From Our Archives: DC’s Best Areas for Outdoor Enthusiasts

by Mark Wellborn

It is hard to concentrate on work on days like today when you wish the clock would just get to 5:30pm. With this feeling in mind (and with cherry blossom fever hitting DC), we felt that it was fitting to dig back into our archives and re-publish our list of best areas around DC for those of us who love to be outdoors.

Frisbee on The Mall by Kyle Walton

(Originally published in June 2008)

DC is a city of immigrants (largely from other states), and those immigrants usually have more options for outdoor activity back home than they do in the District. So, when these folks are looking for a place to live in the nation’s capital, a major factor can be the neighborhood’s proximity to water, exercise areas or even a small patch of grass. Below we list spots that are suitable choices for virtually any fan of the outdoors.

Best Area for Those That Miss the Colorado River

Great Falls – Some of the best white water conditions on the East Coast are in Great Falls, VA. Home to the Potomac Whitewater Festival, Olympic champions have honed their skills in these waters, which should give you warning that they are not for the faint of heart. The rapids can be classified as high as Class V, one level below the toughest category as ranked by the American Whitewater Association.

Great Falls by sandcastlematt

Best Area for Those That Love the Masochism That is Crew (Not J. Crew)

Georgetown – This neighborhood is not just for shopping at places like H&M and Club Monaco. With its proximity to the waterfront, Georgetown is the ideal DC neighborhood for those who want to get out on the Potomac River. Thompson Boat Center and Fletcher’s Boat House offer rentals for everyone from the hardcore rower to the casual paddleboat rider. The C&O Canal Towpath, which is a great option for biking and running, also starts in Georgetown.

Best Areas for the Jock Who Played Everything

Friendship Heights/Tenleytown/American University Park – Regardless of what your traditional sport interests are, the three neighborhoods of Friendship Heights, Tenleytown and AU Park can satisfy your needs. For basketball, there are numerous outdoor courts in the area, but the best are at American University where there are three full courts. For tennis and baseball, there are two courts and a field at Chevy Chase field is the best place to shag flies (when not dominated by little leaguers).

Best Area for a Native of Iowa or Colorado

West Loudoun County – While eastern Loudoun is dominated by new development, the west is filled with farmland, open spaces and mountain views. Morven Park in Leesburg is a great place for anyone who prefers the upper echelon of outdoor activities (polo, steeplechase racing and horse riding), and for those days when a scenic drive will be a cure-all, hop on the Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Best Area for the New Yorker Who Misses Central Park

Van Ness/Cleveland Park/16th Street Heights – These neighborhoods were chosen primarily because of their proximity to Rock Creek Park. A favorite for joggers and bicyclists, there are also recreation facilities including equestrian trails, a nature center and planetarium, an outdoor concert venue, and picnic and playground facilities. Although its 1750 acres are twice that of Central Park, there is less grass to loll around on. Also, the roads that bisect it are a popular shortcut for those who want to get from downtown to the 20015 zip code.

Rock Creek Park by supermoving

Best Areas for Those That Loved Ultimate on the Quad

Penn Quarter/Foggy Bottom – Okay, so we know that these areas bring to mind the concrete jungle that is downtown DC. But they are also two zip codes that are close to The Mall. For those pining for their college days when throwing the Frisbee was considered serious exercise, the expanse of green that surround the Washington Monument is the place. While not all 309 acres are suitable for tossing the B, there are plenty of places to jog, have a picnic or just lie around. It is the preferred viewing point for 4th of July fireworks and it hosts Screen on the Green, a film festival that shows classic movies during the summer months.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/from_our_archives_dcs_best_areas_for_outdoor_enthusiasts/1941


  1. ajp said at 12:50 am on Saturday April 3, 2010:

    Nice feature. The great falls photo actually shows high water - when the falls are more or less class 6. Most of the year they are class 5 with high consequence. What is not pointed out in this section is that there is fantastic diversity of other whitewater available - without the immediate high risk - in the form of playboating and freestyle/slalom (a large portion of the Olympic team lives and trains here after all) throughout the gorge. Add to this the density of world class water within 3 hours it is easy to see why DC is actually considered by many to be the best major city with regular whitewater access around. Several local outfitters teach basic and advanced skills on the Potomac, including Potomac Paddlesports*, Valley Mill, Liquid Adventures etc. *Disclaimer: I teach for Potomac Paddlesports on the weekends in addition to my regular job. This is not intended as an endorsement for any particular school, only for an area which I think has the best outdoor options of any major city in the east.

  1. Citi said at 12:32 pm on Monday April 5, 2010:

    Last Spring I rode my bike from Georgetown to Great Falls on the toepath.  It was awesome - beautiful.  The path is a little rough in parts, so I’d recommend a mountain bike.  I’m greatly interested in finding a great park so I can take my 2 year old grandson to ride his tricycle, swing, and climb, etc.  I’m a new resident in NW and have not found a great park anywhere.  Any ideas?

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