Fresh Water Play in Northern VA

Somehow it’s July 12th and I haven’t written a post about anything we’ve done this summer yet. Whoopsie doops! My apologies.

My family recently spent a week at Carolina Beach, North Carolina for family vacation and the proximity to water only awakened in us some latent desire to be near water as much as possible. Given our landlocked position here in Northern Virginia, the beach isn’t a daily possibility but luckily, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for fresh water play nearby and for whatever reason, that is mostly what my kids and I have been most interesting in doing lately. I decided to compile a post about some of our favorite local stops to get back to the water.

Goose Creek/Kephart Bridge Landing
42942 Riverpoint Dr., Leesburg, VA

Goose Creek snakes lazily through many parts of Loudoun County and for all the times I’ve driven by it or over it, it only just this summer occurred to me that we could actually find a place to get down in it. Our favorite access point is Kepheart Bridge Landing in the Lansdowne neighborhood which has a nice parking lot and a walking path that leads right down to a small creek-beach. Kayakers and canoers frequently launch from that spot and on any given trip out to the creek you can watch them out in the water, sometimes navigating the (very small) rapids that lie just upstream from the landing.

Revealing how easy it is sometimes to entertain kids when you just let them entertain themselves, my kids’ favorite thing to do at the creek is throw rocks in the water. That’s it. For as long as I’ll let them, they just select rocks and throw them, then maybe remark to one another how big the splash was. It’s the essence of simple summertime fun.



The water in this section of Goose Creek is shallow and placid and perfect for wading and swimming if you’re interested in getting in the water. Just for reference, I am 5’1 and would say the water in the middle of the creek at its deepest is about hip height on me. Just wear water shoes!

As a fun bonus, there’s a bunny tree near Kephart Bridge Landing:


Watermelon Park, Berryville
3322 Lockes Mill Rd., Berryville, VA

A bit further west in Clarke County lies Watermelon Park, a former watermelon farm turned campground and tubing spot. It sits just along the bank of the Shenandoah River and is a perfect spot for packing a picnic lunch and spending a few hours playing and exploring. Admission to the grounds is $10 per adult but kids 6 and under are free. We picnicked, threw rocks in the water, played on the on-site playground, and enjoyed a summer afternoon in the Shenandoah.



River Farm, Alexandria
7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA

We spent a lovely morning at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and formerly George Washington’s northernmost of his five farms. It lies along the banks of the Potomac and the manor house on the grounds provide stunning views of the river:



Just up the road from River Farm is Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve which has trails that wind three-quarters of a mile through marsh and tidal wetland. We spent so much time at River Farm that we did not have time to do Dyke Marsh the same day so have saved it for another trip out to Alexandria.

Lake Anne, Reston, VA

We love Lake Anne, a planned community surrounding a lake in Reston. Walking paths around the lake provide different views and there’s several waterside restaurants and fountains and a used book shop. We love to come look around and find tadpoles in the canals:


A stop on the Van Gogh Bridge is always a must:




And finally, although it isn’t in Northern Virginia, it’s only a short distance away- Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Maryand. We went here one Sunday morning and hiked out to the waterfall and got IN the waterfall! This was very fun and confidence-building for my kids who had to trust their own sure-footedness on the slippery rocks. The novelty of standing in the pool of  waterfall was very fun for them and it was a trip we really enjoyed as a family. My oldest even crossed a fallen log across the water with my husband!



Venture forth! Commune with the water! Also if you’re playing PokemonGo I have a feeling these areas are probably full of really great Pokemon (LOL).



Franklin Park Pool

Where: 17501 Franklin Park Dr., Purcellville, VA
When: Open daily from 11 am- 8 pm. Tickets for children 2-16 are $4.50 and adults are $5 on weekdays. On Saturdays and Sundays this price goes up to $6 for adults and $5.50 for youth. The two and under crowd are just $1.50 on weekdays and $2.50 on the weekend.

The original title of this post was going to be “A.V. Symington Aquatic Center” but there’s a strange phenomenon that occurs at popular swimming places on a weekend afternoon in summer. It’s called “at capacity.” Symington Aquatic Center was experiencing this phenomenon when we arrived at 2:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon and rather than wait in a long line hoping people would suddenly decide to leave the pool en masse so there would be room for us to enter, we instead hopped back in the car and drove an extra 11 miles out to Purcellville to check out the pool at Franklin Park. (We are fully aware we could have driven just one mile from our house to the neighborhood pool, but that’s not the NOVAdventuring spirit.)

Unlike the long line that greeted us at Symington Aquatic Center, the check-in area at Franklin Park Pool was empty at 3 pm when we arrived. We paid our money (they do take credit cards as well as cash) and walked right in and were able to find four lounge chairs for our belongings right next to the pool. (Proof of Loudoun County residency is required upon admission (your drivers license will suffice); if you do not live in Loudoun County, you are still able to access the pool, you will just be charged rates that are 50% higher than the rates for Loudoun County residents.)

The pool itself is separated into two main areas: a large, shallow pool with zero entry and various small slides and water dumpers, and another pool, on a higher-up deck, that is made for older kids, with a lily pad and log crossing and a larger, enclosed water slide. I appreciated that the two areas were separate because it relieved the stress that can come with large children plowing through a shallow area littered with unsteady babies and toddlers and young children getting in the way of bigger kids who might not notice them.

Located throughout the pool are floating ride-on animals anchored to the pool floor. These were extremely popular and were constant hubs of activity I can only describe as the rigorous training young Spartans undergo to become soldiers.

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s pool slides shaped like animals. My kids are no exception. My 5 year old spent most of her time flitting around this frog shaped slide while my toddler commandeered the duck slide. She went down the duck slide, conservatively guessing, about 2,000 times. Each time she went down she popped back up and said DO MORE. So we did more. And more. I was beside the duck slide all day. I might still be there when you go to Franklin Park Pool. And if the theory of parallel universes is true, there is an alternate universe out there in the deepest stretches of space where I am, and always will be, standing beside the duck slide at Franklin Park Pool saying “Ok 1-2-3 GO, YAY, you did it! Okay we’ll do more.”

There is a concession stand at Franklin Park Pool that sells drinks, chips, candy, and slices of Papa John’s pizza for $2 a slice, which is incredibly convenient when you realize your toddler is grumpy because you jumped in the car as soon as she woke up from nap and you forgot to feed her lunch. Whoops. Think of me fondly when you’re voting for Mother of the Year, 2015.

In terms of water safety and pool rules: only Coast Guard approved flotation devices are allowed in the pool. This means Puddle Jumpers and lifejackets provided by the park are allowed, and arm floaties are not. Lifeguards roam around the pool and keep a sharp eye on all activity. My family was personally scolded or sharply whistled at three times! (“Ma’am, can you please make sure your baby goes down the slide on her back and not her stomach?”) Mandatory pool breaks are enforced every hour. No food or drink is allowed on the pool deck, but there is a large grassy area filled with picnic tables where you can eat. Swimsuits are required, which I feel goes without saying, but there was a sign posted in the locker room that stated this so maybe it’s not as obvious as one might think.

Make a day of it:

My previous post about everything to do in Purcellville pretty well covered what all is in the nearby area, so if you head out to the pool and want a few more activities to get you through the afternoon when you’re done, pack a change of clothes to change into and go forth and explore! Gruto’s Soft Serve would be a particularly nice end to a day at the pool.

Purcellville- Franklin Park + Gruto’s Soft Serve

Today’s planned excursion to Purcellville very nearly didn’t happen due to road work on Rt. 7 west of Leesburg. I’m not totally sure what is being done to the road exactly but if I had to guess based on the duration of time we sat perfectly still and the amount of construction equipment, I would say that Rt. 7 as it exists now is being removed from the ground and entirely replaced. Full demolition. However, I’m no expert, so you might want to just Google it. There was a point, after sitting dead still for over 20 minutes, that I considered taking the exit available to me and detouring into Leesburg, but by then, I had begun to take this as a personal challenge. VDOT had basically Double Dog Dared me to get out to Purcellville, and I was GETTING OUT TO PURCELLVILLE.

Spoiler: we eventually got out to Purcellville.

Let’s talk about Purcellville for a second. Despite the shockingly high number of wineries out that way, I have never been to Purcellville until last Saturday night when my husband and I had a dinner reservation at Magnolias at the Mill. (Fabulous. Please go. I ordered barracuda for dinner!! Partly because it was the seafood special and sounded good and partly so I could tell people I ordered barracuda for dinner.) In my head, Purcellville was along the lines of a town like Lucketts- one stoplight, couple antique shops, and that’s about it. Well, I was wrong. There’s a whole little world out in Purcellville. I told my husband I was coming back with the kids sometime this week to do a little more exploring, so that’s where we headed this morning.

Lunch packed up, boots tied tight, we cruised into Franklin Park ready for a picnic and some play. The brutal heat wave we’ve had recently must have crested and broken overnight because it was a lovely mid-80 degree day without a cloud in the sky- perfect playground weather. A summer day camp cleared out just after we arrived and my kids had the playground all to themselves for awhile.

Two great things about the Franklin Park playground: it’s gated and fenced (perfect for flight risks like my toddler and most likely yours), and it’s shady. Just look at it tucked away under that little grove of trees! There’s two separate play structures- one for the 2-5 set and one for the 5-9 set. A couple of swings, a bouncing horse and a boulder made for climbing (or as my 5 year old called it “a quite steep mountain”) complete the playground.

Franklin Park is a gigantic park (203 acres if you want specifics) and there’s a TON to do there- across from the playground area is a catch and release pond where visitors are welcome to fish (you will need a fishing permit if you are over 16). Around the corner is the Franklin Park pool which is open to the public and which I will be bringing my kids back to at some point before summer comes to an end. (The pool is open daily from 11 am- 8 pm and tickets are $1.50 for two and under, $4.50 for kids, and $5 for adults.) There’s also several miles of hiking trails, fields to play team sports, and a sand court for volleyball.

On the way out of town we stopped for ice cream at Gruto’s Soft Serve, located at 141 W. Main Street (just 1.5 miles away from Franklin Park), directly across the street from the public parking lot where parking is free for up to 2 hours. Score!

This was our first visit to Gruto’s, which the man at the counter asked us, and when we told him it was our first visit, he turned on a red flashing light above the counter and said WHOOOO FIRST TIME AT GRUTO’S, YEAHHHHH! I tipped him $2 on two small cones because that’s just good customer service.

Things to note about Gruto’s:

-It is a CASH ONLY establishment. There is an ATM available right next door at Market Burger but if you’re like me, you’ll feel a bit sheepish walking in and being greeted warmly just to use the ATM machine and walk back out, so bring cash with you for Gruto’s.

-There is minimal seating. A few lawn chairs inside the small shop, and four Adirondack chairs outside on the sidewalk, which does sit right next to a very busy main road. Again, if your toddlers are, well, toddlers, you’re going to want to be very careful if you choose to sit in this area with them.

-If you’re brave, Gruto’s offers something called the TRIPLE DECKER BELLY WRECKER. Much like barracuda up the street at Magnolias, this is the kind of thing you order just to say you did. I did see a chalkboard on the wall listing people who had successfully consumed a TRIPLE DECKER BELLY WRECKER by name, but this was a very small list (under 10 people) and Gruto’s has been open, according to another sign on the wall, for 69 months. So you do the math and choose accordingly.

Make a day of it: 

If you don’t wreck your belly at Gruto’s, right across the street is the Catoctin Creek Distillery, which is the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since Prohibition. Catoctin Creek has been distilling whiskey, gin and brandy here in Loudoun County since 2009. Catoctin Creek offers tours hourly and a variety of tastings. You’ve got two hours of parking in the lot right next door, so have at it!

If whiskey isn’t your thang, consider stopping in at one of the many wineries out in Purcellville- 868 Estate Vineyards, Sunset Hills Vineyards, Crushed Cellars Winery, North Gate Vineyard, Two Twisted Posts Winery, Otium Cellars, Breaux Vineyards, Hillsborough Vineyards.

Morven Park

Where: 17263 Southern Planter Ln., Leesburg, VA
When: Grounds are open daily for visiting, and this is free. House and museum tours are available Thursdays-Mondays and begin hourly. Tickets to tour the house and museums are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for the five and under crew.

The thing that makes Virginia summers so glorious is they are not winter. Like most people, I spend most of winter sitting in my house, watching too much Dance Moms, refereeing sister fights over Shopkins, and looking out my windows trying to pretend the two feet of snow on the ground is actually the white sands of a tropical beach. By the time spring rolls around, I am 155% sick of everything there is to do indoors and I just want to be outside, which means we spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer months. Which is why last Monday morning, when there was a momentary lull in the rain, I threw everyone in the car to make a break for it while we had the chance to get outside.

We ended up at Morven Park in Leesburg, home of former Virginia governor Westmoreland Davis. Fun fact about Westmoreland Davis: he was elected as governor on an anti-Prohibition platform. The year he was elected, 1917, he won with nearly 72% of the vote, confirmation that Virginians like their drinks.

Davis and his wife, Marguerite, bought Morven Park in 1903 and lived there until his death in 1942. The house and grounds are now open to the public for tours. Additionally, there’s a collection of horse drawn carriages in the Winmill Carriage Museum, and the Museum of Hounds & Hunting of North America, located in several rooms within the mansion.

We arrived to an empty parking lot, thanks to the earlier rain, and had the grounds almost entirely to ourselves. After parking at the visitors center and walking past a grove of magnolias, you take a gravel path through the grounds to reach the house.

If your kids are like mine, they do not care a lick for your ramblings about how the columns are Greek Revival and that plant over there is lambs ear, touch it, it’s soft, get away from that door, we’re not going in there, don’t climb that lion statue, etc. etc. This is where the turkeys come in.

Up the hill from the house is the turkey pen where the Thanksgiving Presidential Pardon Turkeys are housed. The history of the Turkey Pardons is kind of hilarious- the whole thing began back with Harry Truman, who was presented with a Thanksgiving turkey. Some sources attribute the “pardoning of the turkey” tradition with Truman but actually, he ate the turkey. So did Eisenhower. Kennedy did pardon a turkey but not out of compassion; after he was presented with a 55 lb turkey with a sign that said “Good eatin’ Mr. President” he sent it back like “thanks but no thanks” and said “We’ll let this one grow.” (Do they grow bigger than 55 lbs??) Eventually, it seems Ronald Reagan was the first to pardon a turkey; that turkey was named Charlie and sent to a petting zoo where I’m sure it spent the remaining years of its life terrifying small children with sudden gobbles just as they got close to the fence. Bush Senior is the President who made this act a permanent act of office in 1989.

Morven Park currently houses the 2013 and 2014 Presidential Pardon Turkeys, named Caramel and Mac and Cheese, respectively. Previously pardoned turkeys have gone to Frying Pan Farm over in Fairfax County, and a couple lucky ones were sent to Disneyland and Disney World. That honestly makes no sense to me so I’m going to assume those turkeys were from the Dubya years because that just sounds like something he would do.

This fine looking specimen of turkey was Mac and Cheese and he was by far the highlight of this excursion for my kids.

Again, we were unable to make it inside for the house tour because of my toddler, but from what I have read, it is impeccably furnished and unlike many homes that have been turned into museums, the rooms are not roped off but open to be explored, which lends the house a very “lived in” feel.

Make a day of it:

Right down the road from Morven Park is Ida Lee Park (60 Ida Lee Dr. NW, Leesburg, VA), which houses the AV Symington Aquatic Center, a small waterpark of sorts with slides, a lazy river, dump buckets, a concession stand, and picnic areas. Open every day of the week from 12 pm- 8 pm for non-residents (11 am-8 pm for residents), ticket prices are $8 for youth, $9 for adults, and free for two and under.

If you’re not in the mood for water play, Ida Lee Park also houses Rust Library with a lovely shaded playground next door.

Check the calendar of events to see what Rust Library has going on each day. Loudoun County Libraries have organized an incredible series of summer events for kids on top of their usual storytime schedule. Upcoming are the Spectacular Science Show with Mad Science of Washington, Superhero Science, and The Uncle Devin Show.