Cabin John Regional Park offers everything you want in an outing rolled into one. From playgrounds and a train, ice skating and ball fields, to a nature center and hiking trails, the over 525 acres are designed to please event the pickiest family member.
Fall is a particularly beautiful time at Cabin John Regional Park. The mature trees stand tall over the park allowing cool shade. Depending on where you want to spend your time, there are two entrances; one on Tuckerman Lane where the playground is and one on Westlake Drive for the train station.
Start your visit at the Locust Grove Nature Center located on Democracy Boulevard. To enter the Center you have to cross a bridge that is wonderful for young walkers and lends a sense of enchantment to your visit. I was a little disappointed to see that the only live animals here were two snakes. Youngsters will enjoy the book nook, tree blocks, drawing with crayons and nature fact cards. There are also fossil prints and skeletons of animals to touch, stuffed animals and a neat indoor oak tree exhibit. A door leads out back to an observation deck filled with tables for sitting, steps which leads to the Betsy Dotson Memorial Garden and a frog pond surrounded by bird houses. You get the feeling you are in a tree house. There are clean restrooms which have changing stations in both facilities along with a water fountain.
The real beauty of Locust Grove is outside. Here lies a wonderful nature playground. Hands-on activities include a babbling brook, sand area, tree stumps for jumping, wood carved animals to climb on and short trails with picnic tables. A permit is required for use of the fire pit. The area can be reached via wooden steps and mulch surfaces. The nature center is not accessible. I would not recommend the outside area for toddlers. The nature center is only open on the weekends and closed the first Sunday of the month.
There are five hiking trails ranging from .2 miles to 1.9 miles, some of which run along Cabin John Creek. However, none of the trails are stroller or accessible. Nearby is The Pauline Betz Addie Indoor Tennis Center.
There are numerous picnic areas for rental. All are covered shelters with grills. In the center is a water fountain and small swing set. Restrooms are clean, but have no changing facilities. Get your zen on in the Tai Chi Court. A simple flagstone circle reflecting the yin/yang symbol is surrounded by wavelike benches. While it’s located close to the picnic areas, it’s very quiet and serene.
Always a big hit with family members is the miniature train at Cabin John Regional Park. A replica of an 1863 C.P. Huntington, the train takes visitors on a 10 minute, two mile ride through the park. It operates daily June through August and weekends in April, May, September and October. The train runs every half hour from 10am to 4:30pm weather permitting. The cost is $1.75 for ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under. The depot also has a separate party room available for rental. A big kick for kids is the Hippo head water fountain and Porky, the talking pig, who eats your trash. The station is also a short walk from the playground.
Action Playland is a huge playground with a mulch surface. There are lots of climbing structures, 10 slides, mazes, swings, and play houses. The area is heavily crowded and is not fenced in making it difficult to keep check on little ones. This is a very popular playground for the 2 to 7 year old set. Toddlers will enjoy the Play Express train equipment complete with musical drums and blocks for climbing on. There is no crowd control – parents let their kids run amuck with little supervision. The primary color trio slide scared my preschooler because it is so fast. However, there was plenty of other equipment for her to enjoy.
While there is a dog park, I saw dogs on a leash on the playground. I was surprised given the health risk. Take caution as some children may be frightened by the animals while using the playground equipment. The bathrooms in Adventure Playland are single stalls, smelled wretched and had no changing facilities. There is a gazebo and small covered picnic area within the playground.
Cabin John Regional Park also features an indoor ice rink, and lighted athletic fields, handball and volleyball courts and campgrounds. It’s a good place to escape the city for a day of old-fashioned fun.
Photo by Kathleen Molloy