Family Bike Ride: Mason Neck State Park

mason neck bike ride

Many of my favorite memories from childhood revolve around my pastel colored bicycle.  Bike riding provided a type of freedom as a child that I craved, and this love has carried into adulthood.  With 2 older children that are pretty good at riding, I was patiently waiting for my baby to be old enough to pop in the seat attached to my bike.  Mason Neck State Park was the choice for our family bike ride on a beautiful fall day.

mason neck nature trail

This past weekend was our first family excursion with baby in tow, on our bicycles.  And Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia was the perfect location to go ride and be outside to enjoy the beautiful fall scenery.  Mason Neck State Park, along with Pohick Bay is tucked into the corner of Fairfax County, Gunston Hall to be specific.  It’s right next to Lorton, and just down route 1 from Woodbridge.  A quick turn onto Gunston Hall Rd. and you feel like you are way out in the country.  You will pass some large horse farms that look straight out of the movies.

mason neck family bike ride

If your children are older and can handle a longer ride, I recommend actually parking at a pullout on Gunston Hall Rd.  and riding on the awesome paved trail into Mason Neck Park.  Seeing as this was our first attempt with the baby seat, we actually drove a little further, into the actual park and nature preserve, to park at the trail lot.  Your other option is to drive all the way to the education center on the water, and park there.

mason neck family bike ride

The best biking is done on the High Point multi-use trail.  It is rated easy, and is paved which makes for great riding.  The awesome thing about this trail with kids is that it is pretty much flat, just a few rolling hills, and you basically have the trail to yourself, even on a beautiful fall day.  In over an hour on a Saturday, we only had one other cyclist pass us.  With that being said, I wouldn’t ride this trail alone for obvious safety reasons.

mason neck family bike ride

Along the High Point trail are a few picnic tables as well as restrooms.  At the Visitor Center you will find rangers ready and willing to answer questions, some interactive displays, and life size bald eagle statues.  There is a children’s learning room with lots of items for them to feel and touch, as well as some aquariums with fish and frogs.  Outside of the visitor center has bird houses set up which make for great viewing,  And if you are lucky you will spot some Bald Eagles on your trip.  Take some time to look at beautiful Belmont Bay, it offers some peace and quiet from the business of Northern Virginia.  Looking for other weekend outdoor fun, check out my guide to Great Falls hiking with kids.

mason neck visitor center

 

Wildlife Viewing

Though exploring the refuge is restricted to established nature trails, you’ll find that these winding forested corridors are rich in nature and history. Visitors to the refuge can enjoy hiking our 4 miles of trails to view birds and other wildlife, or simply enjoy the solitude.

Download the bird list (pdf)

mason neck hiking trail

Hours of Operation

Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, including federal holidays, from 7AM – 5PM October 1- March 31 and 7AM-7PM from April 1 – September 30. Staff temporarily closes the refuge during managed deer hunts in November and December. Call the headquarters office or check this website for scheduled closures.

 

Location

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

Its address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Mason Neck?  Where else do you go biking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

Make sure to check out and follow my Pinterest Boards on other fun fall activites.

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to Virginia, child learning, reading instruction, and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

P.S. PASS IT ON

Like this post? Share the love and send this to a friend who might enjoy it too!

 

Continue Reading

Great Falls : Kid Friendly Outdoor Recreation and Nature

 

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Perfect weather on an October weekend in Virginia meant we were taking it outside to a favorite destination, Great Falls National Park.  Great Falls is a unique treasure so close to the urban center of DC.  A trip to the waterfalls and hiking trails makes you almost forget the traffic and fast paced life of the surrounding areas.  The Great Falls National Park is nestled right off the beltway.  The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area.  It also provides  excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations.

The Virginia side is officially named Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  The main attraction, which is the gorgeous cascading water of the Mather Gorge, visible from both sides, makes it all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Activities available at the parks include hiking, rock climbing, biking, horseback riding, fishing and kayaking.  Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers which is nice to stop in with children.  There are interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the local area.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park.  It is just under five miles, winds through trees, outcroppings of large rocks, and along  paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. This fun yet rugged trail offers awe inspiring views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit difficult for young children.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

There are designated overlooks of the falls on both sides Great Falls Park. In Maryland, there is lookout  just a short walk from the parking lot, where you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. Both offer equally beautiful views of the Gorge.

As with many activities near DC, there can be crowds.  On a nice weekend the parking lots tend to fill up early and there can be a line of cars waiting at the entrance.  If possible try and visit on a weekday, or at least arrive early on a weekend.

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Some useful tips to note if planning a visit;

  • wear good shoes for hiking, there are rocks and uneven footing on the trails
  • restrooms are located at the Visitor Center on both sides of the park
  • swimming is NOT allowed
  • Concessions are available but it is much more fun to bring a picnic

great falls national park outdoor recreation and nature

Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $10/vehicle, $5/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD

Looking for other day trips to take, check our apple picking guide in Virginia and a review of Great Country Farms.

OVER TO YOU

Have you been to Great Falls?  Where else do you go hiking in Virginia?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you!

ENJOYED THIS POST?

Make sure to check out and follow my Pinterest Boards on other fun fall activites.

I send out blogs like this often, offering my expertise and useful tips for parents about all things related to Virginia, child learning,   reading instruction.  and the occasional recipe or DIY project.

If you sign up for my email updates, I’ll send exclusive content straight to your inbox!

P.S. PASS IT ON

Like this post? Share the love and send this to a friend who might enjoy it too!

 

Continue Reading

National Book Festival- Children’s Guide

The 17th Library of Congress National Book Festival kicks off September 2, 2017 at the Washington Convention Center.  This annual festival is an awesome event.  If you have never made it downtown with your kids, you should definitely consider going.  Meeting your favorite author is pretty special, and you may just get to hug some of your favorite characters.

There is so much to do, and I have created a plan that can help you tackle most of the event.

Follow these 5 tips for a truly spectacular experience:

 

Download the 2017 Children’s Guide

Once you print out the guide sit down with your child and make a list of your must do activities.  You can then add activities that would be nice, but if missed would not cause any extra tears.

Scavenger Hunt

Completing a scavenger hunt in any new situation is a fun way to really get the lay of the land.  Some things to collect on this scavenger hunt include finding an author from your home state at the Pavilion of States.  Another is to find all three Waldo cutouts and then complete a Waldo postcard to enter a contest.  Try and find Dog Man, Ned the Newshound, or Clifford the Big Red Dog and snap a picture.

Author Talks

When listening to a favorite author, remember that some do book signings before their talk.  Check the schedule.  If you are hoping to ask the author a question after the talk, sit near the center aisle.  As soon as the talk is finished, get in line for the microphone because they get big quickly.

Play Eye Spy with the official poster

This year’s poster was created by Roz Chast, who is a cartoonist.  There are lots of details and it’s fun to try and find some of the sillier ones.

  1.  Find all the books with boots on.
  2. How many animals can you find?
  3. How many books do not have any hair?
  4. How many colors of books are there?

Visit the Pavilion of States

Grab a passport and try to get stamps from each of the states.  Along the way learn about some great books from different areas of our country.  Collect a prize at the Junior League booth.

Now go print out the guide and make your list.

Check back for Part 2 of this series, with more tips and tricks for the festival.

 

 

Continue Reading

Ten lessons learned about parenting in Northern Virginia

  1. There will be traffic.  For real, there is traffic ALL THE TIME.  Ask anyone about their first impression of the area and they talk about the traffic.  But here’s the thing, you get used to it.  For me it took a couple years, but I did and found ways around it.  Regardless of how close a playdate or activity may seem, give yourself an hour.  I’m not kidding, it could be three miles away and take close to 45 minutes.  It helps to avoid rush hour, which around here is like 6 hours.  That means roughly 6:30-9:30 am, and 3:30-6:30 pm.

2.  Number two kind of goes with number one, but it is to make the WAZE app your best friend.  Download it now onto your phone and never leave home without it.  If you have never used it, I swear it is genious.  It is like a crowd sourced, real time traffic, program to give you directions to your destination.  There will be several route options, toll options, time estimates, accident updates, pretty much everything you could think of.  So go download it now, and start using it!

3.  There is so much history around that it is almost hard to not see a historical marker on a drive or hike.  We are so fortunate to live in a state that has places such as  Old Town Alexandria, Mt. Vernon, Fredericksburg, and Manassas just to name a few.  There are tons of great sites and attractions in these locations, but a quick tour of any local area will leave you with a history lesson and probably an opportunity to walk where George Washington may have been.  Case in point, our first rental house in Lorton was across the street from the Pohick Church where George Washington used to attend services.  How cool!

4.  There will be allergies, and lots of them.  Even if you are someone who has never suffered, I would say start the allergy medicine and buy some tissues.  Some people say you get a free pass your first year here, but everyone I know seems to be pretty miserable at various points throughout the year.  The glass half full take on this is that Virginia is beautiful and so many flowers, trees and shrubs bloom with the most amazing vibrant colors so get your cameras ready.

5.  You would be hard pressed to find a more patriotic place to live in the country.  Everywhere you turn there are reminders of our brave men and women who protect our country.  Flags fly proudly all year long, not just on holidays.  Our children recognize the fact that freedom often comes at the price of a deployed parent, and are proud to talk about their service member parent.  Odds are if you aren’t connected to the military, then your neighbors are and you will be there for them at the drop of a hat.

6.  There is an endless variety of activities to have your children try.  Now sometimes it’s nice to not have a crazy schedule, I’m the first to admit that.  But it’s also great to know that if your child asks to try gymnastics, or soccer, or horseback riding, that a quick Google search can locate an option that won’t be too far away (use WAZE!)

7.  The schools are pretty great.  They can be big, sometimes huge, but are pretty great.  When looking for a home near a great school, make sure to check the Virginia Department of Education site.  You are looking for the school report card section.  This quick fact sheet on each school will give you some important information when trying to figure out where you want your children to attend school.

8.  There are wineries.  Lots of them.  And there are wineries that are kid and dog friendly.  Now that’s a pretty awesome combination if you ask me.  One of my favorites is Barrel Oak Winery.  It is a pretty quick hour drive that makes you really feel like you are out in the country and can escape the hustle and bustle.  Ask for the kid scavenger hunt when you get there, this will keep the kids busy for a while.  There is plenty of space for the kids and dogs to stretch out, make noise, eat food, and overall have a great time.

9.  You will never have to pay for a museum visit if you don’t want to.  I didn’t realize how amazing this perk was until we visited Chicago and had to pay an arm and a leg to get into a pretty great museum.  That’s because we are totally spoiled with the Smithsonian Institute Museums.  There are so many options, events and exhibits that you could live here for years and still go experience something new each time.  You do have to plan whether you will drive or metro into the city.  That’s a whole other topic, but weigh the options to see what would be best for your family.

10.  There are lots of ways to connect with other mom’s, but you do need to put yourself out there.  I wasn’t so great at this 10 years ago.  But I’ve become better now that I have three kids, a husband that travels, and a dog and cat to take care of.  I really can’t do it all, believe me I try.  But I need my mom’s, even if its just for a quick chat at the bus stop.  So try to figure out one way you can connect, and come back to read some surefire ways you can start to grow your tribe.

Continue Reading