Escapes: Potomac sunsets

D.C. might not be an outdoorsman’s paradise, but this big city has more to offer than concrete jungles and asphalt gardens. The nation’s capital is actually an extremely outdoor-friendly city, with miles of trails, parks and waterways. So, interested in crossing a stream rather than 23rd Street? Or want to ditch the cab for a bike? Here is the fourth in a series of stories profiling some of D.C.’s accessible and appealing outdoor adventures.

East and West Potomac Park provides some of the best sunset viewing in the immediate metro area. The park consists of the bank of the Potomac River, from the Lincoln Memorial to the urban river views of Haines Point. The best bits of other parks – Rock Creek, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the National Arboretum – are not nearly as Metro-accessible.

This park, on the other hand, is just beyond the monuments. East Potomac Park has a cement path to Haines Point that runs along the Potomac River and the Washington Channel facing southwest. The path is uneven – its cement blocks are collapsed, cracked and crumbled. In places the walk is so distressed that open holes go straight down to water below. The treacherous river path is occasionally underwater, and many joggers and bikers opt to use the road just removed from the river.

Regardless, the riverside is a pleasant walk or ride with quiet lapping waves and interesting flotsam and jetsam to look at. At the end of the park is Haines Point, home of “The Awakening.” This massive statue depicts a giant bearded man emerging from the ground. It’s worth the long way to sit in the behemoth’s mouth, or climb his metallic limbs.

West Potomac Park is much closer to campus, and home of a famous Washington sunset. It is actually the same sunset view that you can see sitting on the Kennedy Center terrace, but it’s not quite like the park’s water-level view on the grassy banks of the river, with the light reflecting off small waves and through the feathery arms of willows. Across the river on the Virginia side, Arlington Cemetery rises up. With the right conditions, shafts of dusty sunlight break down on the tombs – an unbeatable sunset.

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