The rain might make your weekend a little grey, but that means it’s a perfect time to plan a day in the great outdoors! DC may not be the Big Apple in vertical height, but sometimes, the concrete jungle starts to feel a little stale. We’re not necessarily advocating moving out to a log cabin, but once in a while we like to get out of the District and find ourselves surrounded by nature.
Great Falls National Recreation Area is located only a few miles outside of DC in Virginia as part of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Fall themselves are one of the most beautiful features of the Potomac River, and it’s amazing that they’re located so close to DC. The park includes space for picnics and outdoor grilling. There are also multiple scenic overlooks with views of the river. For those with a few hours to spare, there are easy to moderate trails that run along the river with great spots to sit and have lunch on the rocks. (http://www.nps.gov/grfa/index.htm)
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Billy Goat Trail
To experience Great Falls from another angle and for a more strenuous hike, head to the Maryland side of the River at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. Here you can pick up the C&O Canal towpath which runs 185 miles along the Potomac from Washington, DC to Cumberland Maryland. Adventurous cyclists can ride the entire length along the path (and even connect to the 132-mile Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), but for those looking for a nice day-trip, this area of the towpath is pretty wide and flat for cyclists and runners of all ages and skill levels.
Here visitors looking to hike and climb can experience the Billy Goat Trail. It is broken up into three sections – A, B, and C – which are marked along the trail itself. The entire trail spans a 7.8-mile loop with the most strenuous areas along Section A including rock hopping and a pretty steep scramble. But if you have it in you (and are wearing the proper foot gear) the views are totally worth it. Brings lots of water and try to arrive early to avoid the crowds. This is, in our opinion, the best day hike within an hour outside of Washington, DC. (http://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm)
Gardens (Green Thumb Not Required)
If hiking isn’t your thing or if you are looking to get out into nature without getting in the car, there are actually places within the District tucked away from the sounds of the city.
The National Arboretum is one of DC’s hidden gems. It is a US Department of Agriculture research and education facility and living museum. It is located just a few miles northeast of the Capitol and spans 446 acres of gardens and botanical collections. It’s a really beautiful place to wander and explore, even if you don’t have a green thumb! (http://www.usna.usda.gov/index.html)
Also located at the eastern edge of DC are the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, exploring the ecology and flora of the wetlands. At the right time of year, the ponds are full of blooming water lilies. Early summer is the best time to see the lilies in full bloom, but if you arrive at the park early in the day during the later part of the summer, the flowers are still in bloom before the temperatures get too high. Not just a great place in the summertime, fall brings cooler temperatures and beautiful autumn colors. (http://www.nps.gov/keaq/index.htm)
Another hidden DC gem, at a relatively smaller scale, is Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens. Once the home of Mildred and Robert Bliss, it now houses specialized collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Art. The 53-acre property housed extensive gardens which had fallen into disrepair before the Bliss family purchased the home in 1920. With the stewardship of landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand and Mildred Bliss, the gardens were meticulously curated and cared for and remain, to this day, a beautiful and contemplative space with frequent artist installations. (http://www.doaks.org/gardens)