Bundle up and head outdoors. We soused out the best walks and hikes in the DMV that go beyond stretching your legs. Go a bear hunt at the National Zoo, brush up on your history on the National Mall or illuminate your night at The REACH. From animal sightings to rock scrambling adventures, these are our favorite winter walks and hikes near Washington, DC.
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The Best Leisurely Walk with Lights
Stretch your legs on almost 5 acres at The REACH while taking in the current Lunar New Year exhibit, Winter Lanterns featuring 100 handmade lanterns and 10,000 LED lights (now-Feb. 6). If you like the idea of a twinkling trail, but can't make it in time to catch this installation before it ends, take a day trip to Frederick MD where illuminated boats line the town's canal. Paths along Color on the Creek are well paved and easily accessible by strollers.
The REACH at the Kennedy Center
2700 F St NW
The Best Walk for Animal Sightings
The National Zoo offers miles of trails with guaranteed animal sightings and, if you get cold, there are a number of animal houses you can duck into to warm up. Due to COVID, you do need to reserve your free pedestrian pass prior to a visit (car reservations are now $30 and include entry for up to 4 visitors), but with well-controlled crowds you can rest assured that your walk in these woods will be socially-distanced. Before you go, check out this winter guide to the zoo here.
Editor's Note: Guests must show proof of vaccination status to dine inside.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
3001 Connecticut Ave NW
The Best Walk with History
The National Mall is teeming with monuments and memorials that create great talking points for both young and old. With 11 Smithsonian museums located directly on the Mall, there are plenty of places to pop in to when you need to beat the chill (Editor's Note: Some museums may have limited hours due to COVID). With food trucks dotting most corners, you can grab a cup of hot chocolate while you make strides up and down the paths.
Insider tip: If you're craving a sugary snack, Astro Doughtnuts & Fried Chicken is a short walk from the Mall.
The Best Walk with a Winter-Themed Playground
There are over 32 miles of paths and trails winding through Rock Creek Park, passing sites such as The National Zoo and Mount Zion Cemetery and stretching into Georgetown. If you want to add some playground fun to your hike, start at Meadowbrook Park (a MD park adjacent to Rock Creek) and walk along the trail towards the zoo (it's about 13 miles round-trip if you're looking for a hearty workout). There is plenty of parking at Meadowbrook Park to load & unload your gear. Bonus: this park, affectionately known as "Candy Cane Park" for its red-and-white painted playground, is handicap accessible and includes a small tot lot so kids can
7901 Meadowbrook Ln.
Chevy Chase, MD
The Best Stroller-Friendly Walk
Head to Georgetown for a walk along the waterfront on well-paved paths; perfect for strollers. If you need to warm up, Farmers Fishers Bakers is welcoming dine-in guests in heated tents. You can also get their amazing mini donuts to go. Have older kids in tow? Let them hop on the ice in front of the restaurant. Littles will be entertained by the toe loops, flips and axels.
Insider tip: Cuddle up with a good book after your walk. We like this children's book about winter walks in a city.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
31st St. to Wisconsin Ave. NW
The Best Winter Hike with Rock Scrambling
Winter walks are more fun when littles have things to climb! Theodore Roosevelt Island is a 91-acre wilderness preserve that serves as a memorial to President Roosevelt, honoring his contributions to conservation of nature. The island has over two miles of foot trails, if you want to add a rocky adventure to your hike, take the gravel-covered Woods (2/3 mile) or Upland (¾ mile ) Trail. There are plenty of small boulders, rocks and logs for little ones to scramble on.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
George Washington Memorial Pkwy
Northbound lanes between Roosevelt Bridge and Key Bridge
The Best Hike for Winter Bird Watching
You don’t have to drive far to be completely immersed in nature. Just 8 miles from the Roosevelt Bridge, Turkey Run Park offers family-friendly hiking on terrains that range from mostly flat to extremely rocky. Be sure to bring the binoculars; bare trees mean it is easier to spot the birds and critters that make this park their winter home. Be sure to bring this book to help i.d. one of the 140 species of birds that spend time in Turkey Run. There are a number of trails, but the short loop off the C-1 parking lot is most favored by families. It’s a steep incline to and from the parking lot but is otherwise smooth and flat near the river (and offers some pretty amazing views!). More wooded paths provide the opportunity to jump across streams and hop on rocks, but these trails are best suited for sure-footed preschoolers. If you wander away from the river’s edge, be sure to track your whereabouts by GPS; trail markers are faded or missing on many of the paths.
Turkey Run Loop Rd.
The Easiest Winter Walk to Navigate
If you want to get lost in the woods without actually getting, well, lost, head to the Bull Run-Occoquan trail that is often noted as being one of the best marked in the DMV area. Follow the blue posts for an easy to moderate walk that offers views of a lake. If you find yourself climbing onto stepping stones or wading into water, you’ve missed a blue marker! Park at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park for a loop that is easy on short legs.
Bull Run-Occoquan Trail
12619 Old Yates Ford Rd.
The Best Place to Walk in Snowshoes
If you're looking to burn off those COVID pounds, up your hiking game with a pair of snoeshoes. When you hike across a snowy terrain in snowshoes you double the amount of calories you'd burn by walking the same distance. Score! Plus, it's a fun activity the entire family can enjoy: if your child can walk, they can be fitted for shoeshoes! To walk across a winter wonderland, you'll either need to wait for a DC snowfall or put some miles on your SUV. To hear the subtle crunch of snow underfoot, head to West Virginia's Canaan Valley, a 3 hr. drive from downtown DC. Canaan Valley boasts 35 kilometers of marked and ungroomed natural snow trails, and if you finish all those trails, you can head to the nearby White Grass Ski Touring Center for another 60 kilometers. Canaan Valley 230 Main Lodge Rd. Davis, West Virginia Online: tinybeans.com
—Meghan Yudes Meyers
featured photo: Tim Gouw via Unsplash
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