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Getting the Most of Autumn: Where to “Hike Locally”

By DC EcoBlogger Dawn Bickett

The crisp air and changing leaves of autumn – along with a new reason to celebrate: the end of the shutdown – make it the perfect season to be outdoors and hiking. But finding, and getting to, a nearby trail can feel like a serious challenge, especially when you live in a city.

Luckily, there are many trails scattered in and around the District, several less than 2 miles from the National Mall! Whether you are looking for a strenuous hike or a quick stroll out of earshot of traffic, you don’t need to drive hours to get out of town – you can explore within the District for some time in nature.

Wondering where to start? Check out these great local trails in and near Washington, D.C.


Rock Creek Park 

Certainly one of the most popular green spaces in D.C., Rock Creek Park boasts miles of secluded trails that meander along hills and waterways. Trails here vary from rocky climbs to sandy creek-side walks. For some specific routes, check out these three great short hikes suggested by Active Life DC. Rock Creek Park is easily accessible by foot, car, bus, or by taking the metro to the Adams Morgan/Zoo Station.

Theodore Roosevelt Island
It is no accident that the memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt – the creator of 5 national parks and 150 national forests– is surrounded by hiking trails. Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the middle of the Potomac River, just east of Rosslyn. And while the island is small, it has several miles of trails uninterrupted by development. The island’s parking lot is easily accessible by car, bike, or foot, and is near the Rosslyn Metro Station. Bird watchers take note: the island known for its large population of waterfowl.

Potomac Heritage Trail (PHT) 

The Potomac Heritage Trail is composed of a network of trails along the Potomac River, and the segment close to D.C. is a definitely worth a visit. Starting at the north corner of the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot, this trail runs up the Virginia side of the Potomac River for about 10 miles. The quiet and challenging trail is extremely rewarding – offering a wilder picture of the Potomac River than its cousin on the opposite bank, the paved C&O Canal. Be aware, the trail does have difficult footing in places and occasionally requires scrambling – so be prepared to get a bit dirty and wear shoes with traction!

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
If rocky trails and secluded woods aren’t your style, but you still love being outdoors, then the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are worth a visit. Stretching along the Anacostia River, the gardens offer several miles of trails through cultivated water plants and the only remaining tidal marsh in the District. The gardens are peaceful, visually stunning, and within walking distance from the Deanwood Metro Station.

Great Falls Park 

At 18 miles from the National Mall, Great Falls Park is only accessible by car (or bicycle, for the motivated cyclist), but this list would not be complete without it. This park is a favorite for rock climbers and kayakers. And with over a dozen trails to choose from, it’s perfect for hikers as well. Different trails offer scenic routes to view the falls – an impressive cascade of the Potomac River. Whichever path you take in the park, the incredible view of the falls is worth the trip.

These are just a few of the amazing trails tucked away right here in our own backyard, so challenge yourself to ‘hike local’ this season.  As soon as the shutdown concludes, pick a new trail, and head to some of DC’s great green places.

Didn’t see your favorite DC hiking trail included here? Please comment with your recommendation to share the knowledge!

Great Falls