8 Natural Escapes in Washington, DC
Washington, DC is known as a city of monuments, but it’s also a city with a lot of natural beauty if you know where to look. I’ve listed a few places where you can enjoy nature without even leaving the city.
U.S. National Arboretum
The U.S. National Arboretum, a research facility administered by the USDA, is also the site of the former Capitol building from when it was built in 1828. It hosted multiple presidential inaugurations, including Abraham Lincoln’s. When you visit today, you’re likely to come across at least one photo or video shoot. The grounds also include gardens with vine-covered pagodas and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum which shows a variety of bonsai trees inside the beautifully-designed Chinese and North American pavilions. The arboretum is open from 8-5 and the bonsai museum is open from 10-4. Admission is free.
Hillwood Estates includes gardens and a mansion from the 20th century that’s been turned into a museum. The gardens include a Japanese-style garden, rose garden, European-style garden, cutting garden, and more. The flowers were designed to bloom in the spring and fall so those are the best times to visit, but it’s a nice place to escape into nature any time of the year. Hillwood Estates borders Rock Creek Park, just north of the National Zoo in Cleveland Park. There is a suggested donation entry fee of $18 for adults and is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10-5.
U.S. Botanic Garden
The U.S. Botanic Garden is located just outside the U.S. Capitol building and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, established by Congress in 1820. It features three garden spaces—the Conservatory, the National Garden, and Bartholdi Park. The Conservatory includes themed rooms like the Mediterranean room, tropics, rare and endangered, and Hawaii room, while the National Garden includes a rose garden, butterfly garden, and amphitheater. The botanic garden is a great way to learn about different plants or just relax and breathe in the fresh air.
Rock Creek Park
The 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park offers a number of options for outdoor activities. The national park in Northwest DC is the third to be designated by the federal government and is an oasis inside the nation’s capital. Aside from hiking and biking, the park also offers ranger-led tours, horseback riding, picnic facilities, a planetarium, nature center, and amphitheater.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Located in the Potomac River between DC and Northern Virginia, Theodore Roosevelt Island was named in honor of the conservationist president. The national park was designed to mimic the real forest that once covered the island. They host ranger-led walking tours, kayaking tours, and have 18 miles of paved trails for walking and biking.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is another part of the national parks system and part of Anacostia Park in Northeast DC. The park is known for its water lilies and lily ponds, plus the lotus flowers that open for a few hours in the early morning of late June and July before closing because of the midday heat. Open 362 days a year from 9-5, the park is free to the public.
Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown neighborhood of Northwest DC is a research library that supports research in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies and an art collection. It also features a historic garden open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday. Admission to the museum is free, but you can access the garden for a $10 entrance fee. The garden features a variety of plants that bloom throughout the year.
Great Falls Park is not technically in DC, but it spans Maryland and Virginia and is a common place to visit for people in the DC area. Part of the U.S. National Park Service, the Potomac River runs through the park and includes 15 miles of hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, kayaking, guided tours, and of course the falls. For a challenge, hike the Billy Goal Trail which includes some bouldering, or take a more relaxing hike on one of the easier trails.