10 Parks with Beaches near DC for a Day Trip with Kids
Families living in the DC area are fortunate to have so many things to do at our fingertips—free world-class museums, amazing destination playgrounds, loads of delicious restaurants, you name it. But when the ocean beckons, we have to drive 2.5 hours or more to find family-friendly beaches near DC. So what's a parent to do when the kids are begging to build sandcastles and splash in the water and you don't have the time or energy for a weekend trip? Just head to one of several parks with beaches near DC.
Most of these parks with beaches near DC charge a small per-person or per-vehicle fee to enter in the summer, and their sandy beach areas are located on rivers or lakes rather than the ocean. Also, some of them don't allow swimming, only wading. Still, families can bask in the sunshine, feel the sand between their toes, and pretend they hear waves crashing ashore.
Here are 10 parks with beaches near DC for family fun by the water. Go early on weekends to avoid the crowds, and don't forget the sunscreen!
Parks with Beaches Near DC in Virginia
Feel the sand between your toes as you stroll along the banks of the Potomac at Leesylvania State Park.
1. Leesylvania State Park — Woodbridge
Nestled along the shores of the Potomac River, Leesylvania State Park has a decent-sized natural-sand beach, plus several smaller sandy areas for families seeking a bit more privacy. Swimming is not allowed, but wading and splashing are. The large park, listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, also offers a boat launch, fishing, a playground, plenty of picnic tables, a visitor's center, a snack bar, five scenic hiking trails, and more. Note that the parking lot fills up early on weekends, so go early. There is a fee of $10 per vehicle to enter the park.
2. Mason Neck State Park — Lorton
This state park offers more than six miles of unpaved hiking trails and three miles of paved trails, including the popular and kid-friendly Bayview Trail. This 1.3-mile trail includes sections of boardwalk above the wetlands where families can look for animals including bald eagles. It also passes a sandy beach that's perfect for picnicking, wading, and sandcastle-building (swimming is not allowed). Mason Neck also offers a playground and kayak, canoe, and bicycle rentals. The parking fee is $10 per vehicle.
The beach area at Lake Accotink is small, but it's perfect for digging in the sand and getting little feet wet.
3. Lake Accotink Park — Springfield
Let's be clear: When we say "beach" here, what we're referring to is a small sandy area near the lake. Still, it's perfect for little ones to play in the sand and get their feet wet (no swimming is allowed). The rest of the park features gorgeous hiking trails (including around the lake), a nine-hole mini golf course, a carousel, a playground, and picnic areas. Kayaks, pedal boats, and bicycles are available for rent.
4. Aquia Landing Park — Stafford
This hidden gem 40 miles south of DC has a quarter-mile beach along the Potomac River where families can sunbathe, swim, fish, picnic, kayak, and play in the sand. The 32-acre park, located on a peninsula that juts into Aquia Creek, is also a great spot for birdwatching—look for blue herons, terns, mourning doves, and other species. There is a small per-person entry fee, with discounts for kids, seniors, and Stafford County residents.
5. Westmoreland State Park — Montross
Westmoreland State Park is home to Fossil Beach, a small beach where families can hunt for shark teeth and other small fossils in the sand. Wading is allowed, but not swimming. The beach is accessible from the kid-friendly, 0.6-mile Big Meadow Trail. The park also has six other trails, year-round fishing, and kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals in the summer. Parking is $7-$10 per vehicle.
6. Lake Anna State Park — Spotsylvania
About 90 minutes from DC by car, Lake Anna State Park is a bit of a longer day trip. But the large swimming beach has lifeguards on duty in the summer, making it worth the drive for parents of little ones. The over 3,000-square-foot park also has more than 15 miles of hiking trails, a two-acre fishing pond designed for kids, a visitor center, and cabins and yurts for those who want to spend the night. There's a per-vehicle parking fee of $7-$10, plus a small per-person swimming fee in the summer. The parking lot fills up early on summer weekends (after which vehicles are turned away), so plan to get there early.
Parks with Beaches Near DC in Maryland
7. Sandy Point State Park — Annapolis
This 786-acre park, located about 75 minutes from DC by car, offers probably the "beachiest" beach you'll find this close to the District. The one-mile beach—a portion of which has lifeguards on duty daily in the summer as well as a concession stand—provides breathtaking views of the Chesapeake Bay. The park also offers fishing, boating, camping, and playgrounds. There is a small per-vehicle fee October 1 through April 30 and a small per-person fee May 1 through September 30.
Swimming is allowed at Matapeake State Park's beach on the Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy of onlyinyourstate.com
8. Matapeake State Park — Stevensville
Located on the Chesapeake Bay on Kent Island, this park has both a public swimming beach for humans and a dog beach for their furry friends. The park also has a one-mile wooded trail with views of the Bay Bridge, a family picnic area, an outdoor amphitheater, and a cafe open in the summer.
9. Cunningham Falls State Park — Thurmont
This gorgeous park in the Catoctin Mountains, less than 90 minutes from DC by car, has a swimming beach with lifeguards on duty in the summer. Kids can build sandcastles in between swimming in Hunting Creek Lake. The park is also home to Cunningham Falls, Maryland's highest cascading waterfall. With its plethora of hiking trails, fishing, canoeing, and campsites and cabins available from April through October, families just might want to spend the night. The park has a small per-person fee from Memorial Day through Labor Day and a per-vehicle fee the rest of the year. It tends to reach capacity by mid to late morning on weekends and holidays, so arrive early.
10. Greenbrier State Park — Boonsboro
Greenbrier is another park in the mountains (the Appalachians) less than a 90-minute drive from DC. It features a 42-acre manmade freshwater lake with three beaches, the middle of which is perfect for young children with its clear, shallow water. Lifeguards are on duty in the summer. The park also offers 11 miles of hiking trails through various wildlife habitats, 164 campsites, canoeing, boating, and fishing. Small entrances fees are per-person from Memorial Day through Labor Day and per-vehicle the rest of the year. The park fills up early on weekends and holidays, so be sure to get there early.
All photos, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of the author.