Nearly every summer, I create a bucket list of places to go, things to see and experiences to have. I’ve yet to check off every item, but this may be the year.
This year’s summer bucket list includes a hike around Theodore Roosevelt Island. I’d been wanting to do this for years and years, so why not now.
This easy hike around the perimeter of the 89-acre island begins in Arlington, though the island is officially located in Washington, DC. A mere technicality for this blog.
It’s a beautiful hike with fantastic views and plenty to learn about our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. Try to go on a weekday. The parking lot fills very quickly on weekends.
|Elevation Gain||56 feet|
|Terrain||Gravel, dirt and boardwalk trails|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
The Theodore Roosevelt Island parking area is located along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It’s just southeast of the Key Bridge.
The lot is large, with room for several dozen cars. Maybe even 100 cars. We arrived by 9 am on a Monday and there were already a dozen cars in the parking lot.
The parking area is a pick-up/drop-off location for Capital Bikeshare bike rentals. The paved 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail (one-way) begins at Theodore Roosevelt Island.
The First Steps
The hike begins with an easy walk across a footbridge over the Potomac River that leads to Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is a unit of the National Park Service.
Once across the bridge – at the 0.1-mile mark – turn right for a counter-clockwise loop. In a few more steps, veer to the left to explore the memorial.
There are three short trails on the island, each named for a habitat the trail passes through. These are the Swamp Trail, the Woods Trail and the Upland Trail.
This hike loops along the Swamp Trail, which passes through a cattail marsh and swampy woods. It also includes a stop at the monument to Theodore Roosevelt.
For kids, open up the Theodore Roosevelt Island Scavenger Hunt on your phone. Kids can also complete activities to earn a Junior Ranger badge.
For more than 100 years, the island was called Mason’s Island. It was home to John Mason, grandson of George Mason. The Masons left in 1832.
The land was purchased, then transferred to the federal government, in the early-1930’s. From 1934 to 1937, the land was cleared by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Work came to a halt in the 1930’s and did not resume until after World War II. The memorial was constructed between 1963 and 1967.
Today, the memorial is a large oval-shaped plaza with a water-filled moat and two fountains. On our visit, the moat and fountains were empty.
The focal point is a 17-foot-tall bronze statue of President Theodore Roosevelt. There are also four 21-foot-tall granite tablets inscribed with his most famous quotations.
Once you’ve finished exploring the memorial plaza for the 26th President of the United States, re-trace your steps, then turn left at the .3-mile mark onto the Swamp Trail.
This mostly gravel path is shaded by dense foliage of the upland forest. At the .6-mile mark, you will reach a restroom and water fountain on the left.
In a few more steps, the trail turns to boardwalk as you walk across a freshwater tidal marsh and alongside the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.
Along this delightful section of boardwalk trail, you’ll see benches here and there to settle in on and enjoy the views. At the .9-mile mark, walk out onto an overlook.
By the 1.3-mile mark, the boardwalk ends. Then, look for a short spur trail on the right to walk out to water’s edge. There’s also what looks to be a wooden wigwam.
Here you can look across to see Georgetown’s Waterfront. Re-trace your steps to return to the now mostly dirt hiking trail. Turn right to continue along the loop.
As you walk, you’ll enjoy more views from the island, including views of the Key Bridge, Georgetown and the office buildings in Rosslyn.
All along the hike, keep your eyes open for educational placards that are both history- and nature-oriented, including one on the unmistakable red-winged blackbird.
At the 1.8-mile mark, turn right to re-trace your steps over the footbridge. In a few more steps, you will arrive at the parking area to complete your hike.
From the parking area, this Northern Virginia hike took us just under one hour, including time spent reading a few of the educational placards along the way.
If you have the time, I highly recommend either bringing your own bike or renting a bike from Capital Bikeshare to bike less than three miles to Gravelly Point Park.
It’s an easy ride on the paved Mount Vernon Trail to the perfect spot for watching planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport. Highly recommend.