Beartown State Park, near Hillsboro, W. Va., (304) 653-4254, website, free. Ogle the huge rock formations and map-like network of crevasses in this essentially untouched 107-acre park, atop the eastern peak of the lethargically lovely Droop Mountain. Feel free to bring along a pic-a-nic basket.
Berkeley Springs State Park, 2 S. Washington St., Berkeley Springs, W. Va., (304) 258-2711, website. Native Americans discovered these warm mineral springs—the water stays at a constant 74.3 degrees Fahrenheit-and even George Washington liked to take a dip here. Relax in the Roman Baths or purify in the Heat Cabinet, then get greased up with a massage. Check out website for reasonably priced room-and-spa packages.
Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis, W. Va., (304) 259-5216, website. The water isn’t so much “black” as it is “burnt sienna,” tinted by tannic acid from fallen pine needles. Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and boating, plus a petting zoo. Overnighters can choose between comfy rooms at the lodge, snug cabins, and not-really-roughing-it camp sites (with hot showers and laundry stations).
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, Del., (302) 653-6872, website, $2-$4. Salt marsh and grassy meadows make up most of this gigantic wildlife refuge and breeding grounds. Walk along one of the five nature trails and spot the pied-billed grebe or a great-crested flycatcher. Ever seen nearly 16,000 acres of waterfowl making love? Then you have never really lived.
Cabin John Regional Park, 7400 Tuckerman Lane, Rockville, (301) 299-4555, website. A cranky old hermit named John once lived in a tumbledown cabin in this park, playing tennis or softball, picnicking, ice skating in the indoor rink, even chugging around on the park’s miniature train ($1.50 a ride). So what if we just made up that story. Make like Cabin John and enjoy all 528 acres of nature.
Calvert Cliffs State Park, Route 765, Lusby, (301) 743-7613, website, $5 per car. Bet you haven’t been fossil-hunting in a while. Take a stroll along the shore—shark’s teeth are fairly common finds. You’re allowed to take your spoils home, too.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park, Brunswick, (301) 739-4200, website, $3-$5 for 3 days. Satisfy your inner prospector with a visit to the old gold mines, go rock climbing near Great Falls, see bald eagles flying overhead, and meet the park’s mules, just like the ones used during the canal’s construction 200 years ago.
Crooked Creek Horse Park and Trail, R.D. 6, Box 279 G, Friendship Plaza, Kittanning, Pa., (724) 845-4502, website, fees are based on usage. Bring your best equine friend for over 35 miles of trails, “fun shows,” camping (with stalls), even a rodeo. No rentals, though—strictly BYOH.
Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, Routes 273 and 213, Elkton, (410) 398-1246, website. Fish for trout from the covered bridge, built in 1860, or hike/bike/ride a horse around the extensive trails. The stables offer carriage rides and programs for the kids. On May 27, put your money on the prettiest pony and let it ride at the annual steeplechase.
Greenbrier State Forest, near White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., (304) 536-1944, website. Think of it as camping lite. The cabins have coffee-makers and microwaves, antiquing in nearby Lewisburg is a popular activity, and there’s a pool—heated, no less. For the more rugged, there’s an archery range, fishing, and a 3,280-foot mountain.
Gwynns Falls Trail, Leakin Park, (410) 396-0440, website. This wooded trail running through the city connects 30 neighborhoods, sorta like a bucolic I-83. Gambol along 14 miles of finished trails, but stop off to visit some history along the way: the Carrolton Railroad Viaduct, the Crimea Mansion, the B&O Railroad Museum, and more.
Martinak State Park, 137 Deep Shore Road, Denton, (410) 820-1668, website. Summer brings lots of kiddie activities to the park, including a youth fishing competition and fun, weekly educational programs for ages 4 to 12.
Marshy Point Nature Center, 7130 Marshy Point Road, (410) 887-2817, website. Marshy, marshy, marshy! Take canoe lessons on the Dundee and Saltpeter Creeks and learn about the native fauna that populate the park.
Mountain Club of Maryland, 7923 Galloping Circle, (410) 377-6266, website. Seriously. It’s gorgeous outside. Get off the effing couch and go for a hike. MCM organizes the trips—all you have to do is get your ass out the door. Easy enough, right?
Oregon Ridge Nature Center and Park, 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley, (410) 887-1815, website. Once a mining site, now a pretty green park, with frequent concerts, oodles of trails, and fun programs—definitely try one of the moonlight hikes.
Patapsco Valley State Park, 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, (410) 461-5005, website, $2. The very best way to enjoy nature is while lying down. Pack lunch in Ziploc bags and take an unhurried two-hour tube ride down the Patap-si-co, past mill ruins and under old bridges-watch for great blue herons along the way—then pull up a picnic table at the take-out. Or if you’d rather be upright and, you know, active, explore the 14,000 acres and other 29 miles of the river, on foot, horseback, or bike.
Pemberton Historical Park, Pemberton Drive, Salisbury, (410) 548-4900, website. Fresh and tidal wetlands, forests, meadows, and ponds form a microcosm of the Eastern Shore, all on one property. Hike around the trails and send the little’uns off to learn about snakes and flowers and foxes.
Purse State Park, 2750 Sweden Point Road, Marbury, (301) 743-7613, website. Hook some fishies and pocket some fossils. Just bring a map and a compass, cuz these woods are for reals, and the trails aren’t marked.
Quiet Waters Park, 600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis, (410) 222-1777, website, $5. Bring the pup for a splash at the Dog Beach, a stretch of water just for canines, or amuse the kids at the huge playground at this well-groomed park. Or leave the animals at home and spend a lazy afternoon picnicking on a grassy lawn, followed up with a visit to the small art gallery.
Robert E. Lee Park, entrances off of Lake and Bellona avenues, (410) 396-0808. Resist the urge to stop and grab a pizza sub from Pepe’s—once you’re jogging along the miles and miles of trails, through 450 acres and around Lake Roland, over footbridges and into tunnels, you’ll forget it’s exercise.
Rocks State Park, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 557-7994, website. Start up high, at the knee- quaking King and Queen Seat, an old Susquehannock ceremonial site 190 feet above ground. Then clamber down the trail and go tubing along Deer Creek. Fun fact: Falling Branch, recently acquired by the park, is the state’s second highest waterfall.
Rocky Gap State Park, 12500 Pleasant Valley Road, Flintstone, (301) 722-1480, website. Not just fishin’, huntin’, boatin’, and campin’—there’s also a full-on resort, with golf, rock climbing, canoeing, and a spa.
Sassafras River Natural Resource Management Area, 12 miles north of Chestertown on Turner’s Creek Road, (410) 820-1668, website. A thousand acres of woods, farmland, beaches, and marsh, chock-full of adorable wild animals, including the noble bald eagle. You do love your country, don’t you?
Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Mill Road, Gaithersburg, (301) 924-2127, website. Spend a lazy day on a boat or paddle around 14 miles of the creek, then transition back to civilization with a round of golf at the park’s 32-acre course.
Susquehanna State Park, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 557-7994, website. When the city inevitably gets too hot and the air quality dips to new lows, spend a weekend here, straight up I-95-swimming, boating, canoeing, hiking, and visiting mill ruins and the Archer mansion. Your lungs (and air conditioning bill) will thank you.
812 Park Ave.
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