Category Archives: District of Columbia

National Mall

Overview

Part of Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 design for Washington, D.C., his “grand avenue” was not fully realized until the 1900s when a train station was removed to fully open up two miles of grass between the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial.  Today, America’s front lawn is lined with National Park Service (NPS) monuments and Smithsonian museums.  The 2003 Reserve Act declared the National Mall a completed work of civic art and restricted further construction after completion of the World War II Memorial.  However, in 2014 the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial was dedicated at its eastern end.

Highlights

Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument, Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, U.S. Capitol

Must-Do Activity

There is no official visitation count kept for the National Mall, but if there was its 24-million annual visitors would make it the number one busiest site in the entire NPS system.  Not far from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his most famous speech in 1963, is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, one of the numerous NPS sites located here.  The National Air and Space Museum is one of several awesome galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, containing Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of Saint Louis, an Apollo Lunar Module, and the original Wright Brothers flyer used in 1903.  There is so much to see and do, you could easily spend more than a week exploring.

Best Trail

One of the greatest overlooks of the National Mall is from the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (part of George Washington Memorial Parkway), located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.  It is a bit of a walk from the National Mall, but the view is especially breathtaking at night.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At some point during your visit, do yourself a favor and come after dark.  It is nicely decorated each December (but you might need a tripod for photographs).

Peak Season

Summer, and also weekends during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March-April)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nama/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Lincoln Memorial (District of Columbia)

Constitution Gardens (District of Columbia)

Korean War Veterans Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – The Tidal Basin (home to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial) is considered part of the National Mall, so when were the famous cherry trees (a gift from Japan) planted there?

Lincoln Memorial

Overview

Abraham Lincoln has even more National Park Service (NPS) sites dedicated to him than Theodore Roosevelt (and both are carved into Mount Rushmore National Memorial).  The Lincoln Memorial at the west end of the National Mall in Washington D.C. is by far the busiest with around 7-million visitors annually.  President Lincoln will always have his place in history for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.

Highlights

Bookstore, statue, view of the National Mall

Must-Do Activity

The Lincoln Memorial was inspired by Greek temples and features 36 Doric columns, a giant statue of the seated man, and two large murals.  Be sure to walk to either side of the statue to read two speeches: his Gettysburg Address of 1863 and his Inaugural Address of 1865.  We looked long and hard for a penny-crushing machine at the Lincoln Memorial.  We thought it would be awesome to have that building stamped onto a penny.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you ever have the chance to visit the National Mall in Washington D.C., do yourself a favor and come after dark.  Seeing the white marble and limestone shining under spotlights is quite spectacular (but you might need a tripod for photographs).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/linc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial (District of Columbia)

World War II Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – The Lincoln Monument Association was incorporated in 1867, but when was the Lincoln Memorial finally dedicated?

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Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Overview

In 1875, Mary McLeod Bethune was born the 15th of 17 children to former slaves in South Carolina.  Throughout her life she fought for civil rights, founding the Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls in Florida (which later merged to become Bethune-Cookman College).  In 1943, she purchased a Victorian townhouse in Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle area to serve as her residence for six years and headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women (until a fire in 1966).

Highlights

House tour, film, National Archives for Black Women’s History, Logan Circle Historic District

Must-Do Activity

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site was designated by Congress in 1982.  Since 1994, the National Park Service (NPS) has managed the property displaying historic photographs and original furnishings in some of the 15 rooms.  After a self-guided tour of the house, go check out a 12-foot tall statue of Mary McLeod Bethune located in Lincoln Park on East Capitol Street.

Best Trail

You can pick up an informational booklet at this site for the Washington, DC Black History National Recreation Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This is the only NPS site we have visited where the first thing you do upon arrival is ring the doorbell.

Peak Season

Spring and summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mamc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Martin Luther King, Jr.  National Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – Before her death in 1955, Mary McLeod Bethune worked on civil rights issues for how many U.S. Presidents?

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Overview

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was supposed to connect ports in Washington, D.C. with the Ohio River, but it never reached its destination before the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad rendered it obsolete in 1850.  It employed 35,000 laborers (mostly European immigrants) during its 22 years of construction and eventually carried coal out of the Appalachian Mountains for decades.  The canal closed in 1924, but it left behind indelible historic landmarks like locks, dams, aqueducts, historic hotels, and a 3,118-foot long tunnel.

Highlights

Historic locks, boat tours, Great Falls Tavern, boating

Must-Do Activity

C&O Canal National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and offers multiple free visitor centers along the route that are open seasonally.  Near Washington, D.C. both the Great Falls Tavern and Georgetown Visitor Centers offer mule-drawn canal boat rides on a first-come, first-served basis April through October.  We enjoyed touring the historic locks of the canal in Hancock, Maryland after visiting Catoctin Mountain Park and Antietam National Battlefield.

Best Trail

Today you can walk and bike the graded 184.5-mile towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way if you choose.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The canal locks at Hancock, Maryland became part of the park that was created in 1971.  The boarding house located there now serves as an NPS visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, as most of the visitor centers are closed seasonally

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at Great Falls Tavern

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are primitive drive-in camping areas at five spots along the canal path, as well as 30 backpacking campsites spaced approximately five miles apart.  There is also a nice NPS campground at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia-Maryland)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – At its peak of operation, how many mule-drawn boats were in service on the C&O Canal?

Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial

Overview

As a strict adherent to his own personal philosophy promoting “the strenuous life,” President Theodore Roosevelt regularly swam in the Potomac River, even in the middle of winter.  As a president with a proud record of conservation (especially in creating National Monuments), it is meaningful that his memorial lies on an 80-acre island with 2.5 miles of gravel trails leading through its beautiful and diverse deciduous forest. 

Highlights

Upland Trail, Swamp Trail, statue

Must-Do Activity

Fittingly, Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial is only accessible via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Dedicated in 1967, a 17-foot statue of the man is surrounded by several fountains and four monoliths carved with his words.  The foundation of a brick mansion owned by the Mason family in the 1800s can be seen from the trails on the island.

Best Trail

Teddy would surely appreciate that the island is situated along the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile pathway that follows the western bank of the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Teddy Roosevelt was known as a flamboyant orator, which is even captured in his silent statue.  In 1912, he famously gave an 84-minute campaign speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/this/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The parking lot is only accessible from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is itself a unit of the National Park Service (NPS) system.

Camping

None

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Maryland-Virginia)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (District of Columbia)

Rock Creek Park (District of Columbia)

Explore More – When did the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchase the island?