Tag Archives: Northern Virginia Parks

Take a Nature Break at Prince William Forest Park


My kids are funny when it comes to hiking. Sometimes they are gung-ho, but every now and then when I suggest we hit the trail, there’s a little protest: “But it’s just walking!” is something I’ve heard more than once.

Then I explain that it’s much more than just walking. It’s observing the nature around us, enjoying some active recreation, getting out of the bustling city for peaceful surrounds, unplugging, spending quality time together. I relish a good hike and, at the risk of sounding eye rollingly cheesy, think it’s the perfect thing for a mini reboot. Taking even a little break from our busy, hurried city life to slow down and connect is good for all of us.


The thing is, I can almost always guarantee that even when there is initial resistance to the hiking plan, they end up being happy trampers. (“Mom, you were right…” is not uncommon either 😉 ). Once we get to our destination, they’re excited to be there — racing each other down the path, looking out for wildlife, finding a perfect walking stick, and just exploring the environment around us.


When we visited Prince William Forest Park in Northern Virginia this past fall, they were actually quite amenable to the idea. This mostly had to do with the fact that Owen had just been there for Nature Bridge , a three-day outdoor education program with school, and loved the location. I had been there myself a year before for a trail race and recalled it being a beautiful park with varied terrain and interesting trails. Collective enthusiasm to go someplace is never a bad thing!


Prince William Forest Park stretches over 15,000 acres in Northern Virginia. The largest protected green space in the DC-Metro area, there are over 37 miles of trails to hike, plus miles of paved and gravel paths to cycle, rivers for fishing, and cabins and tent sites for camping.

There is a $15 entrance fee per vehicle (or $7 for walk- and bike-ins) that we paid at the Visitor Center upon our arrival. While we were there, we picked up a trail map, checked out the exhibits, and learned a little more about the park’s nature and history. A couple of tidbits: The area was a significant strategic point in the Civil War, and during the Great Depression when the park was called the Chopawamsic Recreation Area, it housed children’s relief camps.


There are a few trail heads near the Visitor Center, and trails within the park are as short as a half mile and as long as almost 10. Many connect, so you can extend your hike and explore different areas. Our jaunt along the Laurel Loop Trail took us through the woods, which were vibrant with fall colors at the time, and along the Quantico Creek. Owen pointed out some of the spots he visited on his school trip, like a beaver dam and small waterfall, and we had a picnic lunch by the water.


Then we hopped onto another trail that took us deeper into the woods, and eventually to small cemetery. We learned that there over 40 family cemeteries in the park, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but some even earlier. It’s important to respect these sites and also illegal to alter them in any way. You can read about a couple of them here.



While we didn’t see much wildlife besides birds, squirrels, and fish, plenty do live there. Deer, beavers, and black bears (!) are some of the other mammals you might encounter. And sightings of snakes, turtles, and frogs are pretty common.

The variety in trails makes Prince William Forest Park a great place to hike with young children, since there are plenty of short, flat trails. And if you’re with older kids who want more of a challenge, there are longer and more difficult trails, too. You even can make it a weekend trip — cabins are available May – October, and tent sites May – November. Whether you stay overnight or just go for a few hours,  it’s a perfect destination for an easy escape from the city.


Prince William Forest Park is located in Triangle, VA, about a 45 minute drive from DC. It’s open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is open 8am – 4pm November – February, and 9am – 5pm March – October. Admission is $20/car or $10/walk- or bike-in.



Filed under All ages, Animals, Educational, Exhibit, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Play on the Weekdays: October 27-31

Fall is an ideal time to visit Brookside Gardens

Fall is an ideal time to visit Brookside Gardens

Monday – Wander around the beautiful grounds, play in the Children’s Garden, and enjoy a nice fall day outdoors at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. The park is open sunrise to sunset, the Visitor Center 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Tuesday – Let the kids romp on the playgrounds, go roller skating, visit the Education Center, play some ball on the expansive fields, and/or relax with a picnic by the river at Anacostia Park. This was a recent weekdays recommendation, but since I just posted about it, and it’s supposed to be great weather for a day outdoors, it seemed deserving of a mention again. Hours are dawn to dusk, 11am – 5:45pm for skating, and 10am – 2pm at the Education Center. Admission for all, including skate rentals, is free.

Wednesday – Head to the National Geographic Museum to experience two interactive exhibits recommended for all ages. “Spinosaurus” and “Food: Our Global Kitchen” are currently there, and adults can get a discount on admission to visit them. Entry is regularly $11/adult, but it’s $6.50 + service fees with the deal. Entry is $7/ages 5-12, free for 5 and under. Museum hours are 10am – 6pm.

Thursday – Catch a performance of The 3 Billy Goats Gruff at The Puppet Co. Stay at Glen Echo Park after the 40-minute show for some fun on the playground and a picnic lunch. Showtime is 10am. Tickets are $10.

Friday – Enjoy some fall fun on the farm! Visit the animals, take a tractor-pulled wagon ride, play on kid-sized tractors and playgrounds, and much more at Frying Pan Farm Park. The locale in Herndon is a guaranteed hit with kids (and parents always rave about it, too). The park is open daily from dawn to dusk, the farm is open 9am – 5pm, wagon rides 10am – 4pm. Admission is free, though the wagon rides cost a little extra. Later in the afternoon, put a little history in your family’s Halloween at Mount Vernon. Guests are invited to George Washington’s old estate to trick or treat in the historic area and enjoy other games and fun on the grounds from 3:30-6:30pm. Admission is $10/adults, $5/children.

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Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Deal, Educational, Exhibit, Fall, Farm, Free, Halloween, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: October 20-24

She digs the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum

She digs the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum


Monday – Visit the National Arboretum on one of the two weekdays it’s open to the public (it’s closed Tuesday – Thursday). Tour the plant collections, check out the Washington Youth Garden and play in the natural playground, romp at the old Capitol columns, see the details of the bonzais. There are acres upon acres to explore! Hours are 8am – 5pm, and admission is free.

Tuesday – Attend Mommy & Me (& Daddy Too!), the Rockville Town Square’s free monthly program for kids. Storytime, interactive movement, arts & crafts, and merchant sponsored activities are part of the active learning and creative play. The session will meet on the Square, and the program runs 10am – 12pm on the third Tuesday of every month. Admission is free, but you are asked to register in advance.

Wednesday – Enjoy a musical morning with the Boogie Babes as they bring kiddie entertainment to Union Market at 10:30am. Admission is $5/child, and siblings 6 months and under are free. Get there early for coffee and a snack or stay after for a bite — the vendors offer plenty of great lunch options! (FYI: You can also catch a Boogie Babes show at Eastern Market on Thursdays and the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Fridays.)

Thursday – Take a hike at Turkey Run Park. Located right off the GW Parkway near 495, it contains nearly 700 acres of woods, easy 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 (though sightings aren’t guaranteed). Hours are 6am -10pm. Admission is free.

Friday – Get creative at a National Portrait Gallery Open Studio Friday session. All ages are welcome to explore a different art medium each week with all kinds of fun projects. Drop in anytime from 1-4pm. Admission is free.

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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Eats, Educational, Fall, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Music, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 16-20

The Asian Collection at the National Arboretum

The Asian Collection at the National Arboretum

Monday – Visit the National Arboretum on one of the two weekdays it’s open to the public (it’s closed Tuesday – Thursday). See the lovely Asian collection, visit the Washington Youth Garden and play in the natural playground, romp at the old Capitol columns, walk among the azaleas and spot toads in the nearby pond. There are acres upon acres to explore! Hours are 8am – 5pm, and admission is free.

Tuesday – Go for a spin on the Chesapeake Carousel, take a train ride through the woods, play mini golf, hike the trails, and visit the Old Maryland Farm animals at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Md. If it rains (or even if it doesn’t), take shelter and see the birds and reptiles at the Watkins Nature Center. The rides are open 10am – 7pm, the farm 9am – 4pm, and the Nature Center 8:30am – 5pm. Admission to the park is free; the rides cost $1.75/person and mini golf is $4.50/person.

Wednesday – See an amazing collection of model ships, peer into a real periscope, sit in the gun seats of old fighter planes, view naval artifacts hundreds of years old, and much more at the U.S. Navy Museum. Located on the Navy base in southeast DC, it’s a treasure trove of fascinating exhibits. Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Thursday – Catch a performance of The Wizard of Oz on strings. The Puppet Co.’s version of the classic is less scary than film — the witch plays a minor role. Showtimes are 10am and 11:30am. Tickets are $10.

Friday – Head up to Baltimore where Port Discovery is hosting a Family Fun Friday. Special activities include a Negro League Baseball Museum Meet & Greet with Luther Atkinson and Ray Banks, story times, interactive games, art activities, and more. Of course, the rest of the permanent exhibits will be open for visitors to explore. Hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is $13.95.


Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Farm, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Spring, Theatre, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: June 9-13

Play time at Wheaton Regional Park

Play time at Wheaton Regional Park

Along with these suggestions for weekday activities, keep The Great Indoors list handy in case rainy weather hampers any outdoor plans.

Monday – Hit the playground at Wheaton Regional Park. Two levels of slides, climbing nets, monkey bars, swings, and more fun features will appeal to all ages and abilities. Even more, the miniature train and carousel are open daily for the season (for a small fee). Pack lunch to eat at nearby picnic tables under the lofty trees. It’s open sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.

Tuesday – Discover the history of flight at the College Park Aviation Museum. Guests can view early airplanes up close, dress up like aviators, create flight-inspired art, and more. Keep an eye on the runway right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows — you might see planes take off and land at the College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world! Open daily 10am – 5pm. Admission is $4/adults, $2/children, free for ages 2 and under.

Wednesday – Arrrgh! Cruise the high Chesapeake seas with Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake in Annapolis. The company specializes in, well, pirate adventures for children, taking little buccaneers on a search for buried treasure. Several time slots are available throughout the day, and they set sail everyday of the week. Cost is $20/person ($12 for ages 3 and under), and that includes face painting and dress up along with the on board fun.

Thursday – Spend the morning at wacky magic show with The Great Zucchini as he performs at Jammin’ Java. Doors open at 10am and the fun begins at 10:30am. General admission tickets are $5.

Friday – Play in the sprays at Canal Park. The recreational space in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has both a gentle, shallow fountain that is perfect for really little ones, plus a bigger one for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter. Admission is free. Grab a bite to eat at the Tavern Restaurant on premises at another nearby eatery (there are options right across the street and food trucks often in the area), or pack lunch for a picnic.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Spring, Theatre, Virginia, Weekdays