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3 Parks in Washington, D.C., to Visit with the Family

by Barbara Rogers

Jun 14, 2024

© Victoria Shmakova Ananchenko | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

Most families travel to Washington, D.C., as a sort of pilgrimage to introduce their children to the landmarks of American history, such as the Capitol Building, White House, Lincoln Memorial and other monuments. Museums, especially the Smithsonian and its Air & Space exhibits, explore more chapters of America’s story.


But all this history can wear a little thin on young visitors who need a break from sightseeing and a chance to run off a little energy. Washington has three parks that are especially good places to take kids (and perhaps have a picnic, as well).


The most central is the National Mall, a wide swath of grass lawn between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. Along its length are various outdoor monuments to explore and plenty of space to run. A walk around the Tidal Basin brings you past several more attractions, including a 350-year-old stone Japanese lantern. The Tidal Basin also runs past the outdoor rooms of the memorial to President Franklin Roosevelt, with its waterfalls, pools, fountains and life-like statues designed to be touched.


Farther from the center, but easy to reach by public transport, Rock Creek Park is a vast green space along the winding course of Rock Creek. At its center is the visitor center, Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium, where kids can pick up a booklet of activities to earn a Junior Ranger badge. You can also find out about the hiking trails, which include a quarter-mile, paved stroller-friendly trail and a 3-mile ramble through the woods. You’ll find playgrounds at Montrose Park and Woodley Park.


On a hot summer day, head for Georgetown Waterfront Park, along the banks of the Potomac River between 31st and 34th streets NW. At one end of this green space is Percy Plaza, featuring a large spray fountain with arcs of cool water that invite kids to run through them. Bring a picnic to enjoy on a shaded bench under the trees or on the stone steps as you watch boats on the river.


Paths winding through the park include a dedicated route along the river for cyclists and skaters. A pollinator garden is filled with seasonal flowers and plants attracting bees and other pollinators. If there’s a breeze anywhere in the city, you’re most likely to find it here, at the river’s edge.


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