If you’re looking for the best running trails in the DC area you’ve come to the right place, as today we are going to explore our favorite spots across the nation’s capital.
What we love most about running in Washington DC is how accessible it is for runners.
There are plenty of open spaces for running in small or large groups, and any of our options can be combined as a pseudo-sight-seeing tour, especially with many popular routes through the downtown area.
We’ll also explore some of the sights out of the main hub of the capital, and there’s almost certainly a trail for everyone here.
Many of these trails are within walking distance of the Washington DC area, however, some will require transportation, but in our experience, it’s worth the time investment to travel to them.
Without further ado let’s get into it.
The National Mall
Where better to start our tour of the capital? The iconic National Mall hosts some of the most famous landmarks in the capital and is a wonderful sightseeing experience.
We suggest starting your adventures near the Jefferson Memorial, where you’ll find the Reflecting Pool, a gorgeous pond that offers some peaceful reflection.
Continue your exploration down Pennsylvania Avenue to see more world-renowned structures such as the Lincoln Memorial, which has stood since 1937 and was modeled after an earlier design by architect Marcus Fairs.
Also close by is the Washington Monument, dedicated to President George Washington. It was completed in 1884 but took 200 years to build and stands over 400 feet tall!
East Potomac Park
East Potomac Park is another spectacular part of the city that is home to tons of trails, making it a great alternative if you want to avoid the crowds found at the mall.
In addition to being beautiful, it’s also home to two major monuments: the Arlington House and the FDR Memorial.
We recommend the 4.4-mile loop from the Jefferson Memorial down to Haines Point. Expect to see plenty of runners and cyclists around this area!
If you’re looking to stay relatively close to town, Anacostia Park is an excellent option. Located just south of Capitol Hill, it features a lovely 3.5-mile paved path that passes along the Anacostia River.
It’s perfect for exploring without having to worry about traffic or road closures.
This is an ideal trail for all levels, as it’s a fast and flat area that has some of the best views in the DC area.
Take the kids or ditch the family for the morning and clock in a decent 10k time. The choice is yours!
National Arboretum Park
Located east of downtown DC, the National Arboretum Park hosts several fantastic trails. We suggest checking out the North Trail and then heading back towards the center of town to check out the South Trail.
There’s plenty to see and lots of space to run, as the park will cover over 400 acres with 10 miles of winding trails.
If you want to do a bit of sightseeing, make sure to check out the National Capitol Columns in the Ellipse Meadow. Definitely a photo moment. so be sure to bring a camera.
Chesapeake And Ohio Canal
This trail is steeped in history, as George Washington himself suggested to build waterways connecting the Eastern seaboard with the Great Lakes along with the Ohio River as a functioning trade route.
You won’t see any people hauling cargo on the canal anymore, but you can still enjoy the scenery and exercise on one of the many paths.
This one covers over 20 miles and is very popular for running races! There’s no shortage of places to stop and take a break, too.
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is one of our favorite scenic spots for running in the DC area. With its proximity to the main hub, it’s easy to get here and there are no cars allowed, meaning less pollution and fewer people.
Plus, there are tons of shade trees and pathways to explore.
The park is huge, covering nearly 1,000 acres, and it’s full of wildlife like deer, foxes, turtles, birds, geese, etc. Bring your binoculars and hike through the woods. You never know what you might find!
Buddy Attick Lake Park
Admittedly this one is a little far out of the Washington DC area, but we had to include it as it’s one of the most stunning trails in the area.
Buddy Attick Lake Park is located in Prince William County, Virginia, and offers a paved trail that takes you past waterfalls, streams, woodlands, and more.
It’s a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon and is definitely worth the drive.
Great Falls Park
Whilst we’re on the subject of scenic drives to amazing vistas, you should check out the Great Falls Park area that lies to the west of Washington DC.
This particular section of the Potomac River is home to a series of rapids and waterfalls, making it a great place for a leisurely run.
The area is accessible by parking at the end of Fallstaff Road and walking down the trail that leads to the river.
Alternatively, if you have a boat, you can also access the area by launching at the marina. Either way, you’ll come across some incredible sights and sounds.
Mount Vernon Trail
This is one of the oldest hiking/trail systems in the country and is situated near Mount Vernon in Virginia.
The distance isn’t quite challenging enough to qualify as a race, but it is certainly long enough to burn off a few calories.
If you want to save time, you can start at either end of the trial system. For example, you could start at the visitor center or head to the end at George Washington Carver Center.
The Watergate Steps
In between the Lincoln Memorial and Potomac River you’ll find the Watergate Steps, known for its infamous office block in US politics. But it’s also a great place for getting an intense incline workout.
It’s not hard to find, so just follow the signs pointing towards the memorial and you’ll be able to run up these famous stairs. And don’t be afraid to have your own Rocky moment when you reach the top!
Capital Crescent Trail
Time to take to the wide expanse of the Capital Crescent Trails which is one of the most relaxing runs on this list, due to its flat and clean pathways.
There are lots of places to stop along the way, including some beautiful parks and the Mt Pleasant Cemetery.
You can easily cover the entire 10-mile trail in under two hours, but if you really want to push yourself then you could easily get in a 13-mile run.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
Georgetown Waterfront Park is located on the picturesque Patuxent River and has everything you need for a perfect day of exercise.
There’s a playground, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball nets, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and even a jogging track lined with trees – so no matter if you’re into sports or just want to enjoy nature, there’s something here for you.
Washington DC is well-known for its monuments, museums, and world-class restaurants, but it’s also got miles of scenic roads, rivers, hills, lakes, woods, and other natural areas that are perfect for a quick run.
So whether you’re looking to make new friends while burning calories, or simply want to clear your mind before tackling work the next day, make sure you pack your sneakers and hit the road!