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HomeOutdoorsHikingCapital Hiking—Get out and explore D.C.

Capital Hiking—Get out and explore D.C.

Washington D.C. holds more than just monuments. There are a lot of exceptional parks in the D.C. metro area that feature great hikes, bikes and trails for you and your family to explore.

The rivers in the surrounding area lend themselves for great views outside the city, while other parks offer great views of the city itself, and all offer a respite from city surrounds. Here are 10 favorite spots around the district that are worth the trip!

(Note that due to the COVID-19 pandemics, many of these state and national parks are open, but indoor facilities at the parks will not be, and other distancing measures may be in place. Check websites before venturing out to any of these parks.)

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Technically still in D.C. but accessed by the Virginia side of the Potomac River, Roosevelt Island offers short loop trails perfect for little legs. Trails pass through different habitats including marsh and forest that allow for ample wildlife viewing. The center of the island opens up to a sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt, large hedges, and seasonal fountains. Trails are mixed with pavement, boardwalks, gravel, and dirt but a rugged stroller can handle Roosevelt Island well. Dog friendly.

Burnt Mills Reservoir East and West

These two parks in one straddle Columbia Pike (Rt. 29) in Silver Spring. Park on the East side to access the Northwest Branch Trail and park on the West side to access the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail going north. The Rachel Carson Greenway Trail feels surprisingly isolated and rugged despite being just off of Columbia Pike. It follows the creek north and eventually makes its way to Wheaton Regional Park. Dog friendly.

Kingman and Heritage Islands

Kingman and Heritage Islands park is on the east side of the city in the middle of the Anacostia River. The islands are a great place to poke around and explore the 1.5 miles of trails while looking for wildlife and enjoying scenic views from the river overlook. The main entrance is found on the west bank of the Anacostia River at the back of RFK Stadium Parking lot 6, between the capital bikeshare and the fields, about 0.1 miles south of Benning Road NE.
Dog friendly.

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Wheaton Regional Park

Wheaton Regional Park packs a punch with the amount of recreational opportunities crammed into one park. Wheaton Regional park includes Brookside Gardens, a 50-acre garden and nature center with a butterfly pavilion; large playgrounds with picnic area and a ride-on train; an ice skating rink, and a horse stable, tennis courts, carousel, and a dog park. But Wheaton Regional Park also has a significant number of trails to explore. Dog and stroller friendly.

Patuxent Research Refuge

The Refuge is divided in the south tract and the north tract. The north tract has over 20 miles of roads and trails. The south tract has a large visitor center and the trails dip into the woods alongside a lake. There is an easy 3-mile loop around the lake or add on more miles with other trail options. It is a great place for waterfowl and amphibians. This is dog-friendly and a rugged stroller can probably handle old roots on the dirt paths. Throughout the year Patuxent Research Refuge holds many events like bird walks, kids fishing days, nature explorations, and critter talks, though during the state of emergency, all events are on hold.

Meadowside and Lake Frank 

Known for its nature center (soon to be renovated) and outdoor educational raptor aviary. It boasts 8 miles of trails that traverse different habitats. Lake Frank is partially paved, but you can make a 3-mile-loop out of it if you continue along the dirt trails, with some minor rock hopping across a stream involved. The trail mostly follows the perimeter of the lake with the shoreline ducking in and out of sight.

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Rock Creek Park

This urban oasis is unlike any other city park. Whether a quick little loop of a mile or less to visit the horses or linking together the Western Ridge Trail and Valley Trail to make a rigorous 12-mile loop, there is something for everyone. The park provides rock scrambling, puddle stomping in the creek, and wildlife watching. Dog friendly and is paved for easy stroller access.

Redgate Park

This largely unknown former golf course in Rockville is full of steep paved trails, lakes, abandoned sand traps and lots of overgrown fields. It is a mecca for birders. The city of Rockville is trying to decide what to do with the property but in the meantime, it is open to the public.

Greenbelt Park

This large wild urban park gives the illusion of being deep in the woods. The Perimeter Trail is a large loop that goes around the entire park, where as the Azalea Trail is a much smaller trail. Many side trails provide lots of opportunity to mix and match. The trails are dirt but wide and can accommodate a rugged stroller. Dog friendly.

Lake Needwood

Lake Needwood has over 7 miles of natural surface trails. The trails dip in and out of the forest and offer views of the lake but there is currently (there is a plan in the works) no trail that does a complete loop around the lake. There are two entrances to the park, one on Beech Drive and one on Needwood Lake Drive.

U.S. National Arboretum

Paved roads, dirt trails and boardwalks snake through different themed plantings such as Fern Valley, Conifers, Dogwoods, and Magnolias, to name a few. Gentle hills, open fields, ponds and creeks dot the landscape and encourage wildlife. The old columns from the original capitol building mark the center of the Arboretum. The Arboretum offers a mobile app with maps to guide you through the vast grounds. Dogs and strollers are welcome.

—Janet Jefferson

Looking for hikes closer to home? 

Check out:
Beverly Triton Beach in Edgewater
Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby

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