Washington may be known for its political scene, but its running community is just as active. And thanks to a neat network of trails, paths and greenways throughout the greater D.C. area, there’s plenty of variety when it comes to where to run. “It’s rare to be in the heart of a city but still have lots of open green spaces for running,” says Emily Richard, an elite triathlete and D.C. resident. “I genuinely do think D.C. is a great runner’s city.”
Here are five top places to get in your mileage in-and-around Washington D.C.:
Mount Vernon Trail
A quintessential D.C. run, this 18-mile path takes you along the Virginia side of the Potomac River from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. For a scenic out-and-back stretch, start at the Roosevelt Island parking lot then head south, passing under Roosevelt and Memorial bridges while iconic sites like the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin beckon from across the river. Make your turnaround point at the tip of Gravelly Point Park, where you’ll be awed by the site of low-flying planes seconds before they touch down at Reagan National Airport. Head back to your starting point to log just under a 10K, or tack on more mileage by cruising over Memorial Bridge and winding your way down to the National Mall for an epic running tour of the capital.
Rock Creek Park
The oldest and largest urban park in the national park system, Rock Creek Park is currently celebrating its quasquicentennial (that’s 125 years). And as any local runner who’s traversed the 32 miles of trails can tell you, a run in Rock Creek is always timeless. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll get a welcome break in nature as you weave your way through the woods around Washington and Montgomery County, Md. Access the park at various points throughout the city—wherever you roam, your run will be as tranquil as they come.
Lofted above the Potomac River along the border of Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., this mostly flat, paved route takes you into the city while offering plenty of scenic views along the way. Various entry points along the path allow you to venture down to the C&O Canal towpath for a change of venue. Or, take a whimsical detour into Glen Echo Park (7300 MacArthur Boulevard), established in the early 1900s, where you can check out the still-operating carousel. Carry on along MacArthur and you’ll eventually hit the Capital Crescent Trail (via the Little Falls Trail at Sagamore Road), which you can follow all the way into Georgetown.
Attention flora and fauna fans: This run’s for you. A quick drive from Capitol Hill, the National Arboretum is a 446-acre “living museum.” In the spring and early summer, you’ll run by beautiful blooms, from daffodils to dogwoods. Fall brings the foliage, and in the cold months you’ll spot emerald–hued holly bushes. Mostly closed to traffic, you can safely circle around the Arboretum’s grounds while checking out other sites, like the freestanding Corinthian columns found on Ellipse Road, which were removed from the Capitol during a renovation. Charge up the 239-foot Mount Hamilton and spy upon the U.S. Capitol building, the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral and more. A view well worth the effort.
The Anacostia River has never been the shining star of D.C. destinations, but a major revitalization of the surrounding area is set to change its status. Case in point: The Anacostia Riverwalk, a 15-mile-long multi-use paved trail outlines both sides of the waterfront. Partially shaded, smooth, and typically less traveled than the trails along the Potomac, you can check out a different side of D.C. while cruising around the waterfront. Look out for fun features like a futuristic footbridge and the docked USS Barry battleship, both by the Washington Navy Yard. For a post-run treat, explore The Yards, a $2 billion redevelopment project marked by lofty condos and high-rises, dancing fountains, and scads of inviting restaurants and cafes.
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