The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s what you can (and cannot) do outside in the D.C. area

A pedestrian walks along the C&O Canal in Georgetown on April 14 in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

This story has been updated with new information.

Here’s what’s new as of Friday, May 22:

- Shenandoah National Park is partially reopening starting Saturday, May 23. Skyline Drive and most trails will be open but there are some exceptions. The trail to Old Rag Mountain is closed, for example. For more information, go here.

- Arlington County parks are reopening on a limited basis. Playgrounds, athletic courts, dog parks and other facilities are still off limits. The county said people can exercise or sit with members of their household.

It’s spring in the nation’s capital. The trees are green, the birds are chirping, but the region is still in a holding pattern, with stay-at-home orders for the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Warm weather and exercise are great for these unprecedented times, but when it comes to going outside, what is and isn’t allowed varies place to place.

For all the activities below, especially those that require some planning, you should look for recent updates before heading out. We’ll update this article with more information as local officials change the orders and provide other recommendations. If you have larger questions about when to wear face masks, how restaurants are impacted or whether you can travel for work, please read here.

Can I go for a bike ride, run or walk?


Maryland, the District and Virginia’s directives allow for walking, biking, dog-walking, hiking and running outside as long as you remain six feet away from people with whom you’re not living.

Various experts actually recommend that people under self-quarantine build exercise into their routines to keep physically and mentally healthy.

Can I pet dogs I meet on my walks?

The Washington Post’s Karin Brulliard reported last month that there’s no evidence animals transmit the novel coronavirus to humans or play a significant role in its spread. On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists that based on the limited information available “the risk of animals spreading covid-19 to people is considered to be low."

Still, pets — like any member of a household — should uphold social distancing and remain at least six feet away from other people and animals when outside, one veterinary expert told The Post. Don’t pet other people’s animals but, if you do, wash your hands afterwards.

Are playgrounds open?

Public playgrounds in the District remain closed. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) opened playgrounds in state parks last week, but left it up to local jurisdictions to decide whether to open other playgrounds. Most have decided to keep them closed.

Playgrounds at Virginia state parks are closed. Playgrounds in county parks will depend on the restrictions in place by local jurisdictions.

What roadways are closed so people can walk, run and bike with more space?

In April, the District announced five locations in parts of the city will have expanded sidewalks for pedestrians. The city’s transportation department is evaluating adding more locations in all eight wards. Supporters of the idea are using the hashtag #WidenDCSidewalks to close streets to nonresidential traffic.

In Maryland, Montgomery County officials have closed portions of Beach Drive, Little Falls Parkway and Sligo Creek Parkway during the evenings Friday through Sunday.

What parks and trails are open or closed?

All District parks (including dog parks) are closed in accordance with the stay-at-home order.

D.C. residents can still walk, run and bike through parks and trails around the city as long as they are moving, not in groups, and stay six feet away from anyone nearby. City officials caution against any close contact with individuals outside your household.

Rock Creek Park grounds are open but all the facilities are closed. Here’s an in-depth list from the National Park Service.

The Washington Monument is closed and parking along the Mall is restricted. In late March, D.C. police closed the streets near the Tidal Basin to curtail crowds coming to see cherry blossoms. The National Arboretum closed in late March.

For Maryland, state parks are open, but there are some restrictions. Here’s a list from the state. The state is now accepting overnight camping reservations provided that the campers are from one household. Portions of the Billy Goat Trail, along the C&O Canal, are closed, including some parking areas, campsites and any public restrooms.

In Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, parks and trails remain open, but you can’t use public playgrounds, fields or equipment. Brookside Gardens, in Wheaton, is open but with limited parking. County officials for both jurisdictions are requiring that any groups be limited to 10 or fewer people. That’s the case for counties across Maryland: Facilities are closed, but parks remain open. Still, it’s worth looking up a specific county’s latest updates before heading out.

Virginia state parks are open, but cabins, visitor centers and other facilities remain closed. The state plans to reopen campgrounds on May 22. Trails in Arlington County are open, but parks, playgrounds, dog parks and more remain closed. The same is true for Fairfax County: Residents can walk, run or bike on trails, but the county parks are closed.

The parking lot at Great Falls Park in Virginia is closed and no public restrooms or water fountains are available. Parking is also closed at Gravelly Point, near Reagan National Airport, and you won’t be able to access the boat ramp there.

Shenandoah National Park is starting to reopen. Skyline Drive and most trails are open to the public but there are some exceptions. For more information, go here.

What if I just sit in a park with friends or by myself?

The District, Maryland and Virginia all caution against sitting or congregating in parks or other public spaces.

A rule of thumb is you’re allowed to be in a park if you’re biking, running or walking on a trail. Some jurisdictions are allowing small groups and families to sit in parks. In some cases, parking lots are closed to ensure that the only people using the trails are from nearby neighborhoods. Park basketball courts, facilities and fields are closed, even if you’re not planning on playing group sports.

Can I go to the beach?

Maryland beaches are open again to the public for outdoor exercise, including walking, running, swimming and fishing, but not for group gatherings. Officials in Ocean City, Md., announced they will reopen their beach and boardwalk to the public. People should avoid congregating in groups of ten or more.

In Virginia Beach starting on Friday, May 22, the beaches will be open for swimming and sunbathing. Parking lots will be limited to 50-percent capacity.

Some inland beaches in Virginia are completely closed. You should check the status of a specific beach before visiting.

Are the outdoor pools going to open for the summer?

Bowser has not made an announcement regarding outdoor pools in the District. The stay-at-home order, barring gatherings of ten or more people, has been extended through June 8.

In Maryland, Montgomery County public pools are planning to open, but that decision will depend on guidance from public health officials. According to a county official, the county is looking into ways to change operations if and when the pools open to ensure everyone’s safety. Under the current orders in the state, indoor and outdoor pools are closed.

Outdoor swimming pools in Virginia are allowed to open for lap lane swimming only, under guidance from phase one of the state’s reopening plan.

Can I play soccer, basketball, tennis or another group sport?

Any gathering of 10 or more people is prohibited under all three stay-at-home orders. Of course, playing catch doesn’t require 10 people, but the District, Maryland, Virginia and local jurisdictions in the two states are either prohibiting or clearly discouraging the use of public fields to interact with people outside your household.

Maryland has lifted some restrictions and is now allowing residents to play tennis.

The D.C. government does have training guides for residents who want to improve their basketball, tennis or soccer skills at home (either inside or in a backyard).

What about golf?

The District shut down golf courses in April, after first allowing the sport in the citywide order.

Golf courses in Maryland are now open. Courses and driving ranges were originally shut down in the statewide order.

Virginia golf courses can remain open; the sport falls under outdoor recreation. You should still take a moment to look up your local clubhouse or driving range before going.

County governments voluntarily closed facilities since the stay-at-home orders started. Two golf courses in Northern Virginia opened again on May 8, Pohick Bay Golf Course and Brambleton Golf Course. Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, told The Post counties are preparing to reopen other courses but the plans have not been finalized.

Can I go out on the water to fish, boat or kayak?

D.C. residents can go fishing by themselves or with anyone they’re living with. The District’s boathouses, under the Key Bridge and elsewhere, are closed.

You can fish in Maryland with members of your household. The statewide ban on recreational fishing and boating has been lifted. All the seasonal rules and regulations regarding fishing and cratennoibbing still apply. Kayaks and paddle boarding are defined as “human-powered forms of exercise” by the state, so, like biking, you’re allowed to do both.

In Montgomery County, residents can rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboard or rowboat at the boathouse on Little Seneca Lake starting Saturday, May 23. More details here.

Fresh and salt water fishing are open and unabated in Virginia. You’ll want to check with your local county or city to make sure certain lakes or piers are open to the public, though. There are a few changes from the state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and social distancing guidelines still apply.

What about hunting?

In Maryland, some earlier restrictions on hunting have been lifted. You can hunt on public land but only with members of your household. All the seasonal rules still apply.

You can hunt in Virginia. Just like fishing, the governor’s stay-at-home order hasn’t impacted hunting season, but you should check local jurisdictions to make sure parks or other areas are open to the public.

Karin Brulliard, Erin Cox, Rebecca Tan and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

This post has been updated.

A previous version of this article stated Meridian Hill Park is closed. The park’s fountain has been closed by the National Park Service.