Washington, D.C., provides a wealth of museums, monuments and sights to explore, but sometimes the abundance can be overwhelming. Our advice? Take a day and head outdoors to get your nature fix at one of these urban escapes. History and scenic views are deftly woven throughout these routes, which can be completed on foot or by bike. Get ready to explore the nation’s capital in a new way.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem featuring an impressive monument to its namesake. Begin your trek at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, crossing the 14th Street Bridge using the pedestrian bike path. Continue on the scenic Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River until you reach the island, just under three miles away. If biking, you’ll need to lock up before entering the pedestrian-only area.
The quiet woodsy island—often overlooked by tourists—offers dirt paths and a wooden walkway. Try the 1.5-mile Swamp Trail loop, featuring a scenic view of Georgetown from the north point of the island. Walk back across the river using the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge toward the Kennedy Center to experience the newly unveiled Victura Park, a lovely outdoor wine garden offering beverages, charcuterie boards and light snacks.
Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
Along the popular Anacostia River Trail you’ll find the blossoming RFK Stadium riverfront development. Start your escape at Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, navigating city sidewalks toward Kingman and Heritage Islands. Nearing the Anacostia River, you’ll pass a lively recreational, entertainment and sport complex. Opened last year, The Fields at RFK Campus is the first of a five-point project to transform the area around the abandoned RFK Stadium, previous host of NFL games, into a vibrant city district (plans include a memorial honoring Robert F. Kennedy). Cross onto the islands, where paths will guide your exploration. Along the eastern side of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of Washington, D.C., before crossing the 11th Street Bridge to cap things off at Bluejacket, one of the district’s finest brewpubs.
C&O Canal Towpath
Beginning at the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Georgetown, take the historic C&O Canal Towpath 6.3 miles to The Irish Inn at Glen Echo. Refuel with a burger and pint on the patio before retracing your steps to your starting point. The path is within eyeshot of the Potomac River, hugging the long defunct Chesapeake & Ohio Canal with 74 locks stretching 185 miles to Cumberland, Maryland. Though the landscape is beloved by bikers, walkers, runners and outdoor enthusiasts, few know that visitors can actually stay overnight there.
At various points stand old lockhouses, seven renovated to match historical time periods and available to rent through the Canal Quarters program. The goal is to eventually provide a hut-to-hut experience for long-distance hikers and bikers, says Heidi Glatfelter Schlag, director of communications at C&O Canal Trust. The newest refurbishment, Lockhouse 21 (“Swains”) at mile marker 16.7, opened to much fanfare in 2019, a full decade after the initial six. Lockhouse 6 is also worth viewing to gain an appreciation for the canal project.