Ah, summer—a season of warm weather, long days, sunny skies, green trees and endless opportunities to explore. It’s the perfect time for your family to leave the house and enjoy some exercise together outside.
After all, the ongoing pandemic means there are still a lot of restrictions on this year’s social activities, so there’s no better time for your family to undertake an outdoor adventure, whether that’s hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking or maybe even nature watching.
The best part is that you don’t have to travel too far when there are plenty of spots within a 30-minute drive of Annapolis to explore. What’s more, they all have plenty of space to roam so you can safely keep your social distance. While some of the amenities, such as visitor centers, may be closed (Check websites before you go), the parks themselves are still open.
On that note, it’s probably worth going over a few reminders for health and safety:
· Yes, you want to keep your social distance, but being outdoors is one of the healthiest activities you can do. In fact, the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to creating community around use of trails, reports that many people have turned to the outdoors during the pandemic for physical activity and mental respite. In March 2020, the use of trails was up by nearly 200 percent compared with the same time in 2019.
· Keep your groups small. Ideally, it’s going to be just the people within your household, but if you choose to include a friend or two, make sure your group doesn’t exceed five or six people. When you’re in large groups, it becomes harder for you to keep your distance in public places, especially on trails where others might be trying to pass you.
· If you are passing someone on a trail, announce yourself by saying, “On your left.” Then pass them on their left-hand side. If you hear someone announce that they’re passing, keep as far to the right as you can. If you are walking or cycling as a large group, it’s best to go single file or two at a time so that there’s plenty of room for someone to pass you.
· Carry hand sanitizer and moist wipes with you in case you need to touch a potentially germy surface.
It’s also important to observe other health and safety practices you should observe even when you aren’t in the middle of a pandemic: wear your helmet when cycling, wear sunscreen and insect repellant, and carry cold water to stay hydrated (especially on hot days). If you’re observing wildlife, remember that you can take photos, but don’t tear down any foliage or attempt to interact with or feed the wild animals.
Quiet Waters Park
600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis
Quiet Waters Park offers a little bit of everything—paddling, boating, bicycling and walking—all in the heart of Annapolis. This 340-acre park along the South River boasts a forested 5.1-mile trail that’s wider than most you’ll see, making it a perfect place for social distancing. You can also switch from the paved path to trails through the woods with ease, and there are plenty of opportunities in the park to find a quiet little beach for the kids to play on.
If you’d rather get out on the water than walk or bike, Quiet Waters has access for kayaks, paddleboards and canoes (unfortunately, no swimming though!). Don’t have a kayak or paddleboard? No problem. Check out Paddle or Pedal (www.pedalorpaddle.com), which operates right on premises and provides kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddle (SUP) and even bicycles for rent. The business is open and adhering to all guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like cleaning its rental items and wearing masks.
Be sure to bring the dog, too. Quiet Waters Park has a dog park and a dog beach. Have your leash and plenty of baggies for cleaning up after any bathroom breaks.
8311 John Downs Loop, Pasadena
Ready to go fishing? Downs Park in Pasadena is just the place for you. With a breathtaking view of the Chesapeake Bay, this 236-acre treasure has several piers where you can cast a line. You can also take advantage of other water access points for kayaks and canoes. Although there are no beaches for human swimmers, there are dog beaches were Fido can make a splash. And if hiking or biking is more your speed, there’s a 3.5-mile paved trail around the park’s perimeter, as well as more than a mile of natural trails through the surrounding forested areas.
260 Defense Highway, Annapolis
Waterworks Park is a hidden gem in Annapolis, featuring miles and miles of trails for hiking and biking through the woods, picnic spots, and three fishing ponds. The main entrance to the park is on Route 450, but to park there you need a permit (which you can apply for here, though new applications are currently unavailable due to COVID closures). However, you are allowed to park outside Waterworks Park and come in on foot or by bike. The easiest spot to enter is on Bestgate Road, across from the parking lot nearest to Pet Smart. If you’ve ever driven through that area on a weekend you may have noticed a line of cars parked along the side of Bestgate. The entrance to the park is just ahead of those cars. It’s merely a cut into the woods, but just a few steps in you’ll find a trail map, which starts you out on the Housley loop, a one-mile trail loop up mildly sleep slopes through the woods.
About halfway through that loop, you’ll make your way to the reservoir pond, where you’ll see folks fishing on the other side. You can hop on other trails to get around the lake or head back from there.
Kinder Farm Park
1001 Kinder Farm Park Road, Millersville
Families seeking plenty of room to run around will love Kinder Farm Park. This 288-acre park has a combination of trails to be ridden or trekked, forested areas to be explored, and all kinds of floral and fauna to be observed, but what really sets it apart are the expansive green fields that are perfect for picnicking or cloud gazing (some of the fields are reserved for athletic training, so keep an eye out and avoid these). Be sure to venture along some of the nature trails through the surrounding woods, particularly if you are inclined to go off searching for vibrant wildflowers or Cattail Pond. **The amazing playground is now open!
Don’t miss the chdcking out the goats, pigs and other animals at the park, which are owned and cared for by the Kinder Farm Park 4-H Livestock Club. $6 per car to enter the park, unless you have a county parks pass, which gives you free entrance to Kinder Farm, Downs and Quiet Waters parks.
Patapsco Valley State Park
8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
Nature lovers, take note—Patapsco Valley State Park is a destination you need to put on your to-do list. With more than 16,000 acres, including 32 miles of shoreline along the Patapsco River, this Maryland icon offers a place for hiking, biking, fishing and canoeing. You’ll enjoy the sights of lush greenery, craggy rocks, shimmering waterfalls and beautiful wildlife as you explore. The park boasts 200 miles of trails, including hiker-only trails and multi-use trails, which can be hilly in places (the park ranges from 52 to 534 feet above sea level). You can also hike over a historic swinging bridge and swim in the river, though be very careful where you swim, the current is very strong in some places.
The park is extremely large, and there are several parking areas and ways in and out, including along Route 40 in Ellicott City, and in Elkridge. Go early, as the park often reaches capacity and will close for the remainder of the day. Your best bet is a weekday visit to thin the crowds.
Parking is $3 per person (kids in car seats are free).
Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge
1730 Eastern Neck Road, Rock Hall
Located on the Chester River in Kent County, not far from Rock Hall, this 2,000-acre island provides habitat for all kinds of wildlife: 240 species of birds, plus a variety of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. As you walk or bike along the 4 miles of paved roads or walk the 3 miles of natural trails, you might see bald eagles, diamondback turtles, herons, egrets, deer, beaver, foxes or woodchucks. If you’d rather take in the sights by water, there’s a kayak/canoe launch you can take advantage of. Dogs are welcome, but to protect the wildlife, please remember to keep them leashed at all times. And this is one place where you definitely don’t want to forget your bug spray.
Terrapin Beach Park
191 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville
Ready to learn about the flora and fauna that make Maryland’s Eastern Shore unique? Plan to spend the day making your way around Terrapin Beach Park. This 276-acre park is a great place to observe waterfowl and plant life, whether you want to do it while you’re biking, hiking, fishing, kayaking or canoeing. The park boasts 4,000 feet of shoreline and 73 acres of wetlands, and the 3.25-mile oyster chaff walking trail weaves its way through wildflower meadows, wetlands, tidal ponds, woodlands and sandy beaches. It’s like a little Maryland in miniature!
The park also connects to the Cross Island Trail, the 6.5-mile paved and boardwalk path that traverses Kent Island, heads over the Kent Narrows Drawbridge and ends at the Chesapeake Environmental Center. This trail is flat and wide, great for a family bike ride.
Terrapin Nature Park’s beach along the Chesapeake Bay is quite popular and can get crowded quickly. So go early!
**NOTE: As of July 1, Queen Anne’s County will be monitoring park capacity and will turn away visitors if there are too many people inside.
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