7 hidden gems and little known parks to explore this summer

Go beyond Great Falls to find a new favorite spot along the Potomac

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The Potomac River region boasts some famous national parks like Shenandoah and Great Falls. But those are only two of the dozens of National Park sites in our region- not to mention state and local parks. Montgomery County has a staggering 421 parks. Washington, DC’s city park system was just ranked the best in the nation. Clearly, there's no shortage of places to visit!

With so many parks to choose from, searching for the perfect one can be intimidating. We're here to help.

We've compiled a list of some hidden gems along the Potomac that you might not have heard of before. Whether you want to search for rare plants in Virginia, watch a Civil War battle reenactment, attend a festival in DC, or search for the largest tree in Maryland, there’s a park for you. Time to pack your sunscreen and reusable water bottle and go exploring!


Anacostia Park | Washington, DC

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If you're looking for a convenient and close escape from downtown, Anacostia Park is a great destination. The park runs along the east side of the Anacostia River from Benning Road to the South Capitol Street Bridge. With athletic fields, playgrounds, boat ramps, bike trails, and more, there's no shortage of ways to enjoy this park. It could be a great place to give plogging a try!

Bonus Park: Head upstream from Anacostia Park to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. We recommend the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival.


Dickerson Conservation Park | Dickerson, MD

photo credit: Bruce Saunders, via C&O Canal trust.

photo credit: Bruce Saunders, via C&O Canal trust.

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Take a stroll around Dickerson Conservation Park, located next to the Potomac River and C&O Canal, and you might spot an Olympian or two. That's because the area houses the first and perhaps only heated artificial kayak racing course in the country. In 1991, PEPCO, which runs a power plant nearby, modified its drainage channel for kayaking. Olympians have trained here year round ever since. 

The park is also home to the largest tree in Maryland! The behemoth American Sycamore is 138-feet tall and 310-feet around.


Fort Frederick State Park | Big Pool, MD

photo credit: Maryland Department of Natural resources

photo credit: Maryland Department of Natural resources

Journey back to the mid-1700s when the French and Indian War was in full swing, and this fort was on the front line. The rich history of Fort Frederick doesn't end there though. The fort was a prison for the British soldiers during the American Revolution and then used by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Today, you can participate in the 18th century market or witness reenactments of battles that took place in this historic park.


Greenbelt Park | Greenbelt, MD

Photo credit: V Snow via Flickr

Photo credit: V Snow via Flickr

Photo credit: V Snow via Flickr

Photo credit: V Snow via Flickr

Hiking around the woods of Greenbelt National Park, you'd never guess you're just a few minutes from the busy Capital Beltway. This park and the campsite are open year round for roughing-it or glamping. To add a fun twist to your walk or run, head to the northern part of the park. Take the Azalea Trail to meet up with a section of the Fit Trail, which includes stations to do pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups and more. Between the overhead trees, fresh air, and beautiful mountain laurels, this outdoor workout is sure to beat any trip to the gym.

Before you go, check out this beautiful Flickr photo album by v snow of a weekend camping trip to the park. 


Huntley Meadows Park | Alexandria, VA

Photo credit:  Scott Ableman  via flickr.

Photo credit: Scott Ableman via flickr.

photo credit: Rob Wallace via FLickr

photo credit: Rob Wallace via FLickr

If you're a bird lover, Huntley Meadows Park is a must-visit spot. The hemi-marsh is an oasis for over 200 species of birds and dozens of other critters, too. Take the raised boardwalk through the heart of the park to catch a glimpse.

Soak in the scenery and count your lucky stars because this beautiful park was almost turned into a landing strip. Thankfully those plans were abandoned, and the land was sold to the Fairfax Park Authority in 1975. We're sure glad this beautiful urban marshland wasn't turned into a sea of cement. 


Morven Park | Leesburg, VA

photo credit:  Carlos Diaz  on Flickr.

photo credit: Carlos Diaz on Flickr.

With 1,000 acres of land that includes an equestrian center, woodlands, and a museum, there’s something for everyone at Morven Park. You can take a tour around the Greek Revival estate that was home to two former governors, go on a hike through the woods, or watch professionals compete in equestrian competitions. If you're a history buff, the park is also only a short drive from Ball's Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery along the Potomac. Reenactments of the battle have been hosted at Morven in the past. 

Did we mention this park makes a stunning wedding venue? For more wedding venue inspiration and engagement photo ideas on and along the Potomac, check this blog post.


Prince William Forest Park | Triangle, VA

Photo Credit:  Michael Appleman  via Flickr.

Photo Credit: Michael Appleman via Flickr.

Located along I-95 just west of the Potomac in Triangle, Virginia, Prince William Forest Park has a fascinating history. It was initially created to house children during the Great Depression and later transformed into a training ground for the newly formed CIA during World War II. Prince William Forest Park holds another secret: it's home to small-whorled pogonia, an extremely rare flower found only in three counties of Virginia. The exact locations of these plants are kept secret to protect them. 

Tip: Grab your four-legged friend for this one. Prince William Forest Park is a popular spot for pet owners.


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