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Best Parks in Washington DC

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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.

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. 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."

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.

Best known for its vast collection of azaleas, (a popular porch-flower), this 446-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.

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.

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.

This pleasant park is situated just north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. With its flat terrain and location right on the water, the park attracts cyclists and boaters, but its biggest draw is probably the close proximity to the airport (a mere 400 feet away). People come to watch the planes land and take off, flying in low right above them. An added bonus is a nice view of the Washington skyline.

This former amusement park changed its focus from thrilling rides to artistic amusements, many of which are directed at families. A beautiful hand-carved carousel is the only ride still operating in the park, now administered by the National Park Service. Visitors will find plenty of entertainment ranging from performances at the Puppet Company Playhouse to children's stories at the Adventure Theatre. Dances like swing, square-dancing and the waltz, among others, are held at the Spanish Ballroom.

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is located just a short walk from the National Gallery of Art. The garden features sculptures from the National Gallery's collection, as well as pieces from traveling exhibitions. Sit down on a bench and marvel at the fusion of man-made and natural beauty that this garden affords. The garden also contains a large water fountain that is transformed into an ice rink in the winter, and a cafe where visitors can grab a pastry to enjoy among the sculptures and flowers.

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.

From El Greco's "The Visitation" to Byzantine and pre-Columbian artworks, jewelry and mosaics, Dumbarton Oaks is filled with elegant treasures. Built in 1801, the estate achieved its height of glory in the wealthy 1920s when it served as the high-society showpiece of Robert Bliss and his heiress wife, Mildred. The gardens occupy 10 acres above Georgetown and include terraced lawns, winding footpaths and elaborate fountains.

This Potomac River island is an apt memorial to the conservation-minded Teddy Roosevelt, the nation's 26th president. The 88-acre wildlife refuge can be explored along winding footpaths. In a clearing at the island's center stands a 22-foot bronze statue of Roosevelt, accompanied by inscriptions of his eloquent thoughts on nature and conservation. Access the island from Virginia via George Washington Memorial Parkway. A pedestrian bridge connects the island to a parking lot on the Virginia shoreline.

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