Nature is sometimes, well, too natural for children. This inviting facility on the grounds of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is a good antidote. There's a large, airy building filled with exhibits about the environment; inside the visitors center are exhibits on such ecosystems as the Chesapeake Bay and America's prairies. There's lots of wall text to read, knobs to turn and answers to reveal. Oddly compelling is a collection of real stuffed animals depicted in naturalistic settings behind frosted glass. Outside, the hiking trails in the adjacent refuge are short and manageable (none is longer than 1.4 miles and the shortest is less than a quarter mile, perfect for easily tired legs). But the best thing is the 40-person electric tram that takes a loop through the refuge. The tour's short duration, unhurried pace and concise narration make a tram trip an utterly pleasant centerpiece for a visit.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
Words to the wise: The tram runs weekends March through November but does not always run on weekdays. Call ahead for information.
Other amenities: A small gift shop stocks plush animals, nature books and artwork. Nature films are shown on a regular basis.
Notes: There's no food, and picnicking is not allowed.
Disability Access: The tram is accessible for the wheelchair-bound, and the 0.3-mile Loop Trail is paved and excellent for strollers or wheelchairs.