It’s happened again: You’re sprinting (er, actually crawling) down the Beltway to get the little one down for a proper nap. But just as you’re about to exit off, you look back and see the telltale signs—head lolling to the side, mouth agape, arms drooping. The baby’s asleep. Transfer her to the crib? Yeah, right. So what to do with the next hour or two? Check out our ideas for ways to give yourself a much-needed break during car-based naps.

kids-sleep-in-car

Hit the Road

Do your baby’s eyes pop open the second the motor dies? Why not make it a joyride? Check out these scenic drives to recharge your internal motor.

George Washington Parkway Tooling along the George Washington Parkway is a beautiful way to pass the time. Head south of Arlington to see the planes swooping overheard at Gravelly Point (bathrooms here) and the charm of Old Town Alexandria, or drive north from town to soak in the beauty of the Potomac River. There are plenty of spots to pause in both directions. Washington Sailing Marina, Great Falls Park and Fort Hunt Park all offer snacks and bathrooms.

River Road in Maryland Hop on River Road just north of the Beltway (exit 39) and the city quickly drops away. The route passes a plant nursery, the village of Potomac (get gas, snacks and use the bathroom here if needed), and, should your little one wake up, many places to park and hike. Views include horses, water, trees and rolling pastures.

rock-creek-parkway-dc

Rock Creek Parkway/Beach Drive It’s a familiar spot for a jog, but the road running from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to just north of the Beltway is also a sweet sanctuary for drivers. Good spots for pausing—or stopping in the event of a wake-up—include Meadowbrook Stables off East-West Highway, the nature center by Military Road or one of many parking areas. The parking area just north (picnic area 6) of Military has bathrooms, as does the nature center.

Park It

Sometimes two hours in which there’s not even the possibility of doing dishes is just what a busy parent needs. Try these parking spots for a chance to relax, crack open a book (or just the iPhone!) and while away the time.

U.S. National Arboretum Tucked off of otherwise-unpleasant New York Avenue NE is this true city oasis, with a constantly blooming collection of trees, flowers and shrubs. Small parking lots are scattered throughout the 412-acre space, with bathrooms in the Administration Building and Arbor House. If junior awakes, check out one of the ponds to look for frogs or run around the National Capital Columns.

washington-sailing-marina

Sligo Creek Parkway A minor version of Rock Creek, this wooded roadway winds along a small Takoma Park-to-Wheaton waterway, with myriad places to park and enjoy the peace and quiet. Should exiting the vehicle be possible, there are bathrooms just north of the intersection with Dennis Avenue, and between New Hampshire and Carroll avenues. And playgrounds are plentiful in case the nap runs its course.

George Washington Parkway Overlooks On the Fourth of July, cars clog this waterside roadway for a glimpse of the national fireworks. Take a cue from the hordes and stop when it’s not a national holiday. Parking lots throughout offer options, with particularly good views found at Theodore Roosevelt Island (look across at Georgetown), Washington Sailing Marina (check out the boats) and the first scenic overlook north of the Key Bridge (view the river from above).

Where is your secret driving/parking spot with kids? Dish in the comments section below. 

—Beth Cope

Photos courtesy of Emran Kasim via Creative Commons, Tim Evanson via Creative Common, DON C. via Yelp