Outdoor Recreation in La Plata, MD

Outdoor activity is easy to find in La Plata, MD, thanks to access to water recreation, as well as plenty of biking trails and nature attractions.

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Indian Head Rail Trail in White Plains, MD
Todd Bennett

Growing up in Charles County wasn’t so much a matter of going outside to play as it was knowing when to come back in, says resident Tracey Albrittain.

“I grew up on the banks of the Potomac, right on the water, because that’s where my parents had a farm,” says Albrittain, finance director of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce. “We are surrounded by water here, so we were always out swimming, crabbing and fishing. We’ve got several marinas, so everybody had a boat, and if we weren’t on the water we were at the other parks around here. It’s an amazing place for outdoor living.”

Parks and Trails

Named for native son General William Smallwood, who served in the American Revolution, Smallwood State Park south of Indian Head comprises 628 acres and includes a marina, boat launching ramps, picnic and camping areas, pavilions, recycled-tire playground and nature trails.

Ten miles south, visitors can explore the "largest shipwreck fleet in the Western Hemisphere," Mallows Bay Park, which consists of graves of more than 230 ships sunk in the river. Many are steamships from World War I and were subsequently scuttled in the bay. A .8-mile trail loops around the salvage basin, which also has a boat ramp and pier for recreational use.

A few miles down the Potomac at Wades Bay, birding and wildlife enthusiasts find plenty to raise their binoculars to at Purse State Park, where people also enjoy hunting and searching for fossils. Those interested in birding also may flock directly eastward from there to Nanjemoy Creek Great Blue Heron Sanctuary, where herons come each winter to mate and raise their young. The chicks hatch in April, and by July the birds are all over the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay.

Besides being near or getting out on the water, people here enjoy a large, growing network of parks and trails. Among them is the new Indian Head Rail Trail, a 13-mile bike trail converted from a railroad corridor deeded to the county through the National Park Service's Federal Lands to Parks Program. Originally built in 1918 as a supply route for the Navy's Indian Head Powder Factory, the trail runs halfway across the county, connecting the town of Indian Head to Route 301 in White Plains.

On the eastern side of the county, walkers and joggers take to Gilbert Run Park's 2.5-mile nature trail that runs along the 69-acre Wheatley Lake in Charlotte Hall. The park offers a self-guided nature walk, fishing pavilions, many boardwalks and bridges, and even a beaver colony observation deck.


Charles County's tobacco farming heritage runs deep, and many of those long-time family farms have become destinations for family fun - yet another reason to spend time outdoors enjoying the area's rich natural resources.

One popular spot is Middleton’s Cedar Hill Farm, owned by state Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton and his family. According to Middleton, legacy farming, such as that done by the county’s Amish community and other traditional farmers, coupled with the conversion of some properties to agritourism, creates an economic development one-two punch for Charles County.

“On any given weekend we’ll have more than 50 percent of our visitors from outside the area,” Middleton says. “We have a strong, agrarian tradition here, and I see it continuing to survive and thrive in many different ways.”

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Wed, 02/28/2018 - 21:22