Outdoor Recreation in the Washington, D.C. Area

The Washington, D.C. area offers endless outdoor recreational opportunities for all ages. Step outside and you'll discover beautiful parks to relax in, trails to hike and bike, and places for kayaking and boating. Families will love the playgrounds, waterparks, horseback riding trails, and outdoor ice skating rinks.

Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia are also known for historic trails like the C&O Canal Towpath, where you can bike or walk along the Potomac River from Georgetown north all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. There is also a network of Neighborhood Heritage Trails where you can walk through history with themes like the African-American Heritage Trail and River Farms to Urban Towers.

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Hiking, Walking, Jogging, and Running

Boy and father reading a map
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With hundreds of miles of great hiking and walking trails, the Washington, D.C. area has many scenic destinations for the outdoor enthusiast. Head out on your own or join a group to get some exercise and fresh air.

  • Neighborhood Heritage Trails are the are the official walking trails of Washington, D.C. and each themed trail has a downloadable trail guide with historical narrative in a booklet, also downloadable. 
  • Organizations such as AVA: America's Walking Club also have self-paced permanent trails (with maps and instructions) which are open to the public. There are affiliated walking clubs and events in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia. The Freedom Walk Festival, held annually in October in Arlington, Virginia, has multiple interesting routes for walkers. The organization also sponsors a walk in May in Washington, D.C. to visit the Embassy open houses.
  • Runners enjoy the sights of Washington, D.C. area as they run in places like the National Mall, the historic  C&O Canal Towpath, and Rock Creek Park.
  • Major running events such as the April Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and the fun Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon where you can run your chosen distance and be serenaded by live bands as you make your way through the District keep the running competition going.
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West Potomac Park, Washington DC
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Washington, D.C. is becoming one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation. Explore more than 800 miles of biking trails throughout the metropolitan region. Some of the popular biking trails include the 13-mile Capital Crescent Trail, the 184-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath, and the 18-mile scenic Mount Vernon Trail.

Biking trails are especially popular in West Potomac Park at cherry blossom time. It is said that the "Indicator Tree," which reliably blooms before all the others, is located along one of the bike trails. 

Biking is encouraged in the Washington, D.C. area with a "Bike to Work Day," and the DC Bike Ride where you can tour our nation’s capital and see some of the world’s most iconic sites dotted along the 20-mile course. The ride ends with a festival at the finish on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

03 of 12

Parks and Picnic Areas

View Of Urban Park At Waterfront
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The Washington, D.C. area is home to both large and small parks, some with picnic facilities and visitor's centers and some just a small patch of attractive landscaping where people can escape the hustle and bustle of city life and traffic. These areas have a full range of parks for recreation and family picnics:

  • Washington. D.C. Parks include the 50-acre Constitution Gardens on the National Mall and Rock Creek Park which extends 12 miles from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland. Rock Creek Park has individual and group picnic areas.
  • Maryland Parks include the Glen Echo National Park has picnic areas, activities in dance, theater, and the arts for adults and children, as well as being home for an antique Dentzel carousel. In Laurel, Maryland, the science and environmental education center at the Patuxent Reserve center offers educational programs for kids, guided tours, and nature walks.
  • Northern Virginia Parks include Alexandria's Fort Ward Park which has the Fort Ward Museum and 41.4-acre historic park. In Arlington, there is the 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trail running along the Potomac with stops to see monuments and views of the river.
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Child playing at a playground
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Some parks, recreation centers, and schools in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia where kids can work off some of their energy. Fun playgrounds include:

  • East Potomac Park, a favorite of locals, is a 300-acre peninsula located between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River. Scenic Hains Point, at the southern end of the park, is a great place for a picnic and has mini-golf, a playground, and a public outdoor pool among the recreation offerings.
  • Wheaton Regional Park in Wheaton, Maryland has a ton of play areas with climbing structures, swings, giant slides, a sand castle and more. Kids will love the carousel and train ride. 
  • In Arlington, Virginia, you'll find the Upton Hill Regional Park featuring hiking trails, a swimming pool with water slides, a miniature golf course, and batting cages.
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05 of 12


Aerial view of a public swimming pool with many people playing
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There are both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, both public and private, in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia.

  • Banneker Pool is a popular outdoor swimming pool with areas for all swimming abilities and a concession stand.
  • The City of Alexandria, Virginia has several aquatics facilities with both indoor and outdoor pools. The Old Town Pool complex includes an outdoor lap pool, training pool for kids, and a picnic area with a playground next to the pool. 
  • Located in Boyds, Maryland is the indoor Deanwood Aquatic Center with lots of natural light, swim classes, lap pool, splash pool, and slide for the kids. 
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Water Parks

Kings Dominion amusement park
Kings Dominion

Spending a hot summer day at a water park is a great way to cool off and have some family fun.

  • In Alexandria, Virginia, you can splash away at the Great Waves Water Park which is part of a chain of fun commercial waterparks in Virginia. 
  • In Reston, Virginia, enjoy the slides, flumes, and activities at the Water Mine Family Swimmin' Hole with a gold rush theme.
  • Arlington, Virginia has the beach-themed Ocean Dunes Waterpark in Upton Hill Regional Park with slides and water buckets.
  • Williamsburg, Virginia has a Great Wolf Lodge, with indoor waterpark and arcade, ideal for family getaways. 
  • Kings Dominion, an amusement park in Doswell, Virginia, has Soak City with water slides, poolside cabanas, and a whole range of pools for all ages.
  • In Washington, D.C., kids can cool off at a number of small "Spray Parks" with kid-friendly fountains perfect for splashing and cooling off. There is at least one spray park in every Ward of the District.
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Cruising, Kayaking and Boating

Virginia, Alexandria, Aerial photograph at sunrise of Fords Landing
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Enjoy boating in the Washington, DC area, including sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and scenic cruises along the Potomac River.

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Men fishing off boat
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The Washington, D.C. area offers many opportunities for fishing. With a license, you can spend the day fishing in a nearby lake, river or stream or enjoy a weekend angling at many beautiful destinations along the Eastern Shore in Maryland or Virginia. These guides to fishing around the region will give you a start in planning a fishing vacation:

  • Fishing in Washington, D.C. - You will find places to fish along the Potomac River and its tributaries. Fletchers Boat House is known for fishing and boating and rents gear. On the Anacostia River, you can catch and release and Anacostia Park has a public boat launch and a marina.
  • Fishing in Maryland - Maryland offers freshwater, bay, and ocean fishing opportunities. The Chesapeake Bay is home to over 350 types of fish, the famous blue crabs, and oysters. 
  • Fishing in Virginia - Lakes, streams and the ocean are all places for fishing in Virginia. Most popular are the lakes such as Burke Lake Reservoir in Fairfax Station where you can fish from a boat or the dock. Jones Point Park, on the Potomac in Old Town Alexandria, has two fishing piers where you can fish for American catfish, rock bass, and American eels. 
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09 of 12

Zip Lines and Ropes Courses

Woman zip lining
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Fly through the air, swing through the trees, and challenge yourself with obstacle courses. There are several zipline tours and treetop adventures available near Washington, D.C.

  • In Savage, Maryland, Terrapin Adventures features a zip line, ropes course, a giant swing, climbing tower, and many more adventurous things to do. 
  • At Harpers' Ferry, West Virginia, River Riders offers a guided 3-hour tour which includes seven zip lines, four tandem ladder climbs, a plank bridge, and a 25-foot rappel from the final platform. 
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Horseback Riding

Teenage girl horseback riding
Rachel Cooper

Learn to ride a horse or rent one and hit the trail in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • The Rock Creek Park Horse Center in the District has riding lessons, trail rides, and pony rides. 
  • Woodland Horse Center in Silver Spring, Maryland offers riding camps and lessons on its 25-acre estate of riding rings, stables, and trails.
  • At River Chase Farm in Aldie, Virginia, you can take a Wine and Cheese Ride where you begin your evening saddling up and going for guided 1.5-hour horseback-riding adventure topped off with wine and cheese pairings. 
  • The Wheaton Park Stables in Silver Spring, Maryland offers one-hour guided horseback rides through the Wheaton Regional Park. Wheaton Park Stables also offers pony rides on Tuesdays and Sundays for kids ages three and older.
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Skiing and Snowboarding

Two kids skiing
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Enjoy a day of winter fun—skiing, snowboarding, and tubing within a few hours drive from Washington, D.C.

  • Liberty Mountain Resort, just an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., in Pennsylvania has 16 trails, some lighted for night skiing, and three terrain parks with a range of difficulties. There are accommodations and several restaurants at the resort.
  • Whitetail Resort, also in Pennsylvania, is the highest mountain within a two-hour drive of the city. They have eight lifts and 25 different trails. The resort offers night skiing and you can top off your evening with a meal at one of the restaurants. 
  • Massanutten Resort in Virginia has 14 trails for skiing as well as tubing, a terrain park for snowboarders, and an ice skating rink. There's even an indoor water park.
  • When the snow hits the District, you can get out your sled or tube and play in Fort Reno Park (the highest point in the District), on the Masonic Temple Hill in Alexandria, Book Hill Park, and even the grounds of the Capitol. 
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Ice Skating

Ice skating at front of National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.
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Seasonal outdoor ice skating is a favorite activity in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden's ice-skating rink is a favorite destination, attracting thousands of visitors to skate in the parklike setting on the National Mall. 
  • Washington Harbor Ice Rink on the Georgetown waterfront offers seasonal ice skating with beautiful views of the river.
  • In Maryland, you can skate, shop, and dine. The Silver Spring Ice Rink at Veterans Plaza is located in the center of Downtown Silver Spring and is surrounded by a variety of restaurants and shops. Rockville Town Square Ice Rink, also in a shopping center, is the largest outdoor rink in Montgomery County and offers open skating, lessons, and party rentals.