Move over, National Mall: as much as we adore you and your gleaming monuments, it’s time for some greenery. We think it’s only fair to give some love to other inspiring sites in Washington, DC. What better way to shift the limelight than to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial?
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to create the National Park Service. Now, 100 years later, America is throwing an extended celebration for everyone to enjoy with a #FindYourPark social media initiative and Every Kid in a Park, a program that grants free entry to fourth graders and their families.
In the nation’s capital, we’re fortunate to have dozens of national parks in our midst. Here’s a list of some of our favorite lesser-known national parks to explore on foot or by bike:
- Meridian Hill Park: Between Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, visit this stunning Italian-style garden that features cascading water fountains, plenty of green for pick-up sports, a storied Sunday evening drum circle, plus a statue of Joan of Arc.
- Anacostia Park: Wander 1,200-plus acres that stretch along the Anacostia River from the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to the DC-Maryland border. In the surrounding wetlands and woodlands, keep an eye out for wildlife ranging from bald eagles and waterfowl to turtles, beavers, and deer.
- C&O Canal: The canal, which operated for nearly 100 years, preserves America’s early transportation history while offering 184.5 miles of biking and hiking trails. Step back in time along the Georgetown stretch that runs parallel to M Street.
- Lincoln Park: Get your urban park on in Capitol Hill’s largest such space, located directly east of the Capitol Building. You’ll find monuments dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln and Civil Rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune.
- Theodore Roosevelt Island: Just across the Key Bridge from Georgetown (on the Virginia side), you’ll find a tranquil gem not to be missed. Travel 2.5 miles of trails on this 91-acre wilderness preserve named for our 26th president.
- Civil War Defenses of Washington: History buffs can geek out at remnants of Civil War fortifications. Part of a complex system, these strategic buttresses were built by Union forces on forested hills surrounding the capital.
- Fredrick Douglass’ Home: Get a history lesson in the southeastern Anacostia neighborhood, thanks to ranger-led tours of the home once occupied by Frederick Douglass—revered abolitionist, statesman, and author.
- Captain John Smith Park Water Trails: Cruise portions of the Potomac River by boat to experience the routes taken by fearless explorers in the early 1600s.
- Fort Hunt Park: Pack a picnic to enjoy on the Virginia shores of the Potomac. Originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, this wildlife-heavy land has gone through many iterations throughout history.
- Rock Creek Park: Learn why city dwellers flock to this 12-mile oasis for their nature fix. Activities here include fishing, horseback riding and concert going; every weekend, Beach Drive shuts down to traffic, much to the delight of joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers.
Where to stay: one of Kimpton’s welcoming Virginia or DC hotels. Happy 100th, NPS!
*Note: Many parks only stay open during daylight hours, the best time to truly savor the scene.