Whether you’re itching for a hearty dose of adventure or hoping for a restful weekend excursion, these outdoor destinations near D.C. will keep you on your toes
Celebrate the onset of spring in the nation’s capital with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Held annually, the festival commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees from the mayor of Tokyo to the United States in 1912. Between the months of March and April, Washington, D.C. springs to life with blooming pink “sakura,” as they’re known in Japan. Throughout the festival, the capital hosts fun events, like a parade, an outdoor concert called Petalpalooza, and Blossom Kite Festival, where thousands of kites are flown among the trees.
Although weather factors like frost and precipitation affect the bloom dates, 2020’s National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for March 20–April 12. Until 70% of the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin have blossoms, D.C. is on Bloom Watch
, which you can keep track of on the festival’s website. Cherry blossoms symbolically represent renewal, and this brief, beautiful moment with nature reminds visitors of our responsibility to a greater global community.
If you’re ready for a long-haul adventure, then the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath could be exactly what you’re looking for. But be warned: It is no easy feat. There are 185 miles of dirt and stone along the C&O Canal from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. Although originally designed for mules to walk alongside the canal guiding boats, the towpath today operates as a recreational trail. The canal follows along the Potomac as it winds through forests and past waterfalls, giving adventurous souls, be they walkers, bikers, or runners, a retreat into nature.
If you prefer to dip your toes, the towpath offers several boat ramps for canoeing and kayaking along the canal. Take a break along the path at any of the nine Canal Towns
, such as Brunswick, Maryland, or Shepherdstown, West Virginia. These canal towns work in conjunction with the C&O Canal Trust to provide visitors the best possible experience whether hiking or floating a little or a lot.
The nation’s 26th president understood the innate value of the land, and this island named in honor of his efforts as a conservationist is a sweet escape from the heart of Washington, D.C. Accessible from Virginia and the District of Columbia via the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, the island is nestled in the Potomac River. This planned forest was designed to imitate and rehabilitate the island’s natural landscape. Over 160,000 people visit Theodore Roosevelt Island each year to enjoy a breath of fresh air less than three miles from downtown Washington.
Experience the island through ranger-led programs, exploring the myriad of hiking trails, or kayaking around the island on the Potomac. Young visitors can become Junior Rangers, practice their birdwatching skills, or complete scavenger hunts while on the island, making this an excellent outdoor escape for families with little ones.
Rock Creek Park is an integral part of Washington, D.C. and a pivotal piece in the history of the nation’s parklands. As one of the first pieces of land protected by the nation, this urban park represents on a bigger scale the birth of our National Park Service. As a hiking spot, a picnic destination, and home to a planetarium, Rock Creek Park has it all.
No matter the season, this park always has something incredible to offer. Nearly 1,800 acres of lush scenery keep guests busy with playing fields, an insightful nature center, and historic Peirce Mill. For something hands-on, volunteer your time to help preserve this beautiful park.
Head toward McLean, Virginia, for jaw-dropping views of the Potomac. Only 15 miles from Washington, D.C. real estate can feel like a world away when you’re surrounded by the sound of the river as it rushes over the rocks. Centuries, if not millennia, of history accompany the 800-acre park. The Potowmack Canal, a project beloved by the nation’s first president, is preserved alongside a deserted working town called Matildaville that emerged during the construction of the canal.
Great Falls Park has been a prime picnic spot since the 1920s
. Between bicycling, boating, horseback riding, and birding, the park has an outdoor activity for everyone, whether seeking a thrilling afternoon or a relaxing retreat.
Explore the wonders of the world without leaving the nation’s capital. Over 160 acres of Washington, D.C. is dedicated to the care and conservation of 2,000 animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Along with its Conservation Biology Institute, a research and conservation facility, animals are provided the highest quality of care available from world-class veterinarians. While the giant panda family of Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and newest member Bei Bei attract a hefty crowd, there are 18 separate sections of the zoo, each with unique species and accompanying habitats you can visit .
Because the zoo is associated with the Smithsonian Institute, admission is always free, and the zoo is open to the public seven days a week. Several themed activities take place throughout the year, including the family-friendly zoo sleepover called Snore and Roar, Boo at the Zoo in October, and Brew at the Zoo, ideal for date nights.
For a taste of the seaside, consider heading out of town toward the Assateague Island National Seashore. With entrances in both Maryland and Virginia, the expansive park is protected by the National Park Service and has everything from beaches to forests. Guests can kayak around the island, bike through any of the variously sized loops, or go shell collecting along the shore.
With a permit and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, visitors can enjoy an afternoon cruising on the beaches in the Over-Sand Vehicle zone. You might spot a few wild ponies while you’re perusing the shore or the inland marshes, but the park cautions visitors from approaching or feeding the animals.
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