Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve

I already know what you are thinking- Who takes a trip to Florida in July?  And to see the Everglades nonetheless?  Yes, I did in fact do this!  Thanks to a work trip, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Florida.  My friend from graduate school, Emma, and her soon-to-be husband Kevin crazily agreed to make this journey with me!

The number one tip I can give you is to take bug spray and plenty of sunscreen if you visit these parks in July.  It is hot, humid, and takes mosquito bites to a whole new level.  The idea of seeing swamps may seem to be crazy, but it is so cool!  We started out at the Shark Valley Visitors Center.  I felt like I was adventuring through the tropics.

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A flooded pathway in Everglades National Park

Since it was the summer, we found most paths to be completly flooded and not accessible.  Due to the heat, we walked down the tram path for about 1.5 miles and then turned around.  Many people used the path to bike through the National Park, which could be fun in the cooler months.

While on the tram path, we did find a really cool wooded walkway over a large part of the swamp.  While I was convinced the whole time that an alligator was going to jump out and eat me, that did not happen.  It was so cool to walk over the swamp, though!

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Kevin, Emma, and I crossing over the swamp on a walkway!

To get around the Everglades, you actually cross through many parts of the Big Cypress National Preserve.  The National Preserve has spots where you can observe wildlife.  We really did not see very much wildlife there, but we did see the only wildlife we needed to see.

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An alligator peering out under the walkway we were crossing over at the Ochopee Visitors Center.  It was cool to see one, and it was just far enough away for comfort.

As we started venturing back up to Naples so I could pick up my rental car and settle into my hotel for the conference, we stopped back in the Everglades to see the Gulf Coast.  It was great to see the coast in a non-beach setting, and there had been many dolphin and manatee sightings over the last few weeks.

While my experience in the Everglades mostly involved driving, there are many more activities and less heat in the winter.  It was still very cool to see such a different area, and it was interesting to learn that this actually is a flowing body of water, not just a big swamp.  If you collect the National Parks cancellation stamps, there are many to collect here.

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Five different cancellation stamps

With a $25 entrance fee for the Everglades, my National Parks pass proved it’s worth again.  After saving $20 to enter Assateague Island in May, $25 at Shenandoah in June, and another $25 here, I am at $70/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.

While these National Parks were very cool, there are so many amazing outdoor activities in Florida that should not be missed as well!  In addition to checking out Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, I had a ton of fun in the sand at Siesta Key (Sarasota), kayaking through Mangrove trees, and seeing sunsets in Naples.

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Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

Thanks for reading my blog this week!  If you have any questions or comments, post them below in the comments section, and be sure to follow my blog to not miss any posts.  I am back in D.C. for a few weeks now, and I need to do some light hiking to get ready for my September trip to Utah!

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Hidden in the southeast part of D.C., the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are one of the most unique experiences I have had while living here.  My DC partner in crime, Cacia, and I had been talking about making a trip here soon.  However, we moved our visit up when we discovered that the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival was on July 15 this year!  While the park was very crowded, it was a very worthwhile experience.

The closest metro stop is at Deanwood on the orange line, although for the Lotus Festival, a shuttle was provided from Minnesota Avenue.  You should not come to this park alone if you are taking public transportation, as the neighborhood has some safety issues.  There was some parking, but not nearly enough for the Festival.  We took the shuttle from Minnesota, but then walked to Deanwood and felt safe enough together.

The lotus flowers looked awesome and are best described in pictures.

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The never ending view of lotus flowers across the park.

To see the flowers, there are lots of walkways throughout the park.  While the park is not huge, it seems like the flowers go on forever.  While there were mostly the pink flowers, we found a few exceptions throughout the park.

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A yellow and pinkish flower

While the Festival is called the Lotus and Water Lily Festival, an employee at the gift shop told us that the event is scheduled around the lotus bloom, and the water lilies usually bloom in mid June, a bit earlier in the season.  We found this to be true as we walked through the park, but we still found a few water lilies.

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Little water lilies

Aside from the beautiful flowers, the Festival also has dance groups, vendors, and 2 food trucks to allow you to make this an all day experience.  While the aquatic park is probably beautiful at other times of the year, I would highly recommend attending the festival!  There were so many activities and seeing the bloom was an awesome experience.

This park has another large perk- it is dog friendly!  What could be more fun than bringing your dog to an aquatic garden?!  The Anacostia Riverwalk trail is directly next to this park, and the trail goes on for many miles and was particularly nice near the park.  Unfortunately, the area’s crime rate spills over on this beautiful trail so be careful.

I really enjoyed my trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, and you should check it out too on your next visit to the District!  Next week I am looking forward to sharing my trip to Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.  Make sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss any updates as I continue my National Parks adventure!

The National Mall (Daylight)

While many of the monuments in D.C. are called out as individual sites, I have perfected the art of seeing as many memorials as possible on my walks on the Mall after work.  The National Parks site calls out Constitution Gardens, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument, and the World War II Memorial.  There are plenty of monuments to see, and I hope as a resident of D.C. that I can give you some insider secrets.

I spend a lot of Fridays roaming the National Mall after work, and I love it on Friday nights as the sunset comes on.  What I have noticed over time is that most people do not get too far past the Lincoln Memorial, which is a real shame, because the Franklin Delano Roosevelt is my personal favorite!  I take the following route when I walk, utilizing the Foggy Bottom Metro Station (Blue, Orange, Silver), although many people start towards the mall from the Smithsonian or Federal Triangle stations.

1. Albert Einstein Memorial
The Albert Einstein Memorial is one of my personal favorites, even though it is actually just before the National Mall.  People treat poor Mr. Einstein as a jungle gym, and he is also popular for drunk photo ops.  However, I love stopping to see him!

2. Vietnam War Veterans Memorial
A very simple Memorial honoring soldiers from Vietnam.  It can be hard to read the names at sunset, but it’s incredible how many names are on this memorial.  While the wall is the main part of the Memorial that most people visit, be sure to stop at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Three Servicemen Memorial as you head back towards the Lincoln Memorial.

3. Lincoln Memorial
The one that everyone has to see and for a good reason.  Once you see Mr. Lincoln and read his quotes, I recommend heading to the back of the Memorial to look out towards Arlington Cemetery.  It’s much quieter on this side.

4.  Reflecting Pool

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While it was still in the high 80s, the crowds are usually down on Friday evenings after 6 PM on a hot day, allowing you to take some great photos.

5. Korean War Veterans Memorial
This Memorial, in my opinion, is hands down the most moving one for me.  I always find myself on the bench reflecting on this Memorial.  It’s not to be missed and often has veterans visiting the site.

6. D.C. War Memorial (World War I)
This one is so small that it is easy to miss!  Keep an eye out.

7. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
This Memorial is really interesting, as a large-stone Mr. King looks out over the Tidal Basin.  The quotes are wonderful, and it’s a very unique site.  Coming from the D.C. War Memorial, you will approach from the back of the Memorial.  Be sure to look at it as you start down the Tidal Basin as well.

8. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
This Memorial is my personal favorite, particularly during Cherry Blossom season!  The water falls and walls are beautiful, the quotes are fantastic, and it does not see nearly as much foot traffic as the other Memorials.

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This is a great photo op if you bring your dog along! (Hudson has many a selfie here!)

9. Thomas Jefferson Memorial
As you need to take a long walk to the Jefferson Memorial or a tour bus, many people skip this beautiful Memorial.  I usually stop and take a little break here, looking out over the Tidal Basin and enjoying the breeze.  It’s well worth the walk!  At this point, you have walked 3.2 miles if you started at the Foggy Bottom metro.  Good job!  You have a 1.3 mile walk ahead of you to the Washington Monument.

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10. Washington Monument
Two days after I moved to D.C., the elevator in the Washington Monument was closed indefinitely, making this Monument far less interesting to me.  However, during the Cherry Blossom kite flying Festival, it is the place to be!  It is also the starting point for many a protest. Pro Tip:  The best view of this Monument is from far away!  Pro Tip #2:  You can get all of the Memorial cancellation stamps at the Visitors Center for your National Mall passport!

11. World War II Memorial
This monument is huge and really cannot be summarized in pictures or words.  Be sure to visit in the summer, as this one is drained in the cold months.

12. Constitution Gardens
Constitution Gardens is essentially a giant pond, but you can see baby ducklings in June!  In your overall quest to see the monuments, you have finished another 1.4 miles!

Plenty of events take place on the National Mall throughout the year.  I came down every few days during the Cherry Blossom Festival, and I loved the Smithsonian Folk-life Festival, which was circus themed this year.

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On my walk back to the Metro, I love to stop at Captain Cookie and the Milkman, which specializes in ice cream and cookies at all hours of the day.  Almost every snack is under $5 (My personal favorite being the ice cream cookie sandwich for $4)!  What could be more perfect after a long day on the Mall?

Thanks for reading my blog, and please subscribe for more National Park adventures!  I still need to see the National Mall by night (A whole different experience according to some), and I will be sure to post when I do!

Next week I will not have a blog post because I will be spending some time in Sarasota (Vacation) and Naples (Conference), Florida!  I am hoping to see some of the National Park areas in southern Florida during my visit.

Have questions about my walking tour?  Post in the comments below!

Shenandoah National Park

After a long week in the concrete jungle swamp known as Washington, D.C., I was so excited to finally make a return trip to Shenandoah National Park!  I visited Shenandoah in elementary school with my parents, and we drove down part of Skyline Drive.  Now with a 10 pound Pomeranian Poodle in tow, we decided to meet up in the park for a weekend trip.

While I drive, I don’t have a car in the city.  I took Amtrak from Union Station to Culpeper, VA, which is about an hour away from Shenandoah.  There are no rental car places so I did need to be picked up, but the actual park is only 75 miles from D.C.  If you are coming from D.C., Sperryville just outside of the park has some limited food options, and we found a GREAT cafe called Before & After to stop at for lunch.

After lunch, we started up to the park to check in.  We stayed in a pet-friendly room at Skyland, and the view was spectacular.  We had a view right over the mountain and overlooking Luray.  It was great to be centrally located in the park, and I immensely enjoyed leaving technology behind for the weekend. You can stay in rustic rooms, cabins, or camp within the property.  Eating can be a challenge, as the rooms do not have any way to cook, but we managed to make it work for the weekend.

After getting settled into the room, we began our first hike at the Hawksbill Gap Loop.  This trail takes you to the highest point in the park at 4,051 feet, and it’s an easy to moderate 2.9 mile hike.  The views are phenomenal, and we were happy to be the only people at the top.

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Hudson and I posing at the Hawksbill summit.  Little dogs can do big things!

Can you believe those little dog legs made it all of the way to the top?  Hudson was such a trooper on our trip!  You can see behind me that there is a compass in the wall at the peak.  The compass labels and points the direction towards the other peaks in the park.  It was very fun to know exactly what we were looking at.  The Hawksbill loop was my favorite hike we did this weekend thanks to the great views from the top.

The next day, we set out to hike the Rose River Trail.  This trail was a little different, as the final viewing points were two waterfalls, not a peak.  This 3.7 mile hike only has an elevation change of 908 feet, but with slippery rocks and some mud, it remained a little more than easy.  We really enjoyed this hike because you are allowed to enter the water, and Hudson enjoyed wandering near the little waterfalls.  The first large waterfall you pass is the Rose River Falls

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Rose River Falls

There were also a few butterflies by the Rose River Falls, which made me very happy.  These falls are about 1/3 of the way through the loop hike.  At the near end of the hike, you come to Dark Hollow Falls.  While the Dark Hollow Falls are taller, since they are accessible via a fire road, they are more crowded.

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Dark Hollow Falls

While I was ready to keep hiking, my parents were done with the wilderness after this hike.  We spent some time at the Big Meadows Wayside, which was a store and casual restaurant, and we enjoyed some ice cream as a treat after this hike.  We later walked the 2 mile round trip path from the store to the campground so I could check out campsites I would like to try in the future.  (I have never camped so we will see if I manage to pull this off this summer!)  In doing this, we found out that this is one of the big places to stop and watch the sunset!  We didn’t get any pictures that do the sunset justice, but it was beautiful.

In the morning, I decided to finish off my trip with a solo hike on the Stony Man Loop, which went a little awry when I got mixed up and ended up on the Little Stony Man trail somehow instead.  The trail head for the Stony Man Loop starts in Skyland, making it a great quick hike for a first or last day.

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View from the Stony Man Loop Trail

By some miracle, I did have enough cell reception to call and get picked up at the other trail head.  I wouldn’t recommend packing a hike in when you are trying to catch a train, but it all worked out in the end!  The views were worth it!

While it was sad to head back down the mountain to the Amtrak station, my parents, Hudson, and I had a great weekend trip to Shenandoah.  With a $25 entrance fee, my National Parks pass proved it’s worth again.  After spending $20 to enter Assateague Island last month and $25 here, I am at $45/$80 spent for my National Parks pass.

Even a little dog like Hudson can have fun hiking and swimming in the Shenandoah National Park.  While I wish the trip could have been longer, we will have to return soon.

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Greenbelt Park

Greenbelt Park is a quiet and fairly deserted park, just 12 miles outside of Washington, DC.  This park has the major advantage of being accessible from public transportation; however, my friend ended up driving for our visit to the park.  There is no entrance fee to the park so I didn’t actually need to use my annual pass.  The park has camping, hiking, and picnic options.  The parking area is with the picnic area.

We decided to walk the Perimeter trail, which is a 5.3 mile trail around the park.  The trail is a loop and begins and ends at the front of the park, a bit away from a parking lot.  There are many points where you can enter the trail, though.  This trail is surprisingly green and beautiful and very shaded.  It was perfect on a hot Memorial Day, and so much more peaceful than expected.  We only walked past 8 people on our walk, although the picnic areas had a few people.

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Greenbelt Park isn’t completely flat, but the elevation change throughout the park is essentially negligent.  We did see people with hiking poles, but this is no more than an easy walk through a wooded area while dodging some puddles and mud.  A few areas had wooded walkways even to avoid the mud.

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The biggest issue we found was that the trail is labeled fairly poorly.  There are lots of signs, but they are often in odd locations and well past forks in the trail.  We ended up walking an extra mile along other misleading trails, but we weren’t in a rush to get off of the trail.  However, if you have any kind of hiking app, we did find it helpful at the non-labeled forks.  We did see some ticks, but we mostly stuck to the paths and didn’t have any issues.

Since Greenbelt is essentially a suburb of D.C., this isn’t a totally peaceful walk, as you are directly next to a parkway at multiple points. In a quick online search, you can find various conversations about the safety of the area.  We saw two men acting pretty suspicious on our visit, but I felt perfectly safe with a friend.

If you are looking for a two to three hour wander through the woods, a picnic spot, or somewhere to camp near DC, then Greenbelt Park is a great place to stop.  If you want to hit another National Park area, you can make your drive back to D.C. on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Thanks for reading my post, and thank you to my new followers as well!  In an hour, I am heading to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to spend some time hiking with my parents’ favorite child, Hudson (AKA Sir Woofs A Lot).  Hopefully we will have lots of fun and have plenty to report.

Assateague Island

As I do more research for this blog, I am finding out just how many people love the National Parks.  There have been 42,519,388 visitors to the National Parks in Washington, D.C.  While I have visited most of the sites in D.C., it’s great to see how many more I have to go.  But first… Let me tell you about my trip to Assateague Island.

It’s been many years since I have gone on a vacation with my family, but I had the opportunity to in May.  We went to Dewey Beach, DE, which is not far at all from Assateague Island in National Shore, MD.  When the rain crashed our beach plans, we headed down to see the wild horses for the day.

Around 10 years ago now, we actually went to see the horses while in Ocean City, MD.  It was July and overwhelmingly hot.  The only places we saw wild horses were in the parking lot trying to take food from people.  A May visit was less crowded, and the cooler weather meant seeing more horses as well.

The idea of the island housing wild horses seems a little silly, as the horses clearly know that humans have food.  I wouldn’t feed a horse, but a lot of people must do so.  The horses aren’t afraid to be close to humans at all.  While it can be a challenge to find them, we didn’t have any troubles.

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Horses standing together about 10 feet away from us

While the picture looks cute, the horses got into a skirmish about 1 minute after this photo was taken.  This was the best view of the horses we had, aside from one at the main entrance.  Often times, we could see horses in the distance, but this isn’t an island packed with wild horses by any stretch.  You really do have to drive around and just be patient.

If you are looking to spend longer than an hour or two on the island with the horses, you can also camp here!  There is a beach to hang out on, as well as campgrounds and lots of parking.  Dogs are allowed to, and my parents’ 10 pound Poma-Poo enjoyed the horses too (Not as much as the ice cream at Dumsers Dairyland on the drive back, but you cannot please everyone).  I’m terrified of the idea of camping, but I am determined to try it at some point during my National Parks year!

It is $20 to visit Assateague, which is 25% of the cost of the Annual Parks pass!  It’s a great place to buy a pass if you plan to visit other National Parks, and I am glad I got my pass here.

Thanks for reading this post!  I love sharing information about my trips with other people looking for fun.  If you like learning about the National Parks, please sign up to follow my blog.  The next post will be for Greenbelt Park in Greenbelt, MD.

Colonial Park- Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne

My friend and I booked a trip to visit Colonial Williamsburg for three days in May, and based on research and reviews, we assumed that was only enough time to see that. However, thanks to some well timed rain, we ended up with time to see two national parks as well!

My visit to Yorktown Battlefield and Historic Jamestowne in mid-May inspired me to buy the America the Beautiful Pass, but I didn’t actually have my pass yet for my visit. Nonetheless, I thought it was important to include them since my annual pass journey is from May 2017- May 2018, and maybe longer!

Our first stop was Yorktown Battlefield on Sunday evening, and the park is open until dusk. As the visitors’ center closes at 5:00 PM, we ended up not needing to pay to visit this site. I’m not saying you should avoid contributing to the parks, but we had no way to do so either. There were some things to do in the center, but I can’t speak to them.

Now, I should place a caveat right here: I am not a battlefield person. One time in junior high or elementary school, my father insisted that we go to Gettysburg. It was hot and humid and terrible, and he wanted to walk all of the battlefields. (Dad still talks about this trip.  He liked the battlefields.) To be honest, I don’t really get battlefield sites. I understand the importance of them, but areas like Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne are more my speed.

You drive to the Yorktown visitors center on the Colonial Parkway, which is also part of the National Parks.  (I don’t understand the parkway park thing, but maybe I will figure it out eventually!) After parking in the visitors center parking lot, we stopped at the victory monument, slightly down a path and away from the battlefield and parking lot. It was big.

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Yorktown Battlefield Victory Monument

There are two marked driving tours with strong signage and so we spent 3 hours driving through the site. If you are really adventurous, we saw a lot of people biking the trip as well. The driving tour has lots of signs labeling things and explaining what happened where. There was also a small stream to ford across, which was supposed to be educational (It mostly provided comic relief). Some signs were hard to read from weathering, but they were brief and had good information. The wooded areas are so peaceful and beautiful, which is an added bonus.

After a successful evening at the battlefield, we committed to visiting Historic Jamestowne Monday morning. This site is not to be missed, in my opinion, and it should not be confused with the Jamestowne Settlement, which is a pricey private site. The visit to the Historic site is $14, but with a parks pass, it is only $7 (The other $7 goes to a Virginia preservation group.) We had absolutely perfect weather on a sunny 80 degree day. There is limited shade so a spring or fall visit is probably best.

Historic Jamestowne is mostly remnants of some of the first building structures in the United States, but it is just so incredible. While plenty is left to the imagination, there are enough partial structures to keep your visit entertaining and intriguing. There are lots of tours you can join, or you can walk around on your own. As we had just missed a tour, my friend and I just walked the area. When you first walk into the park, you come up to the Tercentennial Monument, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the settlement.

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The Miniature Washington Monument… So much for my weekend escape from D.C.

In the middle of the settlement is an active archaeological dig that excavates millions of artifacts, and the team working there still finds new things. The dig was, sadly, not active for our visit, but it was still very cool to see. The museum, which is fairly new, features artifacts that have been found on the dig site. It is exceptionally well done and is included in your $14 admission fee. The museum is not overwhelming and worth your visit, plus there is an entire exhibit on cannibalism. (It was well done but it did creep us out.)

The settlement was built on the water for transportation reasons, but it also makes this site extra beautiful! You can walk along the water, and there is a cafe where you can sit to look out at the water. It’s serene and peaceful.

My favorite part of this trip was meeting Pocahontas. I took a picture with her because I am a millennial and grew up with Disney princesses. So obviously I needed a picture.

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Hanging with Pocahontas

To make the trip perfect, the gift shop also proved to be excellent. I buy my parents a magnet for every place I visit, and I successfully found a magnet to add to the collection. My friend also found a really fancy National Parks passport to upgrade from her childhood one, and now we must continue to collect all of the stamps!

Once you are done at the settlement, be sure to jump back in the car to continue towards the glass blowing facility. There are artists actively making things and a little gift shop to make purchases of this handmade art as well. It’s fun and also right on the water.

While this National Parks trip was partially unplanned, I wouldn’t dare recommend someone visit Williamsburg without seeing these sites as well! We had 2.5 days and spent 1.5 days in Colonial Williamsburg, and a half day at each National Park. We saw everything we wanted to see and more in this timeline, and we had great weather too!

If you are looking to make the trip from D.C. (or the greater DMV area) to Williamsburg, you will read a lot of terrifying stories about traffic.  We left at 6:00 AM on Saturday, arrived at the Southern Pancake and Wafflehouse just before 9:00 AM.  Despite eating on our drive in, leaving that early in the morning required some warm food and protein to wake us up on a rainy day.  We were less lucky on the return trip, as we had planned to leave at noon and left closer to 1:30 PM on Monday.  We sat in and extra hour and a half of traffic starting near Lorton, VA on the way back.

This trip can also be done on a tight budget (at least from D.C.)!  For a 2.5 day trip, eating every meal out, splitting a hotel, and buying a Mother’s Day gift, I spent $253 total.  The big expenses were the hotel and Colonial Williamsburg passes ($169 per person).  If you don’t have a friend with a car, Amtrak also stops here, and you can get tickets for as low as $70 round trip from Union Station.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Thank you to everyone who already subscribed and liked this blog! I can’t wait to continue sharing with you. My next post will be for Assateague Island in National Seashore, MD.