Tag Archives: DC Area Parks

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 recreation.gov.


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

Leave a Comment

Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Fall, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Spring, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

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.

1 Comment

Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays

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.

1 Comment

Filed under All ages, DC, Deal, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 1-5

Tinkering in the Spark!Lab at the American History Museum

Tinkering in the Spark!Lab at the American History Museum

300x250px (IV)

Monday – Visit the National Museum of American History to check out the collections and enjoy some interactive fun. Show the kiddos relics from the nation’s past through all kinds of interesting exhibits, including the Innovation Wing where they can get hands-on in the Spark!Lab (ages 6-12) and Wegman’s Wonderplace (ages 0-6). Extended summer hours are 10am – 7:30pm. Admission is free.

Tuesday – Stop and smell the stinky plant at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The impressive corpse flower on display in the conservatory is expected to bloom Monday night and will be open for all to…experience. Word is the odor is at its strongest in the first hours after it opens, but the bloom is said to be spectacular. The USBG now has extended hours 10am – 8pm, and will be open until 11pm during peak bloom. Admission is free. And to stay updated on the plant’s status, view the live stream.

Wednesday – Wander, play, and relax at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. Be sure to stop in the Horticultural Center and pick up instructions for a kids’ scavenger hunt to add some extra fun to the outing. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm. Admission is free. Update: There is also a puppet show taking place at 10:30am — ($4/Fairfax county resident, $6/non-resident). Register for it here.

Thursday – Head on down to the 4-H fair! Running August 4-7, the first couple of days of the 68th 4-H Fairfax Fair & Carnival will feature rides, amusements, farm fun, and treats. Held at Frying Pan Farm Park, hours are 10am – 3pm both days and 5-10pm on Friday as well. (There are even more activities through the weekend!) Carnival ride tickets are $1 or 24 for $20 (most rides take 3-5). Unlimited carnival ride wristbands are $18 if you buy online in advance and $25 day-of.

Friday – Enjoy a day of Pokemon in the Park as Fairfax Supervisors and Fairfax Police host a day of fun activities at Burke Lake Park. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and playground, learn tips to help play the game safely from the FCPD, battle at the “PokéGym,” and take advantage of the “PokéLures” that will be activated continuously throughout the event. Every child also gets a free ice cream as well as a free minitrain or carousel ride. This all runs from 12-5pm. Admission is free.

1 Comment

Filed under All ages, Animals, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Farm, Free, Indoor Play, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays

Nature & Recreation in Annapolis at Quiet Waters Park


We discovered Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis by accident — literally, you might say. On our way out to the Eastern Shore for a Mother’s Day hike, we got word of a wreck on the Bay Bridge that brought traffic to a stand still. Our destination, which was still a 30-minute drive from where we were, would now take over three hours to reach, according to Waze.

Luckily, we realized this before getting stuck in the snarl and got off Rt. 50 at the next exit to do some revamping of our day. After a quick study of the map and a simple Google search, we were on our way to Quiet Waters, a nearby park that sounded like it would be a good substitute for our original plan.



The last minute change turned out to be a seredipitous one. Quiet Waters Park is 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.




We didn’t cover nearly all of the grounds while we were there, but we did view works by local artists, got in some nice hiking, and enjoyed a kayaking excursion on the river. Along our hiking route, we saw old farm equipment and a composting exhibit with different kinds of equipment and processes on display. We also saw lizards, deer, picturesque river views, and a woodpecker merely a few feet away.




After our walk in the woods, we headed for the dock, just a short way down a paved path from the parking lot. Kayaks, canoes, paddle and row boats, and stand up paddleboards are available for hourly or daily use. The kayaks worked best for our crew of two families, and getting set up with our vessels was quick and easy. Within no time, we were all paddling and basking in the beautiful day. (Remember that one nice day amid a stretch of lousy ones? It was like a gift for all us mamas.)




Our venture on the water capped off our great time at Quiet Waters Park, but we’ll be going back. Not only was it a fantastic day, it was also a nice reminder to go with the flow (see what I did there?) when plans don’t pan out as expected. You never know, things may just end up working out even better.

Quiet Waters Park is located at 600 Quiet Waters Road in Annapolis, MD. Hours are 7am – dusk daily, except for Tuesdays when the park is closed. Admission is $6/car.

Leave a Comment

Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, DC, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Weekdays, Weekend