Five Hidden Parks Near D.C.

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Washington DC is beautiful, with the mall, the Washington Monument, Jefferson and Lincoln, and the the Vietnam Memorial. In addition, eleven of the nineteen museums and galleries of the Smithsonian institution are within walking distance of the mall.

You might also notice the concrete jungle, the mob of people, and the crowded streets.

If you travel by car to DC and have just one day off, you might consider a day trip, perhaps to Frederick County, which is still filled with trees, grass, and wide open spaces. Here are four of my favorites, one in the other direction, and a few honorable mentions.

South Mountain and the other Washington Monument

Washington Monument State Park From Frederick, go straight up US Alternate Route 40, past Braddock Heights and Middletown, lies the old south mountain inn, where this author and his wife had their wedding reception. Across the street is Washington Monument state park – a forty-foot tower originally built in 1827, then rebuilt in 1882 and again by the civilian conservation corps in 1936. Bring you hiking boots and expect a half-mile hike up the mountain for the scenic lookout, and a half-mile back, then enjoy late lunch at the South Mountain Inn.

After the monument. we’ll head back to Frederick, then North on US 15, getting off in Thurmont, Maryland, home of Camp David – where presidents have gone on retreat since Eisenhower. Camp David is located inside of Cunningham falls state park – and it is to the falls that we are headed next.

Cunningham Falls

Cunningham Falls The state park includes the ruins of the Catoctin furnace, the manor playground, and plenty of woods for walking, but today’s adventure is the falls itself – a 72-foot climbable waterfall.

After another brief walk of perhaps a tenth of a mile, you’ll come to the falls – climb up by the rocks at right at your own risk.  At the top of the falls, take pictures, then cross the stream and keep going, and you’ll find yourself on Red Blaze, a half-mile trail that heads to our next stop, hunting creek lake. If you can’t find red blue, go back to the landing of the falls and take the trail to the left.
William Houck Campground and Hunting Creek Lake

Red blaze ends at a parking lot of Hunting Creek lake – which includes two beaches, canoe rentals, a boat launch, a campground, picnic tables, and yes, you can fish. Come the middle two weekends in March for Maple Syrup demonstrations, folks and bluegrass music.

Hunting Creek Lake Once we’ve had our four parks in Maryland, it’s time for a trek west to visit the fifth – in West Virginia.

Gambrill and Greenbrier Park

Barbara Frichite was an American War Hero from the city of Frederick, who, according to legend, flew a U.S. Flag when the confederates marched into the town. There is a restaurant named after her, operated by the same family since 1910, on Route 40 on the West Side of Town. Continue West and you’ll find access to the Appalachian trail, and Greenbrier and Gambrill State Park. If camping and swimming is your pleasure, head to Greenbriar, with it’s large lake, camp store, and amenities. Gambrill has over sixteen miles of trails, including the North Frederick overlook, a system of stone overlooks built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation corps. Best of all, the overlooks have handicap access and parking just a handful of feet away – hiking is optional.

Berkely Springs, West Virginia

Berkeley Springs Park Just past Frederick into West Virginia territory is the town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, previously known as  “bath.” The State park is perhaps the oldest in the United States, granted to the state of Virginia by Lord Fairfax in 1776. The park includes public mineral springs that are naturally heated, as well as an operating Roman-style private bathhouse build in 1815.

On the way back east, out of town on 522, you’ll see the Samuel Taylor Suit Cottage, affectionately know as “Berkeley Springs castle.” Berkeley Springs Castle Not quite a park, when the castle is open it has a free gift shop and access to the first floor; a self-guided tour of the upstairs is available for a small fee.

Honorable Mentions
Burketsville, Maryland, was the fictional home of the Blair Witch Project, but is also the place for spook hill, which allows vehicles that are in neutral to apparently roll uphill. Just down the road from Burketsville, on US Alternate 40 in Braddock Heights, is a marker dedicated to where General Braddock stopped his troops to drink during the French and Indian War. Leading the colonial militia on that trip was a young colonel named George Washington (who took a bath at the springs in 1748.) In downtown Frederick you’ll find Schifferstadt Museum, an original farmhouse build in 1758, complete with tours and year-round events, including Oktoberfest, where this author had his first german kinkling around age ten.

 

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About the Author: Matt H

As the managing director of Excelon Development, Matt Heusser speaks, trains, and does software delivery consulting. His recent work includes keynote speeches on three continents; Matt typically spends a day or two in every country to visit, learning the best business travel tips, quick leisure stops, and the occasional boat trip along the way.

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