Long before suburbs existed in Arlington, Potomac Overlook Regional Park and Nature Center was farm land. In 1842, farmer Ronald Donaldson built several buildings on 98 acres of the park. In 1912, George Mitchell built a home which has been converted to a nature center.
To reach the nature center, park by the playground and picnic pavilion.
The nature center is a five minute walk from here. There are educational displays along “Planet Walk” and the original foundation of the Donaldson farm can be seen from the side of the road.
An electric vehicle charging station is outside, but only authorized vehicles are allowed to use the road leading to the center. I found this peculiar and disappointing and I don’t even own an electric car.
What We Liked
Before heading inside, a few stops from the nature center is the Birds of Prey exhibit. A Red-tailed hawk, Great-horned owl, and a Barred owl are in captivity here.
The beautiful birds were sleeping when we arrived. While some may think these birds should be free, they were actually rescued and due to injuries, cannot survive in the wild. The hawk has been a resident of the park for 20 years.
There is a small display of raptor facts and talons. Upon exiting, you could hear the hawk making a sweet, high pitched sound.
In the spring, you can check out the bees, but there are also fish and a box turtle on the main floor. There is a small, hands-on exhibit on solar energy and kids will enjoy seeing the Galileo thermometer and Native American arrowheads.
After seeing me snapping photos, the naturalist helped us learn about some of the birds we saw at the feeder by the window. We saw Downey Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadees, a Cardinal, and Purple Finch.
Head downstairs in the nature center to see six kinds of snakes, including the rare Northern Pinesnake and poisonous Northern Copperhead. There are also three kinds of turtles, an American toad and Mosquito fish.
Discover which countries do not have snakes, learn some facts about the different types of reptiles, touch snake skin, view animal skulls and the skeleton of a bat. Older children and adults will enjoy seeing tools and other artifacts found on the farm.
READ NEXT: 19 Nature Centers in the DC Area
What We Didn’t
Potomac Overlook nature center needs some major renovations to help spruce up the building. The space has an unorganized hodge-podge of what appears to be a touch table on a computer desk.
There is a microscope to view animal and human specimens, most of which are faded and unable to be seen through the lens.
There were storage boxes outside the utility closet, a funky smell from the bathrooms sans changing areas, but at least they had a water fountain. I liked the simple mock habitat of a bear, owl and forest, but the space itself was dull.
Heading downstairs, the Kid Cave was a major let down for my child. The cave art doodle boards could not be used because balls on the pens were gone and the buttons operating the cave sounds did not work.
There was a wooden alphabet uncovering animals (A for armadillo and so on), a few books and stuffed toys here, but overall it’s small and lacks fun.
Potomac Overlook Nature Center is closed on Mondays. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm. The timing on Sunday is from 1pm to 5pm
It is also closed on major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.
They host a weekly event called Meet Me on Sundays. Admission is free. The Birds of Prey and other animals were the only saving graces making the nature center worth a trip.
The park is located at 2845 Marcey Rd, Arlington, VA 22207
Things to Do Nearby
- Enjoy the trails and streams of Windy Run Park
- Cool off at Ocean Dunes Waterpark
- Take a swing at Upton Hill Regional Park’s batting cages
The Bottom Line
After visiting the nature center, hike one of the trails or take the little ones to the playground. The nature center is a place to go enjoy a beautiful day with the kids.
It has a lot of path where you can enjoy your stroll in the outdoors. It is also a great way to view local wildlife.