12 Day Trips That Will Make Your Kids Smarter

Family waves from the car during a family activity road trip iStock
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Some of life’s greatest lessons can’t be found in a textbook. Hit the open road and expose your little learner to new ideas. You don’t have to travel far to get an educational impact. Skip the hotel and head to one of these destinations just a day’s drive from Washington, DC. Scroll on for the best places to go to expand the minds of little scholars.

Angelica Kajiwara via Toddlin’ Across America

Oxon Hill, MD – 22 minutes

National Harbor is full of family-friendly fun, but there is an art history lesson in the making down by the Potomac River. The Awakening statue found its home by the water after leaving its first home in Hains Point. The giant 72-foot sculpture is one of many art installations that make up the town center’s art scavenger hunt. Start by the five aluminum pieces perfect for climbing and sandy play on the little beach. Your future artist might even be able to try their hand at a sandcastle replica.  

Online: nationalharbor.com

NASA Goddard/Tabatha Luskey

Greenbelt, MD – 23 minutes

You don’t want to miss the model rocket launches and science demonstrations at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Now one of NASA’s largest and most significant space research laboratories, the Visitor Center is full of spacecraft displays and other cool tech from space race history. With over six decades of history onsite, you’ll all enjoy learning together. The best part, your crew can enjoy the Visitor Center for free!

Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19, the Visitor’s Center is currently closed. We will update this story when it reopens. 

8800 Greenbelt Rd
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Online: nasa.gov

Music Center at Strathmore

North Bethesda, MD – 30 minutes

Time for a little music and arts learning fun. Head to one of the Strathmore Kids programs. Performances throughout the year inspire little audience members to connect with and explore the creative world around them. Sensory-friendly programs invite Littles with sensory sensitivities to experience the magic of the arts in a comfortable environment.

5301 Tuckerman Ln.
North Bethesda, MD

Online: strathmore.org

Katy K. via Yelp

Towson, MD – 1 hour 13 minutes

Get out into nature and learn a ton about greenery and wildlife around you at Lake Roland Nature Center and Park. With programs such as Backyard Butterflies, Summer Snakes and Sturgeon Moon Canoe, your little ones will have so much fun; they’ll forget they’re learning along the way. You’ll all enjoy the multiple trails for hiking, biking, running and strolling; a dog park; two picnic pavilions; a playground; and an area to launch canoes and kayaks. The park’s southwest corner is a Serpentine Barrens, a rare ecosystem with tons of learning opportunities.

1000 Lakeside Dr
Baltimore, MD 21210

Online: lakeroland.org

Angelica Kajiwara via Toddlin’ Across America

Harper’s Ferry, WV – 1 hour 13 minutes

Thomas Jefferson described the scene here as “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Best known for John Brown’s raid in 1859, the picturesque Harper’s Ferry is full of history. The United States Armory and Arsenal transformed a sleepy town into an industrial center. The armory provided hundreds of jobs for residents. The B&O and Winchester & Potomac Railroads and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal all stop here. There are fascinating transportation heritage lessons to be learned too. And, who doesn’t love a great train whistle?   

Online: nps.gov/hafe

National Park Service

Front Royal, VA – 1 hour 18 minutes

Just a little over an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park brims with scenic beauty for you and your little ones to explore together. Think waterfalls, vistas, and wildflower fields, some of which run right alongside or right into the Appalachian Trail. Much of this is protected lands for deer, songbirds, black bears, and other wildlife. Little ones of the fur baby variety are permitted on all but 20 miles or so of the park’s 500-mile trail system, so pack a leash too!  

Front Royal, VA

Online: nps.gov

Angelica Kajiwara via Toddlin’ Across America

Gettysburg, PA – 1 hour 27 minutes

Devil’s Den at the National Military Park in Gettysburg, PA, is the perfect spot if you are looking for a great place to try rock scrambling with your little ones. Rock scrambling is a great way to start your kids’ obsession with rock climbing (but it is a lot safer). Aside from the rich history, it is a gorgeous landscape from every overlook. You’ll need to stick close due to the high (but super fun) rocks and drop-offs.

1195 Baltimore Pike
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Online: nps.gov

Visit Richmond VA

Richmond, VA – `1 hour 48 minutes

Celebrate African American history and culture all around Richmond and the surrounding regions. The American Civil War Museum is the first stop for exploring the American Civil War from all angles: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians. The BHMVA preserves stories that inspire. Your curious historian can learn about the rich culture and moving histories of African American people in Virginia and their contributions to our country. This museum tells the whole story.

Online: visitrichmondva.com

John B. via Yelp

Cambridge, MD – 1 hour 54 minutes

Visit Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest breeding areas for bald eagles on the east coast, north of Florida. Sightings of bald eagles are a pretty spectacular way to spend the day together. Eagles soar and hint over the marsh or rest near their nests. It’s a day trip like no other to see one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands in one place. Don’t miss this fantastic place referred to as the “Everglades of the North.”

Cambridge, MD

Online: fws.gov


Philadelphia, PA – 2 hours 29 minutes

The LEGOLAND Discovery Center is STEM fun for everyone. The Build & Test Zone lets your little engineer design their vehicle and take it to the ramps. A little trial and error result in the zooming car of their dreams. Stop by the Creative Workshop for a lesson from the resident Master Model Builder. Your budding builder can learn all the tips and tricks from the best in the business. Of course, no trip to LEGOLAND would be complete without a meet-and-greet with a few beloved Lego characters.  

500 W Germantown Pike
Plymouth Meeting, PA

 Online: philadelphia.legolanddiscovery.com

Angelica Kajiwara via Toddlin’ Across America

Capron, VA – 2 hours 55 minutes

Hands-on learning is the way to go, and PandA Homestead is the best way to get everyone’s hands into an Agriculture lesson. The sweetest family runs this working farm, and they love to show their guests around and get them involved in all the farm chores. Future farmers can feed goats, snuggle baby chicks and practice their best turkey calls. The owners know everything about the farm-to-table process because they sell eggs and meat raised on their farm. If your Little Foodie is starting to ask more about where their food comes from, then this is a must-do for the whole family.

23332 Felton Dr.
Capron, VA 23829
(434) 658-0516

 Online: pandahomestead.com

Virginia State Parks

Worth the Drive: Natural Bridge, VA – 3 hours 9 minutes

Did you know there is a natural wonder in the DMV’s backyard? Once owned by Thomas Jefferson, this national landmark turned popular tourist attraction, Natural Bridge, is a great trip to take when your budding geologist is ready for a real-life lesson. Before your family hits the road, do a little at-home erosion science experiment, then you’ll be prepared to see the up-close-and-personal effects of erosion over time. Also, don’t forget to explore the six miles of hiking trails, experience the caverns – all over 30 stories underground – and learn more about the native Monacan Indian tribe. 

Online: naturalbridgeva.com 

—Angelica Kajwara

featured photo: iStock


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