UPDATED JUL 14, 2020
In DC, running is in our DNA. And whether it was your first love or something you’re coming around to, there are miles of woodsy trails, urban paths, and lively neighborhoods to explore. We’ve run them all, and these are the best.
The strip of greenery in the heart of the city is where running meets iconic DC. The roads run from the Capitol Building, with Smithsonian museums and other attractions lining the paths, all the way down to the open fields surrounding the Washington Monument. And wide walkways run down both sides of the Mall, offering a choice of paved or gravel paths. How far do you want to run today? A loop from the Capitol to the Washington Monument—under four miles—can easily be extended to the Lincoln Memorial or the Jefferson Monument. Even better, thanks to the fewer number of traffic lights, this route is ideal for fast, non-stop runs.
Rock Creek Park sprawls nearly 2,000 acres of land and has over 32 miles of paved and dirt trails for you to run. One of the most popular is Rock Creek Park Trail, a paved track that spans the length of the park and is just under 10 miles. Most days, you’ll need to watch for bikes and cars, but on the weekends, the course closes to traffic. It’s a runner’s dream. If you’re a little more outdoorsy, try the Western Ridge Trail, it's a mostly-flat, five-mile trek through woods and along the river — just watch out for horses! For more of a challenge, hit the Valley Trail, about 5.6 miles of dirt running through narrow, winding paths and steep ascents.
DC is known for its monuments, but this fun run will take you past the homes of ambassadors from around the world. Kick off at Dupont Circle, and run up Massachusetts Ave. As you ascend a gradual hill, you’ll run under flags from countries all over — see if you can name all (or any…) of them! And at the top of the hill is the National Cathedral. There and back, you'll clock about 5.5 miles.
While the C&O Canal Towpath runs through Georgetown, definitely go for a run in the downtown area itself. Jog past row houses, run Georgetown’s campus, and for an amazing HIIT workout, sprint up and down the Exorcist Steps! Oh, and when you’re done with your workout, you can refuel at the largest Sweetgreen ever — talk about a perfect day!
Just a couple of miles from the Capitol, the National Arboretum is perfect if you’re looking for some time in nature without leaving The District. The open-air greenspace is most easily accessed by car, and entrances are located on New York Ave. and R St. In the spring, take a run on the east side trail for wildlife and wildflower sightings.
Runners will eventually be able to travel along this route for a solid 20 miles, but for now, we’re working with about 12 miles of paved path. Once you get your feet moving, you’ll make your way over the Anacostia Trail Bridge near the Washington Channel and past wooded forests. Just be aware, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is not known for muscle-burning hills, but depending on the day, a flat, easy run might be just what you’re looking for.
This paved path stretches 18 miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Estate at Mount Vernon, follows the Potomac and passes the Pentagon, Crystal City, and Alexandria, and ends in Virginia. The best part? It's accessible by metro and is close to several metro stations, making it easy to join the trail or hop off at various points along the way. (Rosslyn, Arlington Cemetery, Reagan National Airport, and Braddock Rd. are convenient.) And if you laugh in the face of 18 miles, you can branch off onto other popular trails, like Potomac Heritage and the Four Mile Run.
If you’re looking to build your fast-twitch muscles, try the stairs at Meridian Hill Park. The multitude of steps will get your legs burning and heart pumping in no time, and the beautiful scenery might ease the pain a little. If you’re not up for the steps, try the top section where the flat and square-shaped surface makes for a convenient track.
Ready for a challenge? Just like the Mount Vernon Trail, the Potomac Heritage Trail begins at Theodore Roosevelt Island. The difference is this route stretches 10 miles toward the American Legion Bridge. Doesn’t sound too bad? Here comes the tricky part: it winds through woods and up hills and rocky slopes that you’ll need to climb or hike in some spots. Out and back, the route is nearly 20 miles of nature-filled trail right near DC.
This trail run follows the Potomac for 184.5 miles to Maryland — you can literally run as far as your legs will take you. The route is wide and flat, with mile markings to track your distance. Start in Georgetown at the Rock Creek Parkway and follow the canal. Opt for the dirt path to take it easy on your joints, or take the Capital Crescent Trail, which doubles as a paved bike path. No matter how far you go, just remember that there’s a journey back!
Hains Point is on East Potomac Park (a manmade island in DC) and has a four-mile running route that's one of our faves. The downside (or lack thereof): It’s completely flat. The upside: There are no cars allowed there on weekends, which means totally uninterrupted running within the city. Say goodbye to stoplights and speeding cars, and say hello to nothing but the open road.
Part of Rock Creek Park, running on Beach Dr. is what city-dwellers dream of. Much like Hains Point, it’s closed to motorists on weekends, which is ideal if you're the type who enjoys being surrounded by nature but also prefers a paved path. Just look out for fellow runners, bikers, rollerbladers and walkers, as this route gets fairly busy on Saturday and Sunday.
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