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How to Enjoy a Vacation Away From The Crowds: Washington DC Edition

Right now, we’re all adapting, growing, and feeling challenged in ways we never have before. And here’s what that’s doing to us: it’s making us want to press (no, punch) that reset button harder than ever. 

It’s time to have a little fun as a family, to break free a little. And for us, that means a much-needed late summer or fall vacay — what about you? 

We’re not talking about that elaborate vacation you’d planned across the country. Nope, even travel is going to look a little different now. Think drivable destinations. 

If you follow our blog, then you know we’re doing an Away from the Crowds blog series to help give you some inspiration. So, next up on the list (ready for it?): Washington DC!

You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t a trip to the city the opposite of staying away from the crowds?” And to that we say, think again! We showed you how you could enjoy Nashville without crowds, and now we’re going to show you how to do the same in DC. 

Disclosure: while many of the attractions featured here are closed for the time being, we’re hopeful that come summertime, these favored “away from the crowd” spots will provide a welcome respite for guests.

WHAT TO DO?

1. Venture to the National Arboretum 

Did you know that nestled into northeast DC is 446 acres of pristine horticulture? The U.S. National Arboretum is the picture-perfect place to venture away from the crowds. With vibrant gardens filled with plants from all over the world and 650,000 dried, pressed plants used for scientific research, this destination is an excellent opportunity for your kiddos to see another side of nature and “science.”  

2. Set Your Sights on Where Water & Wind Dance

vacation away from the crowds washington dc

Once you enter the gate to Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, it’s dumbfounding that you were just in a northeast DC neighborhood. The aquatic gardens are a series of ponds punctuated with lily pads, lotus flowers, and lilies. While some of the best viewings are in the spring and summer, the park is open year-round! 

What do you do here? You relax! You let the kids explore as you follow the boardwalk and set your sights on lush vegetation, and listen to the frogs croak and see the turtles sunbathing. And if you’re looking to venture out a little further, follow the 0.7-mile dirt path into the wooded area. 

3. Visit a Historic Estate in Georgetown

Dumbarton Oaks goes back to 1920 when the Blisses found this 53-acre gorgeous estate and handpicked every detail, making it what it is today. Appreciate the history fused into this destination or wander through the museum to enjoy its specialized collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. When the kids have absorbed as much artwork as they can, take a step outside and stroll through the various gardens where you’ll indeed find sweet serenity and breathe in the fresh air. 

4. Hit the Falls

If you love the great outdoors, there’s a fabulous park not far from Washington, DC: Great Falls Park. And it’s a must-see. This national park, which runs along the Potomac, is a picturesque backdrop for great hiking trails, waterfalls, bike trails, birdwatching, and more. But, take it from us, the most beautiful views of the falls where the jagged rocks slice through the cascading whitewater are on the Virginia side! On the Maryland side, however, there are places to rent kayaks and hop on a whitewater raft, which makes for an undoubtedly fun way for your travel crew to experience this destination. 

5. Take a Day Trip to the Shenandoah Valley

While famous for its leaves in the fall, and for a good reason, Shenandoah Valley is worth a visit during any time of year thanks to its breathtaking views and hikes along the Appalachian Trail — it does not disappoint. It’s about an hour and a half to two-hour drive from DC, but with the Luray Caverns, camping, and a few waterfalls, this day trip is well worth the time spent in the car. Plus, local wineries and breweries are next door, which begs the question, is there a better way to cool down from a hike than with an ice-cold beer or chilled glass of wine? 

As rewarding as Shenandoah is to explore on foot, it’s 100% drivable! Winding 105 miles through the mountains is Skyline Drive. It starts in Front Royal, Virginia, and ends in Waynesboro on Blue Ridge Parkway. With lots of places to stop and soak in the view, the whole drive takes anywhere from three to five hours. And if you don’t want to drive the entire duration of Skyline (because, let’s face it, most kiddos don’t want to sit still in a car all day), there are plenty of places to turn around and head back to Front Royal. 

Tripbound Traveler Tip: A 7-day pass is $25. Active-duty military members & their families get in free!

6. Go Tubing on a Hot Summer Day

When the temperature is pushing 100 degrees, and it feels like 120, jump in the car and head an hour and a half north of DC to Harper’s Ferry for the most magical day on the coolest lazy river near the capital!

Harper’s Ferry is located on the Maryland border and offers multiple tubing companies to choose from. River Riders and Harpers Ferry Adventure Center are two favorite spots providing varying degrees of difficulty depending on how adventurous you are. If you’re looking for a relaxing lazy river experience, sign up for flatwater tubing!  

7. Catch a Glimpse of the Sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial

Most DC residents try their best to steer clear of the National Mall during the summer months. But now and then, it’s fun to play tourist! One of the most iconic and breathtaking views of the city is in an unsurprising place — the Lincoln Memorial. Located on the western end of the Mall, a view from its front steps provides unobstructed views of the reflecting pool, World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Absorb your surroundings, or turn it into a history lesson for your early-risers. 

Although, how can you possibly beat the crowds and snag the quintessential District shot? Arrive just before sunrise and stake your claim. At this time of day, the memorial is one of the less crowded areas in DC as most guided tours will begin after 8 AM. The pillars that surround the memorial cast playful shadows on the floors and ceilings, also making for eye-catching images. 

8. See DC by Kayak or Paddleboard 

Catch a view of this incredible city from another angle with Boating in D.C.! Set your sights on the Georgetown Waterfront, Roosevelt Island, the underside of Key Bridge (as you float under it), and historical monuments by paddleboard or boat on the Potomac. Or, create a relaxing day for yourself and paddle up to the C&O Canal, where you’ll find a beautiful surrounding to float and leave the noise of the city behind. 

9. Plan to spend a few hours at The Yards Park

Who says there can’t be parks in the middle of the city? Yards Park is located smack dab in the middle of Capitol Riverfront on the Anacostia River. The boardwalk and outdoor performance center make it a fantastic place to let the kids stretch their legs and a memorable host for festivals. But, the dancing fountains and the canal basin and waterfall are what truly make this the perfect summer afternoon destination to beat the heat. 

10. Explore the Smithsonian Butterfly Garden

vacation away from the crowds washington dc

Open year-round, and seven days a week, you have no reason to miss the Smithsonian Butterfly Garden! There are dozens of exhibits to explore and learn from, but there’s nothing quite like the butterfly pavilion where you can watch beautiful butterflies swirl around you. 

Be sure to wear your sunscreen, glasses, and comfortable walking shoes. And if you plan to take the full tour, set aside about three hours! 

WHERE TO STAY?

You have two options when you head to DC — Wyndham National Harbor and Wyndham Old Town Alexandria.  

National Harbor is a community in itself. And Alexandria is overflowing with charm and conveniently located near the metro. But both offer two and three-bedroom suite options, affordability, full kitchens, and lots of SPACE for the entire family to stretch out! 

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Should you choose DC to be the destination to venture to this summer or fall in search of a family-friendly vacation away from the crowds, you’ll find another side of the city — a historically rich, outdoorsy, and beautiful escape. 

So what do you say? Let the team here at Tripbound help you plan and book a stress-free getaway, and push that much-needed reset button! Peace of mind included.*

*Free cancellation up until 15 days before check-in. Additional coverage is also available for $49, allowing you to cancel your suite stay, if needed, up until 24 hours before check-in for a full refund (less the insurance cost).

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