Back when I worked in travel publishing, we had a rule about using cliché travel writing terms, which was don’t (use them, that is). A popular one that comes to mind is “land of contrasts,” and another big no-no was “hidden gem.” So, I’m about to break a rule here, because The Glass Forest, an enchanting patch of woods next to the Palisades Rec Center, truly is just that: a hidden gem.
We recently visited as part of our mission to uncover some of DC’s secrets. You might recall I recently posted about The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland, one of several spots on a Thrillist list of 13 DC Secrets You Had No Idea Existed that I actually really didn’t know existed. I also discussed my quest to experience those places with my kids. And The Glass Forest is the second in this little series of adventures.
This gem of a place really is hidden. If I hadn’t known to look for it, I never would have known it was there. From the Rec Center parking lot, you follow a trail that’s practically in the backyards of nearby houses, then walk right up into the woods. We weren’t sure what to look for at first — the write-up says your “eye catches something shiny” — but then we saw big bunches of leaves, almost like giant batches of drying herbs, hanging from a long tree branch that looked too deliberate to be natural and we knew we were onto something. (2017 Update: A couple of readers have mentioned safety concerns, as there is glass and other sharp materials. I should warn that this is not a place to let small children run around on their own! I do think it is neat to show them, but not a “please touch” free for all.)
Once we ducked under those and looked ahead, the rest came into view. And it was breathtaking. Scattered throughout a clearing within the expanse of trees are at least half a dozen substantial sculptures made of natural and scrap materials. 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 suncatcher. And as we explored the area, we found smaller surprises, swinging from tree branches and tucked away in corners of the woods.
I wish I had the background on The Glass Forest — how it got started, who creates the art, where the materials come from. (Anyone?) An online search didn’t reveal much, but there’s got to be an interesting story there.
The Thrillist article said the forest had a Blair Witch vibe. I’d read that to the kids, but didn’t explain the horror movie association, so they went with the idea that witches lived in the woods. But I think by the end of our outing, they’d decided they were good witches. Because only good witches would create a wonderful and enchanting hidden gem like this.
The Glass Forest is located at Palisades Park at 5200 Sherier Place NW. The playground there is great, so be sure to make some time to play there, too. Admission is free to all of it.