When most people think about Washington DC, they think about the White House, monuments, and museums. With 24% of the city made up of green space, Washington DC is home to many outdoor, fairly low environmental impact, and scenic activities. Whether it’s a full trip you’re planning or just looking for activities to do on a work trip, keep some of these outdoor activities in mind and see what the city has to offer.
Rock Creek Park
Cutting through the center of the city, Rock Creek Park has over 32 miles of trails and paths for hikers and bikers to explore. There are multiple parks and picnic areas along the way – great for a quick rest or a picnic. The park also offers indoor educational opportunities with a planetarium and nature center. There are official trails to follow for those who are looking for a more structured hike, otherwise visitors are encouraged to create their own.
Pro tip: take a trail that runs north to south. If you follow the trail to Kingle Road, you’ll stumble across another stretch of bike trail to explore.
Bike and Roll
For those looking to hit the history highlights while enjoying the outdoors, a biking tour is the way to go. This 3 hour tour starts at the National Mall and ends at the Potomac Tidal Basin, allowing visitors a chance to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After the tour, the National Mall is not far away with many free museums to continue exploring.
If walking is more your speed, there are plenty of outdoor walking tours in DC, and not all of them focus on the monuments typically found at the National Mall. Washington Walks offers tours of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Rock Creek Cemetery, and the Architecture of Southwest DC. Seasonally, DC tour options can vary. One fun summer tour is the Georgetown Glow. After dark, the tour will lead you through the streets of Georgetown where artists put up outdoor light experiences. In the Spring, the cherry blossoms are a must-see whether you are taking a guided tour or just exploring at your own pace.
With paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing, and cruises, The District Wharf is home to plenty of activities for an array of experiences. Head down to the Boathouse at Recreation Pier, where they can hook you up with rentals, and even lessons if needed. After enjoying the water, the waterfront is home to The Municipal Fish Market, home to the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States.
With a short bus ride from the city, there are multiple tubing launch points. Whether you’re looking for an organized tubing group or just tubing rentals, drifting down the beautiful Shenandoah and Potomac rivers are worth the experience. Most rental companies will also provide transportation to a launch point and from a pickup point, saving you the need to rent a car or call a Lyft. The duration can range between 1.5 to 4 hours depending on where you launch and the speed of the river, so make sure to stay hydrated.
If structured tours do not sound exciting or you’re looking for something more lowkey, pick a few neighborhoods in South DC to explore. On the Westside, Georgetown has a great shopping and food strip. Stop in Baked and Wired (you cannot go wrong with a Texas Sheetcake Cupcake), hang out by the canal, and then wander north. With vines creeping up the edges of the town-homes, brick stone sidewalks, and plenty of tree covers to keep you cool on the hotter, more humid days, the neighborhood is great for a casual morning walk. On the Eastside, Shaw offers a mix of traditional row houses and modern minimalist designed apartment buildings. The area is also home to The Howard Theatre Walk of Fame, celebrating prominent African American cultural icons, a great stop for anyone looking to learn more about the city’s history and art scene.
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Want to learn more?
Things to Do – Rock Creek Park – NPS.GOV
Washinton Bike and Monuments Tour – Tripadvisor
The U.S. Cities with the Best Access to Green Space – Dutchbulbs
River Tubing Day Trip – Sourced Adventures DC
Go Green: Ecofriendly Guide to Washington – Washingtonian.com
Tours – Washingtonwalks
River Tubing Maryland – Terrapin Adventures