Theodore Roosevelt Island
This woodsy isle nestled in the Potomac River brims with beauty all year long, offering restorative calm just minutes away from the bustle of the city. Take the 1½-mile Swamp Trail to get the fullest view of the island: A boardwalk traverses a cattail marsh and swampy woodlands, while a gravel pathway wends through the forest. If you want to explore further, the Woods Trail goes to the memorial plaza, which is dominated by an imposing stone statue of Roosevelt and is ringed with quotes from the 26th president on nature, youth and manhood. To get yourself in the mood for your visit, pick up a copy of Melanie Choukas-Bradley’s excellent “Finding Solace at Theodore Roosevelt Island,” a loving homage to the natural wonders of this lush little island.
Open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Parking lot off George Washington Memorial Parkway, Arlington, Va. nps.gov/this/index.htm. Free.
Mason Neck State Park
Whether your kid is tiny, teen or in between, this 1,856-acre park in Fairfax County has a hike for them. Those with little ones can opt for the easy 1⅓-mile Bayview Trail that runs alongside the beach on Belmont Bay. For a longer trek, stitch that trail together with the Eagle Spur and Dogue trails, which adds nearly 5 miles, taking you through a large swath of the park. No matter where you go, keep an eye out for bald eagles.
Open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk. 7301 High Point Rd., Lorton, Va. dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/mason-neck. $10 per vehicle.
Perched at the convergence of the Potomac River and the Occoquan River, this onetime military research facility is now a tranquil wildlife refuge. A verdant blend of wetlands, woodlands and grasslands spread across 642 acres, the park is the home to a host of bird life — including bald eagles and blue herons, osprey and great horned owls — as well as beavers, otters, deer and red foxes. For the best chance to spot an array of furry and winged creatures, take the 2-mile main loop trail. This flat gravel pathway starting at the parking lot is easygoing for hikers of all ages and abilities. Pause for a moment at the gazebo on the river’s shoreline, where swivel-mounted binoculars help you spot waterfowl.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through March 31; open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 1-September 30. 13950 Dawson Beach Rd., Woodbridge, Va. fws.gov/refuge/occoquan_bay/. Free.
Prince William Forest Park
An impressive 37 miles of trails wind their way through this well-forested 15,000-acre park, the largest green space in the D.C. metropolitan region. Starting near the Pine Grove picnic area by the visitor center, the 6.2-mile North Valley Trail is a good hike for families whose kids can endure a few hours of walking (if you need to bail early, there are plenty of shortcuts back). The path is generally level — though there are a few steep spots — following Quantico Creek and ending at a picture-worthy waterfall. Along the way, you’ll pass the ruins of a pyrite mining operation.
Open daily from sunrise to sunset. 18170 Park Entrance Rd., Triangle, Va. nps.gov/prwi/index.htm. $20 per vehicle.
Seneca Creek State Park
Stretching along Seneca Creek to the Potomac River, this 6,300-acre park in Montgomery County boasts 50 miles of trails. The relatively easy 3.7-mile Lake Shore Trail, accessible near the parking lot, loops around Clopper Lake. Keep an eye out for herons, ducks and turtles as you cross over several streams. This placid, picturesque hike is perfect if you’re looking to decompress with your family and soothe anxieties.
Open daily from 10 a.m. until sunset through February 28. Open daily 8 a.m. until sunset March 1-Oct. 31. 11950 Clopper Rd., Gaithersburg, Md. dnr.maryland.gov. Free on weekdays; $3 for Maryland residents and $5 for out-of-state residents on weekends and holidays.
Falling Branch area of Rocks State Park
If you are going to go chasing waterfalls, this one is worth the pursuit. Kilgore Falls is Maryland’s second largest, tumbling down over 17 feet. In the winter, it sometimes freezes, creating a towering ice sculpture that looks like it was transported from Beyond the Wall in Westeros. It’s easy to access via the Falling Branch Trail, which is only a mile round trip. At one point, the trail goes over steppingstones in a stream, so wear waterproof boots. Additionally, expect portions of the trail to be slippery because of ice and snow. Note: Parking is limited, so the lot can fill up quickly on weekends and holidays (the park is requiring advance reservations from May 1 to Labor Day).
Open daily sunrise to sunset. 1026 Falling Branch Rd., Pylesville, Md. dnr.maryland.gov. Free.
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