School is out and summer is ripe with travel possibilities. Pick some day trips to enhance your "staycation" or spice up your weekends.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Surely, Robert Frost was not being literal in his lovely and insightful poem, "The Road Not Taken," but in the spirit of venturing off the beaten path, we have chosen 20 day trips for you that, we hope, will be a welcomed detour from your daily travels.
Whether your interest is to sneak in some education, wear out the kids with outdoor activities, or beat the heat in our air-conditioned options – we hope these Fred Parent MomStops selections will help you find some adventure to fill your downtime.
For this story, we have skipped the local historical sites and mostly missed the museums and monuments in Washington, D.C. In fact, all but one of these day trips are in Virginia. Since the furthest destination is less than 150 miles away, you can also make each trip on less than a tank of gas so they should not break the bank. The activities range from practically free to worthy of a special occasion - and a couple of trips you just might want to stretch into a weekend.
LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY!
My 7-year-old recently looked up at me with his big, brown eyes and asked, "Mom, when can we go to the zoo?"
Needless to say, you can guess where we are headed this summer.
There is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. – the King Kong of zoos, but I promised you a little something different. So what about traveling a bit further and taking a safari?
No, not that far – no airplanes, passports or shots needed, just pack a cooler, the travel bingo and off you go to The Virginia Safari Park – an 180-acre drive-thru safari in Natural Bridge, Va.
Once there, you will drive along the three-mile route, but do not be in a hurry. The animals are free to roam and just may choose to take a nap in front of your vehicle or stick their head in your car window for some feed.
Spotsylvania mom Kelly Brown said her son's favorite part was "pulling the shedding hair off the buffalo. Yes, they were that close."
The park boasts over 1,000 exotic animals from six different continents. The variety runs from antelope and Bactrian camels to yaks and zebras.
The 140-mile one-way trip from Fredericksburg is our furthest day trip, but Kelly says, "It's worth the ride and every penny."
She did not even mind cleaning the feed pellets out of her car for weeks after the visit.
(Please see our information box for details about this and all of our trips. Before taking your trip, always check with the venue to be sure nothing has changed since we rounded up this information.)
If you are after an animal encounter a little closer to home, try the Reston Zoo, sister zoo of the Virginia Safari Park. It is a smaller, more intimate zoo experience that dad Craig Schulin and his young son enjoyed.
Located only 60 miles from Fredericksburg, Craig found that "the opportunity to get very close to pet and feed the animals was a great experience."
New exhibits expected this summer include prairie dogs, those fuzzy rodents that perpetually pop in and out of their burrows. I have seen them amuse an entire class of first-graders with their "whack-a-mole" game-like antics. Swan boats are expected to debut in July and will be available for you to float around the zoo's pond during your visit.
BEAT THE HEAT WITH OUR AIR-CONDITIONED OPTIONS!
The exhibits at the Virginia Science Museum, located just a few turns off I-95 in Richmond, help make science memorable.
The traveling "Great Balls of Fire!" exhibit about comets, asteroids, and meteors will be on display through the end of the year and is likely to make a "big bang" with your family. Like the permanent exhibits, this one has hands-on features that will thrill kids - such as being able to "send" an asteroid to your zip code to see what happens.
Air-conditioning far from the only "cool thing" in the museum. There are a number of permanent exhibits that measure high on kid "cool" scales.
Interactive displays in Science Unplugged let visitors experiment with pulleys, bursts of air, and building earthquake-proof structures. Newton's laws are more fun to learn when you apply them to a riding lesson on a Segway. And at the end of each visit, marvel at the Earth and Moon sculptures outside the museum. The 29-ton Earth Kugel is tilted and rotates by a small jet of water with less pressure than a household faucet.
Don't skip the IMAX Dome – the largest movie screen in Virginia. It practically transports you into the film!
Movies showing through August include "SeaRex," an underwater exploration of the prehistoric world, and "Hubble," which includes information about the famous telescope and video from its amazing journey through space. Movie times and previews are located on the museum's website.
Things with wheels and wings are a delight for kids of all ages, and that is why The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is another stop on our off-the-beaten-path tour. Located in Chantilly, Va., not too far from Washington Dulles International Airport, it is about a 60 mile drive, that ends up with hours worth of wonder.
This companion site to the Air and Space museum in D.C. houses a huge collection of aviation and space objects hanging from the ceiling. View ultra-lights, jets and missiles from the elevated walkways.
Another great day out of the heat is the National Museum of the Marine Corps just outside the gates of Quantico Marine Corps Base. If you have not visited this museum yet, make it a must for this summer. Visit www.USMCmuseum.org or call 1-877-635-1775 for times and directions. The museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, VA 22172.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME!
This is the second season for the Flying Squirrels, a Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants ball club. The Flying Squirrels play much closer than the Golden Gate - just an hour's drive away at The Diamond in Richmond.
While we always have fun at the big league games in Washington, the more intimate experience of a smaller stadium also means smaller prices. If you simply want to take in the game, tickets start at $7 and parking is $3.
But be sure to catch them in the summer as the last home game is Sept. 1.
And speaking of baseball outings...don't forget our own minor league Potomac Nationals. Another wonderful small park game setting with many promotional special events... Some upcoming events include a Harry Potter night on July 13th, Scout Night on July 16th, and for those families with serious Peanut Allergy children, a "Peanut Free" night on July 29th. Fireworks at every Saturday evening game are a great finale to a fun evening! Go to www.potomacnationals.com or call 703-90-2311 for more information.
Who can resist the temptation of a good, old-fashioned treasure hunt? And when it includes shark's teeth as the bounty - all the better.
About 40 miles from Fredericksburg, Westmoreland State Park is 1300-acres with a mile and a half of shoreline along the Potomac River.
Besides hunting for shark's teeth while wriggling your toes in the sand, visitors can hike, rent paddleboats and rowboats, and even camp. There are kayak trips, too.
On your way home, don't forget a slight detour to the Westmoreland Berry Farm. This stop may already be on your list of places to visit (a lot) but who can resist passing by those juicy berries and the delicious ice cream?
Veronica Deschambault, a Fredericksburg mother of two, enjoys the berry farm because it is "situated on the river and has a big building with a covered veranda, ceiling fans, and picnic tables. You can buy berries and fruit in season or pick your own. They have a small petting zoo, playground equipment, nice restrooms. Their fruit sundaes are made with fresh fruit from the farm - to die for."
Peaches and blackberries are in season throughout the summer. Blueberries should be available for the first part of summer, followed shortly by fall raspberries in mid-August.
If you want to get your outdoor fix a little further from home take the windy road to Crabtree Falls, Va. Located about 115 miles from Fredericksburg, it's a good two-and-a-half hour trip. Crabtree Falls is located between Charlottesville and Lynchburg – just six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27.
Crabtree Falls is the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. On its website, we are assured that "the first overlook is just a few hundred feet from the upper parking lot along a gentle, paved trail making it an excellent stopover for travelers of all ages and abilities."
There are more challenging trails and overlooks offering spectacular views of the falls and a foot bridge over the Tye River Valley, too.
Want to stretch it into a weekend? There are a dozen campsites and cabins along with their phone numbers listed on the Nelson County Crabtree Falls Web site. See the information box.
HISTORY IS FUN, SERIOUSLY!
The website for the Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg is aptly named www.historyisfun.org
Anything that can help make learning fun for our children is not to be missed. If you have not made the two-hour trek down to Jamestown recently, I suggest you do. This is also a wonderful SOL tutorial experience for those third through fifth grade standardized tests.
There is something magical about walking back to the pier where the three replica sailing ships are docked and stepping back 400 years into history.
Sitting in the sailors' bunks or swabbing the decks brings the past, quite literally, to life. Feeling the weight of the kid-sized armor in the colonists' fort or touching the tools used in the Powhatan Village are 3D experiences that simply cannot be replicated in a book or movie.
If you decide to stretch this day trip into a weekend or more, check out the Yorktown Victory Center and Colonial Williamsburg.
Busch Gardens and Water Country U.S.A, as well as, the Great Wolf Lodge are nearby, too. Check out the outdoor park article on page (insert page number here).
If sleeping with creepy crawlies in the great outdoors just does not appeal to you, here is a recent discovery that might. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History hosts sleepovers in the spring and summer that are inside. And while there are creepy crawlies like fuzzy tarantulas there, we are sure they are behind glass!
This is one sleepover that you can do with your family rather than a special group like Scouts. There has to be one adult per three children (ages 8-12).
The evening activities include a twilight tour of the museum exhibits by Indiana Jane, a treasure hunt and crafts, a late-night snack, and an IMAX film. A light breakfast is served the next morning.
There were six sleepovers listed through the end of August and they fill up fast even at $125 a pop and parking is not an issue. Simply drive into a specified lot behind the museum and get a special pass for the night – included in the ticket price.
Bring your sleeping bag (or a small air mattress to pad the marble floor) and get to sleep in the Sant Ocean Hall with Phoenix the Whale.
While this is more of a night trip rather than a day trip - what a summer memory it would make.
Be sure to "Friend" Fredericksburg Parent and Family on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter to share the details of your "Day Tripping" experiences all summer long. You may inspire someone else to venture to a new location or learn about another great day trip via our very active social media links.
By: Lisa Ferreira, mother of two boys and an active Fred Parent MomStops Mom!