Best for Wildlife Spotting:
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Bring binoculars and amble along the River Trail or the boardwalk, where you may see such birds as great blue herons, Canada geese, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and bluebirds. Look up to spot red-shouldered hawks soaring overhead. As you walk, you might also spot foxes, minks, or white-tailed deer. 1550 Anacostia Ave., NE; 202-692-6080.
Best Quick Escape:
Theodore Roosevelt Island
This memorial island offers a quiet place for reflection. Through the trees when the leaves are gone, you’ll enjoy views of the Potomac River, Key Bridge, Georgetown, and Rosslyn. (One downside: The restrooms are closed in the colder months, usually October through April, though there’s a portable toilet.) George Washington Memorial Pkwy., Arlington; 703-289-2500.
Best for Scenic Views:
Great Falls Park
Take a short walk along the River Trail to view the spectacular waterfalls of the Potomac and Mather Gorge—which on a chilly day could be partially frozen or icy. Three observation decks make it easy to take in the views without navigating terrain that’s especially challenging when it’s wet or snowy. Federal holidays and warmer weekends can be crowded even in winter. 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; 703-757-3101.
Best for Families:
Seneca Creek State Park
Lake Shore Trail, along Clopper Lake, offers views that stretch for miles. In winter, you’ll likely have the dirt trail to yourself. Stay alert for some steep slopes and rocky sections. There’s also a recycled-tire playground with structures including a tire dragon, a tire swing, and a zip-line. 11950 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg; 301-924-2127.
Best for Sunsets:
Mason Neck State Park
Walk along the mile-long Bay View loop trail late in the day to catch a stunning sunset and listen for barred owls. While exploring the wildlife refuge, between Occoquan and Belmont bays, you might also see sparrows, great blue herons, kingfishers, and, if you’re lucky, a bald eagle. 7301 High Point Rd., Lorton; 703-339-2385.
This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Washingtonian.