Unfortunately, the Garden of Lights has been canceled for the winter of 2014, due to some ongoing construction projects. According to the park's website: although the light show is cancelled, there is still plenty to see and do in Montgomery Parks, including the Conservatory Winter Display and Garden Railway Exhibit.
Edited to Add: Due to the recent renovations, the Garden of Lights has been canceled for 2014. I, personally, am really looking forward to checking out these light next year in 2015.
I took my son to enjoy the garden railway at Brookside Gardens. All of the volunteers there were so friendly to my little boy answering all of his questions.
One of the two conservatory buildings is dedicated to the model railroad in the winter. There are two main tracks: one in the middle of the building taking up most of the floor space and another that runs along one side of the building. The trolley line that runs along the side of the building is a bit high for small children to be able to see easily.
We easily spent a half hour one weekday morning identifying all the Disney miniatures hidden around the train set-up. There are a couple of trains running on the main line, and they are at the perfect height for small children to watch. The area is roped off in such a way that even the most active kids understand that they have to keep their hands to themselves.
The set-up is not huge or spectacularly intricate - but it is most definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.
We've been to the playground, train and carousel at Wheaton Regional Park. I am so glad that we finally stopped for a walk in the gardens.
We walked into the conservatory building and saw a group of seniors enjoying the flowers. I thought, "maybe this isn't the place for my active kids." No worries though, the further we got from the parking lots, the more kids we saw.
We enjoyed everything we saw from the conservatory building with amazing flowers to the turtles in the pond by the Japanese garden. We loved the children's garden, all the gazebos, the fountains, the maze-like paths, and the flowers - so many flowers in the middle of July.
You can easily walk around the garden with preschool age kids in about an hour. An active toddler could probably make it all the way around without a stroller. It's a great size for young children.
My family has been going to this light display for five years, and every year we love it. Here is the formula for success we've found. (1) arrive an hour BEFORE the gardens close and head to the train display. Typically, it's not too crowded yet. (2) When the Conservatory with the trains closes, head up the hill to the cafeteria. You can grab a quick dinner, buy your tickets for the light display, and warm up. (3) enjoy the lights without waiting in line to get in. If you arrive after the lights have been turned on, you could be in for a long wait. Walking through the display is fantastic. Every year my kids notice something new. Every year they are exhausted when we have gotten through most of the display. Every year they want to go back again!
Right next to the huge playground and picnic areas of Wheaton Regional Park, these gardens are simply gorgeous—any season of the year. With a wide trail perfect for little guys’ scooters or bikes with training wheels, the path is mostly flat with great spots to stop for a picnic. In our crazy life, we really enjoy the serenity of walking through a perfectly manicured garden with flowers a bloom everywhere. And my kids love to try to find frogs in the fountains. If there are no frogs to be seen, any of the kind gardeners are usually up for helping the kids hunt one down.
I can't rave enough about all the programs this place offers. There are programs for adults as well as kids (http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/childrens_programs.shtm). Most are free. Admission to the gardens is free (its a public garden) but some exhibits and programs have a fee. They have an uber cute kids play area with garden play area (think dirt instead of sand), a real treehouse (which I want in my own backyard), fairy houses, and building table. In the early fall we dressed the kids as fairies and my photographer friend took pics. It was the perfect backdrop!
Right now in the summer they have an amazing Butterfly Garden open until Sept 20th which costs $6 per adult and $4 kids 3-12. Which is definately worth the price! A few warnings...butterflies need a hot environment so expect to sweat, sometimes the exhibit closes due to extreme heat call this number before going "Wings of Fancy" Hotline: 301-962-1453, and no strollers allowed inside (bummer).(http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/wings_of_fancy.shtm)
In the winter, they have an amazing light display called "Garden of Lights" that you walk through...but be forewarned lots of people will alway want to attend so either get there before dark or expect to wait in a long car line waiting to park (though they do have an efficient parking system). Hours are from 5:30-9 (last car admitted at 8:30pm. It costs $15 to park on weeknights and $20 on weekends...but again worth it!http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/garden_lights.shtm
Get the inside scoop from parents who have been there!