Part of the most comprehensive hiking series in print, the full color 3rd edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C. is a complete revision by local travel writers Rachel Cooper and Renee Sklarew. The new issue features a wider collection of trails specifically designed for day trips. With options that range from easy to challenging, families and serious hikers will find both inspiration and detailed information to guide their exploration of the many trails within roughly an hour’s drive of the metro area.
Get the most up-to-date hiking information in the new edition, including:
Readers looking for new places to explore will discover a bounty of sites, some well-known and beloved, while others remain hidden gems ripe for exploration.
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TIDAL BASIN AND WEST POTOMAC PARK
- LENGTH: 4 miles (with shorter or longer options)
- CONFIGURATION: Loop
- DIFFICULTY: Easy–moderate
- SCENERY: Parklands, public buildings
- EXPOSURE: Mostly open
- TRAFFIC: Light–moderate; heavier in tourist season and on weekends and holidays
- TRAIL SURFACE: Mostly pavement
- HIKING TIME: 2 hours (plus additional time to visit the memorials)
- DRIVING DISTANCE: 1 mile
- SEASON: Year-round
- ACCESS: No restrictions
- WHEELCHAIR TRAVERSABLE: Partially accessible close to some of the memorials
- MAPS: USGS Washington West; ADC Metro Washington; posted map on display boards on and near West Potomac Park
- FACILITIES: Restrooms, water, and phones in museums and other public buildings on or near Mall; public restrooms on both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
- CONTACT: National Capital Parks, 202-619- 7222, nps.gov/nacc
- LOCATION: Washington, D.C.
- COMMENTS: The National Mall is a high- security area. Obey signs, don’t trespass, be prepared to modify your route if necessary, and finish hiking by dusk.
West Potomac Park is adjacent to the National Mall and the site of some of the most popular attractions in the nation’s capital. The National Park Service refers to the Mall as “America’s Front Yarda public space that evokes the pride and patriotism of our nation.” Visitors frequent the Mall’s museums, monuments, and memorials and gather to play, picnic, stroll, jog, bike, relax, protest, march, and sightsee. The Mall, in effect, serves as the nation’s town square, commons, pulpit, soapbox, park, and memorial garden. It’s a great hiking venue where one can take self-propelled voyages of discovery and rediscovery, and it’s small enough to cover on foot but large enough for a hiker to get some exerciseand avoid the crowds.
Note that “the Mall” usually refers to the grand 2.2-mile stretch of open space between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. Officially, though, the Mall is only the part east of 14th Street, and the memorials themselves lie in West Potomac Park. The entire area is under National Park Service jurisdiction. While the area between the Smithsonian museums is open green space, this walk focuses on the Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park as the area is more parklike, encompassing a greater variety of trees, shrubs, and water features.
This 4-mile, clockwise loop begins at the Smithsonian Metro stop, circles around the Tidal Basin, extends to the Lincoln Memorial, and returns to the Metro station. It features sites of historical and cultural interest, with emphasis on presidents and, inevitably, war. It is planned as a daytime and outdoor hike, but you can detour indoors if you want; just maintain a good pace between stops, be careful crossing streets, and use the paths and sidewalks. For a shorter hike, you can consult a street map.
From the Smithsonian Metro station on the Mall, head south (toward Independence Avenue) about 20 yards. Turn right onto a broad paved path alongside Jefferson Drive. Follow the path across 14th and 15th Streets Northwest, and enjoy the view of the Washington Monument to your right. Turn left on 15th Street. Cross Independence Avenue and keep straight. You will pass the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the left and see signs for East Potomac and West Potomac Parks. When you reach Maine Avenue, cross carefully and stay on the crosswalk. The Tidal Basin is straight ahead. As you pass by the basin boat rentals, stop to marvel at the view of the dome-shaped Jefferson Memorial. Follow the paved trail along the water to the left. Walk over a bridge and turn right to stay close to the water and walk toward the Jefferson Memorial. As you reach the memorial, step inside to view the 19-foot bronze statue and some of the inspiring words of our third president. From the steps, enjoy panoramic views that include Rosslyn, Virginia; the Washington Monument; and even a peek at the White House.
After viewing the memorial, continue along the water until you come to a stop sign. Make a right to cross the bridge and follow the trail toward the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial. Pass the Japanese Stone Lantern on your right, and continue to the memorial. It is a unique site with four outdoor galleries that are handicapped accessible. Be sure to check out some of the sculptures and read some of the inscriptions. Exit the memorial, go down a set of steps toward the water, and proceed left as you continue around the Tidal Basin toward the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The memorial, dedicated in 2011, features a 30-foot granite statue of Dr. King and a 450- foot wall, made from granite panels, that is inscribed with 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses. View the memorial, and then exit from the main entrance onto Independence Avenue (straying away from the Tidal Basin).
Cross the street, and continue across a dirt path that leads to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Walking straight ahead, on the right you will see the DC War Memorial, a circular bandstand, built in 1931 as Washington’s World War I memorial. Turn left to walk toward the Lincoln Memorial. There, turn left and tour the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Dedicated in 1995, it depicts soldiers in winter. Made of stainless steel, the grim figures are reflected in a polished black granite wall on which many faces are faintly etched. Return to the intersection, head for the nearby Lincoln Memorial, and climb the 56 steps (Lincoln died at age 56). Enter the great chamber to face the seated marble figure that’s four-and-a-half times life-size. Notice Lincoln’s fingers, bent to form the letters A and L in sign language (Lincoln supported education for the deaf, and sculptor Daniel French had a deaf son). An inscription above Lincoln’s head celebrates his having saved the Union but ignores his role in ending slavery. As the writer later explained, the memorialopened in 1922was meant to help heal the North–South rift, so it was best to “avoid the rubbing of old sores.” But architect Henry Bacon had the chamber walls inscribed with the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural address, which make clear Lincoln’s views. Before leaving, look for the inscription marking the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
Descend the steps, swing left, and head for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After passing an information kiosk, stop near a flagpole to see The Three Soldiers sculpture. Then take the paved path along the base of a sunken black granite wall carrying the names of the Vietnam War dead and missing. When dedicated in 1982, the memorial, designed by Maya Lin, consisted solely of the engraved wall. As she later wrote, “I did not want to civilize war by glorifying it or by forgetting the sacrifices involved.” But her design provoked controversy, which led to The Three Soldiers being added in 1984. The nearby Vietnam Women’s Memorial, showing three nurses aiding a fallen soldier, was added in 1993.
From there, retrace your steps to the last junction, and walk straight (east) on a paved path through Constitution Gardens. At a small lake, stay right and follow the paved waterside path to an elevated plaza. From there, follow the trail right to view the oval-shaped World War II Memorial, opened in 2004, combining granite, bronze, and fountains to create a peaceful place to remember those who served our country during that war.
Cross 17th Street and proceed to the first paved path leading to the sublimely abstract Washington Monument. When finished in 1884, the shaft topped out at about 555.5 feet. It’s still the city’s tallest masonry structure. Pass Sylvan Theater, the monument’s outdoor stage, and keep straight to cross 15th and 14th Streets to return to the Smithsonian Metro station.
During or after the hike, explore the nearby museums, including The National Museum of American History (202-633-1000, americanhistory.si.edu) and The National Museum of Natural History (202-633-1000, naturalhistory.si.edu). If you’re hungry, stop by the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center’s food court on the lower level (202-312-1300, itcdc.com). The Federal Triangle Metro Station is across the courtyard.
GPS TRAILHEAD COORDINATES
N38° 53.343' W77° 01.690'
DIRECTIONS Park near the trailhead at the Smithsonian Metro station entrance within the Mall (near Independence Avenue and 12th Street). Arrive early on crowded warm-weather weekends and holidays; heed local parking regulations. Or use the Metro: Smithsonian station is on the Orange and Blue lines; Metrobuses operate on nearby streets. Contact Metro, 202- 637-7000 or wmata.com.
Table of ContentsOverview Map
A Few Words About Using Our Maps
60 Hikes by Category
- Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
- Capital Crescent Trail: Fletcher’s Cove to Georgetown Waterfront Park
- Columbia Island
- East Potomac Park and Jefferson Memorial
- Glover Archbold Park Trail and Potomac Heritage Trail
- Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail
- Rock Creek Park: Boulder Bridge Trail
- Rock Creek Park: Northern Section
- Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial
- Tidal Basin and West Potomac Park
- United States National Arboretum
CLOSE-IN MARYLAND SUBURBS (Parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties)
- Billy Goat Trail: Sections A and B
- Black Hill Regional Park
- Brookside Gardens and Wheaton Regional Park
- C&O Canal Towpath: Great Falls to Old Angler’s Inn with Olmsted Island
- C&O Canal Towpath: Old Angler’s Inn to Carderock Recreation Area
- Cabin John Regional Park
- Cosca Regional Park
- Greenbelt Park
- Lake Artemesia Natural Area and Northeast Branch Trail
- Lake Needwood and Maryland’s Rock Creek Regional Park
- McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area
- Patuxent Research Refuge: Cash Lake Trail
- Sandy Spring Underground Railroad Trail: Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
- Seneca Creek State Park: Lake Shore Trail
- Seneca Greenway Trail: Frederick Road (MD 355 to Brink Road)
CLOSE-IN VIRGINIA SUBURBS (Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties)
- Burke Lake Park Trail
- Difficult Run Stream Valley Park: Gerald Connolly Cross County Trail
- Fort Hunt Park and Mount Vernon Trail
- Fraser Preserve
- Glade Stream Valley Park
- Great Falls Park
- Huntley Meadows Park
- Lake Accotink Park Trail
- Mason Neck State Park and National Wildlife Refuge
- Potomac Overlook Regional Park and Nature Center
- Riverbend Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail
- Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
- Turkey Run Park and the Potomac Heritage Trail
- Winkler Botanical Preserve
RURAL MARYLAND (Parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties; Anne Arundel, Calvert, and Frederick Counties)
- Calvert Cliffs State Park
- Catoctin Mountain Park
- Cedarville State Forest
- Cunningham Falls State Park
- Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
- Little Bennett Regional Park
- Magruder Branch Trail and Lower Magruder Trail
- Monocacy National Battlefield
- National Colonial Farm at Piscataway Park
- Quiet Waters Park
- Rachel Carson Conservation Park
- Sugarloaf Mountain
RURAL VIRGINIA (Clarke, Fauquier, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties)
- Algonkian Regional Park
- Appalachian Trail: Raven Rocks
- Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve
- Bull Run-Occoquan Trail
- Leesylvania State Park
- Manassas National Battlefield Park
- Prince William Forest Park
- Sky Meadows State Park
Appendix A: Hiking Clubs and Other Information Sources
Appendix B: Hiking Stores
About the Authors