I had big plans for this weekend. For the first time, National Kids to Parks Day was on my radar before it happened, and I was going to take my girls on a day trip to a state park that we had not yet visited. I had selected a park that was celebrating this fun day with free fishing lessons, a ranger-led hike, and a craft session. Then I checked the weather forecast for the day: 95 degrees with a humidity heat index that was going to make it feel like 107. Ugh. Suddenly the thought of driving an hour and a half each way to a spend full day outside with an infant and an 11-year-old sounded a lot less appealing. On to Plan B: I decided to leave Daughter #2 home with my husband and spend some quality time with Daughter #1 on a shaded morning hike. Since I still wanted to honor National Kids to Parks Day, we decided to visit one of the closest NPS-maintained parks to our house: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, VA.
Most people associate Wolf Trap with its fabulous outdoor concert and performing arts spaces, and rightfully so. It is, in fact, the only National Park property that doubles as a performance venue, and one of only two properties devoted in some way to music appreciation (Side Note: The other one is New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, and when I visited it the last time I was in Louisiana, a piano-playing ranger informed me that the NOJNHP is the only National Park that requires a musical audition as part of the park ranger interview process).
What a lot of people don’t realize is that Wolf Trap is also home to two lovely wooded hiking trails: the 2.5 mile Wolf Trap Trail and the 1.5 mile Wolf Trap TRACK Trail.
TRACK Trails were born from a nationwide program to encourage kids to hike. The website allows you to make an account for each child, and it also features a map where you can search for different TRACK Trails throughout the country. Each trail features a series of “adventures” (more about that later). Once you’ve done your hike and completed an adventure, you can return to the website and have your child(ren) help you answer questions to log the hike. Each kid will then receive free prizes in the mail as they continue to explore new TRACK Trails. It’s a super easy and fun way to find manageable, family-friendly hikes, and the built-in incentives are a nice option for more extrinsically motivated little hikers.
This map highlights the TRACK Trail at Wolf Trap:
This next map shows the Wolf Trap Trail, including where it overlaps with the TRACK Trail. The Wolf Trap Trail is the dotted black line, and I drew the red line to show the path we took:
If I were to do this again, I would walk east instead of west from where we parked in the East parking lot. Instead, we meandered along the Wolf Trap Trail for a while before coming to the trail head for the TRACK Trail, which was beautiful, but not really necessary on such a hot, humid day.
Eventually, we got to the trailhead for the TRACK Trail, where you could scan the QR code to see the different adventure options. Most TRACK Trails have a series of adventures that accompany the trail. Each adventure has a different theme with items to look for or actions to perform. Some common themes include animal habitats, trees, and flowers. Trails at different parks often have the same adventure options, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing – the flora and fauna that you come across will obviously vary from park to park. I did notice that some parks had adventures specific to their locations, like a Civil War-themed adventure at a Manassas Track Trail. I would definitely recommend searching to see if a TRACK Trail has a unique-to-it option before selecting one of the more generic ones.
In any case, we decided to do the animal athlete adventure. This one is brilliant because it features facts about seven different animals that are native to the area, accompanied by exercises you need to perform to mimic that animal’s special skill (trying to jump as high as a deer, balancing on one leg like a hawk, etc). The beauty is that there are no specific points on the trail where you have to do each action, so you can save each one for when your kiddo has lost focus, starts complaining, etc. It is a great choice for young kids. To be honest, Daughter #1 is probably a little older than this adventure’s target audience, but she selected it so I went with it. We actually had a ball with each of the exercises, and I overheard her telling her grandmother all the facts she learned about animals later that evening, so I count it as a win.
As for the trail itself, it was lovely. From the wooden bridge, to the flora and fauna, to the opportunity to play by the creek, this small but mighty trail was definitely a winner. I’ll let the next few photos speak for themselves.
By the time we reached the Children’s Theater in the Woods, the temperature and humidity had climbed to the point that we knew it was time to call it a day. Just as I was beginning to dread having to trudge back to the parking lot in direct sunlight, a park ranger in a golf cart pulled up alongside us and asked if we’d like a ride. We said yes, and that dear, khaki-clad angel drove us right to our car.
Although I may have been disappointed at first that my original plans had to change, I am so grateful that we got out on the trails at Wolf Trap. Its TRACK Trail was the perfect way to celebrate National Kids to Parks Day, and I learned that there is so much more to this park than just its awesome performances. I look forward to returning with both kiddos in tow!