After what always seems like an eternally long winter in the DMV, spring is finally here, and I for one am eager to spend some time outdoors. We certainly have our fair share of parks in the area – in its 2021 ParkScore index, the Trust for Public Land ranked D.C. as the top city in the nation for access to parks, and Arlington was close behind at number four.
In the District and beyond, our abundance of parks offer space for activities that go beyond just taking a stroll or having a picnic (although those are both great things that I fully support). Here are five unique ways to enjoy what some of our area parks have to offer.
Check out the Civil-War era cannons at Fort Foote Park
Tucked away in a Prince George’s County neighborhood, Fort Foote Park is a great place to go for a short hike in the woods if you’re trying to avoid crowds. But what makes this park unique is the sights you’ll see. A clearing in the trees reveals two massive cannons that have been there since Fort Foote was built in the 1860s. Elsewhere in the park, the trail winds down to a beach, for a completely different vibe. Enjoy taking in the views of National Harbor and find some cool driftwood that’s washed up from the Potomac River – as long as you’re there at low tide. 9 a.m. to sunset. Free. Fort Foote Park: 8901 Fort Foote Rd., Fort Washington, MD; nps.gov/fofo
Horse around at Rock Creek Park
D.C.’s 1,754-acre park has more than 32 miles of hiking trails and tons of great picnic spots, as well as the opportunity to rent a kayak to float out on the Potomac River or hit the links on the 18-hole Rock Creek Park Golf Course. But one thing that makes this treasure in the city unique is the Rock Creek Horse Center. Operated by Guest Services, Inc., the horse center is currently offering some programs – such as pony rides and meet-and-greets for kids – on a limited basis. The horse center also offers guided barn tours for all ages, so if you’ve ever been curious about what goes into running a stable and you want to see behind the scenes of the barn, check it out! 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $15 each, free admission for kids 2 and under. Rock Creek Horse Center: 5100 Glover Rd. NW, DC; rockcreekhorsecenter.com
Explore Georgetown by boat on the C&O Canal
If you’ve spent any time in Georgetown in recent months, you may have noticed a boat sitting in the canal near Thomas Jefferson Street and 31st Street. But did you know that starting this spring and through October, you can ride it down the first mile of the C&O Canal? On the hour-long guided tour, riders can learn about the history of the canal and the people who’ve lived and worked along its shores over the past 200 years. $15 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, $20 Fridays through Sundays.Thomas Jefferson St. and 31st St. NW DC; georgetownheritage.org/boat-tours
Get in touch with your artistic side at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Summer is the best time to catch the lilies and lotuses in bloom at this park in northeast D.C. Some lilies typically start blooming here in May, while the lotus blooms’ time to shine is in late June. You may want to stay awhile and admire that beauty; people often bring their sketchbooks or easels to Kenilworth to create artwork of the blooms. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens: 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE DC; nps.gov/keaq
Rock out at Great Falls Park
This National Park in McLean feels far away from the city, even though it’s only about a 30-minute drive from D.C. The star of the show here is the falls itself, which can be viewed from three overlooks, but it’s also a good place for rock climbing. Top-rope climbing is permitted in designated areas in the park, and routes are between 25 and 75 feet long. If that sort of climbing isn’t your thing, hike along the trails and check out the views from rocks you’ll see along the way. 7 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset. Great Falls Park: 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, VA; nps.gov/grfa