I’d like to lodge a complaint with Watkins Regional Park, the sprawling recreational oasis in Upper Marlboro, MD: The Memorial Day to Labor Day schedule of some of their best activities is just not cutting it. The Chesapeake Carousel and Miniature Train are favorites for many kids, and would probably be enjoyed just as much, if not more, on a beautiful fall or spring day as they are during the summer.
But seeing as an extension of operation is not likely, this is a recommendation (or reminder, to some) to get out to Watkins and take advantage while you can. While the park is a fantastic place for recreation any time of year, the rides are definitely huge hits with kids.
Besides the seasonal schedule, another complaint about Watkins is that too much really cool stuff is visible right from the parking lot. Before the car is even in park, the kids are ogling the antique carousel, mini golf course, and big, bright playground, ready to rip open their seat buckles and make a beeline for these bastions of fun. I have to do some serious corraling to keep them from running into traffic to start enjoying it all as soon as they can.
But once we’re safe out of the lot, there’s nothing to gripe about. The first activities guests encounter are the carousel and 18-hole mini golf course. Both are open seasonally and can be enjoyed for a minimal fee (all fees listed below). And those are just the tip of the iceberg; just beyond the carousel is the mini train that takes passengers on rides through the woods, which offer sightings of funny-faced trees and possible glimpses of deer, and by Old Maryland Farm.
The Farm is a field trip in itself. A short path just beyond the train winds through the woods and lets out into an open space where large cages house chickens, turkeys, geese, peacocks, and rabbits. In another area there are ponies, llamas, and sheep. Food is available for purchase in dispensers around the farm, and the birds and animals have no problem eating right from the hand. Hayrides are a great way to tour the farm and park—like the train, they also go through the woods and offer some fun sightings. But the highlight of a trip to the farm is the pony rides. The schedule is limited, but when timing is right, it’s an inexpensive way to make a kid’s day.
There is even more animal viewing at Watkins Nature Center, where guests can see owls, hawks, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. But the best part is the squirrel gym that showcases squirrels performing tricks and eating corn.
So, all of this stuff is just what’s in one relatively small area compared to the rest of the park. On the opposite side of the parking lot is a big playground with plenty for the kids to climb on and explore. And within the park there are miles of hiking and biking trails amid its 850 acres, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, basketball courts, sports fields, picnic areas, and campsites.
Along with everyday fun, Watkins also hosts special events throughout the year, the most popular being the Festival of Lights. During the holiday season, visitors can drive through the park and view spectacular displays of twinkling characters and colors. The park is also the site of the annual Juneteenth and Kinderfest celebrations.
Okay, so I do have another complaint about Watkins: There is way too much fun to cover in one day, but given its close proximity and easy drive from the city, it’s not a one-time deal. But I’m still going to submit a request for an extended schedule.
- The park is open daily from dawn to dusk
- Admission is free, but other activities require a fee
- Carousel and Train: Rides are $1.50 for PG County residents, $1.75 for non-residents.
- Mini Golf: $3.75 per round for PG County residents, $4.50 for non-residents
- Pony Rides: $3 – must be at least 2 years old
- Hayrides: $1/person
- Children under 2 must be accompanied by a paying adult on all rides
- Rides are may be closed due to inclement weather
- Hayrides and pony rides are on an April – August schedule. If you can make it there before the end of the month, check the website for the daily schedule.
- The carousel, train, and mini-golf are on a Memorial Day to Labor Day schedule.