We visited Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, and we will definitely go back! Admission is free, parking is free, and it's open year-round. We picked a nice weather today to visit, and it was a wonderful day of walking, enjoying nature, and spending time together as a family. The paths are mostly flat, so it's a very pleasant walk for all ages.
Brookside Gardens is open year-round, but depending on which season you'll visit, you'll see an abundant Rose Garden, smell a lovely Fragrance Garden, or see baby ducks and geese in the pond. My kids loved the paths and spending time in the Japanese Garden watching birds and turtles near the water. They spent a lot of time running through a stone labyrinth near the pond, and they especially liked all the fountains on the grounds.
In a separate area of the Gardens, you'll find the Wings of Fancy Butterfly Exhibit . It's open late May through late September and is $6 for adults, $4 for ages 3-12. It was definitely worth the small cost. There were butterflies everywhere, and my kids loved the tickle of having them land on their hands and arms. With over 20 species of butterflies from North America, Central America, and Asia, we saw so many species we had never seen before (in all colors, shapes and sizes!). It was amazing even to my husband and me. The greenhouse is filled with colorful flowers and plants and is just a magical experience.
Right next door to the Gardens is the Brookside Nature Center, a county recreation area with hiking trails and home to the FREE Maple Sugar Festival each February. We did it this past year and loved it–mark your calendar for 2014!
Read about other Day Trips from DC.