6 spots for outside family adventures

Looking to get outside and explore new places with the family in Maryland? From nature scavenger hunts to learning about lighthouses, here are six spots not too far from Annapolis for an outdoor adventure.

Go on a scavenger hunt at Patuxent Research Refuge

Outide fun The Refuge Laurel Trail W

Go on a wildlife scavenger hunt at the Patuxent Research Refuge — the only national wildlife refuge established to support wildlife research. Although the public is free to explore two of the three tracts at the Laurel refuge (one is for research only), the South Tract has more family activities as well as the National Wildlife Visitor Center.

Begin the scavenger adventure at the visitor center where you can check out a GPS unit and small backpack, which includes instructions, binoculars and a few small field guides to help you identify trees, plants and birds. You need to leave your driver’s license at the front desk to check out the binoculars and GPS unit.

Also plan to explore the visitor center’s many interactive exhibits highlighting everything from environmental issues to endangered species. You can also hike the South Tract’s six trails or take a 30-minute guided tram tour, which runs from May to November.

10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel
9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Thursdays and federal holidays; free admission (donations to the Friends of Patuxent appreciated).
301-497-5580, fws.gov/refuge/patuxent

Dig your toes in the sand at Metapeake State Park

Metapeake Beach boys W

It may be a tad early in the season to dive into the Chesapeake Bay, but it's never too soon to visit the beach. At Metapeake State Park you can glimpse the Bay Bridge in the distance while building a sand fortress. Or take off your shoes, walk the shoreline and hunt for shells.

The state park, just across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis, offers ample parking, an outdoor amphitheater, picnic area and a few trails winding through the nearby woods.

1112 Romancoke Road, Stevensville
Open daily from sunrise to sunset; free admission.
410-758-0835, parksnrec.org/rental-facilities/matapeake-clubhouse-beach

Photo by Dunks Photo

Learn a little history at Drum Point Lighthouse

Drum Point Lighthouse Family W

Explore the history of the Chesapeake Bay and its maritime legacy at the Calvert Marine Museum Drum Point Lighthouse in Solomons.

Built in 1883, the lighthouse is one of three remaining screw-pile lighthouses on the Chesapeake Bay. Unlike the typical tall, linear lighthouses seen on the edge of the shore, the screw-pile lighthouse is constructed in the middle of rivers and bays and is in the shape of a hexagon or octagon.

Tour the lighthouse, catch a glimpse of the watchtower’s past and discover a few interesting events in its history. For example, on March 1, 1887, the tide was so low that the light keeper was able to walk around the lighthouse on dry ground.

Before you leave, be sure to explore the museum’s many exhibits, including the Discovery Room where kids can search for fossils, explore a model of the Cove Point Lighthouse and handle native Chesapeake Bay sea life at the Touch Tank.

14200 Solomons Island Road, Solomons
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except for some national holidays; $9 for adults, $4 for children ages 5-12, free for children under 5. Tours of the lighthouse are included in admission.
410-326-2042, calvertmarinemuseum.com

Photo by Dunks Photo

Explore a new playground at Atholton Park

Outdside fun Atholton Park Playground W

Climb winding staircases, slide down a twisty slide, swing on the swings and play the bongo drums at the playground at Atholton Park in Columbia. A paved walkway leads through a forested area perfect for strolling. The 9-acre park also features fields, tennis courts, racquetball, a rebound wall, restrooms, picnic tables and a small grill.

6875 Greenleigh Drive, Columbia
Open daily from dawn to dusk; free admission.
410-313-4700, howardcountymd.gov/atholtonpark

Discover natural fun at the Sound and Sensory Garden

Outside fun Sensory Garden W Little One Playing

Play a giant xylophone, get messy at the discovery table and climb a play set built with logs in the Sound and Sensory Garden at the Historic London Town and Gardens. For even more nature-based, hands-on learning check out Tot Time in the garden, held the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m.-noon. There is a different theme each month.

While there, visit the William Brown House, built in 1760, the Carpenter’s Shop and the Lord Mayor’s Tenement. Kids will also enjoy wandering along the 1-mile trail through the Woodland Garden overlooking the South River.

839 Londontown Road, Edgewater
10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is $12 adults; $7 ages 7-17; $3 ages 4-6; and free for ages 3 and younger.
410-222-1919, historiclondontown.org

Enjoy a picnic at Crofton Park

Outside fun picnic W

Pack a picnic to enjoy by the small pond, then head to one of two onsite playgrounds at Crofton Park. Stroll along the short trails and don't miss the little fort built out of sticks on the side of the trail for a bit of imaginative fun.

2295 Davidsonville Road, Gambrills
Open daily from dawn to dusk; free admission.
410-222-7317, aacounty.org/locations-and-directions/crofton-park

By Amanda Danaher

Featured photo courtesy of John Pappas

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