March 6, 2014

Seven Opportunities to Get Outside, Explore DC, and Move Your Body


I love being outside and will ride my bike in nearly all types of weather, rain, cold, sleet, but my favorite type of weather is sunny and warm. I lived for a time in the Los Angeles area and 90% of the time the weather was conducive to being outside, hiking, biking, rollerblading, beach going or just sitting.

I moved to the DC area in 1997 and had a bit of a difficult time transitioning out of my car but now avoid driving at all costs. My husband and I together own more bicycles than necessary but they are tools to explore the city and a testament to a lifestyle we’ve chosen.

Below is a partial list of places I’ve collected that I love to visit any time of the year. Winter lures us into hibernation, but on a chilly sunny day, check out some of these great locations to experience the great outdoors and the lesser-seen DC. Here are a few of my favorites. Feel free to add yours to this list!

1. Bike the Monuments at Night

The District is home to a lot of marble, ranging from the curbs to the picturesque monuments. If you own a bike, this tour is much easier than if you don’t…but don’t despair, you can rent or borrow a bike either from Capital Bike Share or Bike the Sights. Bike share has stations near the National Mall and I’ve mapped a route that is about 9 miles, hits The White House, The Washington Monument, The World War II Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The Roosevelt Memorial, MLK Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, and the Vietnam Memorial.

You can also hit some other sights like the George Mason memorial, the Einstein memorial (outside of the National Science Foundation) and the DC World War I memorial. The National Park Service has an app that helps you navigate the National Mall and you can create your own route. As a long time DC resident, seeing the monuments lit up at night never gets old. Try this Map My Ride route. Be forewarned, most areas are bike friendly, have bike lanes or wide sidewalks. I do not condone sidewalk riding unless absolutely necessary and always encourage helmets while riding in the city.

2. Trails in Rock Creek Park (free)

The oasis that is Rock Creek is more than just an easy way to avoid 16th Street traffic. It has biking and hiking trails that get you away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. On the weekends, large portions of Beach Drive are closed to traffic, creating extra wide biking, running or just walking trails. On a daily basis, Rock Creek Park has a network of well-marked trails that are great for running or walking depending on your preferred speed. Active Life DC has descriptions and links to 3 such trails.

3. C&O Canal Trail and Capital Crescent Trail (free)

Both of these trails are easy to access from Georgetown under the Whitehurst Freeway on Water Street. Closest metro is either Foggy Bottom (Blue/Orange) or Rosslyn (Blue) and it’s a few blocks to walk to both trailheads. The C&O Canal Trail is more than 100 miles of unpaved path that parallels the Potomac and runs from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C. The canal offers both access to nature and history.

In the 19th and early 20th century the C&O Canal provided jobs and opportunities for people throughout the Potomac River Valley, from the tidal basin in Washington D.C. to the mountains of Western Maryland. Today the remains of the C&O Canal provide a place to recreate and enjoy nature, but most importantly they tell the story of the canal’s important role in America’s history.

The Capital Crescent Trail is a paved pathway from Georgetown to Silver Spring and runs along the route of the old Georgetown Branch, a B&O Railroad line completed in 1910. The Capital Crescent Trail is a “rails-to-trails” project built and is now complete as a hard surface trail from Georgetown to Bethesda, and is a packed crushed stone trail suitable for most bikes from Bethesda to Lyttonsville, in west Silver Spring. Four bridges and two tunnels offer trail users gentle gradients and grade-separated roadway crossings.

4. National Arboretum: (free)

The Arboretum, or the Tree Zoo, as my sister always calls it, is a great open space right near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue, free to the public and a fantastic view of a variety of plants, trees and Capitol architecture. The best way to see the full spectrum of the grounds is to bike or walk the roads and paths.

The grounds are open to the public Fridays through Mondays from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm; the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Getting there: The National Arboretum is located in the northeast section of Washington, DC, approximately 10 minutes from the Capitol Building. There are two entrances: one at 3501 New York Avenue, NE, and the other at 24th & R Streets, NE, off Bladensburg Road. The B2 bus takes visitors to and from the grounds if you’re depending on public transportation.

Nine miles of roadways wind through and connect the numerous gardens and collections on the 446-acre campus. Small parking areas can be found near most of the major collections. Bicycling is encouraged on the roadways and bicycle racks are located at each parking area.

5. Dumbarton Oaks Gardens (free in Winter Season)

Though free during the winter season (Nov 1-Mar 14) it’s $8 for Adults during regular season.The Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 10 acres of formal and informal garden spaces, are a delight in any season. Come explore the lovely collections and keep in mind that their policies are designed to enhance the experiences of all visitors and to protect the historic spaces, plants, and objects. Located at 1703 32nd Street, NW, the garden entrance is on R and 31st Streets NW. To get to Dumbarton, you can catch the 31, 32, 36, D1, D2, D3, D6, and G2, which come within three blocks of the Garden Gate and museum entrances. The Georgetown Circulator also has a stop at Wisconsin Avenue and 34th Street, less than two blocks away from the museum entrance.

Dumbarton Oaks was created by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, collectors and patrons of art and scholarship in the humanities. Robert Bliss was a diplomat in the US Foreign Service, and the Blisses traveled and lived in South America and Europe. After a long search for a permanent home in Washington, they purchased the 1801 Federal-style house and property in June of 1920. Throughout their lives they were enthusiastic collectors of art and books and ardent supporters of music and the arts.

6. Congressional Cemetery (free)

Located in South East DC, Congressional Cemetery is a 35-acre historic burial. Initially known as the Washington Parish Burial Ground, Congressional became the first truly national burial ground as Congress bought sites, buried noted civil servants, and funded the infrastructure. I particularly enjoy the carved totem and the chapel in the center of the grounds. It’s a great historic site if you’re okay with it also being a burial ground.

Among the 55,000 burials at Congressional are scores of noteworthy citizens who left their mark on the city and the nation. Find out more about their amazing stories by exploring the Cemetery’s website or joining a free Saturday tour April through October at 11:00 AM. You can get to the Cemetery via metro (Orange/Blue lines) either from the Potomac Ave stop or Stadium Armory. There are a number of Metro Buses that take you there as well.

7. Roosevelt Island (free)

In the 1930s, landscape architects transformed Mason’s Island from neglected, overgrown farmland into Theodore Roosevelt Island, a memorial to America’s 26th president. They conceived a “real forest” designed to mimic the natural forest that once covered the island. Today miles of trails through wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands honor the legacy of a great outdoorsman and conservationist. Theodore Roosevelt Island is open year-round from 6 am to 10 pm. The parking lot at the island is accessible from the GW Parkway north bound and the nearest metro station is Rosslyn (Blue line).

Cory Churches is an avid outdoorswoman who is always searching for something new and interesting to explore in and around D.C. She is perpetually curious and always looking to share interesting and awe inspiring discoveries. She is often found navigating the city on her Public 7-speed bike.

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