First Published on RootsRated.com
Summer is the season of love. In autumn in Washington, DC, it is a nostalgic, playful, and happy time of year. Endless sunshine, boundless waterways and nature trails, and warmth lasting well into the evening provide a perfect setting for a day-long date—and when the sun falls into the horizon, and the technicolor sunsets and sparkling fireflies light up the night sky, love is sure to be in the air.
Whether your idea of a date is a long bike ride for two or a lazy group float down a river, the nation’s capital is full of outdoor opportunity when summer is in full swing. So grab your sunblock, hatch a plan, and fall in love with (or at) some of the area’s most awesome date spots.
Here are six of the best outdoor date spots in DC for the young-at-heart or the young and in love.
1. Ride to Great Falls on the C&O Canal
The pathway along the C&O Canal is a very popular ride, but at 15 miles in length—stretching from the entrance of the Georgetown Waterfront in DC to the Great Falls overlook in Virginia—it’s not for the faint of heart. Looking for a shorter ride? Start at Fletcher’s Cove. Either way, you will get to experience the best of the trail. While it is quite busy in terms of annual visitor count, there is a point just a few miles east of Fletcher’s Cove that becomes very secluded and incredibly peaceful. The canal and trees are dressed in thick, lime-colored algae, and the lock houses provide a view into the area’s past.
When you arrive at Great Falls, head to the rocky shore on the river just beneath the overlook bridge where you can escape foot traffic. It’s a great place to picnic and to watch whitewater kayakers brave the Potomac rapids. There are bike cages within eyesight, and bathrooms and services are just around the bend. Best part about this date? It’s free!
2. Float Down the River on an Innertube
Everything about a day on the river is totally awesome—laughter with friends, getting dirty, getting tanned, escaping the seemingly inescapable mid-Atlantic summer heat. It just might be the perfect summer outing. Kick your feet up, drop your head back, and take hold of another as you float down the river. Harper’s Ferry on the West Virginia/Maryland border is about 1.5 hours driving from DC and is one of the best known areas to go river tubing. River & Trail Outfitters leads small groups along the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, with views of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland looking on. Cost: $25-29.
3. Climb Through the Tree Tops
See what your date is made of on this obstacle course in Rockville, MD. Fly through the forest canopy on ziplines, navigate tree-strung stirrup crossings, and practice your jungle skills on Tarzan swings with Go Ape adventures in the Lake Needwood area of Rock Creek Regional Park. When you’re through, there are hiking trails, boat rentals, and picnic areas nearby so if your date is going well, your adventure can live on. Cost: Around $60 per person.
4. Paddle in Pairs: Tandem Watersports
With both the mighty Potomac and the C&O Canal running parallel to one another through the heart of DC, the most difficult part of getting on the water is selecting the watercraft you’ll go out on.
At Thompson Boathouse on the flat-water C&O, you and your date can rent kayaks, a canoe, or a rowboat and soak up the stillness. Fish for bass or search with your eyes for the many kinds of wildlife that live in the water and roam the shores, including turtles, cranes, frogs, ducks, and muskrat. And if you’re really feeling it plan ahead and pack a picnic. That way when you pull off the water to take a break you can share a romantic snack on the shore.
Looking for active waterways? Hop in a double kayak or pair off on standup paddleboards and get lost on the Potomac taking off from the Georgetown Waterfront. Even Fido will be entertained floating among famous landmarks such as the Key Bridge, Watergate Hotel, and the Kennedy Center—that’s right, SUP is a very popular sport for adventurous dogs. And, if your date isn’t going so well, at least you have a furry back-up to cuddle and chat with.
Drive about two hours from DC and hit an off-road favorite of area locals on the Rapidan River in Orange, Virginia. The Rapidan River Kayak Company leads small group kayak tours and even wedding parties through Virginia backroad river country.
The cost of this date varies by time of year, excursion size, and chosen watersport.
5. Play Beneath the Airplane Flight Path
Some like to lie upon the grass and look at the clouds, some like to look at the stars. DC locals like to take it up a notch and watch planes take flight right overhead. This a visceral experience, and getting there on two (or four) wheels makes the experience even cooler. Riding along the Mount Vernon Trail from the DC Tidal Basin, you can’t miss the grassy grounds of Gravelly Park, it’s an obvious gathering point. You can also get there by car on the George Washington Parkway. Every minute or so planes take off from Reagan National Airport, the view interrupted only by a Frisbee or a soccer ball flying your way. Here you can choose your own adventure while others head off on adventures of their own. This is another really cool freebie.
6. Arlington Trolley Pub
Want to see how well your date can keep up? Tie-in to the Arlington Trolley Pub and peddle suburban DC while sipping some brews and laughing with old and new friends. This eco-friendly pub-crawl-on-wheels is a smart group date welcoming up to 14 people at a time. For $30 per person, fill up a trolley with your own group of friends, or sign up for a mix-and-match group date for just five dollars more per person. It can be a real workout moving these trolleys, fortunately, there are drink specials aboard and stops at partner bars along the way.