Enjoying Nature In and Around Washington, D.C.


By Renee Sklarew

Summer is an important time to get kids outside, according to Michael Oberschneider, a well-known Washington, D.C.-area psychologist specializing in studying screen time’s effects on kids. Some parks in the region will engage your kids and teach them to appreciate nature.

Top 10 Places to Enjoy Nature In and Around Washington, D.C.

Washington DC

Great Falls on the Maryland side.

Antietam National Battlefield, MD; 301-432-5124: This is the site of a critical Civil War battle, but it’s also a beautiful park, ideal for rafting, biking, and hiking. Consider joining a float trip down the gentle rapids in Antietam Creek.

Brookside Regional Park, Silver Spring, MD; 301-962-1400: Acres of gardens, trees, water elements, and wildlife in this gorgeous park will inspire every kid to love nature. Enjoy the conservatory with regular exhibits, including the butterflies and the holiday light festival.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, D.C., MD, VA; 301-299-4200 860: Miles of trails traverse rural and urban areas, with interesting historical landmarks (like the Lockhouses), abundant wildlife, and challenging trails like the Billy Goat Trail in Potomac, Maryland

Claude Moore Farm, VA; 703-442-7557: This historical park is a magical place to observe farm animals and learn about Colonial-era farming from living history docents.

Glen Echo Park, MD; 301-492-6266: Visit this historic amusement-park-turned-artist-colony. Partake in some Contra dancing, hear live folk music, or ride the carousel. Catch a performance at Discovery Theater. Check glenechopark.org for information and a calendar of events.

Great Falls Park, Great Falls Tavern, MD; 301-299-3613 and 
Great Falls Park, VA; 703-285-2966: 
These two parks on either side of the Potomac River have breathtaking views of cascading waterfalls with ever-changing scenes of nature, including sightings of eagles, osprey, and other birds of prey.

Washington DC

Kenilworth Aquatic Garden

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, WV; 304-535-6223: Visit the John Brown Museum to remind kids how far our nation has moved since the bloody days of slavery and civil war. Walking the trails through the historic town allows stunning views of the Potomac River.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, D.C.; 202-426-6905: Undoubtedly, this is the most beautiful water park in the region, with blooming river and pond plants, and July is the best month to see them in full bloom. Long, elevated boardwalks meander above the Anacostia River—a perfect place for a picnic. It’s very popular with photography enthusiasts.

Washington DC

Bonsai Garden in the National Arboretum

Rock Creek Park, D.C.; 202-895-6000: Part of the US Park Service, this huge oasis in the city has miles of roving biking and hiking trails traveling the length of an urban paradise. It’s a shady, peaceful place for biking, hiking, or taking the baby stroller out for a spin. The park is adjacent to the National Zoo.

The US Arboretum, D.C.; 202-245-2726: Hundreds of acres of parks, plants, trees, paths, and lots of privacy in this little-used treasure off New York Avenue. Weekends offer outdoor trolley rides. Enjoy the world-renowned bonsai museum, the herb garden, and the antics of the fattest cowfish in town.

Note: Sights are listed in alphabetical order.

About the author of Enjoying Nature In and Around Washington, D.C.:

Renee Sklarew is a native Washingtonian who adores her hometown and has spent a lifetime exploring the city’s many attractions, both on her own and with her children. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Boston Globe, the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe Washington PostNorthern Virginia Magazine, and The Washingtonian. She is the restaurant editor of VivaTysons Magazine and enjoys sampling the wide variety of international cuisines found in the DC Area. Renee is also the co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. 

The latest edition of  The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. was released on December 21, 2015; it includes field-tested Touring Plans for the first time ever. Reserve your copy TODAY.


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