The Anacostia River (or Riverwalk) Trail in Washington, DC and Maryland is, for most of the people of the DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia), a hidden gem. That’s largely because Anacostia’s reputation since the 1980’s heyday of DC’s former mayor, Marion “The Bitch Set Me Up” Barry, has been based on its murder and crime rates rather than on its parklands. But we read about this trail a few years ago and have been fans and frequent riders on it ever since (although, for this post, we’ll pretend that we just discovered it!)
Starting at Nats Park (home of the 2020 World Champion Washington Nationals), we crossed the South Capitol Street bridge via a single-lane sidewalk with high railings on both sides. Hopefully, this will one day be replaced by the long-awaited Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge whose high white arches can be seen for miles.
On the southwest side of the Anacostia River, we encountered the surprisingly pastoral riverside trail that winds past playgrounds, basketball courts and a large outdoor rollerskating pavilion on the right. On the left, we could see boats motoring past the Navy Yard high rises and river front cafes, then further down, small marinas (or “yacht clubs” according to their signs) tucked into the wooded shoreline.
Traffic on the trail was (and is always) very light with a few walkers, a few bikers and occasionally, a few fishermen hauling their tackleboxes, fishing rods and folding chairs to the water’s edge. A service road parallels the trail, which some bikers prefer to ride on, but we’d rather dodge pedestrians than cars.
The trail meanders for about five miles before the exit to Benning Road which leads back to the Navy Yard on the opposite side of the river. But we recommend continuing on the trail for another five miles through lush forests and open marshlands, along quiet “country” roads, past neighborhoods and athletic fields, over wooden pathways that hug the shoreline (and have been known to become mud-covered when the water rises precipitously), and alongside kayakers and canoers paddling through the narrower straits of the river.
At one point, the trail skirts around Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, where platter-sized lily pads float, and six feet above hidden ponds, enormous white and pink flowers wave throughout July.
Our turnaround point is at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park, maybe two miles over the Maryland state line. There is a water bottle filling station and restroom there – along with a Dinosaur Walk. (Apparently they plagued Anacostia 110 million years before Marion Barry.) There are a number of hysterical, er, historical markers detailing the colorful history of Anacostia, that included being the site of numerous duels in the 19th century and the inspiration for Rachel Carson’s anti-pollution crusade in the 20th century.
We returned to Benning Road to cross over the river and to pick up the trail, now on the northeast side of the Anacostia River. On the right are the vast empty parking lots surrounding Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the long ago home of an NFL team, two MLB teams, five professional soccer teams, two college football teams and a USFL team. Only a decade or so ago, we saw a Bruce Springsteen concert at RFK and the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over” tour (which it clearly didn’t, because they’re still touring). Sadly, this iconic stadium is scheduled for demolition in 2022, but you can’t say the city didn’t get its money worth over the years!
The return ride is also visually interesting but confusing. We’ve missed turnoffs on more than one occasion and have ended up zigzagging though Capitol Hill neighborhoods and across busy intersections as we made our way in the general direction of the Navy Yard. Rule of thumb: bear left whenever presented with a choice.
Navigating the Navy Yard area can be a bit challenging as residents and tourists crowd the outdoor cafes and spill out onto the expansive promenade. This wide swath of concrete and wood extends from the base of the Naval facility (the actual “Navy Yard”) to Nats Park, an approximately half-mile stroll or slow, careful bike ride.
Just two blocks off the promenade is Bluejacket Brewery, which you can’t get near before, during or after a Nats game. Kellie ordered flight, as usual, this time a Small Conversations Helles lager (which, like many other Helles she’s tried, reminded her of Budweiser); Fireworks, a citra dry-hopped Weissbier that tasted pretty hoppy; and Built by Pictures, an oak-aged ale with strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and vanilla (aka: a sour). Jim went for an old favorite, Lost Weekend, an IPA with citra that looks and tastes like a hazy IPA. We sat at a shaded hightop out front where we had a prime view of the vibrant Sunday afternoon street life. It was a tough choice, however, between this and the airconditioned and unusually attractive two-story restaurant, bar and brewery inside. (Seriously, we’ve seen far too many concrete-floored taprooms furnished with plastic chairs and tee-shirt wall-hangings.)
Got more thoughts, questions or recommendations about the Anacostia River Trail? Bring ’em on in the comments section below.