Capitol Area Attractions for Outdoor Lovers

Just a few minutes west of the white house in the District of Columbia, the Potomac River cuts a canyon dividing Arlington, Va. from Georgetown, Md. It's an urban location, but when you're on the water fishing you can barely see the concrete. I visited the place over Easter with my dad, renting a rowboat and casting for hickory shad with him in the rain.

Great Museums for Outdoor Lovers

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Open every day of the year except Christmas Day, regular museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For information, please call 202-357-2700 or click here.

National Arboretum

The Arboretum's beautiful 446-acre campus in Washington, D.C. contains an array of display gardens, collections, and historical monuments set among native stands of eastern deciduous trees. The Arboretum grounds are open every day of the year except December 25 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Click here for more information.

National Zoo

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo is a 163-acre zoological park set amid Rock Creek National Park in the heart of the District. Admission to the National Zoo is free. There is a fee for parking in Zoo lots. Click here for more info!

Rich in fish and bird life, the Potomac carves a green oasis through the urban jungles of our nation's capital. The lower river is navigable by motorboat and sections of the upper river provide opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. The shallower upper river also concentrates fish within easy range of beaks and hooks, providing fishing holes for anglers and for fish-eating birds like terns, gulls, herons and cormorants.

Black flights of cormorants winged upstream as we fished one of these holes. The cormorants were chasing herring, American and hickory shad and striped bass running up from the Chesapeake to spawn. Great flocks of the fat, black birds sat on bare tree limbs digesting fish, or floated and dove on the river's surface. It was a wild sight for such a citified spot.

There are hundreds of places like the Potomac in the DC area; rivers and parks and trails where outdoor lovers can fish, jog, hike, canoe, kayak and birdwatch. Some hide within the city's confines, others require short drives past city limits, but all provide relief from the hustle of life near the beltway. The list below covers some of the less well-known destinations for outdoor lovers in the D.C. area. Click here for more information or call the Washington D.C. tourism bureau at 202.789.7000 to find more places to visit.

Trail Activities

The DC area is crisscrossed by trails and greenways perfect for hikers, joggers and bikers. These trails run through some of the most scenic parts of the city and are rich in history. The following trails provide a taste of what's available.

The C&O Canal
The C & O Canal National Historical Park follows 184.5 miles of the Potomac River, from the nation's capital to Cumberland, Maryland. The park preserves portions of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and provides easy hiking and biking and some camping to those interested in the area's history.

The canal was once a major transportation route for Mid-Atlantic farmers bringing their products to market. Today, visitors to the canal can bike and hike its towpath while learning about the region's history. The towpath, a trail once traveled by mules and men pulling barges laden with goods, is marked with mile and historical markers that tell the canal's story. For more information on the C&O Canal contact the C & O Canal Headquarters at 301-739-4200.

Mount Vernon Trail
In 1973, the National Park Service constructed the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. The trail parallels the George Washington Memorial Parkway and connects Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a small island in the Potomac River located near the Lincoln Memorial.

Hikers, joggers, bikers and sightseers can enjoy views of the Potomac at Riverside Park, visit fortifications at Fort Hunt Park, and take side trips to the Dyke Marsh wildlife habitat. They can visit Jones Point Park, which features a 19th-century lighthouse, watch sailboats off Daingerfield Island or watch jets take off from Ronald Reagan National Airport. For more information visit the George Washington Memorial Parkway's Web site, or call 703-768-3224

Rock Creek Trail
Montgomery County's 14-mile long Rock Creek Trail is a collection of paved, multi-use paths that run through southern Montgomery County, Maryland. The trail follows the Rock Creek stream valley, a wooded route that provides refuge for coyote, raccoon, whitetail deer, fox and other woodland animals in the heart of the city.

The trail starts in Lake Needwood Regional Park, a few miles east of downtown Rockville and ends at the Washington DC. Border. Hikers, bikers, joggers and wildlife watchers can travel its often narrow and winding path. For more information, visit or call 202-895-6000.


The DC area features great opportunities for fishing and boating. Its rivers and lakes hold striped bass, largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, shad, perch, trout and many other species. The nearby Chesapeake Bay hosts red drum, bluefish, sea trout, striped bass, mackerel and white perch. Fishing is great from the bank or from a boat. To find a good fishing hole, visit one of the highlighted spots below, or visit the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation's (RBFF) Web site and use their fishable water search engine to help you explore!

Chesapeake Bay
Solomon's Island is well known as one of the country's finest striped bass fishing destinations. Located on Rt. 2 in Calvert County at the mouth of the Patuxent River, (about 2 hours from downtown D.C.), the island features a well-maintained boat launch and large parking lot for trucks and boat trailers. The river opens into the bay and provides great habitat for stripers and bluefish. You'll need a boat to fish the area well, so trailer one in or book a charter boat captain.

If you're fishing Solomon's, take the time to visit the Calvert Marine Museum and the Drum Point Lighthouse — a fully restored cottage-style lighthouse that helped Chesapeake watercraft avoid sandbars in the early 1900's. The museum features a collection of Chesapeake Bay small craft including old canoes, skiffs and workboats. For more information, call 410-326-2042 or visit

Potomac River

Fletcher's Boat House rents out sturdy wooden rowboats to anglers and pleasure boaters on the Potomac River. Fish for largemouth bass, shad, striped bass, catfish and other game fish where the river cuts a deep bend between Arlington, Virginia and Georgetown, Maryland. The 150-year old concession caters to greater DC area outdoor lovers and also provides a waypoint for the hikers and bikers traveling the 183-mile long C&O Canal towpath. For more info on Fletchers Boat House, call 202-244-0461 or visit

Paddle Sports

Harpers Ferry

Located where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, the town of Harpers Ferry is a mecca for rafters, kayakers, anglers, canoeists and even backpackers (the Appalachian Trail runs within few miles of the town). The river cuts through the Appalachian Mountains here, dropping over rock ledges that boil with foam when the river rises in the spring, a time when only experienced whitewater enthusiasts should paddle the river. During the summer the water level drops and many people drift along in inner tubes, stopping at rocky outcrops along the way to lay in the sun or go fishing.

The town features a National Historical Park that commemorates the many historical events that took place here. You can learn about Meriwether Lewis and how he gathered supplies on his way to the Oregon territory, or about John Brown's aborted slave revolt, one of the events that helped spark the civil war. For more information about Harpers Ferry, call 304-535-6298 or visit

Ohiopyle State Park

A famous whitewater destination only a few hours from downtown D.C., Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park also features 19,052 acres of waterfalls, scenic overlooks, rocky outcrops and mountainous landscapes perfect for mountain biking, hiking, bird and wildlife watching and trout fishing. The Youghiogheny (pronounced Ya-ka-gA-nE) River Trail provides 27 miles of flat riding within the park, while more than 80 miles of hiking trails take visitors through the maturing forests of the Laurel Mountains.

Where the Youghiogheny River flows through the park, if forms the busiest stretch of whitewater in the eastern United States. Class III and IV rapids challenge the best rafters and kayakers from around the country, while outfitters located in the town of Ohiopyle provide a safe way for beginners to enjoy these and other, more gentle rapids. Visit the NWTF Web site's guide and outfitter search ( to find a guide. During the winter, the park receives more than ten feet of snow per year and many ski and snowmobile trails are available to visitors. For more information contact the park office at 724-329-8591 or visit



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