Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly implied that 747s take off from Reagan National Airport. Such large planes do not take off or land at the airport.
Gravelly Point

See Airplanes Take Off Up Close at Gravelly Point on George Washington Parkway

Visitors to Gravelly Point get an close look at planes landing at Reagan National Airport.
Visitors to Gravelly Point get an close look at planes landing at Reagan National Airport. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Where can you have your feet buried in the grass and still feel that if you just stood on tiptoe, you could reach up, grab onto the wing of a gliding 747 and fly away?

Gravelly Point, of course. At the Potomac River along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the park is the ideal spot to watch planes take off from and land at Reagan National Airport. It is the closest you can get to the runway without holding a boarding pass or wearing a fluorescent vest. Of course, if you want to get within 300 feet and feel the earth-rumbling bass of a jet on takeoff, make sure the wind is blowing north to south. When planes take off into the wind it gives them extra lift to help get into the air quickly. Winds from the south mean that planes will come over the park on their descent into the airport. As for winds from the east or west, the runway was set up toward the prevailing winds, which rarely come from those directions. On an average weekend day, with the winds blowing just right, you can see as many as 15 to 30 planes take off in an hour.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, cars were overflowing the small lot and spilling onto the grass. The crowd possessed a friendly, tailgating atmosphere: Footballs were tossed, soccer balls were kicked, food and lawn chairs were plentiful. Young couples walked around holding hands while kids playing tag danced around them.

But when the unmistakable rumble of a plane taking off was heard, all activity paused. Mothers rushed children into place for a picture (hands up so it looks like you can touch the plane!) and for a moment the great metal bird soared overhead, tucking its landing gear inside before it disappeared into the blue beyond.

Need more to do? There are plenty of other draws that make Gravelly Point worth a visit. The park sits along the Mount Vernon Trail, which runs 18.5 miles from George Washington's home to Theodore Roosevelt Island. A quick walk or bike ride from Gravelly Point along the paved trail leads to the Navy-Marine Memorial and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove in Lady Bird Johnson Park. There is also a ramp for boaters and plenty of rocky shore from which to fish. The view of the Washington skyline across the river alone makes it a worthy stop.

Pretty much the only thing you can't do in the park is fly a kite. Planes come so close that the warm weather activity is banned.

-- Amy Orndorff

WHERE IS IT? The park is in Arlington just north of the airport along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. You can get to it only if you are heading north, so if you are coming from the south, turn around by going through the airport and follow signs to get on the parkway in the other direction.

WHEN SHOULD I GO? The parking lot and boat ramp are open daily from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW? Parking is very limited. Carpool if you can. Be sure to pack snacks -- or better yet, a picnic; there aren't any restaurants close by.

WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION? Gravelly Point is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, maintained by the National Park Service. Call 703-289-2500 or visit

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