I don’t think I fully appreciated the abundance of parks in Washington, DC until I found myself flying over with a window seat. There is so. much. GREEN SPACE.
We all know about the national parks and manicured mall, but there are so many other fantastic, lesser-known (and less crowded) parks in DC to experience.
In this guide, I’ve shared some of the best Washington, DC parks, trails, and hiking options. I’ll be updating this page pretty frequently with fresh photos and info, so bookmark it and check back! (Wait, do people still use bookmarks, or?)
Note: I’ve divided the parks into North and South DC to keep things organized. Some parks are large enough to have segments in both the North and South; in these cases, I’ve put them into what felt most logical to me, usually because of their typical “starting” point.
Parks in DC (North)
National Mall – NW/SW Washington – 309 acres – Of course, of course, we start here. We have to, don’t we? I never tire of exploring the seemingly endless, grassy lawn between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Take a bike ride or scenic run, hit up the free Smithsonian museums, meet up with a sports league on the grass, have a picnic by the food trucks, and dodge the perpetual flow of tourists– I like to pretend they’re zombies. (What?)
Rock Creek Park – NW Washington – 2,100 acres of wooded hiking trails, bubbling creek, paved biking road, and some of the best wildlife and lush greenery you can find in DC. Go for a hike, trail run, or long bike ride, set up at a picnic table, or get a little fancy on the golf course, tennis courts, or horseback riding area.
Related: Hiking + Biking in Rock Creek Park
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens – NE Washington – 700-acre park designed to preserve the forests, water quality, and recreational value of the waterways of Washington, DC. Popular activities include birding, wildlife viewing, photography, picnics, or simply walking around the beautiful grounds and taking in the historic ponds and abundant wildlife.
U.S. National Arboretum – NE Washington – A 446-acre garden, park, and research institution with wooded hiking trails, paved biking road, and world-famous collections of azaleas, Bonsai trees, and more. The arboretum also holds 22 Corinthian columns which were a part of the U.S. Capitol from 1828 to 1958. That’s right, the columns the graced Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration can now grace your Instagram.
Theodore Roosevelt Island – 88.5-acre island designated as a memorial to, you guessed it, Teddy Roosevelt, who was a known nature lover and bird-watching enthusiast. The island is accessible by footbridge, kayak, or SUP board. Once there, you’ll find about 2 miles of lush wooded trails through the wetlands and a 17-foot state of Teddy himself.
Georgetown Waterfront Park – Part of Georgetown’s Historic District, this waterfront park stretches along the banks of the Potomac River from 31st street NW to the Key Bridge. The area is great for leisurely strolls, jogging, cycling, and is a popular entrance spot for kayaking and stand up paddle-boarding on the Potomac.
Meridian Hill Park – NW Washington – 12-acre park with historic statues and the longest cascading fountain in North America– thirteen basins! The park is popular with local residents, especially on the weekends. In the spring and summer, a legendary drum circle attracts amateur and professional dancers and drummers every Sunday.
Dumbarton Oaks – NW Washington – A historic 53-acre property transformed into a research institute, included here for its impressive series of gardens and green space. The original owners transferred 16-acres to Harvard University in 1940 to “establish a research institute for Byzantine studies, Pre-Colombian studies, and studies in the history of gardens and landscape architecture.”
Victory Garden (Smithsonian National Museum of American History) – NW Washington – a recreated World War II “victory garden” featuring only heirloom vegetable and flower species available to gardeners in the 1940s. Victory gardens were planted during world war II to ensure an adequate supply for civilians and troops.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park – A humble 19,586 acres, the C&O Canal, as it’s commonly called, runs from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal was once used to transport goods, mostly coal, from the Alleghany Mountains but today it’s known as a beautiful (though oft-neglected) trail between Georgetown and Cumberland. Hundreds of original features are reminders of the canal’s role as a transportation system during the Canal Era, which peaked in the mid-19th century.
Constitution Gardens – 50 acres – NW DC – Located within the boundaries of the National Mall yet often overlooked by tourists, this 50-acre park is a vibrant green space of landscaped grounds, an impressive garden, an island, and a sizable lake. The park tends to have a more tranquil atmosphere than the rest of the National Mall, making it perfect for a contemplative stroll, a good book on a park bench, or a grassy picnic.
Parks in DC (South)
Anacostia Park – SE DC – With 1200 acres stretching over multiple sites, Anacostia Park is one of the largest and most versatile parks in Washington, DC. In addition to miles of paved trail along the riverfront, the park also offers a free rolling skating rink, fitness stations, paddling and fishing, picnicking and grilling, playgrounds and sports facilities including a golf course, basketball and volleyball courts. While Anacostia Park is popular with locals, I feel it gets overlooked by tourists and millennials who tend to stick closer to the heart of the city.
The Yards Park – SE DC – a 42-acre waterfront park along the Anacostia River with a boardwalk, splashing pool, performance venue, restaurants and several open or shaded grassy sitting areas. It’s ultramodern pedestrian bridge is a great spot for photos, while kids love splashing in the dancing fountain. The award-winning park also hosts special events, fitness classes and festivals throughout the year.
Fort DuPont Park – 376-acre wooded park named for its historic fort that helped to defend against Confederate attacks in the civil war. Today, the park is a sprawling green space and one of the more underrated parks in DC. Activities include picnics, nature walks, biking, gardening, environmental education, music, and ranger-led programs. There is even an amphitheater with free concerts throughout the summer.
U.S. Botanic Garden – SW Washington – one of the oldest botanic gardens in the U.S. with a 29,000-square foot conservatory, two courtyard gardens and ten garden rooms under glass. There are entire rooms dedicated to orchids, desert life, children’s gardens, as well as a three-acre National Garden, including its famed Rose Garden and First Ladies Water Garden. If you like plants, you’ll be pretty happy here.
George Mason Memorial Park – SW Washington – Take a seat next to George Mason, the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights that eventually inspired the United States Bill of Rights. His statue is perched in front of a lovely circular pond and green space in West Potomac Park. A little off the beaten “National Monument” path, this spot is great for grabbing a bit of solitude from the crowds (other than those taking selfies with Mr. Mason, of course).