Planning a trip to our national capital? Awesome! Washington, D.C., is one of my favorite cities to visit. With all the museums, historical landmarks and national parks to see, it can be an overwhelming task to fit everything in.
So instead of wasting time dealing with parking, Metro schedules and traffic, why not explore the area by bicycle? For those who enjoy biking, the District and Northern Virginia offer up a great experience. A system of well-maintained trails and bike lanes connects riders to most of the major sites in the area.
All right, you’ve decided biking is the way to go. A great way to begin mapping out your D.C. biking adventure is with a visit to the East Coast Greenway website. The Greenway is a network of biking trails that connects Maine to Florida. The Greenway enters D.C. through Hyattsville, Maryland, and runs down the National Mall and across Memorial Bridge into Virginia. From there, the Greenway takes you along the Potomac River, through several national parks and up to Mount Vernon before continuing south. It’s a beautiful 17-mile ride from the National Mall to Mount Vernon. Don’t want to bike 17 miles? No problem! The best part about riding along the East Coast Greenway in Northern Virginia is that there are plenty of national parks to stop in and explore along the way. And, there’s plenty of parking. So pick up the trail where you like, and just follow it into D.C.
Another great resource is the National Park Service (NPS) website. The National Park Service assists in maintaining many of the trails in the area, and has a wealth of information on its website. Need help while on the trail? NPS staff and volunteers bike along the trails every day, offering up advice and maps to trail visitors.
OK, you’ve mapped out your rides, but maybe you can’t take your bike or don’t want to worry about bringing it. No worries. Washington, D.C., has an incredible bike share program called Capital Bikeshare. Bikeshare members can borrow a bike for free for 30 minutes. This is a great option for those who want to bounce from park to park. Bikeshare members can also rent a bike for a few hours or the whole day. Get a day membership for $7.
Other things to consider bringing on your national park biking tour: a helmet, water bottles, trail/park maps, sunscreen, a few snacks, a bike lock and your camera. For those who participate in the Passport to Your National Parks® Program, don’t forget your book! The gift shop in front of the Washington Monument has more than a dozen stamps for the different monuments along the mall. If you’re trying to figure out what to keep all this in, I recommend the Novara biking backpack. It’s a great bag.
Between D.C. and Northern Virginia, there are dozens of national parks to visit. So which ones should you stop at? Well, all of them of course! There are nine national parks along the mall, and most of them are open to the public all day and most of the night for free. This includes: the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, D.C. War Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. There are also other great parks to visit just off the National Mall that are open for the public to enjoy most of the day. So bike up and take a walk around whenever you want. Just keep in mind that the park rangers are around usually only from 8:30am to 5pm to give tours and answer questions. If there is one park you really want a more in-depth look at, check the park website and see what activities are available.
One of the most iconic parks along the National Mall is the Washington Monument. While you’re welcome to walk around the monumental obelisk all day and night, you must secure a ticket to go inside. The tickets are free, but limited. So if this is something you really want to do (and I highly recommend it), make sure to be at the ticket counter early in the day. The tickets are distributed at Washington Monument Lodge on 15th Street. If you want to better plan out your day, you can reserve tickets in advance for a specific time. There is a small service charge per ticket (usually a dollar or two), but that’s nothing for a little peace of mind and the ability to plan out your day.
Did you know the White House also belongs to a national park? It’s true! The President’s Park includes the White House and the grounds around it. Planning a visit there is much more involved, however. You will need to contact one of your congressional representatives anywhere from three weeks to six months out to get on the tour list. It’s worth it though, I promise.
If you want to find a quieter spot for a picnic and a nice walk, I highly recommend Theodore Roosevelt Island. The entrance to the park is on the Virginia side of the East Coast Greenway. It offers beautiful views from the river of both D.C. and Arlington. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around the island trail while in search of the perfect picnic spot. It is important to note that bikes are not allowed on the island, but you’ll find a large number of bike racks just before the footbridge over to the island.
Whatever type of trip you’re planning to our nation’s capital, I encourage you to take some time to enjoy the incredible biking experiences Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia have to offer. Two-wheeling is a fabulous way to get around and take in the region’s many wonderful national parks.