5 Ways to Explore Nature in DC Without Owning a Car

Rock Creek Park. Photo by CGIOS

My beloved 1999 Honda Civic is going to be with me forever. It was my first car purchase and I hope my only car purchase in my lifetime. My mechanic, who says he loves the car as much as I do, takes great care of my elderly chariot. Yet I sometimes entertain the idea of not having a car.

While I don’t particularly enjoy driving, it is super convenient for getting my cat around, visiting family and hiking areas outside of the city, dragging my bike to the barrier islands, and tackling larger grocery runs. Walking the groceries home means deciding if the cat litter or the milk is the more urgent purchase. Plus there just really is no safe way to balance egg cartons in a bag. The car is also useful when I’m running late, and I’m usually always running 5 minutes late. Maybe I could do without and maybe not.

Since DC is full of transient residents, many of them don’t have cars. My friend Malaka asked me how to experience nature around the city without a car and no more than $25 in car share rides. Access to some of these destinations by a bike or bikeshare is allowed in her parameters.

I know I have my preferred places, some of them more worn in than others. So I decided to crowd source favorite nature locations from my Facebook friends and they delivered. Here are some of their answers and how to get there without a car. Don’t forget your binoculars and snacks!

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

I can’t state enough how magical this park is. If you can’t afford a rocket ride to a new planet, this place is the very next best thing. June and July are great months to visit, though the aquatic gardens are relaxing any time of the year. Read my past post on their otherworldliness.

Their website offers multiple tips to get there. For those without a car, you can pick up a bike share and drop off at 4899 Minnesota Ave, NE, near the Deanwood Metro stop. If on foot, take the Orange line metro towards New Carrollton and exit at the Deanwood stop. Exit via Lower Polk Street, use the pedestrian bridge to cross Kenilworth Ave, turn left on Douglas Street and right on Anacostia Avenue. The entrance will be on your left.

Hours: Daily except some holidays, 8am-4pm
Address: 1550 Anacostia Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20019

Lake Artemesia

“It’s definitely a hidden gem in PG County” – Elisabeth. This park, highly recommended by a friend, is now on my to-walk list. To get to the lake, take the Green Line towards Greenbelt and exit at College Park station. It is about a half hour walk around the College Park airport to the lake, so wear comfy shoes!

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Berwyn Rd & 55th Ave, Berwyn Heights, MD

Rock Creek Park

Every time I step into the woods here, I am amazed at how the city disappears. The loop that starts at the Nature Center off of Military Road and Oregon can be accessed by several different points of the city. The trails are beautiful and full of little surprises (rocky dry beds, sparkling clear streams, brief steep hillsides, an abundance of wildflowers from early spring to late fall). Often, it’s quieter on the paths that run off of the main drags. Glimpse deer, chipmunks, woodpeckers, barred owls, peregrine falcons, and fox. Grab your hiking poles and boots, though you may look over prepared compared to the joggers and coffee-carrying city couples who also use these trails.

For a longer hike, bike share to Connecticut and Albemarle and hike in through the trail head to Soap Stone Valley Park. For shorter versions, cab or ride share or bike (no bikeshare available) to The Nature Center off of Military and Oregon.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Visitor’s Center Starting Point- 5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015

Dumbarton Oaks Parks Conservancy

While I have only had a picnic on the grounds, this place is highly recommended by several people. In fact, it’s such a special place that my pilates instructor and friend Clare is leading monthly forest therapy walks there. A portion of the suggested proceeds go to Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy. Learn more about the benefits of Forest Bathing in this NPR article.

Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
Address: Most used entrance is via a short stroll down Lovers’ Lane, located approximately 200 feet east of R Street and 31st Street NW. (View website for additional ways to enter the park.)

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This park was the clear winner for most recommended. I like this little island, and mostly go there when I want to go for a hike that feels outside of the city, but don’t have much time to travel. This is a great little place to contemplate big decisions.

You can access the island by walking 10-15 minutes from the Rosalyn metro station or by bike (you will have to lock your bike at the racks near the footbridge).

Hours: Open year-round, 6am-10pm
Address: Potomac River near the Key Bridge

There are so many other areas of DC to cover in future posts, but please don’t let that stop you from adding your favorite outdoor spots in DC, ones that you can get to from inside the city without a car, in the comments!

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