The time has come to bundle up, get outside and explore social distancing activities in the DC area! As COVID numbers rise in our area, the safest places to explore are outside and with lots of space away from others. Creating this list below made me so thankful that it’s not too hard to find beautiful nature and open spaces in this area. From creeks, marshes, mountains and hills, there’s so much to explore and I hope this list below is helpful!
Couple of notes:
- All outdoors so plan accordingly (I list bathroom availability)
- No playgrounds or narrow trails
- 14 out of 17 of the social distancing activities in DC are FREE
- Check out my Kids Winter Gear reviews for great outdoor clothes this winter.
Go directly to the Map of all the locations.
Washington DC Social Distancing Activities
#1 Fort Lincoln Park, NE DC
Fort Lincoln Park is fantastic: history, interesting climbing structures, open spaces to run, portable restroom, parking and it was EMPTY yesterday! It is located in the far NE corner of DC and it was definitely a top #WorththeDriveWednesday location.
Fort Lincoln was one of 7 temporary earthwork forts defending DC during the Civil War. Today, there are picnic pavilions where I believe the towers were and tons of fun climbing areas. We will certainly be back this season with my husband as it fit the bill for a great socially distanced spot!
FORT LINCOLN PARK – NE DC ( 12 miles from Arlington, 7 miles from Silver Spring)
🅿Free and plug in Theodore Hagans Cultural Center into maps for the parking lot. Once you park, go up the stairs behind the bathrooms to find the fort!
🚻 1 portable restroom in the fort (2 restrooms by the tennis courts but locked)
😷 The Fort was empty on a weekday morning. Saw some people walking their dogs in other parts of the park.
#2 Kennedy Center – REACH Space
In this time of rising numbers, I am on the lookout for close-to-empty beautiful spaces for us to explore, and the @KennedyCenter and the outdoor REACH space is the perfect spot! We went on a weekday afternoon and saw only 2 other people the whole time. We skipped through the columns, raced in the open courtyard, and attempted to sketch the architecture (the wind was cold!)
The nice security guard confirmed that the outdoor spaces are open during the day but that the inside spaces of the REACH are only open Fri 4 – 8 PM and Weekends at 12pm – 6pm. In December, there is a Holiday Market Fri, Sat, Sun with dozens of vendors and food options!
#1 question about the center is how to park without spending the $23 at the center’s lot! I’ve got a great tip to save a little (unless you can find the rare street parking!) Yesterday, we parked at the Watergate at 600 New Hampshire NW for $15! It is just across the street from the Kennedy Center depending on how long you stay, can be cheaper! The first hour is $13, the second hour $15, daily max $22.
There are no restrooms when the REACH is closed so be prepared.
Empty space on the weekdays! Last week a couple of weekend recommendation requests were for places for kids to run with lots of space and this is a great one to add to your list!
#3 Lower Senate Park near the Capitol
If you’re looking for social distancing activities in DC that’s “off the tourist path” but with iconic backdrops, check out this park next to the Capitol building. There are interesting fountains and huge trees to explore. If your kiddos like to scoot around, I especially like the National Japanese American Memorial which commemorates the awful history of WWII internment camps. There is a lovely reflecting pool (although I am not positive the water is on right now) and definitely would not be busy on a weekend!
Restrooms: Union Station is a 6 minute walk from the memorial if you need a restroom while you are out.
#4 Soapstone Valley Park, NW DC near Hillwood Estates
We recently found this hidden gem of a hiking trail close to Hillwood Estates in NW DC. It connects to Rock Creek Park at one end but is much less crowded and nestled into a lovely neighborhood. We parked on 29th street and took the trail from the end of Audubon Terrace NW. You can also access it through the other end of Albemarle St. My kids loved the steep steps at one point (so not stroller friendly) and the path along the creek. Rock Creek Conservancy website shares that it is 1.2 miles in length and crosses the creek 7 times (again not for young kids).
No restrooms available.
#5 National Arboretum, NE – Over 400 acres of social distancing activities in DC!
How could I not include the National Arboretum in this list?! It’s 446 acres, dozens of walking, hiking and biking paths and many gardens is a perfect place for a socially distanced outing. I do recommend going during the week as the parking lots can get filled quickly on weekends. Check out the map here.
- Great place for biking! My 4 year old is not proficient in biking but if yours is, then this is a great place to ride. The Conifer Road in the North West section is recommended.
- The Washington Youth Garden is near Fern Valley and is so cool to explore! Their mission is to nurture curious minds and healthy bodies by connecting youth to food, the land and each other. (Note: there is a fence but it’s just to keep deer out, feel free to enter!)
- Check out the admin building Koi pond with recently returned Koi (they’ve been gone for 10 years!)
Restrooms: 3 restroom locations including the Friendship Garden Arbor House,
#6 National Mall
The National Mall is not just for tourists! It is actually a wonderful open space for the whole family to enjoy. Especially with less visitors and people working in downtown DC, I’ve been able to find plenty of paid street parking in front of Smithsonian Castle on Jefferson Dr. Bring a ball, kite, bike, frisbee and run and enjoy the classic DC sights from afar!
(pic of the Smithsonian castle)
Restroom: This is tricky to say for certain but the Ronald Reagan Building on 14th St. north of the Mall and L’Enfant Plaza Shopping Mall south of the Mall should be open with restrooms and Food Courts.
Virginia Social Distancing Activities
#1 Gravelly Point, Pentagon City
Gravelly Point is one of my son’s favorites right next to DCA airport. You can watch planes fly almost right above you, run around a huge field, walk along the Mount Vernon trail along the Potomac and even climb some short trees. There is an extra-large parking lot and DC Bike Share station. This is a great social distancing activity near DC!
Restroom: About 6 portable restrooms.
#2 Dyke Marsh Nature Preserve, Alexandria (6 miles S of Old Town)
I’ve hiked, biked and drove on the GW Parkway for 10 years and never knew about this lovely spot! The Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve felt worlds away from DC but only 9 miles south of DCA.
This little beach, with views of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the sailboats in the harbor was so much fun to explore yesterday. We skipped stones, learned about the Piscataway tribe and searched for shells. It’s only a 10 minute walk from parking at the Belle Haven Marina which has permanent restrooms!
DYKE MARSH WILDLIFE PRESERVE – Alexandria
📍 Put into google “Belle Haven Marina.” If you put in the name of the park, google takes you to a random spot on the bike trail!
🅿️ There is parking in the marina or nearby.
🚻 2 sets of restrooms! They have some between the 2 large parking lots in Belle Haven Park and also permanent restrooms at the Marina (pictured here).
😷 Wider trail than others and not too busy even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
❌♿️ Not wheelchair or stroller accessible as there were larger rocks on the path.
#3 Chessie’s Trail, Alexandria (about 5 miles SW of Old Town)
Chessie’s Big Backyard is a great playground but what I love more is Chessie’s Trail which is an animal scavenger hunt trail behind the playground. There are animal statues along a paved path and musical instruments to play. And my kids love the giant “Treehouse” at the end which is more like a large raised pavilion.
- Take a picture of the beginning and look for the animal statues on your short hike!
- Ask you kids to pick up a stick (if age appropriate!) to use on the musical instruments so you’re not touching a high touch area.
Restrooms: 2 next to the playground
#4 Hidden Pond Nature Center, Springfield
We love Hidden Pond Nature Center for its, you guessed it, hidden pond filled with turtles and frogs! There’s also miles of hiking trails and a small nature center (closed now). You do need to walk past sometimes-busy playground to go to the Pond Trail.
Restrooms: 1 portable restroom in the parking lot (may be in the staff parking lot behind the picnic shelter. Thx to @500parks for letting me know!)
#5 Pohick Bay Regional Park, Lorton
Beautiful views of the Potomac River without the crowds! While there is a very cool Treehouse themed Playground, there is also a lot to do here without going there. It’s really a beautiful destination park for camping, hiking and boating. It is $8 a day per vehicle if you are from outside northern Virginia. (Free for Arlington, Fairfax & Loudoun Counties; Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax & Falls Church) They also have cabins and campsites for rent on their website.
Restrooms: 2 separate bathrooms in the visitors’ center. Confirmed open during COVID
#6 Shenandoah National Park – Social Distancing Activities for miles!
I am so thankful to be only 75 miles from a stunning National Park like Shenandoah every time I visit! I recommend driving to Thornton Gap Entrance Station so you can go north or south on Skyline Drive as I’ve found Front Royal Entrance Station much busier (you can only go south from there). Check out this recent Instagram post with 3 Kid Hike Recommendations.
Restrooms: Check out Shenandoah’s website for up to date info with COVID.
#7 Frying Pan Farm, Herndon
(Note: Kidwell Farm is currently open as of 11/22 but please check their Fairfax County website before going in case there is a change.)
Farther away from DC but kid and mama approved! This free park is actually a part of FC Parks and Recreation and has a mission to preserve and interpret the farm life of the 1920s to 1950s. There are TONS of cute animals to see and plenty of outdoor space to spread out! (Also a playground but if you park at the Equestrian Center you won’t see it)
Restrooms: Portable restrooms available.
Maryland Social Distancing Activities
#1 Audubon Naturalist Society, Chevy Chase
We had a lovely time at the Audubon Naturalist Society‘s Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase. They have 40 acres of nature trails right across from Rock Creek Park where you can hike even more. The ANS was formed in 1897 to preserve and enjoy nature and is still doing that over 120 years later. Behind the mansion is a small nature playground with stumps, sticks and hours of creativity!
Restrooms: 1 portable restroom in the parking lot.
#2 Jug Bay Wetlands, Upper Marlboro
Did you know there is a Wetlands Sanctuary just 21 miles east of DC?! Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary is a unique place to visit and great for social distancing. We explored the Marsh Boardwalk trail, a one-way trail that begins right before the Visitor’s center. Note: Open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sign says to pay $6 at Visitor Center when open but wasn’t open when we were there. (Free for military and veterans with ID)
Restrooms: 1 portable restroom in the parking lot.
#3 Glendening Butterfly Garden, Lothian
Just 2 miles from the Wetlands, is a small Butterfly Garden, barns and hiking trails. My kids loved exploring this summer and while there might not be butterflies in the fall, the area is a great low crowds spot to hike and explore. A mom in the parking lot told me about the Beaver Rock Trail behind the barn that goes down into the creek.
Restrooms: No restroom that I could see.
#4 Terrapin Nature Area Beach, Kent Island great social distancing near Annapolis
Our family loves this Chesapeake Bay park right off the Bay Bridge. We went twice this year and there is plenty of room to socially distance on the bay. There is a 15 minute walk from the Terrapin parking lot to the beach through a pretty forest and marsh. The beach is long and narrow and pictures of all the areas are helpful when planning and their website has a great video too.
Restrooms: 2 portable restrooms in the parking lot and 1 near the beach.
Well that’s it for now! I have a few more places to check out and will add them if they fit the bill for strict social distancing fun with kids!