It may be winter but that doesn’t mean you need to be stuck inside. It just might be the best time to take a hike with the kids now that the leaves are off the trees.
It’s time you dig the hiking boots out of the closet and get over the idea that a trek through the woods is only a summer pursuit. A bit of frost on the ground, snow in the trees, or frozen breath in the air is no reason to resign the family to the couch. Just throw on a warm hat and gloves, thick socks, and an extra layer or two, and hit the trail.
Together with your family you can rediscover your favorite hiking spots, or perhaps check out a new locale. We’ve got the best hikes in the Anne Arundel county area; hikes at the five parks listed below can be done year-round, though whether it be because of seasonal wildlife, enhanced vistas, or lack of usual crowds, they each hold special winter appeal.
Winter Hiking Trails
Check the websites for possible entrance fees.
Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
11704 Fenno Road, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772, 301-888-1377
Bird’s the word—more specifically, goose is the word—at Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, where the fields and ponds play host to around 5,000 wintering Canada geese. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is, and just observing the strutting, preening and honking of this many geese could fill a short winter’s day. But if you can tear your kids away from the spectacle of so many birds in one place, pick one of the park’s three trails to explore. The Mounds Trail offers the most diverse scenery, cutting through deciduous forests as well as winding along a marsh. With the bare trees and lack of undergrowth in winter, your chances of spotting deer are high and if you’re lucky, you may even see a beaver hard at work.
Calvert Cliffs State Park
10540 H.G. Trueman Road, Lusby, MD 20657, 301-743-7613
Even the most hard-to-impress kids (and adults) can’t help but find it just a little bit cool to hold in their hands proof of life from 15 million years ago. And that is exactly what you can do at Calvert Cliffs State Park. The broad, flat, red-blazed trail meanders alongside a marsh for 1.8 miles before reaching a small Chesapeake Bay beach strewn with fossils from the Miocene era. Over 600 different fossils have been identified so far; put your own eye to the test trying to guess what life-form left its mark on the shells and rocks you find.
Elk Neck State Park
4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, MD 21901, 410-287-5333
When the winter wind kicks up the waves in the Chesapeake and they crash hard against the shores of Eastern Maryland, the highest lighthouse on the Chesapeake holds a particular power. Only 35 feet tall but located on a 100-foot bluff, the Turkey Point Lighthouse at the end of the Elk Neck State Park peninsula is a beacon easily accessed via a short 1.0-mile hike down a wide path. Make the trip, and then stand with your kids on the shore and imagine what life might have been like in 1833, when the lighthouse was constructed to guide ships entering the shallow waters of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
Rocks State Park
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, MD 21084, 410-557-7994
The Susquehanna Indians found the 190-foot promontory that is the centerpiece of Rocks State Park to be fit for royalty, hence its current name of King & Queen’s Seat. The producers of the movie version of Tuck Everlasting thought it a pretty special place too, incorporating it into their film. You and your family will understand the appeal once you clamber up and over the many rocks for which the park is named and reach the renowned perch, from which the region spreads out in front of you.
If it’s wet, save this hike for another day as it will be too slippery to be safe, but if it’s just a cold, crisp day, the view will be far and wide. The visitor’s center staff will help you map out a 2.2-mile circuit that ends with the King & Queen’s Seat or show you shorter and more direct routes to the goal. Before you leave the park, head to 19-foot Kilgore Falls to get acquainted with the second highest waterfall in Maryland. The winter mist makes it all the more alluring.
12610 Eveland Road, Ridgely, MD 21660, 410-634-2878
If your family can’t take a walk in the woods without making frequent stops to inspect the surrounding plant life and wonder just what you’re looking at, then head to Adkins Arboretum to take advantage of their free audio tour. The same system that keeps families entertained and in-the-know at museums has been adapted to the great outdoors. At 35 different stops along the arboretum’s 4 miles of pathways, you’ll get mini-lessons on plants common to the Delmarva Peninsula’s meadows and forests.
Theresa Dowell Blackinton is a local freelance writer and the author of Moon Outdoor’s Take a Hike, Washington, DC, which is available in bookstores.
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Information updated 2018