The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the best places to go for those who enjoy being active outdoors but doesn’t want to deal with the crowds in Washington DC. The 17 miles trail spans from Rosslyn, VA to President George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon but along the way provides some of the best views of the nation’s capital and then some. The trail itself is protected by the National Park Service and can be accessed year-round from 6 am- 10 pm.
Here’s a great map of the trail.
For a majority of the time, the trail is sandwiched between the Potomac River and the George Washington Parkway. This makes it really easy to hop on and off the trail at any given point. But it also provides some very beautiful waterfront views. In other words, you don’t have to walk the entire 17 miles in order to see the best of the best, here are some personal favorite points of interests and places where you can hop on and off the trail:
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Let’s start with one of my favorite places along the Mount Vernon Trail, Theodore Roosevelt Island. A great place to begin your outdoor adventure. I love it because it’s not like any other place along the trail. Park your car in the parking lot and cross the footbridge. You’ll be greeted by Theodore Roosevelt himself. Walk within the island for a bit more solitude than you would get along the Mount Vernon Trail. No bikes are allowed on the island but there’s a bike rack by the bridge so you can leave your bike and walk 🙂
Once you are back on the Mount Vernon Trail, you will see beautiful willow trees, and about half a mile away from Roosevelt island, you’ll start seeing some of the best views of the Washington DC Memorials. Its one of the only places where you can actually see the top 3 landmarks (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the US Capitol) all lined up in a row. There is not one spot, in particular, you should go to see them. The more you walk, the more the perspectives will change and the view from across the Potomac River is like no other. If you walk a little further, you’ll start seeing the Thomas Jefferson Memorial as well. Enjoy these views or the memorials anywhere from Roosevelt Island to the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial.
If you can, my favorite time to go here is on July 4th for the firework show. You basically get front row seats all along this part of the trail so you don’t really have to go early to claim your spot. If you do decide to go, then driving/parking may be a hassle. The best way to do it is to take the metro and get on and off at the Rosslyn stop. It’s a little more than half a mile walk but you’ll be saving so much more time by using the public transportation route. I have been on the George Washington Parkway when there are fireworks and cars will literally stop in the middle of the road to watch it. At that point, traffic gets super backed up!
Arlington Memorial Bridge
The easiest way to get into the city from the Mount Vernon Trail is to walk across the Arlington Memorial Bridge. It leads you straight to the Lincoln Memorial, which is the most western memorial of the National Mall. On the opposite end of the bridge, you’ll find an entrance to Arlington National Cemetery which you could spend almost an entire afternoon exploring. The possibilities are endless but I love how easy it is to access Washington DC from the bridge.
Navy Merchant Marine Memorial
Ok, back to the Mount Vernon Trail…
To see a beautiful memorial along the Mount Vernon Trail, plan on visiting the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial (also called Navy-Marine Memorial) located in Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island. The memorial is dedicated to the Americans in the US Navy and US Merchant Marine who lost their lives at sea in World War I. My favorite time to go is mid-spring when there’s an abundance of red tulips that surrounds the memorial. It is so beautiful to photograph. And to get here is fairly easy too! The closest place to park is across the street at the Columbia Island Marina. Find parking at the southeast corner where you’ll find a path leading you underneath the George Washington Parkway almost directly to the memorial.
Technically, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is in Arlington Virginia. It’s pretty cool that you have the potential to see the Washington DC skyline from the air, but another benefit for it being located in Virginia is that you can go to Gravelly Point and watch the planes land and take off. They basically fly right over you. So if airplanes are your thing, this is a great place to go. Even if they aren’t, Gravelly Point has its own parking lot. So if you wanted to start your run or bike ride along the Mount Vernon Trail, this could potentially be a great place to start. You could also bring a picnic basket and enjoy a beautiful afternoon on the grass.
Old Town Alexandria
Whenever I think of Old Town Alexandria, “cute” is the first word that comes to mind. You can’t help but smile while you’re walking through this historic waterfront. It has everything you need from great food, fun stores and it’s located right off the Mount Vernon Trail. Recently, the City of Alexandria has invited artists to create public art to help engage with the community in Waterfront Park. So this is something that should not be missed if you visit. The same goes for Kilwins Alexandria who has homemade ice cream. Trust me, you won’t want to miss that either.
What better way to end the Mount Vernon Trail than at Mount Vernon itself. The former home of President George Washington is 500 acres of history, animals, and historic outbuildings that include a blacksmith shop, smokehouse, and more. And you guessed it, it is right along the water as well. It’s very easy to spend the whole day here so plan accordingly. There’s is so much to see in museums and visitors’ areas. My personal favorite was seeing President Washington’s teeth. I know it’s random, but one of the things that stuck out to me most.
As you can see the Mount Vernon Trail has a lot to offer and a great place to see some of the best of Northern Virginia. But don’t let these suggestions stop you from exploring further. Almost every turn brings something new and is waiting to be explored. I hope you enjoy!