Exploring Maryland with Toddlers

We moved to Columbia, Maryland about 2 months ago and we started exploring immediately! This is just the beginning and I’m thinking about adding the most kid-friendly and COVID-safe restaurants and other places as well. If you have suggestions of places you want reviewed or recommendations of where to try next PLEASE comment or let me know on Instagram or Facebook, we always want more places to try!


My boys are Eli, 4.5-years-old, and Noah, 17-month-old, so everything I list, I have done with both kids. For reference, we mostly get around with a double Bob stroller or biking with our double bike trailer.



I work with children, many of whom may interact with their surrounds in ways that can be different than the "norm." I am sensitive to children who may become over stimulated in certain environments, who need quiet escapes, who may pose a risk in busy places (enclosed playground royalty!), may be hesitant to try new things, etc. I've tried to include information to help all caregivers provide enriching and FUN experiences for whoever their little one is.


Here are some things I made sure to include:

💵 free?

⚙️ Is it stroller friendly?

🦠 covid safe?

🚽 potty training friendly?

🌳 shady?

👂 quiet? I’m considering how stimulating the environment may feel.

⚽️ sports fields/open space close by?

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate?

❗️can be busy

🚲 how biking friendly is it for little ones?

💫 Play opportunities for differently abled visitors - is it accessible and engaging for all children?

🧠 unique learning opportunity - does this place go above and beyond in terms of social, emotional, cognitive, learning?

💪 unique strength building opportunities - is this place going to go above and beyond in engaging fine and gross motor development? I also use a little color system for you to quickly see how much we recommend the specific place.

🟩 this is a favorite place! Kid and parent approved!

🟨 also a great place but has some drawbacks

🟧 something here is challenging, concerning, or disappointing. Not highly recommended.

🟥 we don’t recommend this place 😔

⛔️ this is for some place sincerely dangerous.


Again, I’d love to hear all the feedback and know where to take the boys next! I’ll also create a new list for colder weather as the seasons change.


Cedar Lane Park

5081 Cedar Ln, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

Cedar Lane park has some beautiful wooded trails, sports fields, tennis courts, and two playgrounds. The playground in the south side of the park is updated and has some unique playground pieces that are challenging enough for elementary aged kids as well as a smaller set that is ok for the young toddler crowd. There are also bathrooms right beside the playground so if your little one doesn't want to pee by a tree, they can get some privacy! I like this playground because it's always pretty quiet--not too busy even on weekends. If you want to take a break from playing, the trails are shady and you can take a short loop if you want to.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (woods and bathrooms close by 😁)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

⚽️ sports fields/open space

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🚲 beginner/intermediate biking (well maintained trails but some hills)


Centennial Park

10000 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042

🟨

The loop around the beautiful lake is just 2.4 miles. Much of the trail is shaded and the path is well maintained. It certainly has some ups and downs but nothing extremely steep. Eli was able to ride his bike while I ran with Noah in the Bob jogging stroller the entire loop. We played at the South Playground, which was a good playground. It has some very tall structures so it is a more challenging playground and appropriate for older toddlers and 5-10 year-olds. There are pieces that are safe for a young toddler but they need to be watched closely. Some nice shade around the playgrounds at this park and lots of nice picnic areas to choose from. There is ample parking in different areas around the park as well. This playground would be ideal for kids who are developing typically and are used to exploring open play structures and are not bothered by messy, uneven ground (it is chip, not a smooth surfacing). I personally love Centennial Park but there are much more kid friendly areas nearby.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (woods and bathrooms close by 😁)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

⚽️ sports fields/open space

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🚲 beginner biking (flat and smooth trials)



Blandair Regional Park North Playground

5685 Oakland Mills Rd, Columbia, MD 21045

🟩 ⭐️

This is the biggest, most interesting playground I have ever seen. There are several different sections of the playground, each with unique pieces. The playground includes accessible components and children have an opportunity to navigate different areas based on their sensory and physical needs. There is shade on the playground in some areas. Bathrooms and water are available close by. The surfacing is easy to navigate and gives some sensory feedback. I like this playground a lot and for good reasons meaning that so does every other person in the area! It is BUSY. It can be hard to keep track of an exploring child, although it is enclosed.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe (but can be very busy)

🚽 potty training friendly (bathrooms close by)

🌳 shady (in some areas and a pavilion is close)

⚽️ sports fields/open space close by

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

❣️enclosed playground

❗️can be very busy

💫 Play opportunities for differently abled visitors

🧠 unique learning opportunity

💪 unique strength building opportunities


Blandair Park East Playground

9245 Sealed Message Rd, Columbia, MD 21045

🟩

With the gigantic North playground on the other side of the park, this playground may seem like a second choice but it’s awesome in its own way and definitely worth a visit. It’s unusual because it’s an obstacle course. You can even start a timer to see how long it takes to move through the obstacles. It is challenging enough for older kids to enjoy but also accessible for toddlers. Our 1.5 year old can even find plenty to occupy himself here. It is not shaded but there is a pavilion close by with water, and bathrooms are not far away either.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe (but can be busy)

🚽 potty training somewhat friendly - bathrooms are available but not extremely close

🌳 shady (only in pavilion, which is close)

⚽️ sports fields/open space close by

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate (better for older, though)

❗️can be busy

🧠 unique learning opportunity

💪 unique strength building opportunities


Blandair Regional Park West Playground

5750 Oakland Mills Rd, Columbia, MD 21045

🟩

This playground at Blandair park may not get the props it deserves because the North playground is amazing and the East playground is unique but seriously, this playground is also great. A pavilion is also located nearby. It’s a great choice especially if you’re in the area and feel overwhelmed by how large the North playground is.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe (but can be busy)

🚽 potty training friendly (bathrooms close by)

🌳 shady (in some areas and a pavilion is close)

⚽️ sports fields/open space close by

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

❗️can be busy



Middle Patuxent Environmental Area

5795 Trotter Rd, Clarksville, MD 21029

🟩

I can’t say enough good things about our experience going to this hiking area. It is absolutely beautiful, peaceful, and a wonderful way to expose little ones to different habitats. It’s well maintained and has a lot to offer—we have much more to explore on future visits. Highly recommend.

💵 free

⚙️ not accessible with a standard stroller - recommend a structured baby carrier (backpack) or a soft carrier if bringing little ones

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods! Or bathrooms in the parking lot)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🧠 unique learning opportunity

💪 unique strength building opportunities



Patapsco Valley State Park - Swinging Bridge and Cascade Falls Trail

River Rd, Elkridge, MD 21075

🟩

Another gem of a park. We got a little turned around on the trail we chose, the Cascade Falls Trail, but it was a wonderful experience. The Cascade Falls Trail begins by a parking lot and bathrooms and is right across from the Swinging Bridge, which is fun for kids to cross. If you’re interested in getting in the water, it looks like the Cascade trail has a few nice areas to do so (we did not). The Cascade Trail may be a little tricky for some small kids. Eli (4.5 years old) walked the whole way and I wore Noah in the Ergo but there are some pretty steep areas to navigate. There are many, many trails in the park and the area is absolutely gorgeous. We can't wait to go back and explore more.

💵 ⛔️ small fee

⚙️ not accessible with a standard stroller - recommend a structured baby carrier (backpack) or a soft carrier if bringing little ones

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods! Or bathrooms in the parking lot)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🧠 unique learning opportunity

💪 unique strength building opportunities



Schooley Mill Park

13031 Hall Shop Rd, Highland, MD 20777

🟨

We want to go back to Schooley Mill Park to try the trails. We went to the playground and felt it was a little run-down. Some of the equipment was worn out and the swings had collected large puddles after a rain. Too many other wonderful playgrounds in the area to come back just to play.

💵 free ⚙️ stroller possible on the sidewalks but trails are grass and natural

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (bathrooms available)

⚽️ sports fields/open space close by

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate



Trolley Line #9 in Ellicott City

🟨

This trail is a fun adventure. You can park at either end but we chose to park at the intersection of Edmondson and Chalfonte Dr, then Eli rode his bike and I ran with Noah in the BOB down the trail to the other end. We did it this way because we wanted to stop for a break and to get a treat at the Old Mill Cafe before the second half. Overall, this was a good idea—the trail is beautiful— and we enjoyed it but, next time, we’ll park in Lot A by Old Mill Cafe and bike the trail and then come back because it’s a slight but long incline the whole way, which would be fine with fresh legs but poor Eli struggled to do the second half uphill. Also, this happens quite a bit but the trail is really hard to access with a bike or stroller at the Historic Ellicott City end. You can see the stairs right beside The Trolly Stop and Old Market Cafe but there isn't a ramp or anything so you have to access the trail off of Westchester Avenue if you have wheels. it’s not a deal-breaker but it’s a little hazardous with a child so we just had to be very cautious; I had Eli get off his bike and helped him navigate while also pushing the stroller, which isn’t easy but it’s a short distance and felt worth it.

⚠️ one end of the trail is a little hazardous with a child on a bike or with a stroller.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly (see note about accessing the trail)

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods only)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🚲 beginner biking (flat and smooth trials but gradual incline away from old Ellicott City)



Lake Kittamaqundi

10275 Wincopin Cir, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

The trail around the lake is beautiful! It’s under two miles, paved, pretty shady, and flat (almost completely). It’s an easy walk or bike ride, perfect for a child learning to ride on a shared path. One evening we had a delicious dinner at Sushi Sono outside on the lake and then walked the loop, it was great! Lake Kitt is also the backdrop for the really nice Lakefront Summer Festival series.

💡 Make it a lake tour

It’s fun to run or bike on the Lake-to-lake-to-lake trail from Wilde Lake to Kitt Lake, which is about 3 miles. Along the way, there is a nice little playground at Wilde Lake Park, a nearby tot lot, and Bailey Park so kids can choose where to play!

💡 Lake Kitt and the Library Central Branch

The trail around the lake also connects to the Central Branch of the Howard County Library. Make a stop to get some books and take them to read beside the lake!

💡 Picnic at the Lake

We rode around the lake, went into Whole Foods to grab a picnic, and played at Bailey park and had a picnic. If you time it right in the summer, you can also stay for a movie or music at the Columbia Lakefront Stage as part of the summer lakefront series.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🚲 beginner biking (flat and smooth trials)


Wilde Lake Trail and Park

10002 Hyla Brook Rd, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

I love running the trail from my house, close to Swansfield Mini Waterpark Park, to the lake trail. I love the old trees, the shade, the multiple bridges, and the peaceful nature of the trail system. Sure, many people use it in nice weather, but it still feels very serene. It’s another beautiful shaded trail on the water that Columbia offers. We like the little playground at the Park and there is also a nice tot lot right off the lake loop trail on the west end of the lake. We also love the little piers at the lake where you can take a little break and look in and around the lake. Eli could have stared down at the fish for quite some time at the pier by the dam.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🚲 beginner biking (flat and smooth trials)



Bailey Park

10271 Wincopin Cir, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

This is a fairly small park but the equipment is innovative and fun for older toddlers through elementary age kids. There is a long and steep slide built into the side of a hill that is fast and fun. No swings here or much to do for a younger toddler. The park is well placed to enjoy dinner at the lake and let the kids play. The park is right beside the Columbia Lakefront Stage and there are many restaurants close by, as well as Whole Foods.

I debated giving this one a yellow instead of green because I just wish there was a swing or at least one small area for younger kids but I’m happy to see a park located here and I like the way it’s designed for older kids.

⚠️ watch little ones closely here! The pretty water feature close to the playground could be very dangerous for a curious child, let alone the lake itself.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller friendly (winding ramp to get down to the playground)

🦠 covid safe (but can get busy)

👂 quiet

👦 better for older kids

💪 unique strength building opportunities



Robinson Nature Center

6692 Cedar Ln, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩 ⭐️

I don’t know if I can say enough positive things about the Robinson Nature Center! It’s awesome. We had a lot of fun playing outside in the lush landscaping and the unique (shaded!) playscape. The inside does cost a small amount for admission but there is quite a bit to explore. We went ahead and bought a membership and went twice in two weeks right away. There is a discovery room filled with toys and several native Maryland animals, as well as exhibits that draw children, and adults, in. It’s a captivating experience and worth the cost of admission. A membership is worth it if you feel that you would visit more than several times in a year.

💵 $5 Adults

💵$3 Children ages 3-17 yrs

💵Free Children under 3 yrs

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe (outside)

🚽 potty training friendly (in the woods or bathrooms inside)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🧠 unique learning opportunity




Clark’s Elioak Farm

10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042

🟨

There is a lot to see and do at Clark’s Elioak Farm. To be honest, we found some of it kind of odd and Eli was a little disappointed that you can’t go inside the little houses and such. However, we did ride the cow train and both boys enjoyed it. Eli would love to ride the other options as well; the train or the tractor. You can also pay to ride a horse, which is fun but very short. There are animals to visit and you can purchase feed for the goats. The admission plus all the extras add up quickly but this is certainly a fun activity for little ones.

⚙️ stroller possible (bumpy!)

🦠 covid safe (can be busy but all outdoors)

🚽 potty training friendly (outdoor bathrooms)

🌳 shady (in some areas)

👂quiet (in some areas)

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🧠 unique learning opportunity




B&O Ellicott City Station Museum

3711 Maryland Ave, Ellicott City, MD 21043

🟩

We stumbled across this little museum one Sunday while we were casually exploring Ellicott city and we were so happy we did! It’s free and quite entertaining for little ones. There is a train car you can go inside and a room with an elaborate electric train. There is more to look at inside as well and it’s accessible with a stroller 👍

⚠️ there is another museum called the B&O Railway Museum in Baltimore that we haven’t been to yet but I’m sure it’s great too (and way bigger!).

💡 Grab a quick coffee for yourself at Old Mill Cafe (.1 miles away) or stop by afterwards for lunch. It’s a quick walk from the museum and has a nice little outdoor seating area. The Trolly Stop is also right beside Old Mill Cafe but we haven’t been there yet.

💡 Little Market Cafe is .3 miles away and also an awesome place for breakfast or lunch. They have live music sometimes so that’s worth checking out on their social media too.

💵 free

⚙️ stroller possible

🦠 covid safe (if you take turns going inside)

🚽 potty training friendly (indoor bathrooms)

👂quiet (can be)

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

🧠 unique learning opportunity



Howard County Pools


Swansfield Mini Water Park

5659 Cedar Ln, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

This is close to where we live but I think we’d love it regardless! We love the splash area; little Noah (close to 1.5 years old) loves it and so does Eli (4.5 years old). The main pool doesn’t have the gradual entry pool of other pools in the area but it’s deepest recreational area is 5 feet so Eli could swim where he couldn’t touch but I could (at least on tip toes 😋). It’s a good pool for toddlers who are learning to swim or can swim already. There is also a one foot pool but it’s a hard depth for a confident walker who is still too young to wear floaties—he wants to walk alone but he’ll often fall and get completed submerged. We tend to avoid the 1-foot depth. ⚠️ swimming with two kids is AWESOME but can be dangerous. Stay alert and go over safety rules and expectations with your kids before entering the pool.


Hawthorne Pool

6175 Sunny Spring, Columbia, MD 21044

🟩

We also love this pool! It has a gradual entry and plenty of medium-depth swimming. We found that it was usually pretty crowded but it’s big. There is also a younger children’s area with a few sprayers and a fun slide. My beginning swimming can explore quite a bit where he can touch. The only struggle at these pools with a deeper pool and a splash area is that my children have different desires; the baby really wants to splash while my toddler really wants to swim. So we go back and forth a lot! We know now to set up expectations with the older child like, “we’ll switch every 20 minutes“ and then please, use real time and keep your word. The more we do that, the more our kids can trust us and just enjoy, knowing we will keep our promises 😌


Baltimore Area


National Aquarium

501 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21202

🟩

This is obviously an amazing aquarium and totally worth the visit. It’s crowded and pushes the limits of covid safety. If you are okay with that and live close enough to visit more than once a year, the membership is definitely worth it. It’s a great experience for all members of a family.

⚠️ NOT stroller friendly

⚠️ limited visitors but doesn’t feel COVID-safe

🚽 potty training friendly

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

❗️can be busy

🧠 unique learning opportunity



Maryland Zoo

1 Safari Pl, Baltimore, MD 21217

🟩

We come from St. Louis where the zoo is amazing, and free so I was hesitant about this zoo. We found that we absolutely love it. It feels like a lot to pay but again, if you plan to visit several times a year, a membership is worth it. We love the bears (polar and grizzly), the giraffes, chimpanzees, and elephants especially. If you’re lucky, you can feed a giraffe although it does cost a small amount (if the giraffes are far away, you can’t really feed them so maybe don’t tell your child about this until you see if it’s possible).

We also love the Maryland area—you can learn about animals native to Maryland and the exhibits are really unique, like an old tree you go inside, a bat cave, and more. There are so fun movement opportunities but be warned: they are not accessible for all kids (and not with a stroller). But if your child enjoys peaceful, quiet, places, definitely try out the Maryland trail where they may enjoy the close quarters in the old tree and bat cave. Another note: the windows to see the animals are pretty high. They would be hard for a shorter child if you can’t lift them up and would be hard for a seated child. The farm is also really fun for kids (and adults, who am I kidding!) and the animals can be seen from all different vantage points.

💡 look for fun and imaginative movement signs that invite kids to use their minds and bodies to act like an animal like, “walk like a chimpanzee” and “leap like a frog.” Eli enjoyed finding these! 💡 We haven’t eaten at the zoo yet (you Can bring your own picnic) but there seem to be some nice options available (I’d go for the Whistle Stop Grille, I saw some nutritious bowls on the menu).

⚙️ stroller friendly

🦠 covid safe

🚽 potty training friendly (bathrooms are plentiful)

🌳 shady

👂 quiet

👦 👶 mixed ages appropriate

❗️can be busy

💫 Play opportunities for differently abled visitors

🧠 unique learning opportunity