The beauty of Arlington, Virginia, is not only in its arts, culture and history but in its diverse and inviting green spaces.
From scenic parks to breathtaking forests, wetlands and numerous hiking trails, Arlington County and its surrounding areas are teeming with adventures on and off the beaten path. Take in the views from Mount Vernon, kayak the Potomac River, and connect with nature on Theodore Roosevelt Island. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the main tourist attractions, Arlington’s picturesque landscape beckons to outdoor enthusiasts worldwide.
Walk, Run, or Cycle the Mount Vernon Trail
Starting in Arlington and stretching 18 miles along the Potomac River to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, your adventure begins on the Mount Vernon Trail. The trail is a great way to explore Arlington’s diverse landscapes, with views of the D.C. skyline, picturesque islands, and lush forests. And with multiple entrances and exits, your adventures can be a short morning stroll or a full-day excursion. Travelers with pets will be thrilled to know the trail is pet friendly. However, remember to keep your pup on a leash at all times.
As you traverse the trail, stop by Lady Bird Johnson Park. Home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial and Columbia Island Marina, the island is the perfect place to relax and recharge with a riverside picnic. Stroll through the meadow surrounding the memorial – a granite megalith that honors late President Johnson, or stop by the marina and watch boats launch from the Pentagon Lagoon. The park transforms into a colorful canvas of blooming tulips and daffodils in the spring, so have your camera ready.
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the forested trail near George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate is a quieter area for those seeking solitude. Enjoy a stroll under a canopy of oak, hickory and chestnut trees, and keep an eye out for finches, starlings and red-eared slider turtles. It’s important to point out that this trail region is much steeper than the rest and can be challenging for cyclists.
Discover the Flora and Fauna of the Potomac Region
Immerse yourself in 67 acres of explorable woodlands at Potomac Overlook Regional Park. A mix of untamed wilderness and managed parkland, this region of Arlington County is home to numerous hiking trails for all experience levels, from leisurely strolls to strenuous hikes. As you trek through the park, you’ll find markers detailing the area’s history and displays highlighting the region’s flora and fauna, such as the Christmas fern, Virginia Creeper and Pale Jewelweed.
Need a break? Relax and recharge at the Interpretive Gardens, home to a selection of perennials and woody plants that thrive in Northern Virginia. In addition, multiple garden rooms display plants that support bees, butterflies and native birds such as cardinals and robins.
Animal lovers should stop by the park’s Nature Center, home to interactive exhibits, habitats, an aviary and live animals such as snakes, turtles, toads and fish. Look under a microscope to see animal and human specimens up close. See the mock forest featuring a bear and owl. At the Birds of Prey exhibit, you’ll meet a red-tailed hawk, a great-horned owl and a barred owl – stick around for a live feeding. In addition, guided hikes are available to guests, such as the tree identification hike, where you’ll learn about the 20 species of trees growing throughout the park, from the Black Locust to the Red Maple.
A Park with a National View
Gravelly Point Park is located on the southern bank of the Potomac River and within eyesight of the National Mall in D.C. With the promise of fresh air and waterfront picnicking, the park is a popular destination for cyclists, walkers, and even commuters who use the park as a stopover while driving the George Washington Expressway. In addition, this ease of access draws in boaters, who take advantage of the launch ramp for a day of pleasure boating or fishing on the Potomac. Gravelly Point is also a few hundred feet from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, making it a popular spot to watch aircraft taking off and landing.
Nature Meets History Between Arlington and D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the middle of the Potomac River and is only accessible from Arlington. A gift to the U.S. government by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in 1932, the island features 88 acres of woodlands, marshes and swamps to explore via dirt foot trails and boardwalks. In addition, there are over two miles of hiking trails on the island. The Swamp Trail extends along the shoreline and showcases views of the island’s curated landscapes. Birders and aspiring naturalists should keep an eye out for various native wildlife, from woodpeckers and ducks to deer and foxes. In addition, the waters surrounding the island are home to carp, catfish and bluegills – perfect for anglers looking to cast a line. A proper fishing license is required.
On Saturdays and Sundays, you can take a ranger-led Island Safari Tour of the island. The 45-minute guided walk covers the island’s conservation efforts and Civil War history and highlights the surrounding marsh and swamp. Finally, no trip to Theodore Roosevelt Island is complete without visiting the memorial plaza. There, you’ll find a statue of President Roosevelt and benches to relax from the day’s adventures.
Explore Arlington on Two Wheels
No car? No problem. The Capital Bikeshare Program is a unique bike rental service that allows users to unlock manual or electric bikes and explore the D.C. and Arlington areas. Even better – it’s good for the environment! Download the program’s companion app, and you’ll quickly locate the bikes and charging stations in the area – there are over 100 stations in Arlington alone. You can pay for predetermined amounts of time, such as a five-minute ride or a 24-hour pass.
Peddle along the Potomac River, see the sights from Gravelly Point or explore the Rosslyn Neighborhood and Ballston Quarter. You can even ride along the Mount Vernon Trail or take a detour to the National Mall.
Whether you’re trekking through the marshes on Theodore Roosevelt Island or learning about the region’s flora at the Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Arlington is home to dynamic outdoor activities that will enhance your vacation itinerary.
Where will your next adventure take you?