SUMMER GETAWAYS: Taking the roads less traveled

By Peggy Kiefer

     Do you want a fun getaway for your family, spouse or friend and yet hate the thought of fighting the crowds? Perhaps you should consider the lesser-known national parks, historic sites, battlefields, memorials and monuments in this area.
We all know about the big, well-known parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Denali, Great Smoky Mountains, and we also know how crowded they can be. There are small parks and sites that have much to offer without the hassle. Some will only require a few hours or less to enjoy, and others will probably entice you to linger. Here is a short list of just a few that are in the area. They are all within a day’s drive of Annapolis. Some may appeal to you more than others, but there certainly are a variety of locations to choose from for history buffs, nature lovers, hikers, campers and those interested in historical architecture. And if this list isn’t long enough, log onto for even more.


1. Fort Washington Park, Fort Washington
The fort is one of the few United States seacoast fortifications still in its original form. It sits on high ground overlooking the Potomac River, and from there, one gets a great view of both DC and the Virginia shoreline. Because of 200 years of army presence, there is a diverse group of military structures to explore as well as one gun as a remembrance of the last armament guarding the approach to our nation’s capitol.

2. Greenbelt Park, Greenbelt
This is the spot to choose for a family camping excursion. Only 12 miles from DC, it’s affordable and offers a true outdoor experience. There are no electrical or water hookups, so it would be a perfect place to pitch a tent, roast marshmallows or hotdogs and hike — away from the huge crowds of the larger campgrounds.

3. Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo
Glen Echo Park is a complete change from Fort Washington or Greenbelt Park. It began in 1891 as a teaching facility for the National Chautauqua Assembly. By 1990 it was becoming an amusement park. Today the park has beautiful grounds and
historic buildings to house an arts education program. There are many year-round activities in dance, theater and the arts. As part of the Chautauqua Summer program, there are concerts, demonstrations, workshops and festivals. Fans of the arts will be pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of their programs.
4. Hampton National Historic Site, Towson
In 1790, Hampton was the largest house in the United States. It tells the story of African slaves, indentured servants, agricultural workers and owners. It is also a good testament to the moral and economic changes that made this kind of life obsolete. Set amidst beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens, this is a beautiful spot to visit for a taste of history.

5. Piscataway Park, Accokeek
If you visit this park you will experience breathtaking views of the Maryland fields and hillsides across the Potomac River much as they were in George Washington’s time. Covering about 5,000 acres, the park stretches for six miles from Piscataway Creek to Marshall Hall on the Potomac River. It is home to osprey, fox, deer, bald eagles, beaver and many other fauna. There are also nature trails, woodland areas, a public fishing pier as well as two boardwalks over fresh water tidal wetlands. For a wonderful outdoor experience, Piscataway Park is the place to explore.

6. Thomas Stone National Historic Site, Port Tobacco
Most Annapolis residents are familiar with the name Thomas Stone as he was one of the five Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence. Stone’s home was built in 1770 when he was starting his career as a lawyer and just getting into politics. Haberdeventure, the name of the home, which means dwelling place, or in the winds, was built to be his family home. History intervened, however, and he moved his family to Annapolis. This site might be a favorite visit for history buffs.

7. Catoctin Mountain Park, Thurmont
There are 25 miles of trails winding through this park, from easy to strenuous. Many of them lead to incredible scenic views. A charcoal and iron industry is still visible today along with an old moonshine still, farms, sawmills and historic structures. There are diverse cultural resources found in this picturesque park.


8. Prince William Forest Park, Triangle
This is the largest protected natural area in the DC metropolitan region. It includes the remnants of two small communities that existed prior to the park’s establishment and is the largest example of Piedmont forest in the national park system. It houses many animal species and numerous native plants. Adding to its charisma, the Office of Strategic Services, America’s first intelligence agency, used the park for training spies and radio operators during World War II.

9. Great Falls Park, McLean
The Potomac River builds up speed and velocity as it falls over steep jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge. There is also the Patowmack Canal to
explore for a look into the early history of the United States. First is a beautiful 800-acre park, and to make it even better, it is only 15 miles from our nation’s capitol. Great Falls Park would make a good outdoor day trip.

10. Antietam National Battlefields and Cemetery, Sharpsburg
This park is better known by most residents of this area. Here, the battle that was said to have led Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, was fought — one of the most tragic conflicts of the Civil War. The small town of Sharpsburg became a burial ground and hospital for the approximately 4,000 killed and thousands more injured in Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North. There is also a very popular Fourth of July celebration with the Maryland Symphony. Antietam National Battlefield is a must for Civil War buffs.

11. Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Fredericksburg
This is a must-see for Civil War enthusiasts, where another of the bloodiest and most tragic battles was fought. More than 85,000 men were wounded and 15,000 killed. Farms were ruined, a city bombarded and bloodied, and families torn apart. Granite tributes are still mark these lands and help to tell the tale of the terrible toll exacted here.

12. Manassas National Battlefield Park, Manassas
In the summer of 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, the first major land battle of the war was fought here. Almost a year later, another battle was fought and won on the same spot by the Confederate Army, elevating the Confederacy to one of the heights of its power. The terrain is virtually the same as it was at the time of the battle.

13. Shenandoah National Park, Luray
For a peaceful change of scenery, explore the Shenandoah National Park, which is in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road where beautiful views can be enjoyed to the east and west. There are also 500 miles of trails to explore. It’s possible to catch a glimpse of deer, black bear and wild turkeys. For the flora lover, there are apple trees, flowering bushes and wildflowers. A few stone foundations and cemeteries remain as reminders of the families who once lived here.

14. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Richmond
Here in Virginia’s capital is the site of Maggie Walker’s residence along with a visitor center. The house has been restored to its 1930s appearance and includes original family pieces. Maggie Walker was an African American woman who was successful in business and finance and was the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as president of a bank, despite many obstacles and adversities.

15. George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Colonial Beach
Most people have visited Mount Vernon, but few have enjoyed the place where our first president was actually born. A memorial house and dependencies were built in 1931 near the location of the original Washington home. The Washington Family Burial Ground is also located here.


16. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
If you love aquatic plants, this 700-acre park is the place for you. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, part of the Anacostia Park, is the only National Park Service site that is dedicated to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. In 1938 it became part of the national park system after it was purchased by the federal government.

17. Anacostia Park
Who would believe that there is a 1,200-acre park in the District of Columbia that boasts hundreds of acres of ball fields, picnic grounds and basketball and tennis
courts? There is also a pavilion with about 330 square feet of space devoted to roller-skating and special events. The Langston Golf Course, an 18-hole layout and driving range, is also in the Anacostia Park. And, if that isn’t enough, there are four boat clubs and a public boat ramp as well. It is a place where the whole family could enjoy a day’s outing.

18. Old Post Office Tower
This is a day trip for an architecture fan. The Old Post Office Tower, built between 1892 and 1899, is one of the few remaining examples of Richardsonian Romanesque Architecture. It boasts a 315-feet tower with an observation deck from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the capital area. This tower is also the location of the Bells of Congress, a present from England on our bicentennial.

19. Monocacy National Battlefield
History buffs might remember that “The Battle That Saved Washington” was fought here in Monocacy on July 9, 1864. This was a military victory for the Confederate Army, which had 18,000 troops compared to 5,800 Union troops. Even though the Confederates won the battle, it cost them a day’s delay in marching on Washington and gave the Union Army time to build up its defenses. The war was taken to the South for the duration of the Civil War. Many Civil War buffs have never visited this important part of our history.

This is but a small number of the wonderful places you can see off the beaten path. And if you’re 62 or older, information about the America the Beautiful senior pass can be found at The $10 pass will entitle you to lifetime entrance to national parks. However, it can’t be purchased online, it must be purchased at a national park location.

Peggy has enjoyed the senior pass to explore the wonders of our country. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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