Camping and Hiking and Bears (Oh, My!) in Shenandoah National Park


There are plenty of great destinations for camping with kids within an easy drive from DC, and one of the best is Shenandoah National Park. At nearly 200,000 acres, you really feel immersed in its glorious nature. There are woods and streams, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, lofty waterfalls, breathtaking vistas, and lots of wildlife sightings. And it’s all easily accessible from the city — about a 75-minute drive to the park’s entrance, and not much farther to the nearest campground area.


Four campgrounds in the park welcome parties of all sizes, and there is one more for groups of seven or more. Earlier this summer, we pitched our tents at Matthew’s Arm, the closest one at mile 22. It’s all car camping, making it easy with kids, plus there are facilities within the area and a general store just a few miles away pretty well stocked with basic groceries, firewood, and souvenirs. We somehow lucked out and snagged a group spot, which accommodated our party of two families nicely, even though we booked it just days ahead. Usually you need to reserve much farther in advance, especially for summer weekends.



Picnic tables and a fire pit at the campsite made mealtimes convenient. And while we’d bought a cord of firewood at the store, we easily found more in the surrounding woods to keep a fire going well past s’mores time until we were ready to hit the sleeping bags.



Like all of the campground areas, there is access to nice hiking trails, including one to Overall Run Falls. The hike there and back is about three miles through the lovely woods.


But it’s what we saw along the way that made it most interesting: Bears!



We had indication that at least one was nearby before seeing them — scat on the trail that my friend Jody determine was fresh after examining it with a stick (bears do poop on the woods!). Not long after that we saw one on our hike to the waterfall. Then two more on the way back. (And a fourth as we were driving out of the park to head home.)



Black bear sightings are common in Shenandoah (though I’d never seen them on my many previous visits), and there are a lot of signs and warnings of them in park brochures with tips on encountering them safely. We made noise, kept our distance, and didn’t linger too long. And at the campsite, we made sure to clean food up well and lock it up in the bear-proof bin.


If you can’t swing an overnight at Shenandoah, it’s still close enough for a day trip. With over 500 miles of trails, there are walks in the woods to suit all ages and hiking levels. You can also just find a great area to hang out and have a picnic or take in the beautiful scenery from your car along Skyline Drive.


Campgrounds in Shenandoah open in the spring, operating on a first-come, first-served basis until early May, when you can start reserving some sites in advance. Along with campsites, there are also cabins and lodges available. Rates for campsites start at $15/night and can be reserved through


Shenandoah National Park is located in Virginia, 75 miles from Washington, DC. Hours vary at facilities, so see the website for details. Admission to the park is $20/vehicle and valid for a week. An annual Shenandoah Pass is $40.

There are several Fee Free days throughout the year, a few still to come in 2016:
August 25-28 – National Park Service Birthday Weekend
September 24 – National Public Lands Day
November 11 – Veterans Day

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 15-19

Zip through the trees at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Adventure Park

Zip through the trees at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Adventure Park


Monday - Stay cool in the sprays and wading pool at Yards Park. The lovely recreational space in the Navy Yard is a perfect place to spend a summer day. Hang out in the grassy areas, stroll the boardwalk, take in the views, and have a picnic by the water or grab some lunch at one of the many new nearby eateries. Admission to the park is free.

Tuesday - Venture out to Solomons, MD, to the Calvert Marine Museum. Discover how the prehistoric past, natural environment, and maritime heritage come together to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay. Fascinating exhibits, including display cases full of fossils and artifacts, live fish and other creatures, and a real lighthouse to tour are engaging for all ages. There are things to see both indoors and out, including beautiful scenic views. And you can bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy by the water. Hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is $9/adult, $4/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under.

Wednesday - Get a close look at some fascinating creatures and hear funny animal stories and facts at a Reptiles Alive! show. Friendly and professional wildlife presenters will showcase a colorful variety of exotic species at MLK Library downtown. The show starts at 2pm, and admission is free.

Thursday - Get in on a DC “secret” in Upper Northwest. Amid a small wooded area at Palisades Park is The Glass Forest, a collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials that truly is a must-see! Be sure to make time to romp on the park’s playground while you’re there. Admission is free.

Friday - Hang out in the trees at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring. Kids as young as 5-years-old can experience fun and adventure on the ropes courses and ziplines in the park’s aerial forest, the largest in North America. Children ages 5-6 are free with a paid accompanying adult and have access to two of the easier courses. Older kids can do even more. Hours are 9am – dusk, and admission is $39/ages 7-9, $48/ages 10-11, $53/ages 12 and older. And if you’re looking for fun with little ones… experience adventure on a smaller scale at the Cabin John Regional Park Playground. Kids can climb, swing, jump, slide, and run amid the lovely wooded setting, and the miniature train that guests can ride ($1.75/passenger) is a fun bonus.

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The Weekend Round-Up: August 12-14

Keeping cool by a waterfall in Shenandoah National Park

Keeping cool by a waterfall in Shenandoah National Park

zulily Back to School

The weather will likely be a major factor in your weekend planning, so keep The Great Indoors list handy along with these ideas. Happy Weekend!

All’s Fair
Where: Montgomery, Prince William, & Howard Counties
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

County fair season continues as Montgomery and Prince William kick off their annual fests that are chock full of amusement for everyone in the fam. Carnival rides and games, farm animals, live entertainment, pony rides, the junk food gamut, pig races, and so much more. You can also find it in Howard County, where the fair is on for its final couple of days. This post has the scoop on all of the county fun.

High Wheelin’
Where: Frederick, MD
When: Saturday, 1-7pm
Admission: Free

Get a curbside seat to America’s only high wheel race in historic downtown Frederick, MD. The National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race is a unique event that celebrates the history of bikes with an antique bike display and more festivities throughout the day at the Best Fest — live music, face painting, bouncy fun, beer garden, and more.

Anatomy of Sports
Where: National Museum of Health & Medicine
When: Saturday, 10:30am – 12:30pm
Admission: Free

Play a sport? Learn how your body works and stay off the sidelines! Bones and muscles need to work together for optimal performance. Athletes of all ages should know how their bodies work in order to compete and stay healthy. During the event, athletes will demonstrate their sport while medical illustrators and physical therapists reveal how muscles and bones work together. Anatomy of Sports is perfect for families with children playing sports, the recreational athlete, or the practiced sports enthusiast.

May the Force Be with the Nationals
Where: Nationals Park
When: Saturday, 7:05
Admission: Ticket prices vary

How about some Star Wars with your baseball? You might run into Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Storm Troopers, or Princess Leia before you even enter the ballpark, and more of their crew await inside. Along with roving characters, the game will feature lots of Star Wars themed fun. FYI: Fans are encouraged to dress in Star Wars garb! Get there early — the first 20,000 fans to enter Nationals Park will receive a special giveaway. And if you can’t make it to Star Wars Saturday, you can catch the Nats Friday (7:05pm) or Sunday (1:35pm).

Star Wars Marathon
Where: Warner Theatre
When: Saturday, 2pm
Admission: Tickets (get a deal here)

Dress up in your galactic best and join fellow fans at the theatre for an all-day viewing fest of the Star Wars films. Alamo Drafthouse is hosting this celebration of the movie trilogy, with a rare digital screening of the special edition versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi. Doors open at 1pm.

Show Time
Where: Local theatres
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by venue

* Go on a wild journey to Jumanji at Adventure Theatre
* Imagination Stage and The Washington Ballet bring you The Little Mermaid for the final weekend
* Peter and the Wolf is entertaining at The Puppet Co.
* And Bedtime Buddies is the featured Tiny Tots show at the puppet theater
* Born for This: The Bebe Winans Story is still running at Arena Stage
* The Phantom of the Opera is on stage at the Kennedy Center, and its recommended for ages 6 and up (look for discount tickets)
* Enjoy an evening of ukelele entertainment at Strathmore’s annual Uke Summit

Summer Fun
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by activity

The summer break from school may be starting to wind down, but summer fun around the area continues. Catch a concert outdoors to start the weekend on a musical note — Jazz in the Garden on the National Mall and Rockin’ on the Riverfront at Yards Park are local faves. Keep the seasonal pursuits going with a variety of options: Head to a farm for peach picking. Enjoy some water fun, either at an outdoor pool or a spray park. Take advantage of free admission for kids at the Newseum or see ICEBERGS at the Building Museum. Feast on crabs by the water. This post has all the details you need on all these summer joys.

Arts of Afghanistan
Where: Sackler Gallery
When: Saturday, 1-7pm
Admission: Free

Celebrate Afghanistan’s Independence Day with a fun-filled afternoon making art, tasting Afghan food, hearing from artisans, watching musical performances, listening to traditional stories, and exploring the arts of the country. The day’s finale will be PechaKucha-style presentations by social entrepreneurs working with artisans in Asia and beyond, who will share how they got involved and the lives they’ve seen changed.

National Bowling Day
Where: Alleys around the area
When: Saturday
Admission: Free

It seems there is a “national day” for just about everything these days, and this Saturday it’s for bowling. But it also has a charity angle to it — help knock down a million pins in the Million Pin Challenge and half a million meals will be donated to Feeding America. So, hit a local lane and have fun knocking down some pins. Everyone can bowl free at participating centers – go here to find one near you.

Serve Up Some Tennis
Where: Kastles Stadium at the Smith Center
When: Saturday, 5pm (USTA Family Day starts at 1:30)
Admission: Tickets start at $12

The last home match of the Washington Kastles’ season is also USTA Family Day. Along with the exciting tennis action, there will be fun activities outside the court for all ages to enjoy. We know from experience these matches are a really good time — and the extra festivities make it even more fun for kids!

Irish Festival
Where: Waterfront Park in Alexandria
When: Saturday, 11am – 7pm
Admission: Free

Head to Old Town for a day of fun and music to celebrate Irish history and culture. Along with lots of live Celtic music and Irish dancing, shop the vendor booths featuring a variety of Irish items, arts & crafts, and traditional festival foods.

The Great Zucchini
Where: MLK Library
When: Saturday, 11am
Admission: Free

The Great Zucchini is back at the library. The popular children’s performer is bringing his wacky and zany antics to the Great Hall. It’s fun entertainment for kids ages 0-12 and an accompanying adults.

Pixar Shorts
Where: National Gallery of Art
When: Sunday, 11:30am
Admission: Free

Celebrate 30 years of animated shorts from Pixar Animation Studios. Beginning with the delightful Luxo Jr., the first computer-animated film nominated for an Academy Award, this collection of shorts showcases Pixar’s contributions to the art of filmmaking. The 45-minute series will include hilarious favorites For the Birds, Mike’s New Car, and One Man Band.

Day Trip from DC
Where: Around the region
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

Get out of dodge for a day for some cool fun in areas that require a bit of a drive, but not one that requires an overnight stay (though you could consider it). Explore the spectacular underground world of stalagmites and stalactites at Luray or Shenandoah Caverns (look for a deal here). Take an ice cream making tour at Turkey Hill in Lancaster, PA. Or venture out to the Calvert Marine Museum to experience fascinating exhibits that highlight the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

Indoor Playgrounds
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

When it’s just too darn hot to play outside, but the kids still have a lot of energy to expend, this round-up of play spaces where, in some cases, they can literally bounce off the walls will come in handy.

Test the Waters
Where: Around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by locale

Cool off and enjoy some water fun beyond the local pool. Make a day of it at a lakeside beach, hike to a hidden waterfall, or find a swim spot tucked away in the woods to chill out and spend quality time with the fam. This Washington Post article about lakes, swimming holes, and waterfalls within a fairly easy drive from DC has some great suggestions.

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The American Youth Chorus is Now Open for Fall Enrollment!


Are you and your child aged 8-14 looking for an affordable, creative, and supportive after school activity? American Youth Chorus (AYC) now has open FALL ENROLLMENT for their 2016-17 season of music!

AYC is about more than just developing vocal skills. Through singing with AYC, children gain a sense of community, professionalism, and an understanding of music theory — all while having fun!

Youth singers receive outstanding musical training in weekly rehearsals at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop AND are provided with performance opportunities throughout Washington, DC. Performances have taken place at the White House, Kennedy Center, H Street Festival, U.S. Capitol Building, Library of Congress, Nationals Ballpark, and Atlas Performing Arts Center.

Even more, AYC was founded on the premise that all children deserve a high-quality music education, and is the only children’s chorus in the DC area that focuses on American music while embracing the cultural and musical diversity of the world. Tuition for students is calculated based on household income with additional scholarships available, ensuring that no child is turned away due to financial need.

AND AYC encourages students to explore cultural differences and understandings, while investigating and discussing social justice values. Students memorize and sing multicultural and multilingual music, often centered around themes of nature, the environment, peace, diversity, history, and the transformative power of music.

To enroll your child in American youth Chorus, email:, or call 301-502-4952. And to learn more, visit the AYC website.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by American Youth Chorus (AYC), however, I only promote programs, places, and events that I genuinely believe in and think will appeal to KFDC readers.

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 8-12

Searching for shark teeth along the Potomac shore

Searching for shark teeth along the Potomac shore

Monday - Play paleontologist for a day at Purse State Park, where you can hunt for fossilized shark teeth and other fragments of prehistoric sea creatures. Be sure to check the tide table before you go (select Potomac River and Piney Point), as there’s not much beach at high tide. There are no concessions or facilities there, so plan accordingly. Admission is free.

Tuesday - See a movie for a buck! The Regal Summer Movie Express is still presenting family films for just $1 every Tuesday and Wednesday at participating theaters during the summer. See what’s playing at a theater near you — there are two movie choices every week. All movies start at 10am. In the afternoon, head to MLK Library, where Storyteller Baba C will entertain with his unique blend of interactive storytelling, narrative song, chants, and games celebrating the oral traditions of the African Diaspora. Starts at 4pm, and admission is free.

Wednesday - Explore the grounds and play in the gardens, particularly the Children’s Garden, at River Farm. The American Horticulture Society’s headquarters overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria are as sublime as they are fun. Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Thursday - Spend a hot day inside a cool museum! Head to Chantilly for Air & Space exploration beyond the National Mall — the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center showcases even more fascinating artifacts of flight. See all kinds of air and space crafts, pretend to pilot in a flight simulator, get hands-on in a discovery station, and much more. Hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free, but parking is $15.

Friday - Explore the high Potomac “seas” on a Boomerang Family Treasure Hunt Cruise. During the pirate adventure, you’ll help recover stolen treasure from scallywags who pilfered the ship’s booty. A couple of times are available several days a week. Cost is $20/passenger, but Goldstar and Certifikid often have ticket deals available.

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