Beartown State Park, Route 219, Hillsboro, W. Va., (304) 653-4254, www.beartownstatepark.com, free. Droop there it is! A natural park of 107 acres located on the eastern summit of Droop Mountain. The land was purchased in part from a donation made by Mrs. Edwin G. Polan, to honor her son whom she lost in the Vietnam War.
Berkeley Springs State Park, 2 S. Washington St., Berkeley Springs, W. Va., (304) 258-2711, www.berkeleyspringssp.com. In 1748, George Washington took a dip in these springs and he wrote in his diary, "We this day called to see Ye Fam'd Warm Springs." Looks like even the first president of the United States has to make a reservation. Well if it's good enough for G.W., maybe it's worth a shot. See if you can handle the maximum temperature, 102 degrees Fahrenheit, then reward yourself with a massage.
Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis, W. Va., (304) 259-5216, www.blackwaterfalls.com. These amber-colored falls get their tan from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles-if only it were that easy, huh ladies? And they fall like a rollercoaster, dropping off five stories then twisting and tumbling though an eight-mile gorge. Why not splurge for a cabin, no one roughs it anymore.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, 2591 Whitehall Neck Road, Smyrna, Del., (302) 653-6872, www.fws.gov/northeast/bombayhook/ $4 a car. This refuge has one of the largest unaltered tidal salt marsh in the Mid-Atlantic region. That means lots of plant and animal life. In the summer months the first whitetail deer fawns take their first steps, baby eagles leave the nest, and water lilies bloom. City Paper sizzlin' hot tip: These are swamps so bring your bug spray, folks.
Cabin John Regional Park, 7400 Tuckerman Lane, Rockville, (301) 299-4555, www.mcparkandplanning.org/trails/trails_maps/cabin_john.shtm. Hiking, biking, tennis, and baseball, oh my! How you will decide what to do once you get there, we don't know. You can even ice skate. And you thought this was a summer guide. Ha.
Calvert Cliffs State Park, Route 765, Lusby, (301) 743-7613, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/calvertcliffs.html, $5 per car. Yah sure, if you get a permit, you can hunt for turkey, deer, and rabbit. But why not take the peaceful route and grab some fossils instead? Over 600 species of fossils have been identified from these cliffs, and besides, turkey hunting is permitted only during the "spring gobbler season." Seriously, that's what the web site said.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park, Brunswick, (301) 739-4200, www.nps.gov/choh, $3-$5 for 3 days. What was once a lifeline for communities and businesses to transport coal, lumber, and grain is now all fun all the time. You are free to hike and bike around or take a trip back in time with a canal ride. But you know what people like best about this park? The mules! And they love the attention and each one has his own personality.
Crooked Creek Horse Park and Trail, R.D. 6, Box 279 G, Friendship Plaza, Kittanning, Pa., (724) 845-4502, www.crookedcreekhorsepark-faha.com, fees are based on usage. Quit horsin' around, it's time to pitch a tent, start a fire, roast marshmallows, and sleep out under the stars. Ghost stories optional.
Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, Routes 273 and 213, Elkton, (410) 398-1246, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/fairhill.html. Fair Hill is known for its pristine fields, woodlands, and natural beauty. You know what that sounds like to us? Strap on a helmet, slip into some spandex, and bike like hell.
Greenbrier State Forest, near White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., (304) 536-1944, www.greenbriersf.com. Pack up the family and tell them and it's time for a day with Mother Nature. Put together a picnic; bring sunscreen, beach towels, and maybe a Frisbee. When you get there, surprise `em with a chlorinated, heated, outdoor pool.
Gwynns Falls Trail, Leakin Park, (410) 396-0440, www.gwynnsfallstrail.org. Need to just get away for some one-on-one with nature, but don't have all day to drive? Gwynn Falls is a not-so-little treasure waiting for you to discover. We would have never guessed that one of the largest wilderness woodland parks in the Eastern United States is right here in the city. Nice.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, 1700 Hawk Mountain Road, (610) 756-6961, www.hawkmountain.org, $3-$7. Aka, nature's greatest air show. As of early May, 3,952 red-tailed hawks, 204 bald eagles, and 48 unidentified raptors have been seen flying over the sanctuary. There were 21,155 others, but we picked a couple with cool names. Grab your binoculars and get a piece of this action. Listen closely and you might hear the songbirds in the Kittatinny Ridge. (We just like saying Kittatinny . . . Kittatinny.)
Marshy Point Nature Center, 7130 Marshy Point Road, (410) 887-2817, www.baltimorecountyonline.info/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/marshypoint/index.html. Have you ever canoed? It is a very Zen-like means to make your way down a lazy river. If you don't believe us, take a class here, they'll tell yah. City Paper sizzlin' hot tip: This is one of the few parks that's open at night for a moonlit hike. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Martinak State Park, 137 Deep Shore Road, Denton, (410) 820-1668, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/martinak.html. George Martinak deeded this land of forests, fields, and marsh to the state in 1961 to be enjoyed by all. What a good guy. Now go make him happy and partake in recreation.
Mountain Club of Maryland, 7923 Galloping Circle, (410) 377-6266, www.mcomd.org. The MCM is a volunteer-run, Baltimore-based, not-for-profit organization. Their primary focus is to provide an opportunity to enjoy and learn about nature. They remind us of a principle that holds true for all parks in this guide and everywhere around the world, "Leave No Trace." Simply put, if you packed it in, pack it out. Umkay?
Oregon Ridge Nature Center and Park, 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley, (410) 887-1815, www.oregonridge.org. This place is so beautiful it's a close second to the real Oregon. (That's pronounced "ore-gen" not "ora-gone.") All year long, there is a lot going on at Oregon Ridge. Summertime brings music in the woods, playing in the stream, and plenty of informative courses so your brain doesn't get rusty with all that vacation time.
Patapsco Valley State Park, 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, (410) 461-5005, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/patapscovalley.html, $2. Whooo hooo!!! It's tubing time! Good times! Good freaking times! Seriously, you have got to do it! This summer. Don't wait any longer. It is so fun.
Pemberton Historical Park, Pemberton Drive, Salisbury, (410) 548-4900, www.dnr.state.md.us/baylinks/27.html. You are probably going to wish this historic Eastern Shore plantation house was where you lived. It is all brick, even the roof, and has white trim. You would enjoy the peace and quiet of 207 surrounding acres all to yourself and in your free time you could fish in your pond where tidal and fresh water wetlands meet. Home sweet home, until the park closes.
Purse State Park, 2750 Sweden Point Road, Marbury, (301) 743-7613, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/purse.html. Purse likes to celebrate the animals. This summer they invite you on themed hikes: owl prowl, butterfly hike, birding by bike, and animals and their tales. Sounds cute, fun, and educational all in one.
Quiet Waters Park, 600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis, (410) 222-1777, www.aacounty.org/RecParks/Parks/quiet_waters_park/index.cfm, $5. We think you will find this park very sophisticated, starting with the South River Promenade with a scenic overlook. Then stroll across the wooden bridge. Finish your day at quaint waters-oops, Quiet Waters-with some photographs in the gazebo. By definition, a gazebo is a spot that commands a pleasant view. We think you will be very glad you stopped by.
Robert E. Lee Park, entrances off of Lake and Bellona avenues, (410) 396-0808. All of the web sites that were listed for R.E.L.P. were for serious bike enthusiasts and dog owners who like to spoil their pet and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever.
Rock Creek Park, 5200 Glover Road NW, Washington, (202) 895-6070, www.nps.gov, free. The list of things to do at this park is endless, from roller blading to kayaking, tennis to horseback riding, bicycling to trail-blazing, and everything in between. This park is a gem in the busy hustle bustle that is the nation's capital. There is just one thing you don't want to do when you are visiting Rock Creek: Don't feed the coyotes.
Rocks State Park, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 557-7994, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/rocks.html. All hail the king and queen of Rocks. That's you, when you sit upon a natural rock outcrop. Hope you're not afraid of heights, it's about 190 feet above Deer Creek. Nice adrenaline rush, rock on!
Rocky Gap State Park, 12500 Pleasant Valley Road, Flintstone, (301) 722-1480, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/rockygap.html. Not as many rocks as Rocks State Park, but if you wanted to, you could throw a rock show here. Honestly, for just 250 bucks you can rent their amphitheater. The stage is 42 feet by 60 feet, smooth and rose colored and the theatre seats 3,000. Charge a dollar for your shindig and hot damn, you do the math.
Sassafras River Natural Resource Management Area, 12 miles north of Chestertown on Turner's Creek Road, (410) 820-1668, www.kentcounty.com. This area is a melting pot of terrains. In just 1,000 acres of land, you've got farmland, mature forests, marshlands, and sandy beaches. And you know what else? Sassafras has the cutest little critters.
Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Mill Road, Gaithersburg, (301) 924-2127, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/seneca.html. If you're feeling like a challenge hike this 6,300 acre park. Just kidding, a more reasonable trek would be 16.5 mile Seneca Creek Greenway Trail which follows the entire course of the river.
Susquehanna State Park, 3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road, Jarrettsville, (410) 557-7994, www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/central/susquehanna.html. Perhaps we saved the best for last. Susquehanna has everything those other parks have: hiking, fishing, biking, camping, and picnic areas. In addition to all that fun, there is the Steppingstone Museum, with rural arts and crafts from 1880-1920. And Susquehanna is home to the Rock Run Grist Mill that has been running since 1794.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201