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Lincoln Memorial during Summer

Free Things to Do: Outdoor Activities in Washington, DC

The District is filled with plenty of outdoor adventures that won’t cost you a cent. Explore the best free outdoor activities, from national parks in and around the city to modern art on the National Mall.

You will have no issue finding free outdoor activities in Washington, DC. From hiking, running and biking routes such as the Capital Crescent Trail to awesome places like Rock Creek Park, there are so many things to do outdoors in the nation’s capital. Check out some of the city’s best free outdoor activities below and make sure to read up on the latest travel status updates and what's open before you plan your visit.

Note that the National Park Service requires masks be worn when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Visit the Service's website for more information.


Explore Rock Creek Park


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DC’s ultimate outdoor mecca is Rock Creek Park, a 4.4-square-mile expanse that includes numerous trails for hiking, biking and exploring. There’s more to like about the park, too, like a nature center, picnic areas, riding stables, tennis courts and Peirce Mill, an historical site.


Walk or run along the C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown

Grab your hiking boots and join the bikers trekking their way down the C&O Canal Towpath, which traces the Potomac River from Georgetown 184.5 miles north to Cumberland, Md. Expect awesome visuals along the way.


Enjoy modern art outdoors


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Stroll through the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, which reopens on Feb. 14, and admire works from artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder and Robert Indiana. The garden features seating for visitors and a fountain that has turned into an ice rink past winters. The park also hosts Jazz in the Garden on Friday evenings in summertime - make sure to stay tuned for 2021 plans.


Make your way down the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail


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The southeast pocket of DC has undergone significant development in recent years, including a continuous new 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that runs along both sides of the Anacostia River through the Capitol Riverfront and Anacostia neighborhoods. Run, bike or stroll down the 10-12 foot wide trail that winds next to the revitalized waterway.


Visit Roosevelt Island

Reachable by footbridge off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Theodore Roosevelt Island pays homage to the great conservationist. You will find nearly two miles of trails that traverse through forest and wetland, as well as a 17-foot statue dedicated to the historic figure. Via the trails, you can encounter beautiful views of the Potomac River.


No stair stepper, no problem


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Head to the Watergate Steps, near the Arlington Memorial Bridge and close to the National Mall and Foggy Bottom, and take a jog up and down the famous stairs. There's also the infamous 'Exorcist' Steps in Georgetown, known for their inclusion in the classic DC-based horror film from 1973.


Experience Great Falls Park on admission-free days

Home to the popular Billy Goat Trail, Great Falls Park is the perfect place to explore nature and is only a 30-minute drive from DC. The 800 acres of scenic parkland consists of hiking trails, cascading rapids and spectacular waterfalls. While regular admission to Great Falls Park is typically $20 per vehicle and $10 per individual on foot or a bike, the park is free-to-enter on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day (check the Great Falls website for more information). 


Check out Walkingtown DC


Cultural Tourism DC showcases the incredible walkability of the nation’s capital during this week-long public tour program that is annually held in September. Walkingtown DC includes more than 50 guided walking tours throughout the District, introducing attendees to the art, culture and history of the city. Tours come in many variations, from after-work “happy hour” soirees to long weekend tours. Historians, licensed tour guides, community leaders and business owners, among others, host these excursions that will take you to both well-known and hidden gems across DC. The 2020 edition was held virtually; make sure to check back at this page for 2021 plans.


Revel in the beauty of the U.S. National Arboretum


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The beloved U.S. National Arboretum is open Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on their guidelines, visit this page before going. Note that the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the Administration Building remain closed. The Arboretum aims to increase the aesthetic, environmental and economic importance of landscape and ornamental plants. The gorgeous, 446-acre property makes for an inspiring and visually captivating visit at any time of the year.


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