There’s no reason to sit at home bored this summer with the exciting and unique day trip possibilities within an easy drive of Washington, DC. In an hour’s time, you can be hunting shark’s tooth fossils on the beach at Calvert Cliffs or cruising with pirates off the coast of Annapolis. In an hour and a half, you can be inside the largest caverns in the Eastern United States listening to the great stalacpipe organ, a rock formation that channels reverberations from the cave’s stalactites into musical sound. In a little more than two hours, you can be out of Washington, DC and on board a steam train bound for Frostburg through the Alleghenies and America’s first Gateway to the West.
Set your time machine for time travel back to the Miocene:
Fossil Hunting at Calvert Cliffs
Marbury, Maryland is not the kind of town one would ordinarily embrace for a summer getaway from Washington, DC. With a nuclear power plant and a natural gas plant in adjacent Lusby the area’s main resources and a population of only 1,018 people, what draws visitors here? Fossils. Fifteen million years ago, southern Maryland was a shallow, warm sea. In the Miocene era, the land rose above the water and formed cliffs rich with maritime fossils. On the 14 mile stretch of public beach at Calvert Cliffs today, fossil hunting is a popular activity. More than 600 different types fossils are found here. Sharks teeth are abundant, and visitors to the Calvert Cliff State Park beach and hiking paths are allowed to keep their finds. Because of erosion, visitors are not permitted to climb the cliffs.
The beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park is not a swimming beach but a narrow strip of land between the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. Plan to arrive for your day trip at low tide, or the beach will be submerged. Avoid the dangers of falling rock by not walking under the cliffs.
Before preparing to travel forward in time to present day Washington, DC, stop at the recycled tire playground or the fishing lake in Calvert Cliffs State Park.
Calvert Cliffs State Park
c/o Smallwood State Park
2750 Sweden Point Road
Marbury, MD 20658
These websites have information about the park and the fossils that are found there: http://www.mgs.md.gov/esic/brochures/ccliffs.html,
And now, set your time machine to travel to the 18th century when pirates pillaged on the high seas:
Pirate Ship Cruise in Annapolis
If your family is hot on the pirate theme after seeing Pirates of the Caribbean III, what better sumer day trip from Washington, DC could you find them than a pirate cruise? Baltimore Tours offers a pirate cruise from Annapolis Harbor, complete with a treasure chest and musical entertainment on period instruments. Captain Billy and his trusty Pirate Crab tell pirate stories and entertain the ship’s captive audience. The one hour cruise along the Severn River departs Fridays through Sundays and holidays at 10:45 am in the summer beginning June 23; only Saturday, Sunday and holiday cruises are available prior to June 23. Online reservations are necessary. The cost is $15.95 for adults, $10.95 for children 3-11, and children 2 and under free.
The next time travel stop is the golden age of railroading. Head northwest from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland:
Scenic Western Maryland Railroad
Whether you have kids young enough to know the names of all of Thomas the Tank Engine’s friends or elderly parents itching to get out and see the countryside, the Scenic Western Maryland Railroad excursion is the perfect 32 mile round trip summer day trip from Washington, DC. Operating steam and diesel trains, the railroad winds through beautiful and historic Allegheny mountains. The 1916 Baldwin 2-8-0 Mountain Thunder steam train chugs from Cumberland to Frostburg, makes a one and one-half hour layover and then returns. During the layover in Frostburg, riders can watch the the engineers turn the engine on the turntable in preparation for the return trip to Cumberland. The trip is narrated to teach riders about the region and the historical significance of the railroad.
Want to take Dad back in time for a unique Father’s Day gift? On Father’s Day, fathers ride Mountain Thunder for free with a paying adult in coach. There are a variety of half price seniors days during the summer.
Coach seating is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $12 for childen 12 and under. Lap babies under 2 ride free. Reservations are strongly recommended and early arrival is essential as seating is not reserved. The train leaves the Cumberland station at 11:30 am and returns at 3 p.m. The steam train excursions operate Friday through Sunday during the summer months, while the diesel engine excursions are on Thursdays only during the summer months.
Scenic Western Maryland Railroad
13 Canal St.
For the final summer day trip from Washington, DC set your time machine to travel back in time 4,000,000 centuries:
The Great Stalacpipe Organ at Luray Caverns
Luray Caverns is a unique show cavern just 90 minutes from Washington, DC, an easy summer day trip away. Leave the summer heat behind in Washington, DC and enjoy the cool temperate air of the cave, always 54 degrees.
Luray Caverns is a National Landmark. Unique among caves, Luray Caverns has the only stalacpipe organ, a rock formation whose reverbrations are converted into music. There are daily tours of the Caverns from 9 am-6 pm and every tour includes the playing of live music from the stalacpipe organ. The guides explain the cave’s 4,000,000 century history and scientific underpinnings. Reflecting pools showcase the natural beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites. Luray Caverns is a work in progress, with its stalactites growing one cubic inch every 120 years.
The Cathedralesque chambers at Luray Caverns permit upright access, and the walking paths are paved, with handrails. There are steep inclines along the path and 70 steps at the entrance, so the caverns are not considered handicapped accessible. There is a chairlift for manual wheelchair users.
In 2006, visitors to Luray Cavern represented all fifty of the United States and 51 foreign countries.
Admission to Luray Caverns is $19 for adults, $16 for seniors ages 62 and up, and $9 for children 6-12.
Outside the caverns, a garden maze will confound you as you attempt to reenter your time machine for the trip back to present day Washington, DC. Admission to the garden maze is $6 for adults and $5 for children.
970 U.S. Hwy. 211 West
Post Office Box 748
Luray, VA 22835
For other Washington, DC summer escape ideas, click here.