Looking for a bit of solitude? Here are some places you could park yourself.
1850 Constitution Ave., NW
For a park so close to downtown DC, this 50-acre expanse roughly between the Lincoln and World War II memorials is surprisingly little-visited. Sit and read, people-watch, daydream, or simply gaze at the ducks and geese gliding in the pond in the shadow of the Washington Monument. (If you’re lucky, you might spot a great blue heron on the bank.) Don’t miss the memorial to the Declaration of Independence’s 56 signers.
2845 N. Marcey Rd., Arlington; 703-528-5406
Events at this park’s nature center can fill up the parking lot and draw visitors on nice weekend days. But head into the woods to connect to other trails that flow under the George Washington Parkway, in the direction of the Potomac, and you can walk for miles—toward either the banks of the river itself, Roosevelt Island, or the less-traveled (and warning: wilder) path heading north toward Chain Bridge. Don’t miss the park’s small exhibit with live rescued owls.
22201 Zion Rd., Olney; 301-495-2595
It seems only right that a park dedicated to Rachel Carson—the environmentalist, marine biologist, and author who campaigned against the use of DDT and other synthetic pesticides—is a nice spot to contemplate the beauty and importance of our natural world. The oft-overlooked Montgomery County park has six miles of trails that meander through a grassy meadow, a forested creek lined with ferns, and a hidden pond where the only sound may be the soft croaks of frogs.
7400 Georgetown Pike, McLean; 703-759-9018
This wilderness park just off the Beltway boasts rocky outcroppings, narrow gorges, and a waterfall where Scott’s Run makes a dramatic exit into the Potomac. A grove of rare eastern hemlocks, plus oak, beech, and wild cherry, creates a peaceful forest canopy, while spring brings a profusion of wildflowers. It can get busy on pleasant weekends, but with 336 acres, there’s always a path less traveled.
700 George Washington Memorial Parkway, McLean; 703-289-2500
With his 17-foot likeness rising from an interior plaza, Teddy Roosevelt commands center stage. But as a fitting tribute to the first conservationist in chief, nature reigns on this 88-acre island in the Potomac. Getting a piece to yourself is as simple as taking the 1.5-mile perimeter trail. A boardwalk cuts through marsh and swamp forest, with views of Georgetown. Parking lot accessible from northbound lanes of George Washington Memorial Pkwy., or arrive via footbridge from Arlington.
This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.