A green oasis in the middle of the city
Even though it’s technically in D.C., pedestrians can only reach Theodore Roosevelt Island from Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the Potomac. The island is located at the head of the Mount Vernon Trail and is accessed by crossing a footbridge over the Potomac. Roosevelt Island feels like a secluded oasis in the middle of the city. Although it offers plenty in the way of tranquility and quiet, the island also offers intermittent views of Georgetown, the Kennedy Center and the Key Bridge. Over 160,000 people visit the park every year, but the island rarely feels overrun with visitors. In fact, two overgrown nature trails (the woods and upland trails) parallel the main “swamp” trail and are good options for visitors hoping to avoid the crowds and enjoy a bit of solitude. The 2-mile loop on the island’s main trail takes approximately 40-60 minutes to complete. The park hosts junior ranger, birding and island safari events throughout the year. For more information, see the park calendar at www.nps.gov/this/planyourvisit. Don’t forget to stop by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, a 17-foot statue in honor of the nation’s 26th president.
Hours: Dawn to dusk
Size: 88.5 acres
Great for: Hiking, kayaking, jogging
Other activities/amenities: Ranger-led programs
Know before you go: There is a small parking lot near the footbridge, but it can be a nightmare to find a parking spot. Arrive early in the morning (before 9 a.m.), or be prepared to circle the parking lot a few times before finding a spot. It may be tempting to park in the grass, but police often ticket violators. Another option is street parking on weekends. Weekday street parking is metered and very difficult to find but fairly easy on weekends as long as you don’t mind walking a bit. Keep in mind that bikes aren’t allowed on the island, so bring your bike lock if you’re planning to continue onto the Mount Vernon Trail. Because it’s composed mostly of marshes and lowland forests, be sure to pack the bug spray and dress appropriately, especially during summer months.
Where: The island is located at the head of the Mount Vernon Trail and can only be accessed via the northbound lanes of the George Washington Parkway. Follow the signs after the Memorial Bridge. The island is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Rosslyn Metro station on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines.
Lady Bird Johnson Park
An alternative to Roosevelt Island with a slightly easier parking situation is Lady Bird Johnson Park, another island technically in the District but closer to the Virginia side of the Potomac. Lady Bird Johnson Park is a serene and picturesque spot for a stroll or picnic and is well-known for its spring tulips. Also located off the Mount Vernon Trail and George Washington Parkway, the island is another popular detour for Mount Vernon joggers and bikers. A favorite spot here is the LBJ Memorial Grove, a peaceful and quiet memorial with excellent views of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. Lady Bird Johnson Park is a great spot to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July, but you’ll want to arrive early to grab a parking and picnic spot. There’s a cafe and restrooms next door at the Columbia Marina.
Where: George Washington Memorial Parkway, Arlington
Other activities/amenities: Hiking, kayaking, boating, picnic tables
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Size: 121 acres