mount vernon trail

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If you know me, I love a good road trip. Especially the ones that make you feel like you’ve hopped on an airplane and you’re miles away from home but in actuality, you just jumped into your car. So if you’re like me, I created a list of my favorite summer destination that are 3 hours or less from Washington DC with a variety of adventures waiting for you. So if you like being in the outdoors, this list is for you:

Great Falls Park:

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Great Falls Park from the Virginia side

I’ve mentioned this place a hundred times on my blog so it’s definitely a favorite. Less than 20 miles outside of Washington DC, find some peace in Great Falls Park. From the roaring falls, to plenty of space to roam or have a picnic, Great Falls is kind of an unexpected gem outside a major US city. The great part about Great Falls is that there’s a Virginia and Maryland side. You can see actually see the Maryland side while in Virginia and vice versa but they are very different.

Virginia has a better view of the falls and in my personal opinion, the park just feels a little bit more open with wider fields and more viewing spots of the falls. It’s a great place to have a picnic or go on a hike with friends.

Maryland allows you to be closer to the rocks but I personally enjoy the views on the hike on the Maryland side much more.

Don’t be surprised if you see kayakers navigating the rough waters or blue herons fishing for the dinner on either side of the park.

Alexandria, Virginia

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Old Town Alexandria at sunrise

Specifically, Old Town Alexandria. Old Town Alexandria is just 8 miles away from Washington where you can enjoy a day by the Potomac River. Surrounded by cute shops and even better restaurants, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise if you find yourself smiling while walking around the neighborhood. If you of age, The BRÜT Wine Bar is a personal favorite if you like bubbly adult drinks. Waterfront Park is a fantastic place for kids to run around and to experience free outdoor art. I can’t express how much I enjoy this cute little town every time I visit.

But Alexandria is also a great central point for many other excursions. Hop on a scenic water taxi that will take you the National Harbor in Maryland or to DC destinations such as the Wharf, Georgetown, the National Mall, and Nats Stadium. It is also along the Mount Vernon trail that gives you access to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntly Meadows Park, both wetland areas with boardwalks that make it fun for birdwatchers and photographers to enjoy the views.

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive on a foggy early morning

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful summer, fall, spring, winter, whenever! Just 70 miles outside of the District, it’s the best place to get a great hike in. My personal favorite is Old Rag Mountain Trail and Hawksbill Mountain Trail. Both give you an unbelievable view of the mountains and surrounding areas. Just know that both of these hikes are steep but Hawksbill Mountain Trail is significantly shorter, so plan accordingly with the time you have in the mountains.

If hiking isn’t your thing, I highly suggest finding a rental company where they’ll take you down to the river. You can rent canoes, rafts or tubes to float your way down the river. It’s so relaxing.

But if you just want an easy way to enjoy the views, Skyline Drive has stunning views from multiple overlooks along the way.

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Virginia was issued the initial stay at home order on March 30th, 2020 due to the Coronavirus. It didn’t come as a surprise but it was still something that I had to mentally prepare for. Honestly, one of my first thoughts about it all was, “How am I going to go and take pictures?” Not only is photography fun for me, but it is my way of exploring places, finding stories, and expressing myself. In the past, the longest I had ever gone without taking pictures was a week. I already knew the stay at home order was going to be tough.

The world was a rapidly changing place and I was craving to capture it. Here’s are the images I created in the first two months:

Cherry Blossoms

Covid-19 really started being a concern in the Washington DC area just before the cherry blossom season. We had an unusually mild, dry winter that allowed the cherry blossoms to bloom a bit earlier in the year than they usually do. So I was excited to be able to visit the Tidal Basin with a bit less of a crowd since travel was in the process of slowing down and social distancing was starting to become a new term. I tried to go as much as I could until it started to get too crowded. When it got to be too much, I decided to just stay home and be happy with the images I was able to create. My logic was to take as many pictures as I could until it got to be unsafe and then spend quarantine editing them.

Weekdays at sunrise are really the best times to visit the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season, Coronavirus or not.

The last day I was at the Tidal Basin when it started to get a little too crowded

The cherry blossom trees are smaller at the Washington Monument, but still just as beautiful. I tried capturing a few images from there since it’s a larger area to roam.

Cherry blossom trees are seen from the George Mason Memorial

Mt Vernon Trail/Georgetown

That weekend, Andrew and I decided that we should try to get out “one last time” before we had to stay home. We decided that the Mount Vernon trail would be a good place to go and stretch our legs. Andrew walked Frankie on the trail which allowed me to take my camera and capture a few images as well.

Considering the stay at home order was placed the very next day, I’m so glad we did this. It was a foggy morning and the trail was not as crowded as it usually is. We parked our car at Gravelly Point and headed towards the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial.

At the cherry blossom peak bloom, but the pink flowers came out a little hazy in the fog.

(L) A quick stop in Georgetown along the Key Bridge. (R) Views of the Washington Memorials are seen all along the Mount Vernon Trail.

Vienna Metro

So this is where my real pandemic images begin. It had been about 1.5-2 weeks since our walk on the Mount Vernon trail and I was going crazy. I had never purposely taken such a long break from taking pictures, and it was not making me feel good. I was really craving creativity, seeing what this new world looked like, and just to walk around with my camera. So I started locally. I mean really local since I live within a few blocks from the metro. I figured with public transportation being at an all-time low, it was probably the safest and most isolated I would ever see it.

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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:

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The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Arlington Memorial Bridge are seen from the Mount Vernon Trail in the middle of autumn.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

(L) the footbridge leading to Theodore Roosevelt Island (R) Theodore Roosevelt statue

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.

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July 4th firework celebration

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!

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