Living the city life doesn't necessarily mean that you have to forgo outdoor green space—it may even make you crave it more. But, when you live in the city, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life, skyscrapers, and pavement, pavement, and more pavement, it can sometimes be easy to let slip from your memory how wonderful a little grass between the toes feels. Lest you forget how rejuvenating a run, bike, or hike along a quiet, tree-lined trail can be for the spirit, here are 8 awesome green spaces all within DC's city limits—and, since they are all right downtown, you'll have time to hit one of them during a quick lunch break or right after work.
1. Rock Creek Park
Perhaps the best-known place to find the great outdoors of Washington DC is in Rock Creek Park. The sprawling space running through the heart of DC offers a wide network of trails—covering 32 miles—for runners, hikers, and bikers eager to find fresh air, wildlife, old tree growth, and, of course, the 14-mile-long creek that the park was built around.
This park is great because there are so many trails, so creating a new loop each time you are out is easy. Rock Creek Park also has picnic grove areas where you can refuel or take a break from work and eat lunch. There are 13 miles of earthen pathways that can be used as horse trails and offer a historic view of the 125-year-old park. In addition, there's a golf course; recreation fields for soccer, football, and Frisbee; and a tennis center where you can play with your family, friends, and other locals enjoying DC outdoor recreation.
Here there is something for everyone, and being right in the heart of downtown DC it's easily accessible. So there's no excuse for not bringing a little green back into your life.
2. National Arboretum
Sitting upon 412 acres on the banks of the Anacostia River in northeast DC is the National Arboretum. This federally funded park supports and serves the entire country as a breeding greenhouse for trees, shrubs, flowers, and other botanicals appropriate for replanting nationwide. And where there’s growth, there’s beauty.
While you probably won't break much of a sweat walking the grounds, aside from the effect of the summer heat, you will undoubtedly feel invigorated. Surrounded by nine miles of paved pathways adorned by dogwoods, magnolias, azaleas, bonsai, water lilies, tulips, a spectacular koi pond, and seasonal exhibits featured all year long, you will feel miles away from city life as you wander around.
Perhaps one of the best qualities of the Arboretum is that it's off of DC's monument trail and located away from metro stops, making it a serene place to escape the grind, wander in quiet seclusion, have a date on a park bench, or explore with family and friends.
3. Tidal Basin
The Tidal Basin's opus one occurs each year when millions flock from around the world to view 3,750 cherry blossom trees that come into full bloom during the springtime—its one of our nation's biggest draws. One of the most popular ways to view the vicinity is on a rentable peddle boat . Traveling this way not only provides a little exercise, but amazing panoramic views of the basin as well. The Tidal Basin, a man-made inlet, sits adjacent to the Potomac River , and enfolds the memorials of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and our nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson. There are metro stops and bike trails surrounding the area, and if visiting by car, there is plenty of free parking in nearby East Potomac Park .
4. Washington Mall
The National Mall and the monument parks surrounding it, are in many ways the soul of the city. Stretching from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial and beyond to the Potomac River, the Washington Mall covers more than 100 acres of green space. It winds in and around the White House, Smithsonian museums, East Potomac Park, Tidal Basin, and landmarks commemorating wars of America’s past. In the early morning and at dusk you can find tranquility along the walking paths. During the day, explore with other visitors and the good people of K street, which is situated nearby. This is an amazing spot to watch the sun set upon the capital city and gaze at the stars as the moon settles in for the night behind the monuments.
5. Yards Park
There are also awesome year-round events too. A Friends of the National Zoo membership provides members an inside track into the park. This can mean anything from having a sneak peek at newly born cubs to camping on the zoo grounds. A summer favorite is “Brew at the Zoo” where zoo-goers can see up close some of the most friendly zoo animals while listening to live music, sipping on craft brews, and trying out some of the areas best food trucks.
7. C&O Canal
Between the Georgetown waterfront and the Great Falls overlook in Virginia lays an area of seclusion along the historic C & O Canal towpath. The distance from point to point is somewhere around 15 miles, so nearly a 30-mile round trip. Here you can enjoy a leisurely stroll, a bike ride or a trail run, and speed walkers come from all around the area for a dose of endorphin-fueled, outdoor meditation.
Along the path you’ll see historic lock houses, wildlife, and reflections of the trees on the canal. At certain times of the year, thick green algae on the canal's surface makes for dreamlike photography. If you are looking for a sense of solitude and a worthwhile workout in the same sweep, this trail provides it. If 30 miles isn't long enough for you, you can keep going—there is another 145.5 miles that lies beyond this section of trail that will bring you all the way in to Pennsylvania. Feel free to go nuts!
8. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Another gem in northeast DC is Kenilworth Park , a natural wetland area supported and managed by the National Park Service. This is where you will find DC’s last existing tidal marsh—historic ponds that provide a home to water lilies, lotuses, marsh, and general zen. There are athletic fields and other recreational areas, but what people really come for is 700 acres of fresh air, a unique opportunity for wildlife viewing in the city limits, and many birding and photography opportunities.