Photo Credit: leander.hutton

Each city has their jewels.  The kind of place every local runner keeps on their list of regular routes and every visiting runner wishes they knew about.  Chicago’s Lakefront Path and New York’s Central Park are just a few such examples.

Washington, DC is no exception to this rule.  The city is home to plenty of unique and wonderful places that can make logging the long miles feel more like a Sunday afternoon stroll.  The city offers up plenty of options, from closed roads to dirt trails to world class views of the monuments.  Here is a list of my top five places to run in Washington, DC.

DC Routes Not to Miss

Embassy Row5)  Embassy Row – When people think of Washington, DC, they probably think first of the White House, then the monuments, then maybe corruption the Capitol.  What probably isn’t the first thing to pop into most people’s mind, but is something those of us who live in DC see all the time, are the more than 175 embassies scattered all throughout the city.

Massachusetts Avenue, NW, aka Embassy Row, offers a unique experience you will not find many other places.  Starting from Dupont Circle, run straight up Mass Ave for a few miles of gradual hill.  Along the way you will pass embassies from Haiti to India.  With wide sidewalks and low foot traffic, this is an ideal spot for your road marathon training.

Nearing the top of the hill, you can enjoy the quiet of Rock Creek Park on your right and the US Naval Observatory (home of our Vice President) on your left.  You are greeted at the top of the hill by the National Cathedral sitting at the corner of Mass Ave and Wisconsin Ave.

Don’t forget to wave hello to the dozens of security men guarding their countries’ territory, or to distract yourself from the hill by playing the ‘can you name that flag’ game.

4)  Beach Drive – When talking to someone about running in DC, Beach Drive is my favorite place to mention.  On the weekends, miles of this beautiful road which, winds its way through Rock Creek Park, are blocked off to cars.  Runners, bikes, roller bladders and walkers unite in a community of fitness at all hours of the day.

If you look closely enough, it will be hard to miss the dozens of deer and Blue Heron which call that section of the park home.

3)  C&O Canal – The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail runs 184.5 miles along the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD.  This is an extremely popular trail for both bikers and runners, as it is very well kept and consists of a mostly crushed stone surface.  It’s because of this trail that many DC runners are actually trail runners and don’t know it!

The trail itself feels mostly flat, but offers beautiful views of both the river and the surrounding area.  While on your run, you will pass by several old canal houses, giving you a bit of history as you run.

This is another super popular place for marathon groups training on the weekends.  The first 10 mile stretch from DC in particular, are filled with runners and bikers soaking in a little nature.

2)  Trails of Rock Creek Park – I talk a lot about the trails of Rock Creek Park on this blog,  mostly because that is where I end up logging about 80% of my miles.  The crazy part about these trails is that most DC residents have no idea they exist.  I didn’t until a few years ago when a former roommate told me how I could hit the dirt to keep cool.

Rock Creek Park is home to over 30 miles of dirt singletrack and horse trail.  Much of it is smooth and wide, making it perfect for fast trail running, while other sections are technical and steep, allowing for some more technical terrain.  It is quiet, cool, and peaceful deep within the park.  I consider this the perfect escape from the bustling roads just a short jog away.

1)  The National Mall – Nothing says DC like the National Mall. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this small portion of the city to soak in the sights, explore the numerous museums, and nearly melt from the unprotected heat.

But that shouldn’t keep the runners out.  In fact, the smooth paths circling the National Mall offer a very unique, very American experience.  To beat the crowds, all you need to do is go out for that run in the morning or evening.  On a Sunday morning in early fall, you’ll be joined by hundreds of runners just like yourself.

If you don’t mind the darkness, running the National Mall after dark is an incredible experience.  With the monuments illuminated in such a gorgeous way, nothing feels more DC.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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10 thoughts on “5 Best Running Routes in Washington, DC

  1. Great list. I normally just run up Wisconsin and down Connecticut because it is convenient, but I will definitely try these routes out to mix it up. THANKS!

    1. Thanks Eric. Wisconsin isn’t a bad place to run either. On some of my long runs, I’ve done a Mass Ave – Wisconsin – Connecticut loop that was really nice.

      Maybe I’ll see you out there!

  2. Just want to say thanks for these suggestions! I did the Embassy Row run this weekend and it was great! Especially the part where I go to turn around and run down the hill!

    1. Thanks JJ! I’m really happy to hear that you like them.

      The Embassy Row route is a great one. That hill can be a bit killer, but it is rewarding, and the downhill is sweet!

      See you out there!

  3. I am coming into town for the weekend and am looking for a route from dupont circle down to the monuments and possibly back. About a 7 mile run. Any suggestions?

  4. Really glad I discovered this article! I was pleasantly surprised to find my hotel was just a block from getting on Embassy Row. What a great hill to Wisconsin. And Rock Creek down to the canal near Georgetown was terrific even in the rain. I may venture over the bridge into VA (I think…) tomorrow. Thanks!

  5. I will be moving to DC for six weeks this summer, while training for a marathon. I am living on capital hill. Is there any convenient road I can take to run to all these places? Or will i be stuck on the metro?

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