Creating this list of social distancing activities in the DC area made me so thankful! From beautiful nature, historic monuments and hidden gems, there’s so much to explore in this area, even if social distancing.
Each location below includes restroom, parking and social distancing info. 22 of the 26 locations are FREE. The list below does not include playgrounds but I have separate posts for the best Playgrounds in Northern Virginia and the best Playgrounds in Maryland close to DC in Montgomery and PG Counties.
In the spots where there are no restrooms available, I link to a couple of car travel pottys that we use and recommend from Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This is at no extra cost to you.
Social Distancing Activities DC
1) National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
The Sculpture Garden has to be one of the best spots on a sunny day in DC! It recently reopened to the public (on 2/14) and is now open daily from 11 AM to 4PM. The gates opened were on Madison, 7th and Constitution Ave. We brought our clipboards to sketch a little and had the best time talking about what each sculpture could mean or the materials or the title.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
🚻 Nice clean restrooms behind the Pavilion Cafe!
😷 Masks are required and they even had some available if you forgot yours. And they had the fanciest hand sanitizing stations (swipe to see!) throughout. Lots of stickers reminding of social distancing on benches etc.
🍴 The Pavilion Cafe is open (credit card only) and they have lovely outdoor seating.
🅿️ We had to do one loop around but found street parking on Madison Drive in front of the Natural History Museum. That was at 1pm and by 2:30 when we played on the Mall, there were tons more available spaces on Madison.
2) 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 during the week! It is located in the far NE corner of DC.
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.
3) Kennedy Center & REACH
In this time of rising numbers, I am on the lookout for close-to-empty beautiful spaces for us to explore, and the Kennedy Center 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!) One of our favorite social distancing activities in DC!
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!
4) Haines Point – East Potomac Point
I was on the hunt for wide-open spaces with easy parking + restroom… and we found it! Haines Point on East Potomac Park was perfect for getting fresh air, climbing trees, crunching ice, and watching birds, boats, and planes!
We drove all the way to the southern point and parked in front of the 2 playgrounds near restroom #2. There were dozens of free parking spots available. Check out this reel on instagram of our latest visit!
Haines Point – East Potomac Park
🅿Tons of free parking spots along the drive and in front of playgrounds.
🚻 Restrooms are open in the brick building behind the playgrounds.
😷 Lots of space to distance. 2 playgrounds right next to each other so when one got a little busy (7 or 8 kids) we went to the smaller one)
♿Paths are paved and 2 lane one-way roads around the 3 ish miles so would be great for strollers or wheelchairs.
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.
Its a large area so here are my 3 Tips:
- 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
🅿 Parking: Park at the main Visitors Center is best with kids.
6) National Mall – Don’t forget this original Social Distancing Activity in DC!
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.
The entire Tidal Basin Loop Trail is 2.1 miles with the Jefferson Memorial on one side, MLK monument a little farther down and tons of iconic shots of the Washington Monument. And on an unusually warm day in January, my kids had a great time biking around the monuments which you can check out in this reel!
Restroom: Found a great, clean and open restroom on the National Mall! Its next to the WWII Memorial on the side closest to the Tidal Basin.
Parking: I like to park on Jefferson Dr. so kids could pick flat path to a Capitol or hilly to Washington Monument. Metered parking and use ParkMobile app for easy pay.
7) Lower Senate Park near the Capitol
NOTE: MAY BE BLOCKED OFF WITH INCREASED SECURITY AROUND 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 & Parking: Union Station is a 6 minute walk from the memorial if you need a restroom while you are out.
8) 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. Check out my recommended car pottys that we use in a pinch!
Virginia Social Distancing Activities
1) GCCCT Trail with 5 Stepping Stone Bridges
This is a true hidden gem with 5 different stepping stone bridges and a really creek area that my kids call “Dino Island!” It is at an un-named park on the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail in Newington/Springfield VA. One was covered with water when we went but we could cross 4 of them which made the hike interesting for everyone!
The whole GCCCT trail is 40 miles long so plenty of space if you wanted to hike longer… we got distracted by… “Dino Rock Island!” It’s a large rocky/sandy beach section before the 3rd stepping stone bridge. My kids played here for over an hour: finding rocks, playing pretend rock store, throwing rocks in the creek etc.
❗️There is no specific name for this park along Pohick Creek but it worked great to park around 8100 Lake Pleasant Drive (there is tons of free street parking that is not in front of someone’s house). The paved trail starts right before 8100 only in one direction. You walk for about 5 minutes before your first of 5 stepping stone bridges. There is a fork in the path where you can go left to 1 more bridge or to the right there are 3 more + 🦕 Peninsula!
Below is a google map of the trail and the stepping stones circled.
🅿️ – Put 8100 Lake Pleasant Dr, Newington VA into your maps app and park in front of the forest.
🚻 – Sadly no restroom, we use a portable one from amazon that works in an emergency 😂
😷 – Great for social distancing! Wider paths than other parks and not well known so just saw some couples and 1 family.
❌♿️ – Path is mostly paved for wheelchair and stroller but steep at the beginning and of course the stepping stones are not accessible.
2) Dyke Marsh Nature Preserve, Alexandria (6 miles South 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, open and fairly clean!
Parking: Large lot
4) Frying Pan Farm, Herndon
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)
5) Huntley Meadows – Alexandria, VA
Gorgeous wetlands and boardwalk just south of Old Town Alexandria! My family and I love this park in all seasons. Great for a quick walk with kids on the board walk or a longer walk with older kids. Don’t miss the overlook just past the main boardwalk loop!
We’ve taken a social distanced course here once where we learned about the original inhabitants of this land, the Powatan tribe. It was an amazing walk with our Guide who told us the marsh was like their Costco… full of amazing things for their homes, meals and tools.
HUNTLEY MEADOWS PARK – Alexandria, VA
🚻 Porta potty in parking lot
😷 Requires masks, not too busy
🅿️ Tons of parking
✏️ Visitors center closed but check out their many amazing classes and outings on their website.
6) 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: 6 portable restrooms.
Parking: Huge free parking lot!
7) Camp Highroad – Middleburg, VA
We had the best time at Camp Highroad in Middleburg, VA. It is a 600-acre Adventure Camp that is now offering Family Day Trips. It was a beautiful 1-hour drive into Loudoun County.
We went for a 10-minute ride on the sweetest horses in a fenced area. Then, the kids walked the horses back to the stable and gave them treats to feed the horses and taught them about grooming. My kids said it was “THE BEST!”
Next, we drove over to the self-service archery area in a beautiful forest. It was so fun to have it all to ourselves and not have to rush! We ended our day at the fire pit near the pond with bratwurst and s’mores.
Camp Highroad – Middleburg, Virginia (just over an hour from downtown DC, 44 miles)
🚻 Restrooms are available in the office.
😷 We were the only family there that I saw! And even if there were more people, there was so much room, you wouldn’t run into them.
💵 Check out their website for prices for the “Classic Chill” that includes archery, lunch spot, carrots for horses and more.
🐴 You can also add a Thrill from Horse Care + 10 minute Ring Ride (1-5 people = $35) or Zipline for over age 7 or a Trail ride over age 10 for $60.
8) Occoquan Wildlife Nature Refuge – Woodbridge, Va
This Refuge is part of 3 wildlife preserves under the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is 640 acres of protected lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants. These preserves are specifically protected areas for bald eagles. We were excited to see 1 bald eagle soaring. There is a sign showing which parts of one of the trails is blocked now as there are protected bald eagle nests right now!
We parked in the main lot and took the 0.4 mile Fox Trail to the water’s edge. There are tons of other paths you can take and there are lots of maps at the start of the trail to take with you or take a picture of. I share a reel video of our outing on Instagram here.
*Make sure to check out the free interactive game/tour app Agents of Discovery from the Wildlife Refuge!
OCCOQUAN NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – Woodbridge, VA in Prince William County (24 miles south of downtown DC)
🚻 2 Park restrooms in the main parking lot.
🅿 Free parking the main parking lot. Make sure to enter 14050 Dawson Beach Rd, Woodbridge, VA 22191 into your maps app and to go all the way to the main parking lot. (There is a small parking spot outside the gate but you will have to walk over a mile to get to the main trail heads!) **And please note this is a DIFFERENT park from Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton, VA!**
😷 While there were maybe 20 cars in the lot, we only saw 4 other families/hikers and tons of room to spread out.
9) Sky Meadows – Delaplane
One Saturday, husband pulled me off of the news for a wonderful family adventure/escape to Sky Meadows State Park! We had a wonderful day completely disconnecting (low to no cell service!) and enjoying nature.
Below are my tips for specifically visiting with kids:
1️⃣ – Enter through the main entrance on State Route 710. Its address is 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, VA 20144. Once you pay the $7 per car fee, make your first right towards the “Picnic Area/Children’s Discovery Area.” Its a MUCH less busy area with parking and only a couple families vs. the historic home area which had overflow parking.
2️⃣ – Love the views from on top of the Picnic Area. You will also find permanent restrooms here, the Sensory Explorer’s Trail (perfect for younger kiddos!) and of course the best part for us the Children’s Discovery Area.
3️⃣ – After we explore the first area for a couple hours, we drove to the main area and explored a bit. It was much busier with maybe 50 cars verses the 1st area which only had 3-5!
4️⃣ – Bring a thermos of hot water to warm up with hot chocolate!
SKY MEADOWS STATE PARK – (55 miles West of Arlington, 60 miles from DC)
💲$7 per car.
🅿Tons of free parking spots at both the Picnic Area and the Main Area.
🚻 Permanent restrooms are available.
😷 Lots of space to distance.
♿Paths were all unpaved but we did see some walkers on the roads, however they are hilly and you have to share with cars. Would not recommend for wheelchairs or strollers.
10) 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!)
11) 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
12) 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.
Restrooms: Portable restrooms available.
Maryland Social Distancing Activities
1) National Colonial Farm – Accokeek
I think we found one of our favorite spots in the DC area! The National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, MD is just incredible!
(I feel like a certain SNL character 😅….) It has everything: ✔️Free ✔️Live Animals (Sheep, chickens, hogs, turkey, cows) ✔️Native American History ✔️Middle-class Colonial History ✔️Views of the Potomac:Mount Vernon ✔️2 sets of restrooms ✔️30 minutes from Alexandria, 40 minutes from downtown DC ✔️ So much space to spread out!
The park is a unique partnership between the National Park Service and Accokeek Foundation. “The Foundation stewards 200 acres of park while honoring the indigenous people and values that shaped this land. The Accokeek Foundation is located in Piscataway Park, within the traditional ancestral homelands of Piscataway People both past and present.”
Tips before you visit:
1. Check out video on Accokeek’s facebook page and watch their adorable 10-minute video of the fictionalized life of one of their lambs. My kids loved watching this before we visited and then they knew the names of all the live animals we got to see!
2. Wear boots! Lots of mud and puddles when we visited!
3. Bring a picnic. I saw two families picnicking and wish I had brought a picnic lunch to enjoy afterward!
4. Save this post for a fun weekend spot or socially distant play date!
🅿️ Lots of free parking spots.
🚻 2 sets of portable restrooms. 1 in the parking lot and 1 by the Chickens/Lambs
😷 Lots of space to distance.
♿Paths are not paved. The main one has gravel but not accessible and I would use a baby carrier rather than stroller.
2) Rockville Civic Center
The Rockville Civic Center is actually a mansion with 153 acres of open space, a great playground, small formal gardens, tennis courts, nature center and hiking trails! We loved our time here on Wednesday and it was mostly empty except 1 photographer in the gardens and 2 kids on the playground.
The Glenview mansion was built in 1838 and has a complicated history. “In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Judge Bowie was a Union sympathizer and anti-secessionist, but he was also opposed to abolishing slavery—his home and farm was built and maintained by two dozen enslaved Africans.”
🇹🇭 On the way home we picked up incredible Thai food from @bkgrockville Bangkok Garden 7 mins away. My husband and I are on a quest to find the best Khao Soi (curry chicken noodle soup from northern Thailand) in the area and this one has topped our list! Also their crispy pork belly with green curry was amazing. Sorry no pic, we ate it ASAP but great pics on their page.
🅿️ Parked behind the mansion next to the tennis courts and walked thru the gardens to the front of the house and then around to the playground. Also parking closer to the playground behind the theater.
🚻 Unfortunately restrooms are currently closed so check out a couple of car travel pottys that we use and recommend from Amazon.
😷 Very few people and plenty of room to run and explore!
♿️ One main road loop that would work for strollers and wheelchairs but the gardens and playground are not accessible.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) 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!