I have always loved to travel, but the last few (by which I mean 10) years, traveling has brought new challenges. Between the exhaustion of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and trying to make sure our small children are eating, sleeping, and not getting covered in germs, I don’t often have enough fortitude to pile everyone on a plane to go stay in a hotel for a week. And now, with a pandemic still going on… and on… and on… there are more challenges to consider. While nearby cities like DC and Philadelphia have so much to offer (free museums, enormous zoos, rich history and culture, frenetically efficient public transportation that scare the pants off this mother of four), this has not been the year for my family to visit them. Fortunately, there is so much to see close to home, and a day trip or weekend away can do a lot to scratch that itch to explore new places. There are an abundance of lesser known sights that are not crowded and have lots to do outdoors. Here are our favorite short explorations in the mid-Atlantic region over the past few years.
- Pea Patch Island/Fort Delaware – it is a fun ferry ride to this historic landmark in Delaware, which served as a Union prison during the civil war. Apparently we had a cannon pointed at Jersey in case they got out of hand. No hard feelings, Jersey friends. Now they have historic tours, people dressed in 19th century garb blacksmithing, laundering things by hand, etc. And to top it all off, they show you how to set off a cannon (though they don’t actually set it off, of course.)
- Ashland Nature Center – I had to include this because I was just so incredibly excited to see the hummingbirds in the hummingbird garden when we went in early August. At first I thought they were gigantic bugs, but in fact they were teeny tiny hummingbird fledglings. I have never seen so many. They are too fast to catch with my crappy phone camera, but I could have sat there and watched them all day.
- Harper’s Ferry – This is a historical town right at the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. We took a shuttle (for 5 mins) down to the town and walked up to “the Point” where the Shenandoah River, C&O Canal, and the Potomac Rivers intersect and you could see all three states, which was neat-o for all geography dorks. There are lots of historical buildings including famous abolitionist John Brown’s fort and such, and you can climb hundreds of steps up to Jefferson’s rock (where Jefferson supposedly sat and thunk smart thoughts).
- I’m always looking for waterfalls, the ones at Blackwater Falls State Park in WV are impressive, though the area is a little farther west than we usually travel. We stayed at an amazing cabin through Landis Realty one October. We enjoyed the pool table, sauna and hot tub immensely. Nobody was around, which is probably why all the cabins seemed to be booked already for this year. The Allegheny mountains of WV are higher than the Poconos where we usually go, and the beautiful fall foliage combined with the altitude (I assume) aggravated my son’s asthma in a scary way, so that is something to consider.
- Assateague Island – We went in the blazing heart of summer and it was glorious. We stayed over in Ocean City (also a fun place), but the big drop on the shore and the rough surf made it hard for the kids not to get slammed by the waves (and terrifying for the grownups watching said kids get slammed by the waves.) So we decided to try Assateague and it was so perfect that we went there the next day as well. There were still plenty of waves but the flat beach made it much easier for the kids to navigate them and I have rarely seen the Atlantic Ocean so clean and clear. The sand was clean, white and silky soft. And what, I ask you, could possibly be more charming than a beach with a bunch of wild ponies wandering around?
- Elk Neck State Park – when we were having a ridiculous heatwave one summer, all the pool water was hot and stanky, and we thought surely the waters of the Chesapeake would still be cold, since they’re flowing and all. We were wrong. It was like a bit stanky outdoor bathtub. The bottom is covered with rocks, so if you are brave enough to swim there, you’ll want to bring your water shoes. If you’re not, it is still a beautiful place to walk around and the birds are amazing.
- Ringing Rocks Park – this lesser known attraction in northeast PA was a little difficult to find (not a great signal up in them thar hills) but worth the drive. Its basically a set of trails and an interesting boulder field. You must bring hammers so you can hear the various musical tones of the rocks when you strike them (hence the name). It was fun for grownups and kids alike. We stopped in Allentown at this rose garden, which also happened to be lovely.
- If you like waterfalls and mountains, the Poconos area of Pennsylvania has a lot to offer. There is plenty to do, from skiing and snow-tubing at Bear Creek Mountain to hiking at Bushkill Falls. Seven Tubs was a really unusual and interesting park that we discovered near Scranton. We also toured a coalmine during that trip (which was educational and terrifying).
- The Beaches – or shall I say “shore” – are fabulous. Our personal favorite is Avalon, NJ. You won’t find hotels there, which is why it’s so gloriously quiet and never crowded. A close second is Cape May – we love the Grand Hotel. (Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Delaware beaches are always a great time.)
- Cowtown – you can’t miss the rodeo at Cowtown, which happens every Saturday evening during the summer months, rain or shine. Barrel riding, calf-roping, bull riding, the ever-present possibility that someone will get seriously injured – it’s a blast! There’s also an outdoor flea market open daytime hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays where you can get all kinds of junk for a few dollars, and some tasty food.
What are some other great spots in the area? What are your rec’s for sightseeing? Share them with me, so we can go!