Activities Walking Washington DC

Best Parks in DC: Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island is a memorial to our "Conservationist President."

Best parks in DC always include Theodore Roosevelt Island (TRI). It is nestled in the pocket of the Potomac and hugged by the George Washington Memorial Parkway. This is a place to find solace and serenity. Here one can escape the blaring car horns and screeching brakes of Washington, DC’s traffic-snarled city streets. You can wander in a green refuge. This is also an educational place to visit for families. It is one of the best places in the city to walk your dog.The park also made the Curbed Washington DC’s “Top 12 D.C. area hikes.” It received points as “a quick retreat from the city” and “views of D.C.’s west side.” You can see The Kennedy Center in the distance.Theodore Roosevelt Island offers a natural retreat in Washington DC.

National Park

TRI is managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Pre-pandemic, NPS rangers conducted tours. But you can still learn a lot about the island’s history with the signage. In 2019, NPS installed new signs (“waysides”) throughout the 88.5-acre island. They detail the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt (TR) as well as key historical events on the island.

You never know what animal or bird you might see on the island, especially if you arrive early in the morning. I have seen a deer closeup on one visit. It is a birder’s dream. I photographed a heron at sunrise.

Check out iNaturalist’s complete species checklist for TRI. “There are a few large mammals (like deer and foxes) that live on the island for all or part of the year. Many, many birds either visit the island year-round (like woodpeckers, herons, and ducks) or stop in on their way between wintering and summering grounds (like warblers). There are a few snakes on the island. (None are poisonous.) There are lots of frogs and fish. And, of course, there are countless insects,” according to TRI.

Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island

The Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island (FoTRI) advised NPS on the placement of the interpretive waysides on the island. The goal was to connect visitors to the rich history of TRI.  Also this brings to life how the entire island (not just the Memorial Plaza) is a part of TR’s Presidential memorial. FoTRI’s mission is “honoring the legacy of our country’s conservation President.” It was established in 2015 in by a group of passionate volunteers eager to support the NPS’ ongoing efforts to preserve and protect the unique presidential memorial. The National Park Service recently installed six new signs throughout Theodore Roosevelt Island.The island was given to the Federal government by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in memory of the 26th president. Roosevelt knew the personal enrichment gained by spending time in nature. As President, he championed John Muir’s vision of creating a national park system. This is why TRI should be included in any list of Best Parks of DC.

Did you know that TR is known as our conservationist President? He was responsible for creating the U.S. Forest Service. He also established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments by enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act.

I believe his words are prescient:

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we fish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Sanctuary

The island is a sanctuary for the nature-loving individual who knows the prescription of walking in the woods to solve any ailment—physical or mental. In my mind’s eye, the entrance footbridge metaphorically rises up and shuts off the island—transforming it into a leafy castle protected by its moat (the Potomac River).

You can restore yourself in a quiet park. I like to linger in the woodland glen and ponder the cardinal’s song. Moreover, I might stumble upon a doe. And I always love to watch ducks glide across the Potomac River.

Island Hike

During a tour of the island, I survey numerous trees as well as examine their leaves. Some are whirligigs that can float in the air like tree fairies. Some trees on the shoreline are budding even when it is winter. Everywhere I see the island’s wild life is active. I examine the teeth mark of a beaver that is building a new residence. A lone deer is feeding less than 10 feet away. She is unperturbed.

During each season, you will see lots of vegetation changes. There are willows, bald-cypresses and cattails. One section of the island gives me up-close views of the ducks sailing across the water. My dog definitely wanted to jump in the Potomac River. We also saw a raccoon in the forest beyond.

I love the variety of TRI’s trees—sycamores, silver maples, black walnuts, bitternut hickories, cottonwoods, pawpaws and Shumard oaks. But my favorite is the hulking tree on the shore which is known as the “Grandmother tree.” A majestic tree, its limbs seem to hug the air. I think of the elderly woman standing guard over her brood of wild life.

Grandmother tree sits on the banks of Potomac River at Theodore Roosevelt Island, one of Best Parks in DC.

Best Outdoor Living Museum

The island will fascinate history buffs. The first island residents were the Nacotchtank Indians.

Later George Mason (signer of the Declaration of Independence) purchased the land. In 1748, he constructed a ferry which linked Virginia to Georgetown. Later John Mason (his son) built a Georgian Revival style mansion. He grew cotton and corn on his island plantation.

“Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe; Chief Justice John Marshall, and King Louis of France (the one who got guillotined) are all known to have visited the island.”

Elliot Carter

During the Civil War, the island served as secret training grounds for the 1st U.S.C.T., a regiment of African-American soldiers. Over 1,000 former black slaves later found refuge on the island. Many helped to publicize their sufferings, including poet Walt Whitman. After the war ended, it served as a refugee camp.

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial

The Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the island in 1931 and renamed it Roosevelt Island in 1932. Today the NPS manages the island. The National Register of Historic Places added TRI to its list in 1966.

In 1967, NPS dedicated the property. There is a plaza with a sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt as well as a fountain and plaques.

Now this “memorial” needed to honor Roosevelt. Much work needed to be done for reforesting. The landscaping firm of Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. restored the island. “They conceived a ‘real forest’ designed to mimic the natural forest that once covered the island,” according to the NPS brochure.

There are over 35,000 indigenous plants, trees, and shrubs. I predict you will lose yourself walking in this urban wilderness.

“The beauty and charm of this wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Dog-Friendly Park

If you need to get off the beaten road, TRI is one of the Best Parks in DC. You have over two miles to walk. There are sections with boardwalks. You can also get into the scrub and wander to the water’s edge. Plus you can bring your dogs. It ranks as one of the Best Dog Parks in DC.

Parker

Since I adopted my Golden Retriever puppy (Parker) in June 2021, I frequently drive to the island for weekend hikes. Even when he was just three months old, he could manage to scramble over the logs and run along the boardwalk. Parker also insisted that we take regular rest stops at the park benches that are situated throughout the island.

It is also a great meetup place for dog walkers. Parker attracted a lot of attention as a puppy. We met one big dog that decided to play with him. Parker yipped and ran around him.

Playing with a friend

I also highly recommend the National Arboretum, the U.S. Botanic Gardens, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Rock Creek Park, and the U.S. Capitol grounds for weekend dog hikes. Great Falls National Park is also one of the few national parks that allow dogs on the trails.

Free Parking at TRI

Theodore Roosevelt Island sits in the Potomac River near the Key Bridge. The only way to reach the island by land is from the Virginia side of the river via George Washington Parkway. But the island is actually part of Washington, DC. Free parking is available. But it can be difficult to find unless you arrive early.

The island is also easily reached by Metro (Rosslyn exit). It is a 10-minute walk from the Rosslyn Metro station. You walk toward the Key Bridge. Then a short connecting trail leads downhill from the downstream side of the bridge, across the parkway, and into the parking lot at Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Finally, you can also pay for parking in Rosslyn. Here is a full list of parking locations.

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44 Comments

  • Reply
    Nancy Hann
    November 28, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    I’ve been to DC many times, but we can never quite get to this Island. I’ll definitely add it to my list for spring. I didn’t realize there were beaver and deer there. Wow.

  • Reply
    Terri
    June 11, 2022 at 10:01 am

    Theodore Roosevelt Island is a great place to walk your dog!

  • Reply
    Jenn | By Land and Sea
    June 11, 2022 at 11:39 am

    I’ve been to DC many times but never knew about this park! Whenever we end up visiting again, I’ll be sure to go. I love that it is dog friendly too! What a cute pup you have!!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 1:39 pm

      You could spend a week in Washington DC and only go hiking and walking. Theodore Roosevelt Island is off the beaten path so many tourists never visit it. Parker says WOOF!

  • Reply
    Brittany
    June 11, 2022 at 11:49 am

    I didn’t realize there was so much greenery around the DC area! This is such a gem. Also, Parker is SUCH a baby here! So cute! 🙂

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 1:38 pm

      Parker is my BFF. I take him to hike everywhere in Washington DC. I also can’t believe how little he was last July. They grow up so fast.

  • Reply
    Sara Essop
    June 11, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    It’s great to have beautiful green spaces like this in the big cities where one can be surrounded by nature. 🙂

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 1:38 pm

      We are so lucky in Washington DC to have such big green places to hike and walk, such as Theodore Roosevelt Island. You can also kayak from Georgetown to the shores of TRI!

  • Reply
    Jenn
    June 11, 2022 at 1:35 pm

    Oh my goodness that pup is adorable! And this looks like a really nice park to visit when we make our next trip to DC – I’ve never heard of it!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 1:37 pm

      Theodore Roosevelt Island may be one of the best kept secrets in Washington DC. I hope you get to visit one day. And yes my puppy is too adorable for his own good!

  • Reply
    Megan
    June 11, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    I’m a DC local and love that you talk about this often overlooked beautiful park in our nation’s capital! So many think we’re just all about traffic, museums, & monuments. Beautiful! (And I wanna hug the puppy.)

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 2:52 pm

      I love all the green spaces in my city, like TRI, Rock Creek Park, and the Arboretum. Now that I own a dog, I want to find new places to hike every weekend with Parker. Woof!

  • Reply
    Bejal
    June 11, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    Again Terri I have never heard of this park but you’ve convinced me I have to get this on my list when I finally visit. It’s adorable abs full of history plus Parker. That little guy is the cutest

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 2:54 pm

      I think you need to visit Washington DC after this pandemic is over. You could spend a month exploring the big cities on our East Coast, such as Washington DC, NYC, and Boston.

  • Reply
    Wendy
    June 11, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    My dog would love to check out TCI, just like your puppy, Parker, does. Such a beautiful and peaceful spot–hope to visit next time I’m in D.C.

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 2:55 pm

      You definitely should visit the island if you love history, nature, or hiking. It is a treasure.

  • Reply
    Megs
    June 11, 2022 at 2:24 pm

    I totally agree that a walk through nature cures all ailments and is the best medicine. Nature is so abundant with her gifts. What a special sanctuary to have in D.C. for you and Parker. 💚

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 2:56 pm

      Thank you Meg! I always feel my spirits revive when I spend time in nature. And Parher loves to hunt for sticks and watch the birds.

  • Reply
    Carrie
    June 11, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    When I lived in DC, biking to Theodore Roosevelt Island was one of my favorite weekend activities. And I saw so many cute pups there – definitely seems like a great place to take your dog for a walk! (Your puppy is adorable by the way.(

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 2:57 pm

      Yup! TRI is an easy stop when bicycling around DC. You are not permitted to bike on the island but you can lock up your bike.

  • Reply
    Erica
    June 11, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for such a helpful post! Visiting D.C. is non-stop amazing sightseeing, how wonderful to to visit Theodore Roosevelt Island and have some time for quiet reflection in nature! After all that Teddy Roosevelt did to protect the natural world, this is such a fitting tribute to him! I never knew about this park before, but am saving your post to add it to our next visit. And Parker is SO cute!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 3:25 pm

      I agree that Washington DC is an exhausting place to visit because you want to see all the Smithsonian museums plus the National Monuments. A morning or an afternoon hiking at Theodore Roosevelt Island is a great change of pace.

  • Reply
    Sue
    June 11, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    Gorgeous post as always & looks like a really gorgeous place to escape the city…especially with Parker. He’s very cute 😉

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 4:58 pm

      If you like to escape to nature in the city, Theodore Roosevelt Island is a true sanctuary. I am always surprised how many visitors don’t even know it exists. Parker is a big fan.

  • Reply
    Amy
    June 11, 2022 at 5:34 pm

    Great post. I’m a fan of Theodore Roosevelt AND puppies!
    I’ve never been to this park but it looks fascinating. I hope more people visit and learn about the legacy of natural spaces left by Mr T Roosevelt

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      I am a huge fan of Teddy Roosevelt. Thank God he saved so many lands as national parks. It is wonderful to preserve his memorial as a presidential park in the nation’s capital.

  • Reply
    Rachel - Rays of Adventure
    June 11, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Great post! I didn’t know about this park when I visited Washington DC a few years ago. It looks like a great place to escape the city and relax. I’ll definitely try to visit next time I’m in the USA.

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 11, 2022 at 7:27 pm

      TRI is definitely less known than Rock Creek Park or the National Arboretum for visitors to DC. But it is a really special presidential monument plus great place to hike in DC.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    June 11, 2022 at 9:48 pm

    I wish I had spent more time exploring parks when I lived in DC. The Theodore Roosevelt island seems amazing! perfect for dogs too!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:15 am

      Since I adopted my dog, I make it a priority to find all the green places where we can enjoy the great outdoors. I love DC.

  • Reply
    Bea
    June 12, 2022 at 12:00 am

    The Theodore Roosevelt Island looks like such an amazing place to explore. Love that it is dog friendly.

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:14 am

      Most National Parks in the US do not allow dogs on the trails do it is a special place for dog walkers.

  • Reply
    Madhu
    June 12, 2022 at 12:47 am

    Wow looks like a lovely green place..never heard of it before.thanks for sharing i am surely going to visit during my DC trip

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:13 am

      It is an island in the city which makes it one of a kind. I love it.

  • Reply
    Hannah
    June 12, 2022 at 2:37 am

    Theodore Roosevelt Island looks like such a beautiful place to explore! Your puppy is adorable and looks like he is having an amazing time! What a lovely place to walk dogs. I’m keen to go back to DC one day so I’ll have to remember to visit Theodore Roosevelt Island on my trip! Thanks for the great guide!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:13 am

      Hannah I hope you do get back to visit Washington DC. There is so much to do!

  • Reply
    Kelli
    June 12, 2022 at 2:42 am

    Looks like a great weekend hike! Bonus that you. an bring the pups!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:12 am

      Big bonus! My dog loves to hike here.

  • Reply
    Sharyn
    June 12, 2022 at 3:33 am

    What an interesting place to explore. Being a history buff I would just love visiting! One day!

    • Reply
      Terri
      June 12, 2022 at 10:12 am

      It is a particular favorite for Roosevelt fans.

  • Reply
    KarlaTypes
    June 12, 2022 at 11:49 am

    So insightful! will definitely put it on my list if I’m ever in DC!

  • Reply
    Andrea Cannon
    June 12, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    Love that it is dog friendly! What a cute pup.

  • Reply
    Pam
    June 13, 2022 at 7:23 am

    I”ve never heard of this park before – but love that you can take a break from D.C here! Love dog friendly parks too!

  • Reply
    Ketki
    June 14, 2022 at 9:27 am

    It is so important to have such tidy green places within the city. And being a dog-friendly park is an added bonus. Love it!

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