Updated: Aug 17
Nature is all around us! You don't have to travel far to go on adventures; check out some of our favorite outdoor spots around the DC area!
While we love our local playgrounds, parks, community gardens, and grassy traffic circles, we have compiled a list of places you may not think of right away. Make sure to check each location's website for current hours of operation and COVID procedures.
PS: We know DC is HOT during the summer. Check out some of our favorite tools for keeping cool when out and about.
13 acres with pedestrian trails, a pond, wildlife, and open space.
Location: Between the Woodley Park and Cleveland Park (3100 Macomb Street, NW)
Hidden away between two sets of rowhouses, this privately maintained "secret" park is full of flowers and a long grassy area.
Location: 23 U Street NW
Heurich House Castle Gardens
Though the museum and home are closed, this secret garden is still open (and the brewmaster's Senate Beer is too!). Note: Currently private garden "pods" are available for rental!
Location: 1307 New Hampshire Ave NW
Hidden away in the middle of the National Mall, this garden has a pond with an island and bridge, willow trees, and plenty of water birds and creatures.
Location: Constitution Avenue between 17th and 21st Street NW
Bishop's Garden & Holmstead Woods
Located at the National Cathedral, the historic garden is filled with flowers, bugs, and a beautiful amphitheater.
Location: National Cathedral Grounds; Pilgrim Road NW
We like the normal trails, but check out this list of all the 1,800 acres has to offer.
Location: All over NW!
Within Rock Creek Park, this trail
Location: Between Wisconsin Avenue and Foxhall Road
Private garden open to the public.
Location: 3471-3501 Newark St NW (Cleveland Park)
In the middle of the Potomac River, this island is covered with wildlife! This Junior Ranger guide provides many things to look for and facts about the island.
Location: Though technically in DC, you can only access the island from VA, near the Key Bridge.
This 446 acres of open space, wooded area contains over 800,00 different plant species, , three small ponds, and a bonsai garden!
Location: 3501 New York Avenue, NE
Two gardens with a wide variety of flowers, statues, fountains and a reflecting pond.
Location: 1400 Quincy St NE
Park is made up of open spaces and marshland with 100 species of birds and fishing.
Location: 575 Oklahoma Avenue NE (approximate)
Made up of marshes, bogs, and open fields, the NPS land is located on the Anacostia River. This is a great spot for exploring water plants and animals!
Location: 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE
Wooded forests, wildlife, and open fields with music venue.
Location: 3600 F and Minnesota St S.E.
On the Anacostia River, this large park is full of trails, wide open green spaces,
Location: 1900 Anacostia Dr SE
Brookside Gardens & Pine Lake
This 50 acre area includes a variety of unique gardens, artwork, trails, and small bodies of water. The highlight: a hands on butterfly and caterpillar garden!
Location: 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD
The Sanctuary protects about 1,700 acres of unique marshes, wetlands, forest, creeks, meadows, pine and sand barrens, and fields along the Patuxent River.
Location: 1361 Wrighton Road, Lothian, MD
Walking trails, lots of wildlife, and a waterfall are the highlights!
Location: 5400 Roanoke Ave, Alexandria, VA
18 miles of trail along the Potomac River.
Location: several different access points
Boat rentals, endless trails, and all sorts of wildlife make for an entire day full of adventure.
Location: 8700 Potomac Hills Street, Great Falls
With 22 miles of hiking trails, farm land, a children's discovery play area and a sensory trail, this is great for the entire family!
Location: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, VA
Tips on getting the most out of your time exploring the outdoors with a Toddler:
Before and After:
Read topical books before and after your outings. This is a great way to add non-fiction to your library, or look for things in the background of your story books.
Use a scavenger hunt or make your own list of things to look for based on what you think you may see.
Incorporate what you see and what you collect into your everyday play (pinecones or rocks to imaginary play, sensory bins, etc.).
Make a book of your own out of things you have seen outside.
Have them help you gather a kit of things to bring and discuss why you are bringing them; sunscreen, bug spray, camera, water, magnifying glass, a container for collecting, etc.
Build in time for stopping and looking at every. single. stick.
Take pictures along the way to look at and discuss later.
Bring a shovel, bag, or jar to collect things (leaves, small bugs, seeds/nuts, etc.).
Whether your child is verbal or not, talk about 5 Senses as you are outside: What do you hear? See? Smell? How does this feel? etc.
Follow their lead! See what they are interested in!
Additional Resources to optimize your time in Nature with little ones:
Engaging Toddlers in Nature from NAEYC
Groh Playroom's Series on FieldWork: Bringing experiences into your play
Free Forrest School - groups and activities
DC Public Library search engine and digital resources to search by topic (nature, bugs, plants, turtles... anything!)
I Took a Walk by Henry Cole
Because of an Acorn by Adam Schaefer and Lola M Schaefer
Seed School by Joan Holub
City Bugs by Antonia Banyard
City Critters by Antonia Banyard
Green Green: A Community Gardening Story by Baldev Lamba and Marie Lamba