There’s a big boast about parks in Montgomery County: Residents are never more than 2 miles from experiencing one. “We’re way above average for the amount of parkland per person,” says Casey Anderson, chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, who’s currently on a mission to visit all 421 county parks this year.
According to Montgomery Parks, more than 10 percent of the county’s real estate—nearly 37,000 acres—is parkland. If you add in federal, state, city and town parks, the county devotes almost a fifth of its land to parks. Land use planners and elected representatives have saved acres of woods and streams in decades of development tussles, creating abundant trails, golf courses, athletic fields and nature centers. (The parkland is supplemented by the 93,000-acre agricultural reserve in upper Montgomery County, which was preserved by county officials in 1980 to protect the county’s farm economy and environment.)
Our county and state parks offer a variety of unique features and activities. Here’s a sampling of the treasures in our parks—many of them little-known—that are yours to explore.
Hike the Rachel Carson Trail
The peaceful 3.6-mile Rachel Carson Greenway Trail, located within the 650-acre Rachel Carson Conservation Park, is a little-used trail along the scenic Hawlings River. Hikers see old-growth forest, stunning rock outcroppings, and showy displays of wildflowers in meadows. The trail loops into five shorter trails that are good for quick hikes. The park encompasses the habitat our famous county native studied when researching her landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring, which warned of the environmental danger of pesticides.The paths are well marked, but as a conservation park, there are no bathrooms or water spigots. There is free parking at the trailhead at Sundown and Zion roads in Brookeville. The Rachel Carson Greenway includes 25 miles of other trails in Colesville, Wheaton, Silver Spring and Potomac.
Rachel Carson Conservation Park
22201 Zion Road, Brookeville
There are three separate picnic areas—with plenty of parking—at the Ovid Hazen Wells Recreational Park in Clarksburg. Its picnic pavilions are relatively isolated and surrounded by large shade trees, log fences and meadows. Traffic, noise and sprawl are far away from this leafy, rural enclave. The handicapped-accessible park has wooden picnic tables under shelters that can host 75 to 100 people, and each shelter features a large grill.
Ovid Hazen Wells Recreational Park
12001 Skylark Drive, Clarksburg
Kayakers have plenty of areas to explore on 505-acre Little Seneca Lake in Boyds. Single- and two-person kayaks are available to rent if you don’t bring your own. Kayakers like the two-hour-long Black Hill Water Trail, which you can follow on laminated maps that are available at the park’s boathouse. Paddlers will see a busy osprey platform; the lake’s dam; a popular perch for bald eagles; a beaver lodge; and a forest of trees left standing when the stream valley was flooded. It’s $14 an hour or $50 a day to rent a kayak, paddle and life preserver on weekends and holidays. On weekdays it’s $13; $45 for a full day’s rental.
Black Hill Regional Park
20930 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds
Pitch a Tent
Surprise! There’s year-round overnight camping less than a mile from Westfield Montgomery mall. It’s primitive, but it’s still a night in nature. Each of the seven campsites in Cabin John Regional Park includes two tent pads (bring your own tents), a fire pit, a grill and picnic tables. (Parents have hosted sleepovers here for their kids’ birthday parties.) Bathroom facilities are portable toilets in the parking lot; there’s a pavilion for group gatherings. You might hear a faint sound of traffic from Tuckerman Lane and Seven Locks Road, so choose an upper number campsite for deeper woods. Campsites are $20 per night; reservations are required. There’s no running water during the off-season (Nov. 1 to March 31) but you’re roughing it in woods that are within walking distance of ArcLight Bethesda.
Robert C. McDonell Campground, Cabin John Regional Park
7701 Tuckerman Lane, Rockville; reservations through 301-495-2525 or