Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is easily one of the most unique units of the National Park Service. This is the only National Park dedicated to the performing arts.
Nestled on the outskirts of Washington, DC, Wolf Trap is host to several stages for performances, including the Filene Center, a large open-air amphitheater with both covered and lawn seating.
You will also find a couple of trails winding through the woods surrounding the park, making for a true National Park experience despite its primary focus as a performance center.
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What to Expect at Wolf Trap
When you arrive at Wolf Trap, you will find a lot of parking, understandably so. There are two paved lots: the West Lot and East Lot. You will also find a grass lot called Gil’s Hill. There is also a small handicapped parking area called Lot 4.
We were seeing a concert on our visit, so we parked in the West Lot. From there, we could easily walk to Filene Center but also had easy access to the Wolf Trap Trail.
We found this was a good parking area for access to all of the stuff we wanted to do. We also were able to exit fairly easily following the show.
Hiking the Trails
Wolf Trap offers two trails: the TRACK trail (1.5 miles) and the Wolf Trap Trail (2.5 miles). Both are pretty easy trails that provide the opportunity to get out in the woods. We used this as a way to work off some of the calories we knew we would consume later at the show. The trails overlap a bit so if you have done one, you have done most of the other.
The trails wind through the woods. They loop around the Wolf Trap Farm Pond and meander by the Wolf Trap Creek and the Old Courthouse Spring Branch. The creeks and pond help to keep the woods cool even in the summer.
We enjoyed our brief hike through the woods and can definitely see why this trail area would be popular as a local hiking trail.
Performance Venues at the Park
There are three performance venues inside the park (there is a fourth outside the park boundary run by the Wolf Trap Foundation). Meadow Stage/Pavilion is the smallest and is a special events facility. The Wolf Trap Foundation rents this venue.
The National Park Service nestled the appropriately named Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods in the woods past Wolf Trap Creek at the end of a wide gravel path. This venue seats about 800 and is the perfect intimate space for a children’s production.
The largest venue is the Filene Center, which seats around 7,000 with a mix of covered (including the balcony) and uncovered lawn seats. Of course, a big draw to Wolf Trap is seeing a performance here. But, the rangers also lead a tour backstage to see where the magic happens.
One thing we loved about all of the venues was the use of natural materials in their construction It very much felt like we were visiting a National Park, despite the fact we were going to see a concert.
What It’s Like to See a Concert at Wolf Trap
We got tickets to see blues legend Buddy Guy on his farewell tour. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, as well as Samantha Fish and Jesse Dayton, joined Buddy Guy for this show. It made for an amazing night of blues!
We got seats in the lawn section. So, we made a point to bring a blanket to sit on. We also grabbed a cooler with some beer and snacks. Yes, you can bring in your own coolers with alcohol, other beverages and food! It makes for a very cool experience. We saw folks bring in wine and cheese plates and veritable buffets of delicious food.
There is a small section up at the top of the lawn for those who bring lawn chairs. Further down on the lawn, there are no raised chairs allowed. That said, you can rent reclining lawn cushions (or bring your own). We found them pretty comfortable.
You can also get food and drinks inside the venue. The food menu was pretty stout and we got a good dinner for about $50. Just note you cannot take food into the covered seats and drinks must be in covered Wolf Trap cups.
The gates for the lawn open 90 minutes before the show, allowing plenty of time to enjoy dinner before the show begins. If you want a good seat on the lawn, you will want to get in line before the gates open.
There is also a full restaurant on site which offers reservations for dinner before the show and the remainder of the grounds are open for picnicking.
Where to Stay in the Area
Wolf Trap is located in the greater Washington DC area, so there are plenty of hotels nearby.
We were camping and found a really nice campground in Manassas, right next to Manassas National Battlefield Park, called Bull Run Regional Park. This is a large park that has a bit of everything: picnic tables and grilling areas, a shooting range, large open spaces, a water park and a nice campground.
We camped in one of the pull-through full hook-up sites. The site itself was not the best, at least for our camper. For starters, it was difficult to get into due to how the site was set up, with a tree at one end. Additionally, it was at all level.
Still, the campground was good overall and we would stay here again.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Wolf Trap
We visited Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts as a bit of a detour before visiting Shenandoah National Park. Honestly, it would be better suited as part of a visit to Washington DC but we tend to visit cities in colder months and would miss out on seeing a show here.
We really enjoyed seeing a concert at Wolf Trap. It is a nice facility and is certainly an improvement from many of the amphitheaters we have seen concerts at in terms of the overall environment.
While we chose our show based on what was available when we were in town, the concert schedule at Wolf Trap is quite varied and you can likely find a show of your liking if you have a few days in town.
The Buddy Guy performance was spectacular, even for Bonnie who is not much of a blues fan. These performers were outstanding and the venue added a lot to the excellent performance.
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