If there's a deer-crossing sign in the parking lot, you must be at the National Wildlife Visitor Center. The center is the public face of the 12,750-acre Patuxent Research Refuge, which has the distinction of being the Department of the Interior's largest science and environmental education center. There are six trails in the area surrounding the Visitor Center. The longest--a 1.4-mile circuit around Cash Lake--affords a glimpse of the lake's resident beavers and their lodge, a work-in-progress. Alone among local trails, the 0.3-mile Loop Trail is wheelchair accessible. The National Wildlife Visitor Center is at 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free. For more information, call 301-497-5760.
Foot trails encircle Fort Washington Park, which, as you might expect of a fortification designed to protect Washington against invasion by water, has a breathtaking view of the Potomac. After Washington was burned to the ground in the War of 1812, the U.S. military took the hint and expanded the fort to its current mammoth proportions. There are three trails at Fort Washington; the mile-long River Trail follows the perimeter of the park grounds. Fort Washington Park is at 13551 Fort Washington Rd., Fort Washington. Open daily, 9 a.m. to dark. There is a $4 fee per vehicle from March to November. For more information, call 301-763-4600.
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