Our family has enjoyed all of the above mentioned sites and activities over the years, most of them many times. But the ones we’ve taken advantage of most are the Zoo and hiking, the latter most recently over Thanksgiving weekend on Black Friday, when we always make a point to #optoutside instead of getting sucked in by the sales. Rock Creek is a go-to for many locals for a good hike in the District — the varying trail options and feeling of escaping the urban bustle (while still being in the city) are major appeals.
It was a pretty fall day, albeit it a cold one due to the wind. But that never stops us from getting out… as the saying goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” (Not to mention my kids never seem to get cold!) We often begin our Rock Creek hikes at Peirce Mill. There is a small parking lot right across the street that always has open spots in our experience, and the paved path that runs along the creek next to it leads right to the green-blazed Western Ridge Trail.
There is a short uphill walk on the first section of the trail where we catch it near the Tilden Street Bridge, but it’s fairly mellow with just some gentle hills beyond that (the shorter section we often hike, anyway). The foliage was still in full effect this past weekend with plenty of leaves still on the trees, and we all remarked that it seemed especially brilliant this year — and so pretty with sunlight spilling through it all.
The full Western Ridge Trail winds a good 10-ish miles through Rock Creek Park, but we usually just hike to the Nature Center or a bit beyond and back, about three to four miles total. This visit we did less, turning around about a mile in, but hanging out in different areas longer to let Teddy the pup sniff around and find sticks.
During pre-Covid times, a lot of great ranger led programs were available at Rock Creek, from guided hikes to planetarium shows to kids activities. The Horse Center also offered trail and pony rides and welcomed people to tour the stables. All of those activities are suspended right now, but hopefully will be offered again soon.
I should mention that the Nature Center is another good starting point for a hike on the Western Trail, especially right now. There is a larger parking lot that tends not to fill up quickly while the facility is closed. And you can find even more great Rock Creek Park hikes here. Whatever route you choose, you’re in for a great walk in the woods.
Rock Creek Park is located mostly in Northwest DC (parts are in Maryland). Peirce Mill is located at the corner of Tilden Road and Beach Drive NW, and the parking lot is right next to it. The Rock Creek Nature Center is located at 5200 Glover Road NW. It’s open daily during daylight hours.
All smiles after a Peirce Mill tour and bird feeder project
There are so many things to love about Rock Creek Park. That it’s a beautiful natural oasis smack in the middle of a bustling city is an overarching appeal. But the features within — miles of trails, opportunities galore for active recreation, educational activities, and historic sites among them — are what make it such a huge draw for both locals and visitors.
What looks simple on the outside is complex and interesting within
On the last day of Winter Break, we took advantage of, well, all of the above and headed to DC’s urban forest to explore Peirce Mill — with a creekside picnic and some hiking, to boot. It’s a great place to begin a Rock Creek outing. Besides being an interesting structure to explore, there’s a parking lot just across the street, picnic tables nearby, and it’s situated right by a couple of trails that run along the creek and the park’s Western Ridge.
Touring the top floor of the mill
After enjoying lunch al fresco, we headed inside Peirce Mill. Built in the 1820’s it operated commercially for over 70 years. Since then, it has undergone a few restorations and still actually runs now, though just for demonstration purposes and only from April – October.
The millstones where grain was turned into meal and flour
The inner workings
The mill is pretty neat to tour even when it isn’t running as you can get a close look at the inner workings of a structure built before modern technology. Stone walls, thick wood beams, and wooden machinery, while restored and updated over time, maintain the original aesthetic. And it’s interesting to see how water from Rock Creek powered the mill — right outside is the trench where water was channeled to the water wheel alongside the building.
A view of Peirce barn next door
Making birdfeeders with the park ranger
While we toured the three levels of the mill ourselves, the park rangers on duty were happy to answer questions and also showed us how the mill works via a small model. And along with giving us a lot of background on Peirce Mill and Rock Creek Park, one of the rangers engaged the kids in cute bird feeder projects. (Also, a bit of random trivia I learned from him: Rock Creek is the only park in the National Park System with a planetarium — it’s at the Nature Center and it’s free!)
Still reading about the mill as we embark on a hike
On the Wester Ridge trail
The trail eventually leads to the Nature Center
After leaving the mill, we hit the trail for some hiking along the western ridge. It’s a pretty, hilly route through the woods that eventually takes you to the Nature Center a couple of miles along, but with daylight running out early, we turned around partway to head back to the car. But a visit to Peirce and the Nature Center with some good hiking in between would make for an excellent day-long outing!
A sunlit scene in our beautiful park
Peirce Mill is located at the corner of Tilden Road and Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. Hours are 12-4pm on weekends only November 1 – March 31, and 10am – 4pm Wednesday – Sunday from April 1 – October 31. Occasionally there ranger led activities and special events are hosted at the mill — see the calendar for details. Admission is free.
I don’t take advantage of all that Rock Creek Park has to offer nearly as often as I should. Encompassing over 1,700 acres and sprawling gloriously through Northwest DC, it’s one of the largest natural urban parks in the nation. It contains miles of great hiking trails, paved paths for cycling, a nature center, historic sights like Peirce Mill, tennis courts that host an annual major tournament, the Carter Barron amphitheater, the Horse Center, and of course, the National Zoo.
We visit the Zoo plenty, but besides a few short hikes, it had been a year or so since we’d been there for much else. That is, until this past Saturday when we planned an outing to the Rock Creek Horse Center to visit the equine residents, see the stables, and surprise the kids with pony rides. We knew from previous experience that the rides were more than just the usual few laps around a ring; these take children on a 15-minute jaunt through the Rock Creek woods.
When we arrived and parked, it became evident just how long it had been since we’d been out there. I had completely forgotten that the Rock Creek Nature Center was just a stone’s throw from the Horse Center. Since we weren’t in a rush, we popped in, which turned out to be great timing because a park ranger let us know that a planetarium show was just about to start. Once Owen heard about it, there was no way he was going to miss out, so we joined the group in the small domed-ceiling theater.
The Rock Creek night sky
The park ranger conducting the show was very engaging as he talked about the night sky over Rock Creek, took us to the moon, and pointed out constellations and explained the legends behind them. It lasted about 30 minutes, a perfect length for many of the young viewers (Sasha not among them, as she got a little antsy in the dark room, so Levi took her to see animals).
After the show, we walked through the room full of wildlife exhibits, many of them taxidermied animals, but a few live turtles, too. And across the hall is the Discovery Room, which is full of hands-on activities, books, and nature-related toys for kids.
Absorbed in a book about space
Finally we headed over to the Horse Center. The kids, especially Sasha, literally began squealing as soon as they made their way down a short path and the stables came into view. Outside, several horses were being prepped for riding, and two ponies stood in a small pen.
We were lucky to get them riding times just 15 minutes from when we arrived, and we used that wait to visit the horses in the stables. Guests are welcome to walk through, see the horses boarded there, and check out the rings and rooms full of riding equipment.
Making new friends
After finding helmets that fit, the kids were ready to go. Horse Center staff guide the ponies and are also very careful about safety and make sure kids get acquainted with their ponies, mount them correctly, and don’t startle them in any way. Once Owen and Sasha were good to go, we headed for the trail in the woods, Levi and I walking alongside our happy riders.
Ready to ride
The guides explained how to lean forward when they went uphill, and back going downhill. The ride was pleasant, lasting about 15 minutes and looping through the woods, where it was pretty and shaded.
Like a Rock Creek cowboy(girl)…
When the ride was over the kids dismounted and thanked their ponies, Chia and Munchie. And I made a mental note to not let a year pass again before our next visit.
The Rock Creek Horse Center is located at 5100 Glover Road. Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday – Friday, and 9am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. pony rides are offered on weekends April – October and also on weekdays June – August. It’s $20 for a 15-minute ride, and they are offered every 30 minutes 1-3:30pm on weekends (3 & 3:30pm weekdays), and you can call ahead to reserve a time. Children must be at least 2.5 years old and 30″ tall. They also offer trail rides for kids ages 12 and up. For $40/rider, you can take a guided one-our trail ride at walking pace through Rock Creek Park.
The Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium is located at 5200 Glover Road. Hours are 9am – 5pm Wednesday – Sunday. Free planetarium shows are presented on Wednesday at 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 1pm and 4pm. Other ranger-led programs for children are also offered – see the schedule for details.
Memories of Snowmageddon: It was two years ago this weekend that the mega snowstorm hit
Two years ago this month, I remember thinking that I couldn’t picture DC without two feet of snow blanketing the sidewalks, streets, front yards, and green spaces. We temporarily replaced the stroller with a sled, and snow boots became our everyday kicks. Getting around was a massive pain in the butt, especially with a baby in an Ergo on my back and a four-year-old in my arms as I carried him over the drifts that almost came up to his shoulders. We fell on slippery areas. We were cold.
But I look back on that time that so many of us endearingly call Snowmageddon as one of the most fun times I can remember in all my years of living here (which is a long time). The stairs in our neighborhood park became a little sledding hill, and Capitol Hill became a big, thrilling one. Someone built a real igloo in the park large enough for several kids to play in together. We gathered with friends for chili, Trivial Pursuit, and National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. We drank a lot of beer and wine. Folks walked in the middle of the street and greeted each other with extra enthusiasm (see that part about beer and wine).
I’m merely reminiscing, not wishing for another huge storm. Though if Part Deux were to hit the area, there would be no complaining. Rather, I’d get out the sled, bundle up the kids, pull the Trivial Pursuit out of the game closet, and stock up on booze.
And on that note, here’s what’s happening over the next couple of relatively warm, sunny winter days. Happy Weekend!
Black History Month Family Day – Celebrate the start of Black History Month with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Head to the Penn Quarter venues on Saturday for a day full of art, crafts, and live entertainment for the whole family. Enjoy music, dance, hands-on activities for kids, and a special tour of the related exhibition, The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Main festivities take place in the Kogod Courtyard from 11:30am – 3pm, and you can see the schedule of them here. Admission is free.
Americana Valentines – Get ready for the love-filled holiday at the National Postal Museum on Saturday afternoon. Drop in anytime from 12 – 3:30pm for their Red, White, & Blue Valentines workshop. Create two heartwarming cards — one for a friend, another to send to military personnel. Beautiful materials and inspirational examples will be provided. The Postal Museum’s workshops for kids are always well done, plus the exhibits are fun to tour and you can easily gran lunch at Union Station next door, so plan to make a big outing of it. Admission is free.
Monster Mash of Movie Shorts – The National Gallery of Art’s monthly film program for kids is all about monsters this weekend, presenting a series of animated shorts featuring furry and fun-loving ogres of all sorts, sizes, and shapes. The mash includes favorites like The Gruffalo and an adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, along with a few others that young film-goers will enjoy. Recommended for ages 5 and up, the program takes place on Saturday at 10:30am and Sunday at 11:30am in the East Building Auditorium and lasts about an hour. Admission is free.
It’s a Bug, Bug World – Chocolate chirp cookies, anyone? Try treats with crickets, see live bugs up close, and explore all kinds of interactive installations featuring all kinds of insects at the Maryland Science Center this weekend. The brand new exhibit Harry’s Big Adventure: My Bug World opens on Saturday and runs through April 29. On weekends only, you can enjoy extras along with the displays, like tasty bug bites prepared by a chef, an insect petting zoo, roach races, and cricket spitting. Read more about the exhibit in this new post.
Jam along with SteveSongs – The award-winning children’s musician and PBS co-host is performing three shows at Jammin’ Java with his band on Saturday. The 10:30am is sold out, but you can still catch the 12:30pm and 2:30pm shows. Tickets are $15 for ages 1 and older. Find out more about SteveSongs and hear samples of his music here.
Super Bowl Pre-Game Warm-Up – Athletes aren’t the only ones who need to warm up before the big game; fans need to get ready too! The National Children’s Museum Launch Zone is hosting its own Super Bowl party, complete with physical drills to get little ones in top shape, paper football tournaments, and craft activities for guests to make their own fan gear. Learn about some delicious, and healthy, game-day snacks, too. Drop in and have a ball on Saturday from 11am – 4pm. Admission is free.
The Languages of Love – Get ready for Valentine’s Day with the Smithsonian at the Freer/Sackler Galleries. On Saturday and Sunday, the Museums of Asian Art are hosting “In Every Language Love”, an open house for all ages. After a slideshow of images representing love in Asian art, guests can use printing blocks inscribed with the word “love” in more than a dozen Asian languages to make valentines. The free program runs from 12 – 4pm both days
Celebrate La Chandeleur – On the same day we wait for a groundhog to give us a weather report, France celebrates La Chandeleur (or “Crêpe Day”). And Alliance Française de Washington and Hillwood Estate and Garden are observing it on Saturday with a day full of food, fun, and games. Families are invited to celebrate the holiday in festive French fashion by eating crêpes, listening to a story, and experiencing the exciting culture of Brittany, where crêpes are said to have originated. Guests can learn a customary Breton dance, make traditional Breton hats, and hear classic children’s tales told in French and English. Tickets are $15/adults, $8/ages 2-18, free for ages 2 and under, $8/Hillwood and Alliance Française Members. The event runs from 10am – 4pm.
Auto Show – The Washington Auto Show is still going on through the weekend, and it’s an event the whole family can enjoy. We went last Saturday, and the kids had a blast checking out all of the cars, sitting in the driver’s seats pretending to take the wheel, and even lounging in the trunk of a Mini Cooper. There’s also the PBS Playland where kids can watch a show, play games, and meet some of their favorite characters. Taking place at the Washington Convention Center, tickets are $12/adults, $5/kids 6-12, free for children 5 and under.
Dramagami – The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is sill celebrating it’s 40th anniversary with 40 days of free events. And there’s one this Saturday especially for kids that combines origami with storytelling, drama, and fun. Or, as CHAW calls it: Dramagami! Learn to fold three animals in each workshop and create a mini-play about the animals. Leave with your newly folded animals and a story you can act out at home with them. As you fold the animals, let your imagination go wild as you create a whole world for the animals as you activate your body and voice with a little play creation. The class will take place from 10-11:30am and is recommended for ages 7 and up. Space is limited, so registration is required – go here to sign up.
In Theatres Now – There are several children’s productions on stages this weekend – P. Nokio at Imagination Stage, Peter and the Wolf and Tiny Tots at The Puppet Co., Teen Ensemble: Romeo and Juliet at Synetic Theatre, Saturday Morning at the National, and The Wings of Ikarus Jackson at The Kennedy Center. Get details and ticket info on all of them in this post about winter entertainment.
Winter Walks – A slight drop in temps doesn’t mean you have to shun the outdoors, especially on a sunny day. Get some exercise and enjoy the crisp weather on a nature walk – there are plenty of great places in the area where you can hit the trail with the kids. This post from awhile back lists some of the ground we’ve covered.
Forgive the corny, cliché title of this post – it’s hard to come up with something clever week after week (not that they ever were that clever…). But trite or not, the reference to autumn is apropos for this roundup of weekend events, as so many of them salute the season. Of course, there are also recommendations that make no allusion to the time of year. No matter what you and the kids decide to pursue, fall-themed or not, have a great time doing it. Happy Weekend!
Kids Euro Festival –Thanks to the French-American Cultural Foundation, 27 EU embassies, and more than a dozen major cultural institutions, Europe is coming to us via the Kids Euro Festival, a virtual passport to four weeks of continental artistic adventures. This is the first weekend of the event that will present more than 200 FREE children’s performances all around the metro area. Mimes, storytellers, dancers, and puppeteers are just a few of the exciting acts that will perform at a variety of venues from October 14 – November 10. See what’s on the schedule this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Autumn Colonial Market Fair – Claude Moore Colonial Farm is holding its annual fair on Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 4pm both days. Tradesmen and artisans — blacksmiths, potters, silversmiths, candle makers, and more —from all over the country will be there to demo their work and sell their wares. Guests can also enjoy all kinds of colonial fare and watch as food cooks right over a fire pit, just like olden times. Along with the fair, you can also tour the farm, which is straight out of the 18th-century. Admission to the farm on the Autumn Market Fair weekend is $6/adults, $3/ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under.
Rock Creek Fall Heritage Day at Peirce Mill – Step back in time somewhere else on Saturday for a day-long celebration marking the re-opening of historic Peirce Mill during Rock Creek Park Heritage Day. Artists, craftspeople, and historians will line the mill yard and grounds, restored to their 1800’s appearance, to bring history alive. Visitors can join them for hands-on demonstrations, while park rangers and historian shed light on what life was like in the 19th century. There will also be tours of the restored mill, which will be grinding grain, as it did more than a century ago. A schedule of the day’s events and more info is available of the NPS website.
Truck Touch – Kids can pretend to drive a school bus, explore construction rigs, learn about EMS & recycling trucks, and many more vehicles at Suburban Nursery School’s annual Truck Touch. Along with the cool rides, guests can enjoy homemade baked goods and lunch from some favorite local vendors (pizza, ice cream, & hotdogs). It will all take place in the school’s parking lot on Saturday from 10am – 3pm. Admission is $5/person, free for children under 2. All programs benefit Suburban Nursery School, a non-profit, parent-run cooperative nursery school for over 50 years.
Pinkalicous and the Pink Pumpkin – Room & Board is hosting a special event featuring award-winning author and illustrator Victoria Kann, reading from her latest book Pinkalicious and the Pink Pumpkin. Bring the kids, decorate pumpkins, and enter for a chance to win our kid-sized Jill table and four Little Jake chairs. Books are available for purchase at the event. It all takes place from 11am – 1pm, and the reading begins at noon. The event is free, RSVP to email@example.com.
Taste of Georgetown – In its 18th year, the Taste of Georgetown will showcase the spectacular cuisine of 30 of the neighborhood’s finest eateries, highlighting Georgetown’s culinary personalities and featuring nearly 60 delectable dishes to sample, as well as wine pairings, the jazz talents of Blues Alley artists, and children’s activities such as caricatures, jugglers, and balloon artists. Wisconsin and M Streets NW is where this will all go down on Saturday from 11am – 4pm. Tasting tickets can be purchased online or at the event.
What’s Grosser than Gross? – The National Geographic Museum’s latest exhibit for kids, “Animal Grossology,” features some of the slimiest, stinkiest, yuckiest creatures on earth…and their natural bodily functions. Yes, there’s plenty about poop, puke, and other icky processes all presented through many cool, creative, interactive installments. Kids will love it (and so will adults). Admission is $8/adults, $6/ages 5-12, free for children 4 and under and includes the fun Weird But True exhibit as well as entrance to Ocean Soul: Photographs by Brian Skerry, a beautiful collection of images from oceans around the world that any photography buff or wildlife lover will find mesmerizing.
Family Day in the White House ‘Hood – The Neighbors to the President’s Consortium, a group of historic sites and museums in the White House neighborhood, is hosting a day of activities for families. Activities will include a scavenger hunt at the Renwick Gallery, an art safari at the Corcoran, candle making at the DAR Museum, and more. Detailed activity descriptions are available on the NTPC website.
Hop on the Halloween Train – The “Eye Spy” Halloween Train at Cabin John Regional Park rides again! Get on board this Friday, Saturday and Sunday – tickets sales begin at 2pm, and rides are every half hour from 3-8pm. Tickets are $6 person and include “Eye Spy” game card and other activities for kids.
Family Fun Literacy Day – The Play With Words Children’s Museum in Vienna, in partnership with the Vienna Whole Foods Market and PBS Kids, is hosting a Family Fun Literacy Day on Saturday from 12-3pm. Join them, along with the characters from PBS Kids “Super Why” TV show, for a fun afternoon of literacy-related activities, including hands-on activities and a treasure hunt throughout the Vienna Whole Foods store, with prizes for the first 200 children. More information is available on the Play With Words website.
And the forecast is looking great for this weekend, so this post will come in handy if you want to take advantage of the weather: