Tag Archives: Outdoor Recreation DC Area

A Very DC Hike at Theodore Roosevelt Island

Every now and then I have a realization that over all the years I’ve been publishing KFDC, I haven’t done a write-up about a place that we’ve been frequenting forever and is definitely deserving of its own post. This time it’s Theodore Roosevelt Island, a national park located on an actual 90-acre island in the Potomac River.

A recent visit with Sash

And one years ago with the fam

Roosevelt Island has been among our regular rotation of go-to spots for hiking and getting a nice, easy dose of nature in DC (despite accessing it from across the river, the island is part of the District) since before Levi and I even had kids. But with Owen and Sasha, especially when they were little, we’ve appreciated it even more. The park is ideal for family hikes with short, mellow trails; lots of great nature, wildlife sitings, even airplanes flying overhead; and a little history lesson, to boot, with a lovely memorial in the middle of it all dedicated to the president for which it’s named.

Teddy and little Owen on the Plaza

Younger Sash strikes a pose there

And fives years later

This is why I call it a very “DC” hike. The park’s Memorial Plaza is like a little annex to all of the other memorials on the National Mall.  However, instead of the expanse of green grass or Tidal Basin to make it stand out grandly, woods and wetlands fittingly surround the stately granite and bronze tribute to Teddy Roosevelt, an early steward for conservation and the environment.

Trying to do some turtle spotting

From the parking lot, there is a long bridge to cross to get to the main part of park. We always stop on it to take in views of Georgetown in the distance and look for turtles in the water below. Once on the other side, three trails offer different hiking experiences. The short .3-mile Woods Trail leads through and right around the memorial on gravel and paved grounds. The .75-mile Upland Trail loops through the woods along the whole length of the island. And the 1.5-mile Swamp Trail includes both a dirt path that winds through woods and a boardwalk running over a swampy area lined by cattail, trees, and wild grass.

Kickin’ it on the Swamp Trail

When the kids were small, we’d pick one, but now we often do a combination of all three trails, starting at the plaza, then walking through the woods and on the boardwalk, before hopping on another path leading to the water and taking us around the island. Whatever you choose, you’re in for a nice hike.

Little Sash on the Upland Trail

On a recent visit with Sasha, we covered the whole island, enjoying its winter beauty. We loved seeing the leafless trees, the mess of branches and wild intertwining limbs. (Side note: Did anyone read The Overstory? While I found it kind of long and tedious, I appreciated the concept of communication among trees and always think about it when I’m among them.) But Roosevelt Island is great the rest of the year, too, with budding trees and views of the cherry blossoms in spring, lush green and lots of shade in summer, and colorful foliage during autumn.

Bare branches during winter

There are no tables for picnicking, but the Memorial Plaza has seating, and there are a few benches along the Swamp Trail where you could stop and snack. Another nice spot is a cluster of large rocks at the west end of the island. And there are restrooms down the Woods Trail shortly before it meets the Swamp Trail.

Hanging out in the shade during summer

The one negative of the park may be the parking situation. The lot is small, and fills up quickly, especially on a nice weekend day. There have been several times we’ve planned to go and have encountered a line of cars to get in. In those cases, we’ve headed to Turkey Run Park further down the GW Parkway in McLean or Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington. You can avoid parking altogether by riding bikes there instead — it’s right off the Mount Vernon Trail, and there are bike racks right at the entrance (biking is not permitted in the park). You can also Metro to Rosslyn then walk 10-15 minutes from there.

Theodore Roosevelt Island
Where: Potomac River | Washington, DC
Access: From the GW Parkway just before Spout Run
When: Daily year-round, 6am – 10pm
Admission: Free

Want even more suggestions for great local hikes with kids? This post has a bunch of them! And here are a few more pics from some visits over the years…

Welcome to the island…


Happy about her first visit to TRI


Leading the way on the trail


A little pop of color


View from a small beach





Filed under 2020, All ages, DC, Educational, Free, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Weekdays, Weekend

Great Falls is a Go-to for Outdoor Recreation & Spectacular Nature

After nearly eight years of publishing my blog, I’m finally getting around to a post about Great Falls. Why did it take so long to feature a favorite –and one of the most popular and beautiful locales in the area? I’ve been asking myself the same thing, and the best I can come up with is that it’s one of those places that is so obvious and well known I just put a full write-up about it on the back burner. I did highlight it early on in both the round-ups of great hikes with kids and best outdoor places, have included it numerous times among weekday and weekend recommendations, and kind of covered it in when I wrote about a neighboring park.

But Great Falls unquestionably deserves its own post. The national park encompassing over 800 acres along the Potomac River in Virginia and Maryland boasts some of the most majestic nature and stunning vistas in the DC area along with excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical explorations. The Virginia side is officially Great Falls Park, while the Maryland side is actually part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, but with the main attraction — the gorgeous cascades of the Mather Gorge — the same for each, it’s all considered Great Falls. And it absolutely lives up to the name.

Active pursuits there include hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking (lots of experience recommended!), fishing, and horseback riding (BYO ride). You can also learn about the C&O Canal, see remnants of nearly 200-year-old locks and structures, and even take a mule-drawn boat ride for a little time trip to the 1800’s. Both sides of the park have their own Visitor Centers with interesting exhibits and hands-on activities for discovering more about the nature, wildlife, and history of the area.

I still remember my first visit to Great Falls during my college years — I couldn’t believe that such spectacular natural beauty existed so close to DC. Friends and I would head there occasionally to hike the trails and hang out on the rocks high above for deep conversations about life and stuff (because we were so profound and cool back then 😉 ). Who knew then that years later it would be a favorite destination for outings with my two children?

Trips there as a parent began early on, when Owen was still a baby. We’d put him in the Kelty pack, and he’d look around with wonder and delight at the surrounding scenery that was so different from his familiar urban environs. As the kids grew, we’d take them on hikes mostly through the woods, away from high, rocky areas, so we wouldn’t have to worry about precarious situations. Now, both Owen and Sasha navigate the trails competently and safely, and we’re confident taking them just about everywhere (though this acrophobic mama still freaks out when I see them stand too close for my comfort to an edge).

The Billy Goat Trail on the Maryland side is the most well known in the park, and maybe even in the DC area. Just under five miles, it winds through trees, over clusters of large rocks, and along rooty paths in the area between the C&O Canal and Potomac River. It’s rugged and fun and offers some breathtaking views, but it tends to get crowded and includes parts that could be a bit tough for young children to tackle. That said, we’ve seen people of all ages and abilities hike it, though the ease with which they do varies.

We’ve also brought bikes to the park — rides along the tow path are pretty and flat, making it nice for little cyclists. I’ve done some rock climbing there with friends — you can often find group lessons through REI or even Groupon like we did.

There are designated overlooks on both sides of the park. In Maryland, there is one just a short walk from the parking lot, and further down the tow path a boardwalk extends over the river, and you can take in views of different parts of the Mather Gorge. In Virginia, overlooks with views of the gushing rapids and falls are right off the trail, not far from the Visitors Center. All of them offer incredible vistas. Really, it doesn’t get much better in the DC area.

If there’s any downside to Great Falls, it’s the crowds. On a nice weekend, the park is guaranteed to be packed with people, and there is often a long line of cars waiting to get through the entrance. Try to arrive early, or go on a weekday if you can swing it.

Other good things to know:
– Wear appropriate shoes, especially if you plan to hike the rocky, rooty trails.
– Swimming is NOT allowed in the park. That section of the river is dangerous, even where it looks calm.
– Concessions are available, but you can also bring along a picnic to enjoy at a table in the snack bar area or a nice spot along your hike in the park.
– There are restrooms located near both Visitors Centers.

Great Falls Park is open daily from 7am to 30 minutes after sunset. The Visitor Centers are open 10am – 4pm. The Snack Bar is open March through October 10am – 4pm. Admission, good for three days, is $20/vehicle, $10/individual on foot or bike. Entrances are located at 9200 Old Dominion Drive in McLean, VA, and 11710 MacArthur Blvd in Potomac, MD.

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Filed under All ages, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend