Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is a little-known gem along the George Washington Parkway. (dimitri_66/via Flickr) Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is a little-known gem along the George Washington Parkway. (dimitri_66/via Flickr)


If you’re not already cavorting outside, here’s another reason to do so. It’s Great Outdoors Month, which means a lengthy roster of special events to lure even the most avid indoorsman into the wilderness. The activities start Saturday with the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day, which presents such programs as crafting your own hiking stick, trail cleanup and, of course, hiking.

In honor of the festivities, we asked local nature lovers about their favorite, lesser-known wonders in Washington and beyond.

Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society and co-chair of Great Outdoors Month, recommends exploring your own backyard, so to speak.

“I’m a big proponent of nearby nature,” he says. (The American Hiking Society will advance Saturday’s program with a landmark report Thursday calling for more urban trails, among other things.) Hiking does not require schlepping or scaling, but simply “putting one foot in front of the other in a natural place,” he says.

Miller suggests hiking the Civil War Defenses of Washington, a network of D.C.’s remaining fortifications from that era. The National Park Service and American Hiking Society offer a self-guided tour of a 9.3-mile stretch of the trail, starting at the Tenleytown Metro station, through Rock Creek Park and on to Fort Stevens, the site of D.C.’s only Civil War battle. It concludes at Fort Totten.

Farther south, between Alexandria and Mount Vernon on the George Washington Parkway, lies Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, one of the largest freshwater tidal wetlands in the area and home to more than 360 plant species and almost 300 bird species.

“It’s a hidden gem for most people unless you’re a really avid birder,” says Ed Stierli, field representative for the National Parks Conservation Association’s Chesapeake and Virginia Programs. Touring the preserve by kayak or canoe, both of which can be rented nearby, provide a “really great escape” — if a surreal one, he says, noting the oddity of viewing D.C.’s skyline from the midst of a marsh.

With its crowds of hikers, Great Falls Park may seem like an obvious choice for outdoor activity. But most hikers there head in the same direction, says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council and whitewater kayak instructor. Break from the pack to hike upstream instead of down for small, peaceful trails that hug the canal in Maryland and follow the river in Virginia.

“If you run into two other, three other people, it’s an unusual day,” she says.

For a far-flung adventure, Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club legislative director, suggests camping in False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Va. Overnight stays require hiking, biking or boating six miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, reservations and, for one of the sites, your own water.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Pierce says. But it’s “unique, and remote, and hard-earned.”

If that seems too intense, try pitching a tent in your backyard. On June 27, the National Wildlife Federation hosts the Great American Campout.

Great Outdoors Month

The following special events are slated for this month: National Trails Day (June 6), National Fishing and Boating Week (June 6-14), National Get Outdoors Day (June 13), National Marina Day (June 13), The Corps Network’s National Day of Service (June 19) and the Great American Campout (June 27).

An earlier version of this story misidentified the National Wildlife Federation.


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