According to this study, a quick trip out of town could make you (and your kiddos) happier. And who couldn’t use a good dose of happy these days? Whether you’re looking to go on a schoolcation or just longing for a change of scenery, these quick, family-friendly road trips will quell your wanderlust while boosting your family’s good vibes. Bonus: they are all within a day’s drive of DC. All you need is a tank of gas!
Washingtonians have the largest living history museum right in their back yard and it’s a three-hour drive from the city. Colonial Williamsburg features 301 acres of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings designed to take you back to 18th century life and the American Revolution. Spend a day walking the streets and interacting with interpretive characters from 18th century Virginia life.
COVID-19 Update: Masks are required in all buildings. Colonial Williamsburg now offers touchless tickets for those seeking a contact-free experience.
101 Visitor Center Dr.
The crowds have dispersed, the tourists are gone which is why fall is our favorite time to visit the charming town of Cape May in NJ. Getting to this beach is half the fun; in under 4 hours you can reach the southern-most tip of the Jersey cape by making use of the vehicle-friendly (and kid favorite) Cape May Ferry Service. Year round, this sandy shore boasts some of the best sunsets on the eastern seaboard. Littles and big kids alike will geek out over the concrete ship, SS Atlantus, wrecked just off the coast. Cape May is famous for quartz pebbles known as "Cape May Diamonds" that often wash ashore. The best place to score a handful? You got it! Sunset Beach.
Cape May, NJ
Discovered by a small party of men in 1878, among them a thirteen year old boy, this famous series of caverns is still believed to be the biggest in the East. The fascinating rock formations with names like Dream Lake and Double Column make for an incredible backdrop to an hour long tour along a 1.25 mile stroller-friendly path.
Insider tip: Follow up your trip with The Street Beneath My Feet (Look Closer) by Charlotte Guillain, a beautifully illustrated look at the world under our feet.
COVID-19 Update: Masks must be worn in the caverns.
101 Cave Hill Rd.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center
Get ready for the mind-blowing thrills of skiing and tubing without having to deal with the contentious whimsy of a weather forecast. Snowflex is synthetic snow that offers multiple layers of cushioning to protect you from falls. Kids as young as two years old can enjoy the beginner slopes, as well as the nursery Neveplast tubing run (waterless tubing), which features an 80-foot run with speeds near 10 mph. Older kids can take advantage of the bigger, faster runs.
4000 Candlers Mountain Rd.
The best part about Chestertown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay is the tourist-free feel it has all year round. Chestertown is just a place out of yesteryear to enjoy a stroll with the family along a riverfront walk or indulge in a fresh, but simple farm to table dinner.
122 N. Cross Street
For those who prefer urban amenities, but in a setting that exudes charm, then Maryland’s Capitol City of Annapolis is a winning mini-vacation spot. Annapolis is a quaint bayside town with picturesque, sailboat-studded water views. Luckily, you don’t have to own your own boat to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay. You can join any number of popular boating experiences from guided tours to sunset sailing. In addition to a boating adventure, the perfect weekend getaway to Annapolis would include some time walking down Main Street where you’ll find a great selection of shops selling souvenirs, antiques, art, and nautical-themed gifts.
Insider tip: Bring a pair of binoculars and play Eye Spy with the sailboats!
26 West St.
It’s nothing short of divine. Some call it the best mountain drive in the United States and it’s right here in your back yard. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. Words like gorgeous, breathtaking, and magical all fall short of what you’ll see and how you’ll feel after a day cruising the ups and downs, and twists and turns of this stunning landscape. On a clear day you can travel the length of the park in three hours, but allow plenty of time to stop and take it all in. You’ll all love it. We promise. Need to stretch legs? Get out of the car to take advantage of miles of hiking trails.
Dickey Ridge Visitors Center
Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
One of several Civil War history hot spots in the region, Harper's Ferry National Park has the most to see and do, not to mention its location along the famed Appalachian Trail. While standing on the fields of Antietam or Gettysburg offers great perspective on the bloodshed of the Great Rebellion, this town instead tells the story of what it was like to live during that time.
COVID-19 Update: The Visitors Center is currently closed and shuttle service within the park is currently suspended.
171 Shoreline Dr.
Harpers Ferry, WV
Virginia Safari Park
For an unforgettable day trip, try Virginia’s only drive-thru zoo, where you can see wild animals from the safety of your own car while they roam freely in a natural environment. This 180-acre park is home to more than 1000 exotic animals from six different continents. Just make sure you’re not in a hurry, because many of the animals are known to chillax in the middle of the road for as long as they feel like it. All you can do is watch and wait.
Insider tip: Be sure to reserve your tickets online if you plan to visit on a weekend.
229 Safari Ln.
Natural Bridge, VA
Massanutten Water Park
Prepare the kids for mind-blowing fun, because that’s what you get at the Massanutten Water Park, just a couple hours west of DC. Here you’ll find a multitude of ways to get wet: waterfalls, sprayers, dumping buckets…you name it. Float down the lazy river, conquer one of eight giant waterslides, surf the waves, and soak in the hot tub. There’s something for everyone, from your littlest guppy to your most fearless shark.
COVID-19 Update: The waterpark is re-opening Oct. 16. Be sure to purchase tickets prior to arrival. For the most current updates, check in with the water park's Facebook page.
1200 Adventure Dr.
Science Museum of Virginia
The Science Museum of Virginia is where science, fun and hands-on learning team up for a day of mind-bending bliss. The lobby features an enormous example of Focoult’s Pendulum where you can witness the earth’s rotation in action as the pendulum knocks over a giant metal peg every 15 minutes. And that’s just the lobby. Throughout the museum you’ll find hands-on-fun with a variety of interactive exhibits. You can stack blocks to form a gravity-defying cantilever; marvel at the mechanics of labor-saving devices such as pulleys and gears; perform experiments of perception through lenses, lights, mirrors and prisms; understand the power of air pressure by launching a rocket; and study an actual moon rock recovered from Apollo 17. It’s a great educational and unforgettable day trip.
COVID-19 Update: Tickets must be purchased in advance.
2500 West Broad St.
Rocks State Park
Kilgore Falls served as backdrop to the film Tuck Everlasting, and is a cool treat at the conclusion of a reasonably easy hike at this State Park in Harford County Maryland. Other highlights include formations of the kind found in the name of the park itself, including King and Queen Seat believed to be a ceremonial site for Native Americans. Also bring your little rock scramblers to the Park's Natural Playspace, one of a handful of designated areas across the State where you'll find miniaturized versions of the local landscape.
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road
Gettysburg Battlefield Tours
Join one of the group stereo bus tours of this historic battlefield and get an unforgettable recreation of the famed battle by Hollywood actors. Spend some time strolling the scenic cobblestoned streets and perusing civil war artifacts on display in various shops. If you and the little ones are feeling brave, you can indulge in a nighttime ghost walking tour that leads you to a year-round haunted house.
778 Baltimore St.
Anne Marie Sculpture Garden
The beautiful grounds of the Anne Marie Sculpture garden alone are worth the trip to this enclave where you will find paved paths through the woods with artistic surprises, and a variety of special events all year long making for some of the most unique family outings anywhere. Tease out your little modern-day Picasso with a visit to ARTlab where artists of all ages repurpose a variety of materials to make new works of art.
COVID-19 Update: Masks must be worn in the Art Building.
13470 Dowell Rd.
—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Jamy Bond, Carolyn Ross and Ayren Jackson-Cannady
featured photo: iStock