Earth Week is a great time to get kids out in nature and learning about ecology. However, as there are often April showers, hiking isn’t always an option. So here are some inside and outside places to go in the greater D.C. region to explore environmental sustainability.
If you love gardens…
Brookside Gardens: Brookside has just gone through a massive renovation, so it should look spiffy these days. A children’s section has kid-sized structures landscaped with local plants that are perfect for pretend play. This Sunday, they have a Earth Day celebration, with a green craft fair, food vendors and live music. If you can’t make it for Earth Day, they’ll have the Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit starting on April 27.
The National Arboretum: The Arboretum is one of the places I keep saying we need to visit with Sprout and haven’t done so yet. However, I have been there for work though, so I can attest that it’s beautiful. Tons of open green space, weird architecture (Roman columns!), and cool trees (300 year old bonzi!). They have a wonderful children’s garden that regularly has planting sessions and workshops. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in the Anacostia neighborhood is also supposed to be amazing, but I haven’t actually been there.
If you want to go for a hike…
Rock Creek Park: Rock Creek meanders through D.C. and Montgomery County, a ribbon of green in an urban center. The main road in the D.C. section is completely closed to cars on weekends, making it perfect to bring kids biking. In addition, it also has a planetarium and nature center. The upper Montgomery County section has a multi-use trail that’s less busy and good for walkers and bicyclists. Both offer a lovely way to get outside in a unique ecosystem.
Croyden Creek Nature Center: The City of Rockville’s Nature Center is small, but a lovely facility. The center itself has a few live animals inside and a building block set made of tiny logs outside. Just adjacent to the center is a 120 acre forest preserve with a set of hiking trails that loop around a small stream. They also have fun workshops and fantastic holiday events, like for Halloween.
Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal / Great Falls National Parks: It’s amazing how many national parks the greater D.C. region has. While the monuments and National Mall are the best known, the prettiest is by far the C&O Canal in Maryland and its sister park across the river in Virginia. I prefer the C&O because it’s bigger and typically far less crowded than Great Falls. While the entire national park runs for 184.5 miles, the Great Falls Tavern visitors center is the easiest section to access from D.C. From the canal, there are several ways to experience the beauty of the falls. A boardwalk-type path is perfect for families with young children, as it’s totally accessible with a stroller. The Billy Goat Trail offers challenging rock scrambling, which is fun for older kids. Several other trails along the river offer good views with a lot fewer people. The canal is also very good for bicycling, with its hard-pack trail. You can actually ride all the way to the Pennsylvania border and then jump on the Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh.
If the weather is bad…
U.S. Botanic Garden: The U.S. Botanic Garden is a little gem nestled right next to the Capital. Inside a giant glass dome, it houses thousands plants, hanging from the ceiling and spilling out of containers. One section is set up to feel like a jungle, complete with a multi-story canopy. It’s a great place to learn about different biomes around the world and the essential role plants play in them. If the weather is nice, the facility also has outdoor gardens with demonstrations of sustainable gardening and small-scale wind power.
Meadowside Nature Center: Meadowside is old-school, with its dioramas and taxidermied critters. Nonetheless, it’s still very kid-appealing, with a crawl-through cave, live reptiles and a touch station. The center also houses a group of rescued raptors, including a bald eagle, and has a nice set of hiking trails that connect with Rock Creek Park.
If you want to run around:
Constitution Gardens Park in Gaithersburg: Playgrounds are increasingly cookie-cutter, offering a limited amount of flexibility in how they are used. In contrast, by offering a variety of natural materials, nature playgrounds encourage kids to think more broadly. From a sand pit with a water sprout to free form “Lincoln logs” that are actual logs, Constitution Gardens is a little reprieve from the plastic playgrounds. We had a great time visiting!
For more places to visit and play, check out my Family Field Trips page!
What are your favorite outdoor and indoor places to learn about nature?