Dads are notoriously hard to buy for. What do they want? What do they need? Instead of stressing over what to get dad for Father’s Day this year, how about whisking him away for a memorable day trip with the family? Here are a few ideas, all within two hours of downtown DC.
Best For: Cyclists With an Interest in the Civil War
Where: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Why: Although driving through the battlefield at Gettysburg is impactful, cycling the approximately 10-mile route offers a closer experience to the hallowed ground of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Gettysbike, whose home base is located right at the visitor’s center parking lot, has licensed guides who are both knowledgeable and approachable (not lecture-y). The family-friendly tour leads cyclists along a network of trails and streets to the most pivotal sites, such as Seminary Ridge and the Devil’s Den. You can bring your own bikes or borrow one from their bike shed.
NOTE: Families can book private tours, and those with younger children probably should since the group tour moves at a brisk pace.
Best For: Amateur Photographers and Maritime History Buffs
Why: Just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge sits a handsome red-and-white octagonal lighthouse. Built in 1873, the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse is the last surviving example of a screwpile, whereby the structure is anchored to the muddy bottom of the Chesapeake, something of a 19th-century engineering marvel. A new excursion not only involves a leisurely boat ride to and from the National Historic Landmark, but also a tour of the inside that offers a fascinating look at what life was like for the lighthouse keepers stationed there.
NOTE: Children accompanying dad must be 12 years old for safety reasons; the tour includes steep steps in the lighthouse.
Best For: Adventurous, Outdoorsy Families
Where: Purcellville, Virginia
Why: Adrenaline junkies can book a half-day guided paddle in a duckie (an inflatable kayak) that traverses seven miles of water, slicing through the Shenandoah Mountain valley on Class I, II, and, occasionally, Class III rapids. While paddling past pristine parts of Harpers Ferry National Park, families are likely to encounter osprey, bald eagles, and herons. No experience is necessary for this paddle because there’s a thorough orientation, but bolder families will enjoy this most since there are significant twists and turns along the Potomac River and an exhilarating drop at Bull Falls, the wildest water in the area.
NOTE: You can either hike or take an ATV back to home base.
Best For: Golfers with Young Families
Where: Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Why: Dads can golf alongside their kids, relaxing on a no-pressure course that’s fringed by woodlands. Lake Presidential is a public course known for its low-key, friendly staff. The course is centered around a pretty 30-acre lake, and burgers can be paired with a brew for al fresco dining along the water. New ownership (2021) has invested in capital improvements, including a modern clubhouse. Dads and kids can book lessons with a PGA pro for as little as an hour, making this one of the more flexible public courses in the region, ideal for little kids with limited attention spans.
Best For: American History Buffs (With a Taste for Whiskey)
Why: Even if kids are too young to sample the award-winning whiskey, they can soak in the essence of George Washington’s enterprise by touring the distillery and gristmill, which made the Founding Father one of the most successful producers of spirits in the 18th century. Today, this site continues to craft small-batch, 86-proof whiskey using old-school methods. Costumed staff grinds grain in the gristmill powered by a 16-foot waterwheel, ferments the mash in rustic wooden tubs, and distills the alcohol in copper pots heated by a wood-fueled fire. Dads can even take home a handsome bottle emblazoned with the first president’s face.
NOTE: Although access to the distillery and mill are included with Mount Vernon general admission, $10 will give you access to the distillery and gristmill separately.