Things to Do

DC Officially Has the Best Urban Park System in the Country—Here Are 7 Trails and Green Spaces We Love

The best parks for cycling, reading, picnics, and more.

A hiking trail on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Photograph courtesy of the NPS.
Summer 2024

About Summer 2024

All the best things to do in the DC-area this summer.

For the fourth year in a row, the Trust for Public Land named DC as the nation’s best big-city park system in its annual survey (Arlington, meanwhile, took the #5 spot). The District’s high score was mostly attributed to a few factors: equitable access—99 percent of Washington residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, while the national average is 76 percent—and robust funding.

In all, DC has 697 parks and green spaces run by the city or National Park Service. Ready to explore beyond Rock Creek Park, the Arboretum, and the National Mall? These are just a few of our favorites. 


For Cycling (or Roller Skating)

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

Runs from Bladensburg to Navy Yard  

A view from walking along the Anacostia River Trail. Photograph by Marcey Frutchey, courtesy of NPS.

This 12-mile (and growing!) paved trail runs through several neighborhoods and offers nice views of the Anacostia River and nearby forests, making it a favorite of DC’s cyclists. If you prefer moving around on more than two wheels, head to Anacostia Park’s roller-skating pavilion for free rentals from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Check out this map of open and future sections of the trail.


For Picnics

Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park

16th St., NW and W St., NW

With a variety of grassy lawns, a fountain and reflecting pool, and hilltop views, this lively park off 16th Street is always a great spot to roll out a blanket. On Sundays in the summer, you’ll find live music, including the weekly 3 PM drum circle. 


For Kayaking

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Park

Runs from Georgetown to Cumberland, MD

Outside of DC, you can explore this 184.5-mile park’s Billy Goat Trail and marvel at Great Falls from the Maryland side. In DC, another favorite is Fletcher’s Boathouse (4940 Canal Rd., NW), where you can rent a canoe or kayak and glide on the Potomac.


For Walking

Theodore Roosevelt Island

Mount Vernon Trail, off George Washington Memorial Parkway

This small island—accessible by a footbridge between Key Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge—is a great destination for a walk or run. Stop along the lush trail to read plaques about the island’s history, and bring your (leashed) dog. If you want to extend past the one-and-a-half-mile loop, you can walk along the Potomac to Georgetown Waterfront Park.


For Reading

Lincoln Park

E. Capitol St. and 11th St., SE

Locals love this seven-acre Capitol Hill park for its ample space, and there are several shady spots to enjoy a good book, whether on a bench, a blanket, or your own lawn chair.


For Flora and Fauna

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

1550 Anacostia Ave., NE

The water lilies of Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Photograph courtesy of NPS.

This oasis is home to a variety of environmental wonders, including lotuses and water lilies that bloom in the summer. Over 250 avian species make it a favorite spot for birders, but you can also catch a glimpse of other creatures, such as beavers and turtles.


For Families

Yards Park

 355 Water St., SE

With a picturesque bridge, lots of green space, and riverside views, this Navy Yard park has been a family favorite since it opened in 2010. Want to beat the heat? Kids can take advantage of the massive, fountain-filled splash pool —and you can always grab a cone at Ice Cream Jubilee.

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow