Great Green Escape: Theodore Roosevelt Island

A version of this story originally appeared in my Green and Simple column on the Old Town Alexandria Patch.

If you travel along the George WashingtonParkway north of town, you will have noticed the massive lush patch of greenery in the middle of the Potomac River that is Theodore Roosevelt Island — another nearby great green escape.

Two and a half miles of shoreline and 88.5 acres of land comprise the island, which is part of the National Park Service and was named in honor of our 26th president.

Heading north on the parkway from Old Town Alexandria, the island is just seven miles away and has ample parking for cars and bikes. An expansive footbridge provides access from the parking lot to this great green gem.

When you first step onto the island, you will see an information board with a map detailing the environment. The first order of business, especially if traveling with kids, is to note the location of the restrooms and then head off to explore.

If you start your escape by following the trails to the left, you eventually will run into rest areas on the right end of the island. This works well for our gang because right at about the time the kids get tired, the environment changes and we encounter the boardwalk.

Along the boardwalk there are several spacious rest areas. On a recent visit, each rest area became a stage for our kids, so we got several dance and theatrical performances along the way, as did passersby. The rest areas offer a serene area where you can sit, observe and listen to the island’s inhabitants and bask in the surroundings. The varieties of trees, grasses, shrubs and other plant life provide a landscape worth savoring.

As you meander through the island, there are a variety of paths from which to choose depending on time and your adventure level. Regardless of where your feet and your curiosity take you, you will see plenty of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and other insects. Ducks are also a common sight along the water’s edge. Your ears will enjoy the symphony that emerges from the trees and streams as birds, frogs and other creatures embark in their daily rituals.

Along the trails that skirt the water are beachy inlets where one can sit atop large rocks or fallen trees and watch nearby boaters. Water lovers will not be able to resist the temptation to dip their feet in the calm shores.

As you make your way back to your starting point, you will come upon a wide path that leads to the heart of the island, home to a 17-foot statue of President Roosevelt complete with inspirational quotes. Currently undergoing renovations, the plaza where the statue stands is typically a fun gathering spot for snacks and picture taking. The semi-crescent shaped pools, which are currently dry, are usually home to fish and turtles.

While strollers are permitted, they are not always easy to navigate on this terrain. With lots of rocks and tree roots peering from the surface of the trails, the ride can be a little bumpy for a stroller. If it has rained recently, the mud will be more of an issue, creating a swampy atmosphere. Some paths become completely impassable because of the mud and may be partitioned off. But, there are still other trails to hike.

Because of all of the greenery, the temperature usually feels a bit cooler than off the island. Our recent visit was on steamy, hot day but we did not feel it while there. Morning hours are a great time to visit, though we have had good experiences on the weekends and in the afternoon. Parking is a bit tighter, however.

Kids enjoy the experience of being adventurers, selecting trails and pretending that they are the first to venture down them. It is a great place to let kids experience a bit of independence and free exploration by letting them forge ahead on the trails so that they are first to discover the next really neat thing. The enormous statue is also a tremendous sight for little eyes to behold.

Whether you are visiting with kids or without, it is a great place to visit during every season.

Planning Your Visit:

  • Hours: Open daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Best times of day to visit: Morning
  • Parking: Ample free parking; Not accessible from Southbound George Washington Parkway
  • Cost: Free!
  • Water fountains: Yes, but also advise bringing your own
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Bikes: No
  • Pets: Yes, if on a leash constantly held by owner/guardian
  • Strollers: Yes
  • Map

For more information: National Park Service

Filed Under: Eco-ActivitiesEco-KidsEnvironmentFamily FunGreat Green Escapes

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