Exploring national parks with kids catoctin mountain park

There is something magical about the forest. Well, that is what I think anyways. In between the trees away from the hustle and bustle of the daily stresses. The woods can make any problem seem smaller, or at least I feel small under the canopy of tree branches, the sunlight peeking through, a running creek and the chirping of the birds, it is beyond peaceful and serene. I didn’t grow up in a family that appreciated the simplicity of nature, and it is something I consciously try to teach both my kids to take in and appreciate. To be honest some of the nicest, kindest, and most caring people I have met have been on a trail or bike ride.

One of our biggest retreats and ways we regroup is with a walk in the woods. Sometimes just taking a step back and calming ourselves with the quietness under the canopy can make all the difference. Logan finds solitude in tossing some rocks in the creek and Olivia loves to run among the fairies in the forest. We are fortunate to have an amazing National Park in our backyard and often frequent it.

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Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park is an hour and a half from Washington D.C. and with over 25 miles of trails, camping, fishing, and even Camp David, the presidential retreat all located together. Just don’t think you are going to check out Camp David while visiting, its not open to the public and security is tight. This small national park is worth a visit if checking out Washington D.C or Maryland Area. Catoctin Mountain is also located 30 minutes from Gettysburg, PA. If you are looking for a neat area to get out and stretch your legs on a road trip.

The best park about Catoctin Moutain Park…

Drumroll, Please …….

It’s free ..

Who doesn’t love free entertainment? It is free entrance to explore and experience nature first hand. It has several trails to hike, places to camp, a lake to swim in, access to the falls, horse trails, rock climbing, and cross-country skiing in the winter. There are plenty of things to do and they have some great children’s program.

Park Visitor Center

Little boy in front of trail toucscreen

Before you hit the trails be sure to stop and check out the Park Visitor Center. Catoctin Mountain Park is staffed with Park Rangers who can point you in the best direction as to which trail would be best for your ability. There are trail maps available and a hands-on touchscreen to explore the trails before you experience them in person. There are clean bathrooms and an auditorium that is often used for educational presentations.

The visitor center has several souvenirs available for purchase and a small selection of drinks and snacks. The Park Rangers are extremely helpful and friendly. There is also a water refilling station as well which is a great added bonus.

Visitor Center for Kids

kids looking at Wildlife Display

When entering the Visitor Center you will find many great finds for kids. There is a small exhibit that features some history and displays of the local wildlife of the area. My kids were face planted against that glass looking at the coyote, deer, and fox.

Child exploring Discovery Room

In addition, they have a Discovery Room for kids of all ages. This is a great place to sit with the kids and talk about things they can look for on the trails and in the woods. It is a hands-on learning room with plenty of things to touch and interact with.  Learning stations include animal felts, animal tracks, leaf tracings, skeletons, rocks, and looking under the magnifying glass. Logan loved measuring himself against different sizes of bird’s wingspans. and Olivia loved the truck of different wildlife stuffed animals and puppets. The kids had a blast checking out this room.

Little boy in discovery room at national park

National State Parks Passport Stamps

While in the Visitor Center I saw many visitors getting their passport books stamped. Visitors can collect stamps from Visitor Centers or Park Rangers at National Parks they visit. These stamps mimic those of a national travelers’ passport who collects stamps in and out of each country. Stamps include the park name, date, and location. There are several National Park books available to collect stamps in. Passport books, family books, and even children’s books help get the whole family involved.

Camping

Interested in sleeping overnight at Catoctin Mountain? There are several options available such as Misty Mount which has several small size family cabins and Camp Round Meadow for larger groups and conferences. Looking for a more rustic feel grab your tent and head on over to Owens Creek Campground or bring a small trailer but just know there is no hook ups. Owens Creek is near a brook and nice camp base for many tails. Want to get to the bare minimums of camping then pick one of the Adirondack Shelters, a three-sided shelter as your place to be. Be sure to bring your sleeping bag and gear to cook out over the fire.  Who doesn’t love a good smore?

Trails

Children Sitting on Rock
The park has miles of hiking trails all broken down by ability, some are easy, most are moderate and some strenuous. There are several trails that lead to great views and beautiful vistas. All trails are well marked and taken care of. There are several historical areas within the park and exhibits worth the read. The park seems to be busier on the weekend and weekday visit are less crowded.

Kid Friendly Trails

Mom and Children on Hike

There is plenty of kid-friendly trails to take the kids on. Our favorites include Blue Blazing Whiskey Still Exhibit and Charcoal Exhibit. Blue Blazing Trail is a walkable trail along the brook, featuring educational signs regarding a healthy brook. Blue Blazing Trail is smooth in terrain, the kids enjoy walking across the bridge and enjoy the whiskey still exhibits. This happens to be Logan’s favorite trail, he enjoys looking over the small bridge at the flowing brook. I enjoy it because of the story that goes along with the trail about a gun battle with the whiskey runners in the 1920’s which resulted in the death of a local policeman.

Another favorite trail of mine which is perfect for little hikers is the Charcoal Trail. Charcoal Trail is an interpretive trail that has exhibits along the way such as logging sled and collier’s hut. Which Olivia swears is the coolest teepee around. A great place to start with younger hikers, my kids have been doing this trail since the have been able to walk. Be sure to check out my scavenger hunt for kids freebie.

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Junior Park Ranger

We recently learned about the Junior Park Ranger Program and what a hit it was. Several National Parks have implemented this program to provide education to children to learn about parks, protect them, and share their experiences and stories. Children complete a book of learning activities about the park they are visiting, once completed they share their book with the park ranger and get sworn in as an official Junior Park Ranger complete with badge and certificate. The National Park Service even has bungee ranger gats and vest where your child can display their earned badges with pride. There is even really cute Park Ranger outfits that are really cute and great for pretend play. This is a great way to get your kids involved and learning about The National Parks.

Little girl with junior park ranger badge

If your child can’t make it to a National Park there are plenty of online books that your child can complete and mail off to get their badge.

4th Grade Pass

The National Park Service has a 4th-grade program which includes any homeschooling program for 10-year olds. This program is called Every Kid in a Park. This program gives 4th graders a free annual pass along with their family. This program encourages families to get out and explore parks together. Whether you want to take a trip or visit somewhere local this is a great pass to bring the family together while creating memories and saving money.

Accessibility

Spicebush Trail is a trail that is handicap accessible made from a special carpet material that is strong and stable. The trail is located near handicap accessible parking, picnic tables, and restrooms. There are also several wooden ramps throughout the park that provides handicap access directly to exhibits. In addition, Catoctin Mountain Park teamed up with Enchroma to lend out color correction eyeglasses. The glasses allow a color blind individual to see colors in red or green. Glasses will be loaned to visitors to use for the day during visitor center hour. Giving others the ability to see the park in a whole new way.

Cunningham Falls

Cunningham falls is adjacent from Catoctin Mountain Park and can be accessed by hiking the Cunningham Falls Trail. The trail is moderate and has some rocky and step areas. My 4 and 3-year-old had no problem reaching the falls but were tired during the walk back. You do have to cross Route 77 to see the falls. The falls are gorgeous to look at and there is signage everywhere stating not to swim in the falls. The park does have a lake that is accessible for swimming. There is handicap parking at the falls and a handicap pathway that takes you right to the fall, which you can see in the above video. My mom recently enjoyed her first trip to the falls, something she never imagined seeing before, so I have a huge appreciation for this access.

Take a Hike

Family in front of waterfall after hike

Catoctin Mountain is a great National Park to check out and hit the trails with the kids. Catoctin Mountain offers lots of education and hands-on learning opportunities for children and families. Hitting the trails together provides a great opportunity for families to disconnect from the world and reconnect with each other. So grab the kids and take a hike.

What have been some of your favorite National Parks to visit? Comment below and share your favorite hiking adventures.




Happy trails friends.