Outdoor activities in Washington, D.C. include more than just visiting monuments. While a day enjoying D.C. outdoors should include some monument-hopping, it is far from the only activity to enjoy during your visit to the nation’s capital. You can cross into Virginia and experience an Arlington National Cemetery tour and honor the memory of the fallen warriors of the United States military or go on a trek to explore the numerous hiking trails, parks, and green spaces that are easily accessible from the city. Washington, D.C. outdoor activities have something for everyone.
Explore the Best Outdoor Activities in D.C.
Outdoor activities in D.C. come in many forms, which may surprise many unfamiliar with the area. While there are many great ways to enjoy D.C. outdoors, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of destinations we think you should look into on your next visit.
Your Washington, D.C. outdoor activities begin here. The Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath is a 184.5-mile path that runs parallel to a canal that stretches from the stony enclave of Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. There are numerous hidden gems to discover, whether you choose to bike, hike or paddle your way. Investigate one of several canal towns that sprouted up during the 19th century when the industry was brought here, or take a mule-powered boat ride down the canal. There are over 1,000 historic structures along this route, so make a day trip out of it.
Gravelly Point Park
This park, situated along the George Washington Parkway in Arlington, Virginia, gives visitors another chance to enjoy outdoor activities in Washington, D.C. Not only can you find all sorts of boaters and cyclists here on weekends, but since it was built just a few hundred feet away from the north runway of Ronald Reagan International Airport, you’ll find curious airplane spotters here too.
Rock Creek Park
D.C.’s answer to New York’s Central Park is beautiful Rock Creek Park. This 4.4-square mile park is a surefire inclusion onto any best Washington, D.C. outdoor activities list. Much like Central Park, the 1,754 acres here serve as a respite from the pressures of urban city life and as a place to stay active and relaxed. You can explore Civil War fortifications, working mills, colonial houses, horseback riding, biking, boating and more.
National Zoological Park
Also known as Smithsonian’s National Zoo, outdoor things to do in D.C. here involve communing with the other species that share this amazing planet. First, keep your wallet where it is. Your admission to this fantastic attraction is covered by the U.S. government. Explore tons of exhibits, such as big cats, giant pandas, reptiles, primates and birds of every feather. The zoo’s events calendar also allows visitors to attend lectures, field trips and more.
Great Falls Park
Sometimes, the best outdoor activities in D.C. can be found just outside of it. Just a 30-minute car ride away awaits an oasis you have to see to believe. As the park’s name suggests, this wonderful spot features an abundance of waterfalls and rapids. Hike the famed Billy Goat Trail and fill your camera with the gorgeous Insta-worthy snaps this 800-acre park has to offer.
U.S. National Arboretum
No matter what time of the year you visit, you can enjoy the timeless beauty of this 446-acre attraction on your quest for outdoor things to do in D.C. For green thumbs and gardening aficionados, this place is a treasure trove, but the beauty on display here is bound to inspire just about anyone. Observe conifers from both the Arctic and subtropical regions and marvel at the meticulously tailored bonsai trees. Check out the dazzling azaleas, and don’t forget to stop at the National Capitol Columns, a permanent installation featuring the 22 Corinthian columns that supported the east portico of the U.S. Capitol when it was built in 1828.
Arlington National Cemetery
Some outdoor things to do in D.C. can be considered exceptional, and this pilgrimage to arguably the nation’s most sacred plot of land is one of them. The venerated 639 acres of land here are the resting place of the fallen men and women of the Armed Services dating back to the Civil War, as well as others, distinguished with the honor of being interred here, including President John F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, Medgar Evers, Robert F. Kennedy and John Glenn to name a few. Time permitting, you should also include the Changing of the Guard, a time-honored ritual that occurs every hour at the foot of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The only way to ensure you don’t miss a thing during your visit is to book a tour with Arlington National Cemetery Tours. You’ll explore nine distinct stops over 45 minutes for an awe-inspiring tour you won’t soon forget.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Here’s an example of an outdoor activity in Washington, D.C. that does feature a monument. Located along the Tidal Basin at the National Mall, this extraordinary monument is less something to stand before and more of an experience to travel through. Composed of four outdoor rooms, each representing a presidential term, you’ll encounter bronze sculptures of FDR, the First Lady, and even one of his trusty pup Fala. There are sobering scenes from the Great Depression along with 21 quotes culled from his famous fireside chats and speeches, all of which reflect the tumultuous and challenging presidency of a man who lifted his country into the most powerful nation on Earth.
The National Mall
Considered a National Park, the National Mall provides plenty of outdoor things to do in D.C. from a centralized location. The Lincoln Memorial sits to the west, the U.S. Capitol to the east, with the Washington Memorial dividing the area slightly. You’ll also find some of D.C.’s finest museums, art galleries, sculptures and statues within its borders.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Lose yourself in the D.C. outdoors with a visit to this magical place. Flowing from Prince George’s County in Maryland into Washington, D.C. is the Anacostia River, and the ponds found on its floodplain are where the true beauty and energy of these gardens can be experienced. You can observe a variety of waterborne flora, such as lotuses, bamboos, waterlilies and hyacinths.
National Gallery Sculpture Garden
Take in one of the world’s great museums and a Washington, D.C. outdoor activity at the same time on your visit here. After you dive into the 141,000 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures on display on the museum walls, head outside for some more inspired art. The sculpture garden features 6.1 acres, 17 sculptures and a fountain that converts into an ice rink during the winter.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
This annual rite of spring commemorates the anniversary of the day the Mayor of Tokyo presented these spectacular Japanese trees to the citizens of Washington, D.C. Commencing in late March, this Washington, D.C. outdoor activity is one of the most celebratory on the calendar, as it ushers in the promise of spring. Over a four-week span, you can witness the dreamlike, pale pink blossoms embracing the city as all kinds of events surrounding the festival are also in full bloom.
Whether it’s the crisp, cool calm of fall or the vibrance of spring, the great outdoors is alive in Washington, D.C. Happy travels!