The Natural Side of Washington DC
By Carissa Hickok
Washington, D.C. is the capital of free museums. But Washington, D.C. should really be famous for its unique flair for natural scenery. The Anacostia River and the Potomac River run through the city, offering unparalleled views over water. Here are the best places with a view just outside the city:
Gravelly Point is a relaxing grassy space along the Potomac River next to Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, VA. You can drive to Gravelly Point via the northbound side of George Washington Memorial Parkway or walk/bike there through the Mount Vernon Trail. At Gravelly Point, you can picnic on the grass or the benches, walk, jog, bike, play games (e.g., rugby or tag), and sunbathe. It boasts perfect views of the Potomac River and some of the most popular monuments (e.g., Washington Monument). But my favorite thing to do at Gravelly Point is to watch airplanes fly overhead. You can watch airplanes taxi the runway and ascend and airplanes descend onto the runway and taxi to the gate. Bring a blanket and sun block and relax the day away.
Great Falls National Park is actually two parks, one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side. Located just outside of Washington, DC, Great Falls offers hiking trails for people of all levels and beautiful, powerful waterfalls. Billy Goat Trail is the most popular and famous hiking trail in this park offering rock hopping and spectacular views of the Potomac River. The park also offers overlooks specifically for viewing the mighty Great Falls. The Maryland side of Greats Falls is part of the C&O Canal National Park. To get to either side of Great Falls, you will need a car, as there is no public transportation nearby. But it is totally worth the drive.
George Washington Memorial Parkway
The George Washington Memorial Parkway (GW Parkway) runs parallel to the Potomac River. While it is actually a road and not a park, it does boast several scenic overlooks that offer beautiful views of islands on the Potomac River, Georgetown University, bridges, and Downtown DC. Many parks are also located along GW Parkway. Drive down GW Parkway in the fall as the leaves change colors along the river and let the scenery transport you to a different place.
National Harbor, located just outside DC in Oxon Hill, Maryland, boasts high-end hotels, shops, restaurants, and a beautiful view over the Potomac River. You can reach National Harbor via car, bus, water taxi, bike, or boat. A shuttle also runs between National Harbor and the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria. The highlight of National Harbor is its Capital Wheel, a Ferris wheel that peaks at 180 feet above the water, giving you a view of the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral as well as areas around DC.
National Harbor is a popular date night and family night out destination with activities available for everyone. For the children, there is a carousel, an indoor bounce house, a store with brain-teasing games, a sand area, and paddleboats. During the warmer months, there are outdoor movie nights on the lawn. For the adults, there are many stores to shop through and restaurants to eat through. There is a pathway next to the water for a post meal stroll.
National Harbor is also popular for special events such as conferences and weddings. With a host of high-end hotels, especially the Gaylord National, National Harbor has a venue with a view for every type of event.
Old Town Alexandria
You can reach Old Town Alexandria via metro (King Street Metro Station), car, bike, or on foot by way of the Mount Vernon Trail. Step into boutique shops and delicious restaurants in historic buildings overlooking the Potomac River. You can take a boat cruise on the Potomac to check out the views or a stroll down King Street and people watch. If you are interested in art, be sure to visit the Torpedo Factory Art, the largest collection of working artists’ open studios under one roof in the US. Admission is free!
Carissa enjoys traveling so much that she left the corporate world to work as a freelancer, which allows her to up and go on a regular basis. She lives with her dachshund, Daphne in central Florida.
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