Tag Archives: Rock Creek Park

The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Now, this is how to enjoy a beautiful day

 

 

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

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 , and here.

 

An urban oasis at The Yards

An urban oasis at The Yards

Yards Park
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 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

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

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

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, a whole Nature Center, 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 ($27 – check the schedule for days and times).  Peirce Mill is also another cool stop, were you can explore a historic building and sometimes even see it how it works.

 

Great views abound at Great Falls

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.

 

 

Heading for home plate

Heading for home plate

Nationals Park
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.  

 

Hanging by the river

Hanging by the river

Riverbend Park
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

Strolling the boardwalk

Huntley Meadows
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!

What up, Teddy!

Roosevelt Island
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’s riverfront lawn

 

Mount Vernon
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 $28/adult, $15/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.

 

 

Exploring Brookside's Children's Garden

Exploring Brookside’s Children’s Garden

Brookside Gardens
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

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

Plane view at Gravelly Point

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

PYO apples at Homestead

Homestead Farm
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

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

The bridge from WV to MD

Harpers Ferry
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.

 

 

Wheee!

Wheee!

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

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.

 

 

 

Spray play at The Yards

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

King of the jungle in the city zoo

National 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...

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

Time trip at Claude Moore

Claude Moore Colonial Farm Sadly, 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

All ages and abilities can play at Clemyjontri

Clemyjontri Park
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

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 Children’s Garden at River Farm

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

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.

 

 

Yum!

Yum!

Strawberry Fields
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

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. 

 

Anacostia Parrrrk’s pirate playground

Anacostia Park
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.

 

Put a skip in your step at Dumbarton Oaks

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!

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

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.

 

Meadowlark's Korean Bell Garden

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

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...

Row, row, row…

Fletcher’s Cove
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

Soaking up the fun

Canal Park
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

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

Paddling the Anacostia

Ballpark Boathouse
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

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.

 

 

gsgp_childrensGreen 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.

 

monastery_gardensThe 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.

 

 

glassforest_omirrorsThe 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!

Play with extra zip!

Beauvoir Playground
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

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

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

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.

 

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.

 

 

These boots were made for walkin'

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

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...

O say, can you see…

Fort McHenry
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.

 

#naturing

#naturing

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 Wharf
The area along the Southwest Waterfront that opened a few years ago gets 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, a big fire pit to sit around, artistic seating, great people watching, not-so-fancy eateries, ducks and geese, water taxis, life-size board games to play (sometimes), 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

Congressional Cemetery
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!)

 

Cheers to a day at Waredaca!

Waredaca Brewing Company
Sometimes it’s better to plan a hike around the après-hike destination. And the very family-friendly Waredaca Brewing Company is definitely one of those destinations. Located Catonsville, MD, against a lovely pastoral backdrop, you can spend a day hanging out a picnic table in the orchard sampling the brews and enjoying the fare from food trucks and bites from the Tap Room (you can also BYO food. There are large in-ground tires for kids to climb upon and plenty of space for lawn games, and live music is often played on the patio.  It’s a great place to enjoy a post-hike hang (or even just go to without the hike).  I recommend making a reservation, as tables can fill up. Oh, and for a good nearby walk in the woods, check out Patuxent River State Park.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Farm, Free, Maryland, Monuments & Memorials, Outdoor, Park, Sports, Spring, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Celebrate Black History Month

Today marks the start of Black History Month, and there are many area programs and events happening over the next few weeks to celebrate it.  Here’s a round-up of them, some starting as soon as today.  Most descriptions are straight from the websites, and I’ll add to the list as I learn about more.

Black History Month at Mount Vernon
There will be several special highlights from February 1 – 28 in observance of Black History Month at Mount Vernon.  Every day from 10am – 12pm at the slave quarters, interpreters will focus on the lives and contributions of the slaves who built and operated the plantation home of George and Martha Washington. A wreathlaying and presentation will occur daily at the slave memorial site at 12pm.  And at 1pm, the Slave Life at Mount Vernon tour will explore the lives and contributions of the slaves who lived at the Estate. Black History Month activities are included in regular Estate admission: $15/adults, $7/children ages 6-11, free for ages 5 and under.

American I AM: The African American Imprint
At the National Geogrpahic Museum, take a journey through trials and triumphs while exploring nearly 500 years of African American contributions to the economic, political, cultural, and spiritual development of the United States. Bear witness to more than 200 poignant artifacts from the dungeon doors of the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana to Prince’s guitar.  The exhibit will run from February 2 – May 1.  Admission is $12/adults, $6/children ages 2-12.  Open daily from 9am – 5pm.

Black History Month 2011 Family Day Celebration
On Saturday, February 5, the whole family is invited to the Smithsonian’s kickoff celebration of Black History Month at the National Museum of American History. The day includes the award-winning interactive theatrical presentation “Join the Student Sit-Ins,” performances by the Washington Performing Arts Society, tours of the exhibition The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey — Where Art and History Intersect, the debut of an American Girl self-guided Civil War family tour (“Addy’s World”), and many interactive activities to celebrate family and heritage.  The event runs from 11:30am – 5pm.

Play Date with Pride
Culture Kingdom Kids, a mobile cultural arts program that produces children’s events with a cultural twist, presents Play Date with Pride on Saturday February 5 at the Alexandria Black History Museum. Celebrate Black History Month at this interactive workshop for children ages 5 to 12. Enjoy hands-on creative arts such as storytelling, crafts, and music and dance activities. Parents must accompany children. The event runs from 1 – 2:30pm. Reservations recommended.

Segragation Aboard Streetcars
The National Capitol Trolley Museum will present this special exhibit on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of February in observance of Black History Month.  Located in Colesville, MD, the museum is open weekends from 12 – 5pm.  Admission including unlimited trolley rides is $7/adults, $5/ages 2-17, and  $4/all ages without rides.

African American Pioneers in Aviation
The National Air & Space Museum invites visitors to meet famed African American pilots from World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen, who fought discrimination both at home and abroad; talk to Museum experts; and participate in hands-on activities, and story time. This event occurs twice – first at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles on Saturday, February 5, then again at the museum on the National Mall on February 12. Both are free and run from 10am – 3pm.

Black History Month Stamp Collecting
On Saturday, February 12, celebrate Black History Month at the National Postal Museum by making your own stamp collection featuring prominent African Americans such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. After making your collection, be sure to see the Negro Leagues Baseball Stamp exhibition. Drop in between 11am and 2pm to participate in this free program.

Black History at Rock Creek Park
Several days throughout the month, Rock Creek Park is offering programs that explore black history, including “Through a Slave’s Eyes” on February 5 and “Sounds of Black Georgetown” on February 12.  Check the website for complete details.

Portrait Story Days: Rosa Parks
Drop in at the National Portrait Gallery’s weekly program to listen to a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art. in observance of Black history Month, this week guests can learn about Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks. This free program runs from 1 – 4pm.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Free, Maryland, Museums, Ongoing, Weekend, Winter

Fall, Back this Weekend

The fairytale setting at Clark's Elioak Farm

Sometimes a cliché works. Which is why I’m going to use one right now to describe the weather ahead of us: Crisp. If the forecast proves correct, it’s going to be one of those weekends where you almost feel like you can take a bite of the air. (And it would taste really good, kind of like mulled cider in chilled foam form. You know, something one of the wacky, innovative contestants on Top Chef would concoct.)

It’s quintessential fall weather.  The kind that, if you dress right, is perfect for a day outdoors. But also cool enough that you don’t feel bad spending time inside. And these recommendations for recreation this weekend are a pretty even mix of both.

I’ve already mentioned the Harvest Festival at the American Indian Museum, the Bike and Roll bike sale, and the Saturday evening Wizards game, and here are some other ideas to consider…

Clark’s Elioak Farm
I suggested this farm last weekend, and now I’m recommending it with even more conviction after having visited with friends on a day off from school. From a kid’s eye view, it has to 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. Sunday, November 7, is the last day the farm will be open until late November when they reopen with a Christmas theme. If you go, bring your rotting jack o’ lanterns to partake in Pumpkin Chucking Weeekend. Clark Elioak’s Farm is located in Ellicott City, Maryland, about a 45-minute drive from DC. Admission is $5/person (free for children under 1), $2 each for pony rides, cow train rides, and hayrides. Open 10am – 5:30pm, though last admission is at 4pm.

Star Wars in Your Stocking
The force may be with you at Hooray for Books tomorrow, November 6, from 4 – 6pm. Meet costumed characters from the 501st Legion and enjoy games, trivia, contests, and prizes. Guests are encouraged to dress as their favorite Star Wars characters and, of course, start on their holiday shopping. Hooray for Books is located at 1555 King Street in Old Town Alexandria.

Storytime at Brookside Gardens
Here’s a wonderful way kids can enjoy fall foliage, both figuratively and literally, Saturday morning. Along with readings of the books Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and Fall Leaves Fall by Zoe Hall, there will be a leaf collage craft project. Storytime is free and starts at 10am. When all of that’s done, be sure to stay awhile and explore the plant collections, which are no doubt lovely during autumn. And don’t miss the children’s garden, complete with gnome hut, tree house, and open spaces free play.

Elvis at 21 Family Day
The National Portrait Gallery is hosting a special family day inspired by the new Elvis at 21 exhibit, a collection of photographs of a young Elvis Presely by Alfred Wertheimer. The event will feature performances of Elvis’s early music by local tribute artist Will Debley and the band Blue Steele, hands-on craft activities, a book talk and signing of Shake, Rattle, and Turn That Noise Down by author Mark Alan Stamaty (1 – 3pm), and curator-led tours of the exhibition (at 1pm & 3pm). The event runs from 11:30m – 3pm throughout the museum. The book signings will take place outside museum stores.

YoJo Pigs Out at the National Theatre
This week’s Saturday Morning at the National performance features YoJo, the biggest, grooviest, fuzziest blue guy you’ll ever meet. Here’s more on the show: “He’s been binging on junk food big-time. Uh-Oh! After some comical fitness challenges he learns that it’s actually fun to be fit. He’ll have the young ones (and even couch potatoes in the audience) up on their feet doing his YoJo-robotics!” Show times are 9:30am and 11am. Tickets are free and distributed a half hour prior to performances on a first-come, first-served basis. Every person must be standing in line to receive a ticket. The National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

The Pirates of Penzance
This is the final weekend to see The Washington Savoyards, deemed the light opera company of DC, perform “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Atlas Theatre on H Street NE. A friend of mine just took her 4-year-old son to see it, and both gave the show rave reviews. Tickets range from $15 – $45 and can be purchased through the website.

Leaf Peeping and Ranger-Led Programs at Rock Creek
Who says you have to head to the country to see good fall foliage? Autumn is just as beautiful and brilliant right here in the city. Rock Creek Park is probably the best bet for urban leaf peeping, and with several easy hikes, plus ranger-led programs, it’s a perfect place to spend a “crisp” November day with the kids.

Wherever your weekend adventures take your family, have a good one!  And enjoy that extra hour of sleep.

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Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, DC, Fall, Free, Live Entertainment, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Weekend

Walks in the Woods: Where to Hike with Kids Around the DC Area

Hitting the trail at Cunningham Falls State Park

Hitting the trail at Cunningham Falls State Park

 

Ah, the great outdoors…aka Owen’s favorite potty. What is it about releasing kids into the wilderness that makes them want to find a tree and pee? Or is it just my kid (and I’m now that embarrassing mom who just planted material that is sure to come back to haunt her son in about 10 years)? Regardless, that’s often the first thing my boy wants to do when we get out in nature. And yesterday was no exception. We barely had the car door open when we arrived at Cunningham Falls Sate Park before his pants were down and he was headed for the nearest natural urinal.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about good places in the area to hike with kids.

Before our babes entered our world, my husband and I loved to go tramping in the woods and managed to cover a good amount of ground doing so. We’d seek out new places both in the area and on our travels where we could hike for miles, sometimes with a destination in mind, like a campground or a swimming hole. Other times, the pursuit would be a steep climb up a mountain or loop through the forest. No matter where or what, we relished the recreation — the fun, exercise, company, and escape from the usual stir of the city.

Our enthusiasm for hitting the trails hasn’t changed since having kids, but as with many activities since the KT (Kid Takeover), we’ve had to compromise how we go about them. No longer do we aspire to many miles or steep climbs. Owen’s four-year-old feet can’t handle much more than two or three easy miles. And while Sasha generally loves the ride in the pack or Ergo, she starts to fuss after a couple of hours. And let’s be honest: being stuck in the middle of the woods with a couple of unhappy kids doesn’t a fun family outing make.

But we work around it. We pick trails that loop in two or three miles, that lead to cool sights like waterfalls or scenic overlooks, and promise interesting flora, insects, and wildlife sightings along the way. So, we may not cover as much ground or get as much exercise as we did during our days of carefree yore, but it’s just as much fun, and the company is even better.

Here are some great places we’ve tramped with the kids, both close to the city (even in it) and beyond. And please feel free to add more in the comments section, as I can only cover so many and know there are tons not listed here!

[Note: This has been updated with new additions and reorganization over the years.]

DC
Rock Creek Park
U.S. National Arboretum
Roosevelt Island
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Kingman & Heritage Islands
Dumbarton Oaks Park

MD
Great Falls Park
Patapsco Valley State Park
Woodend Nature Sanctuary
Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
Patuxent River State Park
Quiet Waters Park
Cunningham Falls State Park
Sugarloaf Mountain
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area
Greenbelt Park
Calvert Cliffs State Park
Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge

VA
Riverbend Park
Huntley Meadows
Shenandoah National Park
Prince William Forest Park
Potomac Overlook Park
Turkey Run Park
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Pohick Bay Regional Park
Sky Meadows State Park
Fountainhead Regional Park
Mason Neck State Park

WV
Harpers Ferry

* * * * * 

DC


Pick a Rock Creek trail

Rock Creek Park
Surely, this isn’t a new suggestion for most, but this oasis within the city deserves a mention on a list for hikes with kids. One of the largest natural, forested urban parks, Rock Creek contains miles of dirt trails and paved paths that wind through its 1700+ acres. The best hiking trails follow the creek (blue) and the western ridge (green) and can probably be looped in a couple of hours. We usually park in the Nature Center lot or a small parking area across from Peirce Mill to catch the Western Ridge Trail.  And if you’re all up for more fun afterward, you can check out the Nature Center, horse stables, National Zoo, or Peirce Mill (though depending on where you start and end, you may have to hop in the car and drive there). Free admission, open during daylight hours.


An autumn walk at the Arboretum

U.S. National Arboretum
The 450-acre locale showcasing an amazing variety of plant, tree, and flower collections tops my round-up of the best places in DC to hang with the kids outdoors. It was one of my very favorite places before I had kids, and I appreciate it even more so with them. There is a lot to see and do, much of which involves walking. And with so many delights within the vast grounds, the whole fam will be into it. You can take a hike through woods, cross footbridges over small creeks, walk the paths among beautiful blooms, and seek out “magic” sitting areas like gazebos and spaces beneath tree canopies as you explore the grounds. The centerpiece of it all are the old National Capitol columns standing magnificently smack in middle of the Ellipse Meadow, which you can tramp to from many directions. A must-stop is the wonderful Washington Youth Garden, where young visitors can see the cultivation process, and the natural playground lets them engage in fun activities.


Hanging with Teddy at Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island
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 a long wooden footbridge crossing the Potomac. Vegetation grows thickly along two and a half miles of dirt and boardwalk 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, flowing fountains, and large granite slabs inscribed with Roosevelt’s tenets on conservation. It’s all quite impressive to both kids 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 chance to splash around in water a bit (just hands and feet – there’s no jumping in these fountains).


Meandering the paths around the ponds at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
The grounds here are unlike any place else in the area. Numerous ponds are filled with giant lily pads, lotus flowers and water lilies (during the summer), 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. It’s very possible to spot frogs, turtles, geese, great blue herons, and more marshland creatures. There is also a boardwalk to follow that leads to wetlands that are a tidal flood plain of the Anacostia River. Lookouts offer great views as well as areas to sit and take it all in. The best time to go is when the weather is warmer and the flowers are in bloom. But a stroll through Kenilworth any time of year is a wonderful way to get a nature fix without leaving the city. Open daily 8am – 4pm. Admission is free.

 

A view of the Anacostia from one of the bridges at Kingman Island

Kingman & Heritage Islands
This is a hike I’d recommend if you happen to be in the area, say at the RFK fields for soccer or maybe visiting Capitol Hill, but not necessarily one to go out of the way to visit. The park is interesting, with two long wooden bridges in the park — the first crosses over to Heritage Island, the second takes you to Kingman Island — both offering views of the wetlands. There are short trails on both islands to hike, check out the vegetation, and try to spy wildlife. Events are occasionally held there, the most popular the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival. The Anacostia Watershed society also leads explorations there that are worth checking out.


The loveliest city hike at Dumbarton Oaks Park

Dumbarton Oaks Park
Not to be confused with Dumbarton Oaks Garden that I’ve written about and recommended a lot,  Dumbarton Oaks Park is a lovely little stretch of nature in Georgetown that is actually located right behind the gardens.  It’s part of Rock Creek Park and contains well maintained trails and features like footbridges, seating areas, and stone walls built into the landscape, kind of giving it all a fairytale feel.  It’s a perfect place to go for a hike with young children — it’s not too big, the paths are flat and easy for little ones to navigate, and it’s right next to Montrose Park, where there’s a playground and lots of grassy space to run around — but all ages would enjoy a walk there.  (You can make a whole day of it in that tucked away area of the neighborhood and visit Dumbarton Oaks Park, Montrose Park, and Dumbarton Oaks Garden all in one great outing!)  The Park is  open daily dawn to dusk, and admission is free.  Access it near the intersection of R & 31st Streets NW.

 

MARYLAND


You just can’t beat the views at Great Falls Park

Great Falls (In Virginia, too)
This is another one that most Washingtonians know all too well, and for good reason—the magnificence of its main attraction (the falls) and miles of trails are a wonderful constant. The Billy Goat on the Maryland side is probably the most popular hike, but better suited for older children — there is a lot of scrambling over the clusters of large rocks, some close to edges with big drops down. With younger children, I suggest sticking to easy walks on trails along the river on the Virginia side or dirt paths that snake through the woods in Maryland. The trail map you get upon arrival will help determine where to take your crew. Admission to Great Falls is $20 per vehicle, $10/walking or biking, $35 for an annual pass. Open 7am – dark.


Swinging bridge on the Grist Mill Trail in the Avalon area of Patapsco

Patapsco Valley State Park
About 40 minutes from the city in Howard and Baltimore Counties, Patapsco covers over 14,000 acres of terrain with at least 70 identified, hike-able trails. 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 Casade 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. To find the right hike for your family, visit the Patapsco website or Trails.com for detailed info. Entrance fee is $3/person, open during daylight hours.


Exploring the woods at Woodend Nature Sanctuary

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.


Nature and historical context make for a great hike at Woodlawn Manor

Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
At this park in Montgomery County, you can take a hike with historical significance on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. The walk through the woods and along edges of fields offers insight into what it was like for enslaved people as they escaped to freedom, and it’s an interesting, enlightening, and active way to spend time outdoors. It’s about two-mile walk each way (there and back; the trail doesn’t loop) 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, and admission is free. The Visitor Center is closed right now.


Immersed in woods at Patuxent River State Park

Patuxent River State Park
Spanning nearly 7,000 acres in Montgomery and Howard counties, there are generally three areas of the park — the North End, the Wildlands, and the South End. The south section has two marked trails, one about a mile and a half, and the other two miles, and they conveniently connect for a nice walk in the woods. The paths are well maintained with some twists and turns and a few slight uphills, but nothing too strenuous. It’s a very pleasant hike, but best thing about it may bet the close proximity to Waredaca Brewing Company, a very family-friendly (and dog-friendly) place to go for après-hike. Patuxent River State Park is open sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.


The start of fall hues at Quiet Waters Park

Quiet Waters Park
There are 340 acres of recreational bliss at this park in Annapolis. Hiking and biking trails wind through woods and paved paths that stretch along large grassy fields and other areas of the park, and there’s dirt path that meanders along the South River, which is lovely to walk and take in the views. You can easily make a day of it at Quiet Waters — there’s plenty of room for picnics and pick-up games, a garden adorned with sculptures, a Visitor Center with art galleries, and paddling opportunities. (Note: Some of this is closed during COVID-19; the trails and kayak rentals are open.) Hours are 7am – dusk daily, except for Tuesdays when the park is closed. Admission is $6/car.


Little O on the Cunningham Falls trail

Cunningham Falls State Park
It’s just over an hour from the city, about 15 miles north of Frederick, but Cunningham Falls in the Catoctin Mountains feels much further away. Part of it is the drive out there—the landscape slowly goes from the urban chaos of crazy beltway drivers to suburban strip malls along 270 to farmland, becoming more picturesque and serene as you go. Once inside the park, the mass of tall trees and forest blanketed with bright green plants and strewn with large boulders are indicators that you’ve arrived. There are plenty of short hikes for kids that lead to the falls, nice mountain overlooks, and remains of old stone buildings. Stop at the visitor center on the way in for a trail map. Free entrance, open during daytime hours.


Savor the view from the Sugarloaf Mountain summit

Sugarloaf Mountain
Just a little under an hour from DC in Frederick County, Sugarloaf offers several hiking options for families. If your kids are bigger or you’re all feeling ambitious, there is a 7-mile loop (blue) that is apparently less crowded than the shorter hikes. Otherwise, you can drive to the parking lot close to the mountain top, then walk up a winding trail or opt for a shorter, but steeper one that’s less than a mile. No matter which way you go, your final destination, the summit, offers stunning views. Admission is free. After your hike, savor some time at the nearby Sugarloaf Winery or The Comus Inn.


Enjoy some time by the water on 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 I’d recommend bringing your lunch along the hike and enjoying an alfresco meal by the river.


Hike and camp close to DC at Greenbelt Park

Greenbelt Park
So close, yet so unknown, Greenbelt is just 15 minutes from the city and perfect for a hiking trip with the kids that won’t take all day. Four trails in the park range from one to just over five miles. A picnic area and playground round out the activity. And if you’re so inclined, camping is available (perhaps for a close-to-home first camping experience) for $20/campsite.


On the boardwalk portion of the Calvert Cliffs trail

Calvert Cliffs State Park
Calvert Cliffs State Park, an hour’s drive from DC in Lusby, MD, is best known for its beach and shark tooth hunting. But just as good is the hiking. There are 13 miles of trails total within the park, including one that is the direct route to the beach. It’s pretty evident where to catch the Red Trail from the parking lot, then it’s a two-mile ramble to reach the sand and surf, but a fairly easy and very scenic one. The route is flat and mellow for the most part, so little ones can tackle it, and stretches through woods and along edges of marshes. Part of the trail is a wide dirt path shaded by tall leafy trees and part is a boardwalk that extends along wetlands. You can walk and take in expansive views of the marsh areas filled with lily pads and aquatic plants. In a few places, the boardwalk extends out into them for a closer look, and there are a couple of benches on the way to sit and enjoy the scenes. Entry to Calvert Cliffs is $8/vehicle, and it’s open sunrise to sunset.


Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge
Eastern Neck is a couple of hours away on the Chesapeake Bay, just beyond the town of Rockhall. Several hiking trails traipse the refuge, winding through areas of thick marsh grass, pine-filled woods, and sandy beaches, often leading to spots along the Chester River and Bay. The hikes are easy, short, and offer plenty of cool sights for kids. From the parking lot, a long wooden boardwalk leads out over the marsh to a bird lookout. It’s not unusual to see great blue herons or osprey gliding inches above the water in search of fish or turkey vultures circling overhead. The diamondback terrapin swims the waters and bald eagles nest in trees (though catching sight of either one is considered lucky). For a guaranteed good view, the Bayview Butterfly Trails offers some of the Eastern Shore’s best vistas of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. No entrance fee, open during daylight hours.

 

VIRGINIA


A springtime hike among the bluebells at Riverbend

Riverbend Park
Just a few miles away from Great Falls on the Virginia side, Riverbend is mellower version of its more popular neighbor. Sprawling along the Potomac, its 400 acres offer over 10 miles of hiking trails through the forest and along the river, including a 2.5-mile portion of the Potomac Heritage Trail and the paved Duff’N’Stuff trail accessible to strollers. A picnic area near the nature center is perfect for a riverside lunch, and open space just beyond that is ideal for running around or tossing a Frisbee. Admission to the park is free, open 7am – dusk.


Strolling along the Huntley boardwalk

Huntley Meadows
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. Get directions to the Huntley Meadows here.


You can’t beat those views of the Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah National Park
It’s an obvious recommendation, but a given on any list of recreation in the DC area. Shenandoah has it all — grand mountains, nearly 200,000 acres of forested terrain, 500 miles of varying levels of trails, abundant wildlife (spotting deer right along the trail is not uncommon), swimming areas, waterfalls, sweeping views. And it’s all just a 75-mile drive from the city. With so much to offer, you need to check out the trail map of Shenandoah hikes for yourself and see which walks work best for your family. You can also stop in the visitor center and get advice from a park ranger—they’re always nice and happy to help. Admission is $30/vehicle. An annual park pass is $55.


Immerse in nature at Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest Park
This lovely oasis about a 45-minute drive from DC encompasses over 15,000 acres of gorgeous nature. There are 37 miles of hiking trails, many of them distances that are perfect to tackle with kids. Walk along the Quantico Creek to see beaver dams and tiny fish. Take the North Valley Trail to see small waterfalls, follow the High Meadows Trail to a little cemetery dating back to the 19th century. Whatever path you choose, you’ll be immersed in lovely woods. And if you go during the fall, you’ll be surrounded by brilliant seasonal hues. Admission is $20/car.


Ramble through the lush, green summer woods at Potomac Overlook

Potomac Overlook Park
It’s located in Arlington along the GW Parkway, but hiking the two miles of trails that meander through it feels like you’re much farther away from the bustle inside the Beltway. The short distance and pretty scenery makes it a nice place for a family walk in the woods, and a few other features make it especially awesome with little ones. The nature center has hands-on exhibits and live creatures to view, there are rescued birds — owls and hawks — to visit outdoors, and there are opportunities to learn about Native Americans who once lived on the land and trees through QR codes on a self-guided hike. Open 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday, and 1-5pm Sunday. Admission is free.


Bridge crossing at Turkey Run

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.


Small but lovely falls at Scotts Run Nature Preserve

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 wind through lush woods lead to lovely hang out spots and great views of the Potomac. The locale may not boast the spectacular vistas that it’s 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.


Peak foliage at Pohick Bay

Pohick Bay Regional Park
Located in Lorton, VA, about a 40-minute drive from DC, there are eight and half miles of hiking trails that traverse the wooded area and offer pretty views of the Bay. Fall and spring are the best seasons for a hike, when the colors are vibrant with fall foliage or spring flora and you can enjoy it all in moderate temps. There’s even more to do there off the trail, including 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 is a super fun way to cool off after a hot walk in the woods.


Some of the trail options at Sky Meadows State Park

Sky Meadows State Park
Our first visit to this park in Delaplane, VA, was during COVID-19. Recommended by a friend who had been and confirmed it was open and spacious enough for good social distancing, we headed out there for a lovely walk through woods and pastures with great scenic views. There are bunch of trails to follow, most of them easy and short, so it’s a good place to go with the whole family. 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. There is also a Visitors Center, picnic and play areas, and cabins and camping.  Hours are 8am – dusk. Parking is $7/weekdays, $10/weekends.


Walk along the Bull Run Occoquan Trail at Fountainhead

Fountainhead Regional Park
Located in Fairfax Station, VA, about 35 minutes from DC, Fountainhead is a 2,000-acre sprawl of trails and the Occoquan Reservoir, all of it practically screaming active recreation. For hiking, the Bull Run Occoquan Trail winds through the park and actually continues through Bull Run Marina, Hemlock Overlook Park, and Bull Run Regional Park, about seven miles of it is along a well-maintained trail in Fountainhead. There’s a lot of up and downhill, but it’s not too strenuous, and the path is mostly flat, with just a few rocky and rooty areas. There are several short footbridges to cross and small creeks, and the surrounding scenery full of tall trees is pretty and peaceful. From some parts of the hike, glimpses of the Occoquan Reservoir can be caught through the trees from above, or you can walk down to the banks for closer views. Open daily sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.


On the boardwalk at Mason Neck

Mason Neck State Park
A great place for family hikes and then some, at this park in Fairfax you can follow six miles of trails through the woods, walk along boardwalks elevated over wetlands, and wander around small beach areas.  All of it is flat and mellow, easy for all ages to navigate.  Take time to examine the varying vegetation in the different areas and look out for wildlife like deer and birds. It’s located on a peninsula, so paddling options are available in warmer months, plus there is a playground, a paved path for biking, and nice picnic spots. After the park, head to nearby historic downtown Occoquan — browse the shops and grab a bite to eat. Mason Neck hours are 8am – 9pm, and admission is $7/car on weekdays, $10 on weekends.

 

WEST VIRGINIA


Hike from West Virginia to Maryland at Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry
Just over an hour’s drive from DC, where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah River — and Maryland meets West Virginia — this locale is a great place for woodsy treks. Located along the famous Appalachian Trail, there are ample tramping options, from easy, flat nature walks to more strenuous uphill hikes. The popular Maryland Heights Overlook Cliffs Trail, about a three-mile ascent to the cliffs, offers gorgeous views of the rivers and the town of Harpers Ferry. Be sure to do some exploring in town, too — there are Civil War remnants, and many of the “shops” along the main street are actually museums offering a glimpse into the town’s past.

 

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Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Free, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Unofficial Summer

Even though summer doesn’t officially begin for a few more weeks, Memorial Day weekend is always my mental change of season. Besides the rising temps and the “okay” on wearing white (is that even a rule anymore?), it also marks the beginning of many awesome seasonal family activities. Here’s a run-down of some fun exclusive to the Memorial Day-Labor Day stretch. And if you have anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments section.

Jazz in the Garden
A great way to start a summer weekend is with Jazz in the Garden, the free concert series that takes place at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden every Friday from 5:30 – 8:30pm. The first performance is this Friday, May 28, rain or shine. Lay out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner, and enjoy a range of jazz artists and sounds.

Outdoor Pool Season
Ready for a swim under the sky? All of the outdoor pools within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation open this Saturday, May 29. After that, pools will be open all summer Monday through Friday 1 – 8pm and Saturday/Sunday 12 – 6pm. Visit the DPR website to find a pool near you. Admission is free for DC residents, $7 for non-residents. For a pool that’s a little more posh, the Capitol Skyline Hotel is open to the public, and summer memberships are available (or you can pay a daily rate of $15, children under 4 are free). Check out this post for more info.

Spray On
Here’s a great way to cool off with the kids and have a blast while doing it: Spray Parks! 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. Starting this Saturday, May 29, DPR Spray Parks will be open Saturdays and Sundays 10am – 4pm. Starting June 21, they will also be open Monday – Friday 11am – 7pm. But some of the best places to play in the spray can be found in Arlington County—Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park are spray fan favorites.

The Childrens Garden
The U.S. Botanic Garden is a wonderful place to spend time with the kids, and it’s even better from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day when the Childrens Garden is open. Kids can try on their green thumbs and dig in the dirt, plant some buds, and tend to their plots. There is also a working water pump, a couple of fountains, and a little garden house where kids can play. Like all things Smithsonian, admission is free.

Carter Barron Amphitheatre
Rock Creek Park’s own amphitheatre is the summertime site of some great musical and theatre performances, many of them free of charge. The entertainment begins shortly after Memorial Day and continues all summer. Check out the website for the schedule and details.

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Filed under All ages, Live Entertainment, Museums, Music, Outdoor