Written by Amber Woods
Sometimes all it takes is a little planning to have a great family outing. When routine exploits just aren’t cutting it anymore, shake things up by exploring new terrain, taking in an exhibition, or visiting a landmark and learning a little something about our local history. Here are awesome events to attend and places to visit around town before fall ends. Best part? All of them can be done on the cheap and on one tank of gas—or less!
Kilgore Falls (aka “Falling Branch")
Why Go? Just a short drive from Rocks State Park and a half-mile hike into the woods, you’ll discover one of Maryland's best-kept secrets: the state's second-largest free-falling waterfall. The 19-foot waterfall is part of Rocks State Park. The kids will be excited to learn that Kilgore Falls (often referred to as "Falling Branch" by locals) was featured in the Disney film "Tuck Everlasting."
Insider Tip: Bring towels and swimwear (including water-appropriate shoes for walking on submerged rocks near the falls). Small children should be supervised closely, as water beneath the waterfall can be as deep as four feet in some areas. If you have infants or toddlers, consider bringing a wearable child carrier for the short hike to the falls, as the trail has some large tree roots that are difficult to navigate with a stroller.
Must Do: Let the kids wade in shallow areas beneath the waterfall. There are plenty of awesome photo ops, so be sure to bring a camera!
The Fine Print: Park access is free. Directions from Rocks State Park to Kilgore Falls: travel Route 24 north through Rocks State Park, turn left on St. Mary's Road, turn right on Falling Branch Road for parking lot on right.
1416 Telegraph Road, Rising Sun, MD
Why Go? A more "hands-on" and less crowded zoo experience located in Cecil County, Plumpton Park Zoo is a nonprofit zoo with a wide variety of animals and reptiles. The small zoo is less overwhelming than city zoos, and the staff is very knowledgeable and kind to questioning kiddos.
Insider Tip: Some of the zoo's trails are not paved, so go on a sunny day or bring appropriate shoes if it has rained recently. Since the zoo is in a rural area, there are no food vendors on site, so it makes sense to pack some snacks or a light lunch.
Must Do: Stop by and visit Jimmie the giraffe, and don't forget to say hello to Ringo and Frankie, the zoo's bear cubs.
The Fine Print: Plumpton Park Zoo is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10.95 for adults, $8.95 for seniors, $6.95 for children (age 2-12). Children under 2 are admited free.
126 N. Water St., Lancaster, Penn.
Why Go? Get the kids away from high-tech entertainment for a step back in time. With tickets just $10, the historic Victorian theater offers a cultural experience at bargain prices. Popular performances such as "The Wizard of Oz" allow kids to follow along while being entertained (without sitting in front of a gaming system or TV).
Insider Tip: The John Durang Museum (at the same location) is worth a visit before or after a show. The museum is a tribute to Durang, the first American-born professional stage performer who lived on the same street as the theater, and features puppets from around the world, as well as marionettes used in past Hole in the Wall performances. Shows often sell out, so call the theatre to reserve tickets.
Must Do: Show up early and take advantage of a free backstage tour before the show for an insider look at how the theater functions. During your travels, have the kids keep an eye out for Amish horse-drawn buggies that travel the same roads as cars and trucks in the Lancaster area. "You feel at once part of a great marionette tradition shared in tiny theaters and traveling stages across the globe," wrote Patricia M., on Yelp.com.
The Fine Print: The puppet theatre accepts cash or checks but no credit cards, so be sure to come prepared. Children’s shows are 35 minutes in length.
454 New Holland Ave. #300, Lancaster, Penn.
Why Go? Located just one mile from Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre, the Lancaster Science Factory is packed with educational (and hands-on!) exhibits geared toward children, and it’s affordable for even a large family.
Insider Tip: Since most exhibits are hands-on, it’s a good idea to bring hand sanitizer. Free parking is located directly across the street from the Science Factory (just look for signs). You may want to call ahead and see if any camps or field trips are attending the day you plan to go, if you’d like to avoid the crowds.
Must Do: Don't miss the "water tornado" in the fluid dynamics exhibit.
The Fine Print: Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors 60 and over, $6.50 for children (age 3-15) and free for children 2 and under.
19821 Shepherdstown Pike, Boonsboro, MD
Why Go? Discovered in 1920, Crystal Grottoes Caverns has more formations per square foot than any other cave known to man.
Insider Tip: Check out the website for a $1 coupon for each member of your family or group! It's 54 degrees in the caves year-round, so it's a good day trip in any season! "It was a fun day trip! Just an hour drive and a nice scenic one too, the cavern was very cool. It takes about a half hour to go through it and you are nose-to-nose with stalactites and stalagmites, but not in a claustrophobic way," wrote Cody G., on tripadvisor.com.
Must Do: There are several picnic tables next to a stream (within walking distance of the caverns), so bring a picnic lunch to enjoy before or after your adventure.
The Fine Print: Caverns are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, through Oct. 31. Guided tours are available every 30 minutes and cost $20 for adults and $10 for kids (11 and under). Cash only. Caverns are not wheelchair accessible.