Park Questing

Once we had two children we had to be  creative in finding cheap fun. We enjoy hiking and being outdoors, and while looking into Maryland State Parks I stumbled across Park Quest.  Park Quest is a cost effective and creative way to explore Maryland State Parks. I’ve looked at surrounding states, but have not found anything quite like it.  Many other states offer passports, which is a one-price-all-access offer and a great opportunity, but the Park Quest passport offers family challenges and educational opportunities at 20+ MDSPs, including popular Assateague Island and Deep Creek Lake.  

Registration for Park Quest is early May and is limited to 1,000 participants, first come first serve.  Participation in the program is only 10 dollars for the entire family. This gets you the passport, which you get stamped at the completion of each task (completion of 10 quests gives the participant priority enrollment the following year).  The kids love collecting the stamps! The passport gives your family free entry to any MDSP that is participating in Park Quest, and more than pays for itself in one park visit. You do have to be a family, in that there must be at least one adult and one child under 16.

Did I ask them to pose for a picture, or did I threaten them with torture….I can’t remember because the expressions are always the same.

The quests vary in scope and include anything from hiking several miles and then hopping in a canoe, to a short, paved half mile loop learning about pollinating insects (usually includes solving a puzzle or making drawings about what you learned).  The passport rates the difficulties of each park’s quest (a ‘3 hat’ rating system), and there are usually a wide variety of options for simpler quests. Some parks will include 2 quests, a basic quest to be completed and then a ‘bonus quest’ for families looking for more of a challenge.  When we started participating our children were 4 and 2, so we targeted the simplest quests and were able to complete 10 without encountering anything too stressful or traveling too far outside of central MD. We have been misled by the hat system once, where we thought it was going to be simpler than it was (ended up on a long hike at Patapsco Valley State Park with a bit of simple rock scrambling with a 3 and 5 YO and me pregnant), so now we make sure to not just look at the hats, but carefully read the quest.  The quests are outlined in the passport, and more thorough details and printouts can be found online.

This was the park quest that caught us off guard with its length. We found nice spots like this to take breaks, but after many miles it became hard to motivate the kiddos.
Completing the ‘human pyramid’ part of our quest at Susquehanna State Park. Note: saw many families throwing tubes into the river at this park and drifting down the Susquehanna for several miles. My kids were a bit too young, but I am keeping this in mind for next time.
This was a crafty quest, where you design with, study the beauty of, and sketch nature (the older you are, the fancier you can get).
Get close to nature (I could have put in a zillion different pictures). Frogs, deer, butterflies, groundhogs, fish, etc.  This was at Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary.

Though MD is a smaller state, it is long, reaching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains.  And so the quests are spread out, accordingly. As I mentioned, we live in central MD and were able to access many of the parks in an hour or so drive (many less than that).  In our second year, we started centering some camping trips around Park Quest. We took two camping trips that year, one to Assateague Island and the other to Swallow Falls State Park in Western MD.  Each time we were able to complete a handful of quests and explore a little more of our state.

View of the Bay Bridge spanning the Chesapeake from Sandy Point State Park
Rain couldn’t keep us from exploring the beach when we arrived in Assateague.
Swallow Falls State Park in Western MD. We have been here twice and it is a favorite.

Besides the quests, many of the parks have nature centers and educational programs, not to mention playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, trails, and creeks to explore.  We usually brought a picnic and would spend more time eating and playing after our quest was complete. 

One of her many faces
Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary
Patapsco Valley State Park, tire park Hilton Area
Many MD parks have bird sanctuaries, where they nurse owls, eagles and hawks back to health. If the animals are injured too badly, they remain in captivity and brought out for special nature talks. This was at Soldiers Delight.
Nature Center at Soldiers Delight

It is great family bonding time. I was too late on registering us this year (losing Malcolm has been so hard) and didn’t get a spot, but fully intend to participate in the future.  We are still camping this year….nature and time together is so important and so healing.

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