Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD!

Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD!

This is the start of our new series of Hiking parks near and around the DC Metro Area. The level of hiking will be aimed towards the older kids and adults. I would like to welcome Celeste Otsuka as our guest reviewer. Celeste does a lot of hiking, running and overall exploration of the best hiking spots that can be driven to over a weekend.

I live and work in Reston, VA, where I enjoy running on the many trails near my  neighborhood early in the morning with my obnoxious headlamp.  As a child, I fell in love with the idea of hiking after seeing the play “Into the Woods”, then quickly realized the two were not related.  Now, I largely solo hike on every type of trail – from those strenuous enough to include some difficult rock scrambling to what I term “nature walks”.  Seven backpacks later, I’m convinced I’m ready to start another big adventure. -Celeste Otsuka

First up in Celeste’s Hiking Series is Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, MD. Not very far from the VA line and a beautiful drive through Lucketts, VA and Point of Rocks, MD.

Address: 6602 Foxville Road, Thurmont, MD 21788

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On New Year’s Day, I set off for a First Day Hike.  The park I selected was Catoctin Mountain Park, which is located in Thurmont, MD (about an hour and 15 minute drive from the Reston, VA area).  The drive itself is quite scenic and really lended itself to the experience.  One should note that Camp David (yes THAT Camp David) is located on the Catoctin Montain Park grounds, however, it is not marked, and I’m not sure how happy they are when visitors actively look for it.

As it was New Year’s Day, the park’s Visitor Center was closed (as were all the restroom facilities on site).  Visitors to the park should always check the website, facebook, or twitter prior to going for any updates (including closures due to presidential visits).  Prior to actually coming to the park, I had selected the 8 Mile Loop from the park’s website.  I kept trail map up on my phone while I was hiking.  I have Verizon cellular coverage, and I never experienced any issues with dead zones and had LTE for most of my visit.  While the Visitor Center is likely usually well stocked with maps, it was not that day – so I was glad to have the map on my phone.

8 Mile Loop Map  http://www.nps.gov/cato/planyourvisit/upload/8mileloop.pdf

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Catoctin Mountain Park borders Cunningham Falls State Park (where Cunningham Falls is located).  The trail loop that I followed made a stop at the falls within the first two miles.  Note that Catoctin is a National Park and Cunningham Falls is a State Park – there are slight differences in park rules that visitors should be aware of.

As I went during winter and fairly early in the morning (I arrived to the park around 8:00am), there were very few other visitors, and I did not encounter other people on the trails until about 3 miles into my hike.  There are certain parts of the trail that offer a decent ascent/descent, but overall, if you hike the trail in a clockwise manner as I did, I found it to be a more moderate than strenuous hike.  However, the trail itself is very rocky, so I’d still suggest wearing hiking boots with good ankle support.

As far as scenery goes, the trail is heavily wooded with interesting rock formations that jut out over most of the trail.  There are several vistas and large rock formations of interest that are pointed out by the trail map.  Each location is well marked on the trail with distance markers.  The trail itself is fairly well worn, so even beginning hikers should have no problems navigating the trails.  The section of the trail that winds from the Park Headquarters back to the Visitor Center is both very rocky and somewhat underused.  However, that section is blazed with blue ties on the trees, so hikers can find their way through.

Prior to coming to the park, I did read reviews that the park is pretty riddled with ticks in the summer months, but in the winter, there were very few bugs in sight!  This is a great hike for a chilly fall/winter day.  I’d suggest going early to avoid crowds.

Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, MD!

Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, MD!

Normally I wouldn’t do a review for a Maryland park or venue but this place was pretty awesome. Yesterday we took the boys to Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore, MD. I had heard good things about the museum and decided to take the kids since it was cold and windy outside.

Address: 35 Market Place Baltimore, MD 21202

When we walked in my oldest was in awe. The children’s museum is three levels of  interactive exhibits, mystery adventures, water exhibit,  tot trails and a three story  urban tree house. There is something for every age and size. The museum is recommended for children under 10 years of age. The museum is very open so you can keep track of the kids while they are on different levels. They have a wristband system so your child can’t leave the museum with anyone but one of his/her parents. Also employees are available on every level equipped with radio equipment to help locate a lost parent or child.

The pictures don’t do the museum justice because there is so much the kids can do including playing grocery store, working on a farm, playing diner, story time and currently on the third level they have a Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibit.

I would highly recommend checking out the Port Discovery Children’s Museum. It was great for burning off some energy and the kids could be hands on with every exhibit. There were clean restrooms everywhere, strollers can easily maneuver the museum, an elevator for those who can’t do stairs, a place to put your jackets and lockers to stow away stuff that you don’t want to carry. Also if you park in the garage next to the museum Port Discovery validates your parking. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours there because there is so much for the kids to do!

Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, MD!

Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, MD!

Today my friend and I took the kids to Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, MD. It took us about 55 minutes to get there with very little traffic during the weekday. The reason we were headed to the state park was for the sandy beaches around the lake. It cost $4 dollars for each adult and the kids were free.

Address: 21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713

We were excited to see two different roped off areas for the younger and older kids to swim with two different beaches fully staffed with lifeguards. Before you hit the beach there were plenty of picnic tables in the shade to enjoy lunch. Park restrooms with showers were extremely clean and very close to the beach area. If the beach wasn’t enough fun they also have a huge playground for the kids to run around.

We are definitely going to hit up Greenbrier State Park again. The drive with the kids was easy and we were told by a local mom that the weekends are pretty crazy so the best time to go is during the weekdays. So if you are looking for a fun getaway for the kids within an hour drive check out Greenbrier State Park!

Next Stop…Hadley’s Park in Sterling, VA!