and winter, a unique at that with meandering paths on either end. There are green, grassy areas where children are welcome to play, and big, twisting metal sculptures adorning them. And Wiseguy, the eatery next to the fountain/ice rink, has tasty pizza and outdoor seating when weather permits. Good Guys and Subway are also right across the street, plus more restaurants and food trucks are nearby.
Play the day away in Wheaton
Wheaton Regional Park Playground
A variety of primary-colored equipment sprawls over a fairly large area over two levels that you can access by ramped paths or climbable walls. Kids of all ages can slide through several tunnels, climb netted apparatuses, play on swings, and more. There’s an area especially for babies and toddlers, facilities to accommodate children with special needs, and a climbable mound keeps children of all ages entertained for awhile (who knew?). And the park setting with tall, leafy trees and grassy spaces dotted with picnic tables needs to be noted, too. It’s a pretty place to spend a few hours while the kids romp. And bathrooms are nearby the playground for added convenience. Open sunrise to sunset, free admission.
Paddling the Anacostia
Yards Park is continually adding new awesome features, and Ballpark Boathouse is among them. Single and double kayaks and canoes are available for rent for some recreation on the Anacostia River. This paddling excursion is more about the views from the water than the nature around it, since the area is very developed. You can get fresh perspectives of Nationals Park, Yards Park, and the Navy Yard, places most of us usually just see on land. One of the coolest sites is the USS Barry, the display ship moored at the Navy Yard, that you can paddle up close to (2015 Update: The ship is no longer berthed there). Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. You pay upon return, so there’s no limit to how much time you spend on the water. Really small kids need to be in a boat with parents, but older children can paddle on their own. After a jaunt on the water, hang out at the park, where you can picnic, play, and watch the boats go by. August 2020 Update: This location is closed.
The Potomac at the end of the trail
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Another fantastic alternative when Great Falls is crowded (or even when it’s not) Scott’s Run offers a nice local dose of nature in a short drive from the city. Trails that meander through lush woods lead to lovely hang out spots and great views of the Potomac. The spot may not boast the spectacular vistas that its larger, better known neighbor does, but it’s peaceful and pretty and makes for a nice hiking experience with kids. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located in McLean just off Georgetown Pike. It’s open from just before sunrise to just after sunset. Admission is free.
Green Spring Gardens
You’re driving along a main road in Northern Virginia past shopping centers and town house communities, then you make a turn into a parking lot behind a strip mall, and voila!, there’s this gorgeous park with a large green space surrounded by gardens full of plants, flowers, art, whimsical structures, play spots for children, gazebos, and fountains. A fun way to explore it all with the kids is on a scavenger hunt — stop in the Horticultural Center to pick up instructions. Cute tasks for children include finding a plant as tall as them, greeting a tree, and telling the time based on a sun dial. Of course, wandering the grounds aimlessly or even finding a pretty spot to just sit and relax is a perfect way to enjoy Green Springs, too. Find it at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm Monday – Saturday, and 12-4:30pm on Sunday. Admission is free.
The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland
The “Oasis of Peace” in northeast DC was one of several “secret” spots on a round-up of places that many people (myself included until I read the list) don’t even know exist here. The locale includes the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the centerpiece of the Monastery, beautifully manicured grounds immediately surrounding it, and a gorgeous, peaceful garden area adjacent to that. Christian sculptures and shrines adorn the site and are interesting to explore, regardless of religious views. Of course, you can just go for a stroll and enjoy the gardens — the flowers are spectacular in the spring. It’s all open for visitors to enjoy for free, but be sure to check times as they vary by day.
The Glass Forest
This hidden gem really is just that — if I hadn’t known to look for it, I never would have known it was there. Another DC “secret,” the collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials, is located in a small patch of woods next to the Palisades Playground. There are tree branches artistically stacked and bound together. Pieces of broken mirrors and glass on strands hang from trees looking like an oversized wind chime. Metal and plastic pipes, parts of bike frames, thick pieces of bamboo, and other odds and ends like small pans dangle from strings, some creating actual chimes that you can play. There’s a colorful, glittering mosaic piece and a wood and glass design that resembles a large sun catcher. And something about it being tucked away unobtrusively among the trees adds to the enchantment of it all. Exercise caution visiting the Glass Forest.
Play with extra zip!
Easily one of the best playgrounds in the District. The National Cathedral Elementary School’s outdoor area clearly reflects the school’s philosophy on the importance of outdoor play in children’s development. There are structures and spaces for all ages to enjoy. Kids can climb interesting treehouses then walk among them along wobbly wooden bridges and take a twisty underground slide from one level of the playground to a lower one. There are more cool climbing structures, swings, a kid-size basketball court, a small soccer pitch, and…wait for it…a zipline! And it’s not just Beauvoir students who benefit. The public is welcome to enjoy it all when school or camp is not in session — after school, weekends, and days off. View the school schedule for details.
Searching for shark teeth
Flag Ponds Nature Park
This day trip destination in Calvert County about an hour out of DC is nirvana for beach-going budding paleontologists. You can enjoy the sand and surf and hunt for shark teeth and other fossils that are said to be millions of years old! With a wide expanse of sand, sea grass blowing along the dunes, and pond-like inlets formed by sand washing in, it’s a lovely relaxing setting. And the calm, shallow water makes it a nice swim spot for children. Perhaps the only negative is the half-mile hike from the parking lot to the beach, then another short trek through the sand to the water. But bring along a wagon, good stroller, and rolling cooler for stacking your beach gear, and you’ll be all set. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, hours are 9am – 4pm Friday and Monday, 9am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hours are 9am – 6pm weekdays, 9am – 8pm weekends. Admission is $8/car.
Whimsy abounds at Annmarie
Annmarie Sculpture Garden
Plan to spend many, many hours at this enchanting park and arts center in Solomons, MD. Annmarie is full of creative works and whimsy that is both wonderful to view and glorious to experience. From eye-popping exhibits indoors to sculptures (and summer fairy houses) scattered about the grounds outside, the works appeal to all ages. Special hands-on activities, including an artLAB full of crafty possibilities invite guests to create. And the Fairy Lolly, perhaps the most charming playground you’ll ever encounter, is a fantastic delight in itself. If there’s any place worth an hour-plus drive to visit, Annmarie is it.
Combing the sand for fossils
Purse State Park
Just over an hour’s drive away from DC along a part of the river called Wades Bay, where woods meet water, you’ll find this pretty and peaceful beach area. A narrow strip of sand stretches along the shoreline, tree branches from the woods overhanging in a few spots. But the best parts of this locale are hidden among the piles of shells and small rocks at the water’s edge; that’s where you’ll easily find fossils from sharks, fish, shells, even crocodiles, many of them over 30 million and some up to 60 million years old. Be sure to go at low tide, as the already narrow strip of sand thins out even more at high tide (check the tide table here). Bring along a container to store your finds, because you’re guaranteed to go home with a good-sized stash. 2021 Update: The Purse Area is open, however, it’s drawing more crowds than usual, so be aware that parking may be tough, and you will have to avoid more people on the very narrow beach area.
Anacostia Parrrrk’s pirate playground
Stretching along the river for which it’s named in southeast DC, Anacostia Park offers recreation galore for visitors. You can bike, run, or walk on a riverside trails. Big grassy fields host all kinds of rec league sports and are also great for pick-up games, kicking a ball, or just running around. Kids love the three playgrounds, especially one with a pirate theme. There are also tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, and a skating pavilion for even more active fun. The Anacostia Community Boathouse is located on the west shore of the river, and includes a marina with a public boat launch and canoe rentals during the summer (free Paddle Nights are also offered through the Anacostia Watershed Society). You can bring along food on your visit — there are lots of tables and lovely spots to picnic. Is that enough activity for you? And it’s all going to get even better when Anacostia Crossing, the 11th Street Bridge Park coming to southeast DC, is developed over the next several years.
These boots were made for walkin’
Woodend Nature Sanctuary
The 40-acre property in Chevy Chase, MD, is home to the Audubon Naturalist Society, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation and education. The grounds are open to the public and free to roam daily. It’s perfect for hiking excursions with little ones, with easy trails that wind through the woods and through open, meadow-y spaces. Wildlife sightings are plentiful — deer, frogs, chipmunks, small fish, and, of course, lots of birds reside in the woods. There is a look-out to climb for better viewing and a small pond where you’ll find some creatures, too. A few exhibits like a bird feeding area, bees nests, and a composting station are worth checking out. And when tired little legs need a break, there are plenty of benches and nice, peaceful seating areas around. The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
Paddling options complement the on-land activities
Quiet Waters Park
This beautiful locale in Annapolis boasts 340-acres of recreational bliss. There are hiking and biking trails that wind through the woods and paved paths that stretch along large grassy fields and other areas of the park. There’s plenty of room for picnics and pick-up games, a garden adorned with sculptures, a Visitor Center with art galleries, scenic views of the water, and perhaps best of all, paddling opportunities on the South River. A hike could take you by old farm farm equipment and a composting demo, and there’s a chance of spotting deer, small animals, and some cool birds (we saw a woodpecker merely a few feet away). Bring along a picnic lunch — there are plenty of beautiful spots to eat al fresco. Or plan to go for crabs after, as one often does when in Annapolis. Quiet Waters Park is open 7am – dusk every day but Tuesday, when the park is closed. Admission is $6/car.
O say, can you see…
The site of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 and birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, Fort McHenry makes for a very interesting, informative, and enjoyable outing for all ages. There are all kinds of engaging exhibits in the Visitors Center and throughout the grounds, from historical objects and structures to multimedia displays and interactives. And it’s all located along a tranquil part of the Chesapeake. You can walk along the bastion and take in the same view soldiers did over two hundred years ago. What was once a battle scene is now a lovely Baltimore vista. Open daily 9m – 5pm. Admission is $15/adult, free for children 15 and under.
Prince William Forest Park
A perfect place for a nature break, you can really immerse and escape the bustle of the city at this 15,000-acre park in Triangle, VA. The largest protected green space in the DC-Metro area, there are over 37 miles of trails to hike, plus many miles of paved and gravel paths to cycle, rivers for fishing, and cabins and tent sites for camping. Variety in trails makes it a great place to hike with young children, as there are plenty of short, flat routes. And if you’re with older kids who want more of a challenge, there are longer and more difficult ones, too. If you want to make it a weekend trip, cabins are available May – October, and tent sites May – November. Admission is $20/car or $10/walk- or bike-in.
An autumn walk
Pohick Bay Regional Park
Along with eight and half miles of hiking trails that traverse the wooded area and offer lovely views of the Bay, other year-round features include a disc golf course, a nearby regular golf course, fishing (license required in VA), equestrian trails, and a playground. During warmer seasons, there is mini golf, camping & cabins, paddling opportunities, and outdoor programs. And in the summer, Pirate’s Cove Waterpark looks like a super fun way to stay cool on hot days. Hours are dawn to dusk. Admission is $8/car mid-March – mid-October, and free the rest of the year.
Tee up for FootGolf!
FootGolf at East Potomac Park
If you like soccer or golf (or both) or just enjoy family games and challenges, this adventure near Hains Point along the Potomac River makes for a great outing. FootGolf is basically like regular golf, but instead of using clubs to drive a golf ball down a course and into a small hole, you kick a soccer ball and aim for a 21″ hole. And the “tee” is about a five-foot space between two orange markers in the grass. The age rec is 10 and up, but we brought an 8-year-old, who did fine. The East Potomac Park location is the only place to play in the District, and with the Washington Monument looming in the background as you make your way around the 18 holes, it’s a pretty great one.
Disc golf is off the chain
Disc Golf in College Park
Not far from the University of Maryland and the College Park Aviation Museum, there is a small park with a stand out feature: A disc golf course. Disc golf, or Frisbee golf as it’s often called, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a combo of Frisbee and golf. There are 18 “holes” on a course that you try to get your disc into in as few moves as possible. In this case, though, the holes are chain baskets that stand a couple of feet off the ground and instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, you fling a disc that is like a Frisbee but smaller and more rigid. Most courses are set up in really pretty places, in the woods or in parks, where the trees and other natural obstacles add some challenges to the game. The course at Calvert Road Park fits that bill, and all of it lends to a fun and relaxing outdoor experience, a great way to spend a nice day.
Sunflowers taller than my tall kid
Sunflowers at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area
This only occurs for a few weeks out of the year, but that’s part of what makes this spectacular bloom extra special. Starting in mid to late July, 30 acres of fields at McKee-Beshers turn into a sea of yellow as sunflowers rise toward the sky and stretch across the landscape. It’s such a happy, sublime scene. The only downside is that it occurs at what is typically the hottest, buggiest time in the area — hat, sunscreen, and bug spray recommended — but it is still worth braving those conditions to take it all in. And afterwards, you can head right down the street for some berry picking (and eating) at Homestead Farms.
Getting into the swing of waterfront fun
The District Wharf
The recently opened area along the Southwest Waterfront is getting a lot of hype for its fancy restaurants and amazing music venue, but there is so much more to enjoy there — and for all ages! You can easily bring the kids and spend a day hanging out. There is a spray pad to run through, giant swings to climb upon, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for rent, life-size board games to play, fire pits, artistic seating, great people watching, not-so-fancy eateries, ducks and geese, water taxis, and even more! And a lot of it is free! This all comes with the beautiful backdrop of the marina and Potomac River views. KFDC Tip: Park at East Potomac Park and ride the free jitney over for a quick-but-fun boating jaunt.
Perfect for a peaceful stroll
A cemetery might not be the most obvious place for an outing with kids. But when one is full of history, graves of notable people, lovely grounds, and even geocaching opportunities, it’s a pretty cool place to go. Congressional Cemetery in southeast Capitol Hill has all of that and then some. Burials began at the 35-acre location over 200 years ago, and more than 67,000 have taken place there since, including some for famous DC residents. Tours are offered on Saturdays from April through October, and special events are hosted there throughout the year, from Day of the Dog to an annual birthday celebration for John Phillip Sousa to Soul Strolls and the Dead Man’s Run 5k leading up to Halloween. But it’s also nice to go anytime and roam around, look at the interesting tombstones, and think about the thousands and thousands of lives lived before. Open dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
Group hike at Sky Meadows
Sky Meadows State Park
Just over an hour from DC in Delaplane, VA, this park is perfect for family hikes, with several routes to take, most of them easy and short. You can wind your way through woods, alongside pretty pastures, and on trails with scenic views. You can even hike the AT — a three-mile stretch of it runs through the park. And some trails are open to biking and horseback riding (BYO horse) as well. Kids will enjoy a sensory trail with small interactive exhibits along the way. There is also a Children’s Discovery Area (limited accessibility during COVID), plus cabins and camping are available for overnights. Hours are 8am – dusk. Parking is $7/weekdays, $10/weekends.
Walk the Underground Railroad
Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
At this park in Montgomery County, you can take a hike with historical significance on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. Part of a network of routes that enslaved people used to escape to freedom, the walk through the woods and along edges of fields is an interesting, enlightening, and active way to spend time outdoors. It’s about a two-mile each way(there and back, no the trail doesn’t loop) walk along edges of fields and through woods generally flat and easy for little legs to tramp. All hikes are currently self-guided, but you can print out the map and an explanation of the trail to bring along for context. Guided tours will be available after park programming begins again. The trail and park are open dawn to dusk.
Hike to the river at Wye Island
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area
Beyond the Bay Bridge and just over an hour away from DC, this area is lovely to explore. It’s 2400+ acres are located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay between the Wye River and the Wye East River. There are about 12 miles of trails that edge fields of tall grass and ponds, wind through the woods, and run along the Wye River. All of it is flat and easy for little ones to walk. It’s fun to look out for wildlife, mostly birds, and notice the variety of vegetation, from large open expanses to verdant wooded areas with large trees green marsh plants blanketing and brightening the ground to sandy shores with scenic views. There is a restroom near the small parking lot as well as a picnic table, but you can bring your lunch along the hike and enjoying an alfresco meal by the river.
Fall hike at Patapsco
Patapsco Valley State Park
About 45 minutes from DC in Howard and Baltimore Counties, Patapsco covers over 14,000 acres of terrain with at least 70 identified, hike-able trails and many great routes for biking, too. Several are around three miles or less, and many lead to falls or follow a stream. During warm months, it’s a great place to swim — the Avalon and Hilton entrances offer best access to swimming areas in the Patapsco River. The Cascade Falls loop trail is a popular one to hike, though there is some uphill hiking on rooty areas, something to keep in mind with little ones. The park is large enough that it’s not too crowded, and there are picnic areas for lunch al fresco, plus playground for children to burn some extra energy. Entrance fee is $3/person, open during daylight hours.
Sand & surf at Calvert Cliffs
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. What is more appealing about Calvert Cliffs State Park are its other main recreational activities: Hiking, beaching, and swimming. The park is an hour’s drive from DC, but worth the trip for some active fun and relaxing byt he water. Entry to the park is $8/vehicle, and it’s open sunrise to sunset. (Be sure to read the linked post for tips!)
The museums are heavy on special family activities this weekend, but with the glorious weather forecast for the next few days, I’ve got several suggestions to get you outdoors, too. Happy Weekend!
Family Day: Kites of Asia – Go fly a kite! And make one, too. This free event at the National Air & Space Museum on Saturday welcomes guests to discover the artistry of kites from across Asia. Indoor kite flying, story telling, and hands-on art activities, kite-making included, are on the day’s agenda. The event runs from 10am – 3pm.
Take a Hike – It’s going to be excellent weather for tramping in the woods, though be choosy about where you go — I heard the line of cars waiting to get into the Maryland side of Great Falls last weekend was all the way out to MacArthur Boulevard. For more suggestions on where to walk in the woods, including several that don’t attract large crowds, check out this post about good area hikes with kids.
Goya: Awakened in a Dream – The National Gallery of Art’s Film Program for Children and Teens presents a movie about the artist Goya this week. Recommended for ages 7 and up, the screening will take place in the East Building Concourse auditorium at 10:30am on Saturday and 11:30am on Sunday. The program is free, and seating is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Everyone’s Playground – Enjoy the sunshine and one of the best playgrounds in the area. If you have young children, and you haven’t been to Clemyjontri Park, I highly recommend taking them there. The play possibilities will seem endless to little ones. The carousel doesn’t open for another couple of weeks, but kids will be so enchanted with other parts of the park, they won’t miss riding the wooden horses.
Mail Females – Discover the history of women who have played important roles in the nation’s mail service. The National Postal Museum is hosting Women’s History Month Family Day from 11am – 3pm on Saturday. Guests can hear stories about postal women and try their hand at some of the jobs they performed.
DC United Opening Day – Kick off the start of the soccer season at RFK on Saturday evening. Tickets are still available for the 7:30pm game, including a couple of packages that come with freebies when you buy at least four tickets. For more information, see this post from a couple of days ago.
Reptile & Amphibian Day – Learn about reptiles and their important role in the ecosystem at this annual event at the National Aquarium. On Sunday from 10am – 4pm, guests can enjoy a variety of activities, including storytime and fun crafts. Aquarium staff will be on hand to answer questions and give talks throughout the day. Special highlights: The alligator exhibit and a shark feeding at 2pm. The event is free with admission – $9.95/ages 11 and up, 4.95/ages 3-11, children under 3 are free.
Picnic, Play, & Planes – Have you been to Gravelly Point, the small park along the GW Parkway next to Ronald Reagan Airport? The beautiful spot along the river is nice place to spread out a picnic, people watch, and kick around a soccer ball — if you really like airplanes. I have to warn about this one: it’s hit or miss with kids (and adults, for that matter). The park is located just beyond the airport runway, so planes take off or land (depending on which way they are going that day) literally right overhead. That’s the hit or miss part. It’s loud and potentially scary for those who don’t like the looks of a plane coming right at them, but quite exciting for those that love a thrill.
Portrait Story Days – Drop in at the National Portrait Gallery anytime from 1-4pm on Sunday to listen to a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art. Rachel Carson, founder of the modern environmental movement, will be the subject this weekend.
CHAW ArtdayConcert– Catch a free Singing Lizard concert on Saturday morning at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. The Singing Lizard’s live shows are fast-paced, fun, and full of exciting songs that both kids and adults enjoy. The concert is from 10-11am in CHAW’s Black Box Theater.
Live Entertainment – A few new theater and musical shows recently opened on local stages. This post about spring entertainment from last week has info on what and who’s playing and where. Also be sure to check this post from a couple of months ago listing winter productions, several of which are still running.
Stories in Art –Sculptor David Smith is again the subject for this week’s children’s program at the National Gallery of Art. The workshop will start with a reading of “Half of the Elephant,” about an elephant on a humorous journey to find his missing half.. From there, the group will explore the work of David Smith, then build a sculpture with wood and metal. Hour-long sessions begin at 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm on Sunday. Sign-in will take place in the East Building Atrium, beginning at 11am that day and will continue until all spaces are filled. No admission fee required.