Editors' pick

Mount Vernon Trail

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Editorial Review

Say, what can you see? Finding the best views in Washington

April 25, 2014

Amy Orndorff

What makes it special: There’s no part of this 21-mile out-and-back route on the Virginia side of the Potomac River that one would consider a “best-kept secret.” It’s frequently packed — especially in good weather — with joggers, cyclists and the occasional kid riding a scooter erratically.

So why make the effort?

Because the views are just that good.

Beginning at Roosevelt Island, the mostly flat trail hugs the Potomac tightly, affording riders and runners unobstructed views of the memorials across the river. Majestic weeping willow trees and perky flowers dot the trail’s sides, and the uninterrupted views continue to Gravelly Point, a spot best known for being directly under planes coming and going at Reagan National Airport. Even if you’re quickly passing through, you’re likely to have such a close encounter with a plane that it feels like you could stand on your toes and touch it.

You can take the path all the way to its namesake terminus, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, but for a more manageable ride and bonus view, a good turn-around point is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, which connects to the Mount Vernon Trail about 8.6 miles in at Jones Point Park. Other bridges that cross the Potomac offer pedestrian walkways with great views of the city, but with its panoramic vistas, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge trumps them all.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, which runs along the bridge from Virginia to National Harbor in Maryland, includes bump-outs where you can stop and see not only boats on the river, but Alexandria’s bustling waterfront, Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County and all the way to the Capitol dome. There also are signs describing the area’s history and telescopes offering a closer look at the skyline and shore. And there’s a brand-new grand sight on the horizon: the Capital Wheel, a 175-foot Ferris wheel at National Harbor, set to open to riders next month.

While you’re there: The Navy and Merchant Marine Memorial, a striking statue of gulls flying over the crest of a wave, is accessible from the Mount Vernon Trail. Also be sure to jump off the trail just a bit to check out the squat white lighthouse at Jones Point near the District’s southernmost former boundary stone.

If you go: There’s parking at both ends of the trail — at Roosevelt Island off north-bound George Washington Parkway and at Jones Point in Alexandria. No car? The trail runs near Reagan National Airport and Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines.