A Few of the Best Family Activities in Northern VA

Great Falls NP: The first time we visited Great Falls, it was gratifying to hear our children catch their breath at the first view of the falls, when they had initially been less than excited about visiting. They really are majestic, and all the outcropping of rocks make it look and sound quite dramatic and different. Some people do go white water rafting there, and it looks frankly terrifying. While the viewing area for the falls can be crowded, there are also a number of beautiful trails which are less crowded.

Not far from Great Falls is a lesser known but lovely park called Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, where you can take a fun and family-friendly hike out to another beautiful, albeit smaller, waterfall. The hike is fairly short and easy and cylindrical stands create whimsical bridges across the river in a couple of places. Crowds are typically lower during the week though weekends in the summer it can get crowded and parking can be an issue. There is no cost to enter the park.

There is a lot to see at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, between the Museum, the home, the farm (where you can find lambs in the springtime), the many outbuildings (the smokehouse, bathroom, stable, storage houses, etc.), and the somber place where our first president is buried. Looking at the view from the back porch, overlooking the Potomac River, one can certainly understand why he chose to live there – a gorgeous view and that pleasant, mild Virginia weather. The house itself contains many artifacts of what life was like, as well as the style, and even the character of George Washington. Older children will especially enjoy this attraction.

Meadowlark Botanical Garden: This lesser known attraction is a beautiful place of wide sloping hills, a meandering stream, and a wide variety of neatly labeled plant and tress, as well as quite a lot of turtles and fish to be seen from a little bridge and gazebo. A trail through the woods is especially quiet (just the way we like it) except for the crunching of your feet on the leafy path. It is especially picturesque in the spring when the cherry trees are blooming.

The city of Richmond is always a fun place to visit (and happens to be the home of my alma mater). One of our favorite places there is Maymont, which once belong to a wealthy couple who left their home to the city. You can visit their mansion for a glimpse of what life was like for the very rich during the Gilded Age. The 100 acre property is a lovely place for a walk, and includes Japaense gardens, a carriage collection, a petting zoo, a nature center and an arboretum.

Carytown in Richmond is also worth a visit, and is a unique and interesting place to shop where you’ll find quirky, one-of-a-kind boutiques and cafes, and few chain stores of any kind. It’s also known for its historic movie house, the Byrd theater, where you can see a movie for $4.

Finally, Hollywood Cemetery is a place for history lovers as well as nature lovers. It was established in 1847, and several presidents are buried there. It also happens to be a beautiful place to wander, with manicured gardens, park space and an arboretum. Guided tours are also available.

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