Looking for an exhilarating, get-your-blood-pumping way to explore Washington, D.C.? Strike out across the city on bike! Although lots of organizations offer guided tours (and the popular Capital Bikeshare boasts bike rental sites throughout the city), taking a self-guided spin is a great option, too. And one of the nicest, most scenic routes to try runs several miles along the Rock Creek Park Trail.
One of DC's best bike routes winds through the gorgeous Rock Creek Park — Photo courtesy of Rock Creek Park / Raoul Pop
Starting on Beach Drive at the Maryland-District border, the paved, wooded (and sometimes bumpy) trail winds south through Northwest D.C. to the Roosevelt Bridge (behind the Kennedy Center).
Along the way, you’ll find many excellent places to stop and take in the sites. (The park the trail runs through, the 1,700-acre Rock Creek Park, was established in 1890 and is the National Park Service’s oldest and largest urban park.)
Your first stop along the 8-mile route should be the National Zoo. Cycling inside the zoo isn’t permitted, so walk your bike to one of the racks in front of the ranger’s stations. Free and open daily, the relatively small zoo offers a beautiful park-like setting, an array of animals and interactive displays and plenty of shady spots to sit and rest. (If it’s an especially brutal summer day, step under one of the zoo’s water-misters for a quick cool-down.)
The first stop along your route? The National Zoo — Photo courtesy of Smithsonian's National Zoo
If you’re hungry, head out the zoo’s main entrance to the Woodley Park neighborhood along Connecticut Avenue. (Just leave your bike locked up at the zoo; you’ll be coming back.) There you’ll find tons of terrific eateries, including the Zoo Bar Café, Nanny O’Brien’s and the Lebanese Taverna. Once you’re sated, make your way back to the zoo, grab your bike and pick up the Rock Creek Park Trail where you left off.
Stop into the Zoo Bar Cafe for a mid-ride snack — Photo courtesy of The Zoo Bar Cafe Washington DC
Cycle off lunch during the next part of the trail – a gorgeous stretch that runs alongside the Potomac River. Stop off at any or all of the scenic overlooks and see a side of the city folks seldom stop to enjoy.
From there, continue on to the Kennedy Center; that’s where the route ends. Of course, if you haven’t had your fill of sightseeing, bike a few more blocks. Must-visit attractions like the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are a short spin away!
Note: Parts of this route go through city streets that get quite congested during the workweek, making cycling treacherous at certain points. For safety’s sake, save your bike tour for the weekend.
End your bike tour with a visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial — Photo courtesy of National Mall and Memorial Parks