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Best Outdoor Activities in Washington DC

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Part of the original design for the federal city, this massive park stretches from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial. It has played host to many momentous, world-changing events throughout history including the 1963 March on Washington, the Million Man March and several presidential inaugurations. Today, the National Mall serves as a place for reflection, a memorial to American heroes, a symbol of freedom and a forum for the exercise of democracy through protests and rallies. The Smithsonian museums, the Vietnam Memorial, the Reflecting Pool and the iconic Washington Monument are a few of the most well-known of the National Mall's many iconic sites. Certainly, any visit to Washington DC should start with a tour of the United States National Mall, aptly named "America's front yard."

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Great Falls Park, straddling both banks of the Potomac River, offers stunning views. The more attractive side of the park lies in Virginia. Rushing whitewater pours through steep, jagged crevices into a narrow gorge. Photographers, hikers, and nature-lovers find much to enjoy here. The park offers many trails, and the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal parallels the river. Fishing is allowed, but only with a valid permit. Kayaking, canoeing and rafting is recommended for advanced outdoors-men only. The Maryland side also features Great Falls Tavern with displays of canal history. One-hour round trip barge excursions are offered on a restored stretch of the canal from April to November.

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Best known for its vast collection of azaleas, (Washington's favorite porch-flower), this 444-acre (180-hectare) garden park has much else to offer. Fountains, pools and open space separate a series of focused gardens at the United States National Arboretum. The National Bonsai Collection, a gift from Japan, is a fascinating exhibit of tiny trees. Other notable sections are the aquatic garden (filled with lotuses of many varieties) and the National Herb Garden.

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A variety of European park styles are on display here at Meridian Hill Park, from long French promenades to Renaissance terraces. Waterfalls and pools abound among curling pathways. Especially delightful is the water staircase, a terraced waterfall. Nearby is the historic Adams-Morgan neighborhood, which features myriad ethnic restaurants and eclectic shops.

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Early morning is the time to catch the blooming water-bound plants of this park. Run by the National Park Service, the 12-acre marshland park is often overlooked by visitors who head for better-known Washington sites. As a result, the park is an uncrowded getaway. Nature-lovers and children especially will enjoy more than 100,000 flowering plants and fauna sightings.

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The Rock Creek Park contains a beautiful wild forest and serves as an oasis for city residents and tourists. Attractions include picnic areas, winding trails and bike paths, a nature center, a public golf course, tennis courts and stables. The centerpiece is a working gristmill, complete with a turning water wheel. Rock Creek Parkway runs alongside the meandering creek. Parts of the road are closed to traffic on weekends and turned over to cyclists and roller bladers. Although the Metro is nearby, a car is required to visit many of the key sites in a single trip. The park is also a popular spot in the winter for sledding, snowballs and other outdoor merriment.

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This lovely Victorian style garden is a welcome respite for tired National Mall visitors. It is located off Independence Avenue near the entrances to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the National Museum of African Art. The park resembles a rooftop garden, and a three-story building lies beneath. Visitors will love the 19th-century style benches and urns along the park's brick paths.

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The gorgeous U.S. Botanic Garden conservatory presents botanical variety, from the desert to the tropics, along a series of calm and gently meandering paths. A particular waterfall and garden display the flora of the dinosaur age. Seasonal displays include Christmas greens and poinsettias in December and January, chrysanthemums in autumn and blooming flowers at Easter. A part of the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), the National Garden, was opened in October 2006 and includes the carefully-designed Butterfly Garden.

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Along the city's waterfront is the wonderful Yards Park that opened in September 2010. A stunning example of how urban planning can play such a vital role in ensuring that city-dwellers enjoy their time in the city, this park comes replete with fountains, a pool, jogging tracks, biking trails, waterside lawns, shopping spots, cafes, bars and more. A special platform has been constructed to host outdoor events like concerts, community get-togethers, dog shows and festivals.

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City Segway Tours offers visitors a chance to explore the city in a whole new way. While walking can be tiring, zipping around on a Segway can be a fun experience. Each tour is operated and guided by professionals, who will first train you on using the Segway and then you'll start your tour. You'll get your own vehicle, as well as a safety helmet and head set, so you can hear your guide sans interruption. They offer a variety of tours, the most popular being the National Mall Segway Tour, where you'll find all the major monuments and sights like the White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Capitol Building, Washington Monument as well as Smithsonian Castle. Other tours include the Segway Experience Tour and the Monuments and Memorials Tour as well as Private Tour options. They do have some restrictions, so it's a good idea to confirm before hand.

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This 52-acre park is located north of the Reflecting Pool amid the capital's many famous monuments and memorials. A beautiful place for a stroll, the paths wind through the trees taking you to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a lake and a memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Steeped in history, this is a must-see on any DC tour.

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A popular outdoor destination for children, college students and nature lovers, this park lies north of Georgetown. Woodlands surround a recreation area with tennis courts, picnic tables and a playground. Special features include a boxwood maze and Lovers Lane, a cobblestone walkway on the west side of the park. To explore more elaborately designed grounds and an elegant estate, visit Dumbarton Oaks next door. Admission is free.

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