10 Nearby National Parks That DC Kids Will Love

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Who is ready for a family road trip? With national parks, monuments, seashores, and more within driving distance of Washington, DC, you won’t have trouble finding the perfect family getaway destination. Our list includes spots that you likely know (like the Smoky Mountains National Park) and under-the-radar national parks where the crowds will be smaller. Are you ready for a river rafting experience or a day at the beach? We have both in this list!

New River Gorge National Park

Where to Stay: River Expeditions
Offering tent camping, safari tents, rustic cabins, leisure cabins, and luxury cabins, River Expeditions’ 100+ acre campus has something for every family (or family reunion!). Kids love the beautiful wooded terrain with small hiking trails.
 
Where to Eat: Cathedral Cafe
Fresh, hot, delicious eats and coffee at this local favorite. The vibe is cool and friendly, with indoor and outdoor seating. 
 
Ages six and up will giggle through class I through III rapids and eat a picnic along the river. Kids and adults can hop out on quiet segments of the river and float alongside the boat. 
 
What to Do if it Rains: Pinheads Bowling Alley
We’ve all been there: planned a day out when the rain rolls in. Fear not, Pinheads has you covered! With plenty of space for the whole family and a menu that will please the kids (and their adults), you can while away a few hours boning up on your strikes.

Wendy Altschuler

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

From unforgettable vistas on the hike up and at the summit of Mount LeConte to seeing real-life “fairies” at night during the annual firefly viewing, there are countless outdoor adventures to be had in the Smokys.
 
Where to Stay: Wilderness at The Smokies is a great choice for families. With most rooms designed to feel like a suite, there is plenty of space for everyone to sleep, and the kids will love the rustic bunk beds.
 
What to do: Sometimes the kids have had enough hiking and Soaky Mountain Water Park is the spot where everyone can giggle their way down winding water slides or relax on a tube down the lazy river.
 
Where to Eat: Graze Burgers has a great adult and children’s menu, serving up fresh and tasty burgers of all varieties, including vegetarian. If you need a coffee before your hike, pop over to local-favorite Honeybee Coffee.
 
What to Do if it Rains: Wilderness at the Smokies is a great place to stay because of its indoor/outdoor water parks. If bad weather moves in, families can stay put and enjoy the Wild Water Dome, an indoor water park with the feel of being outside. This is perfect for young families.
 

Shenandoah National Park

Just 75 miles from DC, your crew will fall in love with our local National Park. It is bursting with epic waterfalls, spectacular views, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded areas for a family picnic. With over 200,000 acres to explore, you’ll likely see deer, songbirds, and black bears; oh my.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club manages cabins throughout the DMV, including a few inside Shenandoah National Park. Ranging from primitive (no electricity or running water) to modern, the cabins are a delightful and budget friendly way to experience the park. 
 
Where to Eat: Gathering Grounds
Try the turkey cobb sandwich served on a pretzel bun and bring a cinnamon bun home to enjoy later! 
 
What to Do: Rose River Falls
A 3.9-mile loop hike to Rose River Falls boasts a 67-foot cascading waterfall and an awesome swimming hole. This hike along the Hogcamp Branch stream is stunning, a treat for adults and kids alike!
 
What to Do if it Rains: Luray Caverns
Visit the largest caverns in the Eastern United States, offering lighted tours on paved walkways through cathedral-sized rooms with ceilings 10-stories high, towering stone formations, and natural wonders at every turn.

Assateague Island National Seashore

Explore sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and coastal bays. Oh, and you might even see some wild horses too. Your little ones can earn their Junior Ranger badge while you soak up some sun on the pristine beaches of this national seashore. Don’t forget to try your hand at crabbing. It’s one Assateague experience your kids won’t soon forget. 

Where to Stay: Refuge Inn, a family-friendly place with a pool and a pony farm! You may not be able to ride the wild horses, but if your kiddos catch the horse bug while you’re visiting, they’re sure to enjoy a pony ride!
 
Where to Eat: Sea Star Cafe offers delicious hand-crafted fresh sandwiches, salads, soups and goodies with the best ingredients available.
 
What to Do: Go crabbing! Crabbing is a great activity for the entire family regardless of age. Grab a hand line or string with a weight attached, some bait, and a net with a long handle. If you plan to keep the crabs you will also need to bring a ruler to measure crab size as well as a cooler with ice. Just remember: crabs can pinch! 
 
What to Do if it Rains: Delmarva Discovery Center is a perfect place to explore the rich history and natural world of the Delmarva peninsula. Kids will adore the touch pool, STEAM lab, and a chance to see a beaver’s lodge from the inside!
 

Great Falls Park

This park offers many opportunities to explore history and nature, all in a beautiful 800-acre park only 15 miles from the Nation’s Capital. Another Junior Ranger spot, your little ones can learn about the Potawmack Canal and Matildaville’s Ghost Town. You’ll all love the spectacular waterfall views and local family-friendly hikes. 

Where to Stay: This Airbnb is located in Great Falls and has plenty of space for the whole family. 

Where to Eat: Roots Provisions and Grocery is a delicious place for a post-hike lunch. Their mouthwatering menu includes favorites such as a braised brisket sandwich.

What to Do: Colvin Run Mill is a real, working mill. Enjoy a tour and their charming general store, where visitors can purchase their grains, ground on-site! 

What to Do if It Rains: Sure, museums and cultural attractions are great for rainy days… but sometimes, so is the mall! Tyson’s Corner Center has a Lego Store and a Build-A-Bear Workshop, not to mention so many dining options for mom, dad, and the kids. There’s even a giant movie theater, so you can make a full day of it.

Related: The Best National Parks to Visit with Kids (& the Airbnbs to Book When You Do)

kid holding brother in front of a pond
Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Raystown Lake

Here you will find boating, fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, and scenic beauty. This twisting lake, the largest entirely within Pennsylvania, extends 27 miles and covers 8,300 acres. If you want a unique lake experience, book a scuba tour with one of the local companies. 

Insider Tip: Take your family back in time with a trip to a state-of-the-art drive-in theater! Kids and adults will love The Mill Creek Drive-In Theater.

Where to Stay: Airydale Retreat’s glampsites, particularly the Cardinal 1 and 2, are terrific for families with children. Their spacious interiors provide plenty of space for people to relax indoors, while the twisty slide is sure to entertain for hours! Each site has a covered picnic table, fire ring, nearby private bathroom with flushing toilet, and propane camp stove with basic cooking supplies.

Where to Eat: Try Kars and Koffee, held every Saturday at The Swigart Antique Automobile Museum, where antique cars are on display and the coffee flows freely. Bring a pastry  from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. May through October. 

What to Do: Get out on the lake in a kayak or canoe! Enjoy this unique way to explore nature, get some exercise, and gain a new experience for the whole family.

What to Do if it Rains: Experience a one-hour interpretive tour of two spectacular crystal caverns, Lincoln Caverns and Whisper Rocks. A wide variety of speleothems (cave formations), including delicate crystals, sparkling stalactites, and massive flowstones, await around every turn! 

Blue Heron Farm

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

Delaware Bay is just two hours away. Every fall, thousands of migrating shorebirds make their critical trip south. You can see them feeding by the thousands on the salt marsh mudflats along the wildlife drive at low tide. 

Where to stay: Add a farm stay to your adventure, and unwind at the Chalet on Blue Heron Farm. This rustic waterfront retreat on the Chester River’s upper reaches is a peaceful and private getaway situated just 15 minutes from historic Chestertown. Enjoy epic views from the giant wrap-around deck overlooking the river and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Where to eat: Boondocks Restaurant and Package Store. Kids will love the decor and yummy eats, adults will enjoy fresh seafood.

What to do: Go birding. Bombay Hook is among the most famous birding locations in the eastern United States. The waterfowl migration begins in early fall and brings many species of ducks and geese to the refuge to spend the winter, including the Greater Snow Geese. The geese arrive in October and depart for the Arctic in February and March.

What to do if it rains: Visit the Air Mobility Command Museum. Admission is free and visitors can climb a real air traffic control tower and see over thirty aircraft!

Related: 27 Farm Stays Every Family Should Experience

Prince William Forest Park

Hikers, bikers and nature lovers rejoice! We’ve found the perfect place for your crew to explore.

Where to Stay: Prince William Forest Park offers cabin rentals, which happen to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in the 1930s and 1940s, the cabins are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Where to Eat: The Secret Garden Cafe in Occoquan is a relaxed restaurant in an 1840 home with a garden patio, serving American fare with global twists.

What to Do: With over 900 plant species, your future botanist will have tons to identify and see throughout the lush forest. Plan to hike shorter trails with little legs in tow, including Piedmont Forest Trail and Laurel Loop Trail.

What to Do if it Rains: Visit the Weems-Botts Museum in Historic Dumfries. Travel through time on a guided tour of the historic house museum decorated in 18th, 19th, and 20th-century styles. Learn about the crucial role the port town of Dumfries served in Virginia’s history.

River Riders

Harpers Ferry National Park

Harpers Ferry is filled with distinctive architecture, walkable streets, and so much to do. With a series of historic attractions and museums, this national park beautifully details the Civil War history of the region

Where to Stay: Located just one mile from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Clarion Hotel Harpers Ferry has 100 spacious hotel rooms and an on-site restaurant, and it is next door to a tubing and rafting outfitter.

Where to Eat: Head to neighboring Bolivar to stock up on provisions at H.B. Snallygaster’s General Store and Cafe. A deli in the back serves West Virginia pepperoni rolls on Bolivar Bread Bakery sourdough, and customers can also find craft beer, baked goods, and to-go cocktail kits.

What to Do: Flat-Water Tubing at Harpers Ferry is fun for the whole family, this trip is suitable for those looking for a relaxing experience.

What to Do If It Rains: Visit the John Brown Wax Museum, with its unique dioramas and haunted-house feel, you’ll certainly have a blast indoors at this wax museum.

Piscataway Park

Piscataway Park is home to bald eagles, beavers, deer, foxes, ospreys, and many other species. To complement the surroundings, the park has, in addition to a public fishing pier and two boardwalks over fresh water tidal wetlands, a variety of nature trails, meadows, and woodland areas. The Park is also home to the National Colonial Farm.

Where to Stay: The AC Hotel National Harbor has all the classic hotel amenities, including a gym and restaurant. But the bonus of staying at this hotel is how close you’ll be to the Capital Wheel and carousel. 

Where to Eat: Nando’s Peri-Peri serves up delicious, rotisserie-style chicken and a variety of sides. Mom and Dad will love the spicy sauce options and gourmet sides, while kids will enjoy tasty french fries and corn-on-the-cob, available seasonally.

What to Do: Visit the National Colonial Farm. Take a tour through 1770 led by one of the National Colonial Farm educators. Explore the grounds of a working tobacco farm and meet its two- and four-legged residents. These tours are offered March through December and are are open to the public.

What to Do If It Rains: Hop across the river and visit Mount Vernon, the home that George Washington shared with his wife, Martha.

—Mary Marth Aubry & Angelica Kajiwara

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