For Hike 2 of the 52 Hike Challenge, Hubs and I set off to explore the Theodore Roosevelt Island hiking trails. We have lived in the DC Metro Area for 8 years and until this weekend had never visited the island. Honestly, it wasn’t until the last couple years that Roosevelt Island has even been on our radar. When I started this Challenge, I knew that we one of my hikes would have to be on the island. By combining trails and wandering along the shore, we ended up hiking 2.38 miles on the island. It actually is a bit longer, but I forgot to turn on my mapping app when we started!
History of Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island was developed to serve as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. The island has a vast history and was once a Native American seasonal fishing village, the estate of George Mason’s son Jon, a Civil War training area for the Union Army, an evacuation point during the War of 1812, as well as the location of a world record-breaking 100-yard dash. While the history of the island is varied, it wasn’t until 1932 when it began to take its present shape. That year, it was purchased by the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association and then gift to the Federal Government to serve as a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt to serve as a “natural park for the recreation and enjoyment of the public”. The island was then planted to simulate the native landscape and finally, the Memorial Plaza was built and then dedicated in 1967.
Getting to Theodore Roosevelt Island
While Theodore Roosevelt Island is technically in DC, the island is accessed from a parking lot and bridge located in Virginia. The parking lot holds approximately 90 cars according to the National Park Service and fills quickly on the weekend. Unlike strollers and foot traffic, bikes are not allowed on the island. NPS Ranger-led programs are available on the island, but there is not a dedicated Visitor Center as it is part of the larger George Washington Memorial Parkway. Hiking maps are available on the NPS website to help plan your trip.
The Memorial Plaza
It wasn’t until I started to plan this hike that I realized that Theodore Roosevelt Island had a large Memorial Plaza and the pictures I saw online did not do the size justice. I also found it very fitting to be visiting a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt after these horrible few weeks in which our parks came under attack from the Trump and the GOP. I am so thankful that people like Teddy Roosevelt have been there in the past to protect our public lands and that our amazing park rangers are leading the cause today (who saw that coming, right?!).
Theodore Roosevelt Statue
The statue of Theodore Roosevelt is well done, but to be honest, it looks a little stalinesque in the massive concrete plaza during the barren winter. However, I’m sure it balances out with foliage and the filling of the plaza’s water fountains and moats.
I really enjoyed taking the time to read the quotes on the four stone tablets bookending the statue. They are very reflective of the ideals we know about Teddy Roosevelt today. In particular, the Nature tablet and its quotes stood out to me.
Theodore Roosevelt Island Hiking Trails
We picked up a short connector to the Upland Trail from the east side of the Memorial Plaza. From there, we ventured south along the trail until it split in two. We opted for the left trail as it looked slightly longer than the right. The left trail also provided us an opportunity to view the marsh and the Kennedy Center across the Potomac River in DC.
Regardless of which branch of the Upland Trail you take when it splits, they branches will come together and deposit hikers on the Swamp Trail near the restrooms (which are closed during winter months).
At the southern end of the Upland Trail, we picked up and headed south on the Swamp Trail. The trail curves east along the base of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge before heading north along the main channel of the Potomac River. It is surprising that boardwalk trail through this part of the island doesn’t run closer to the river. However, it is a beautiful trail and is great for birdwatching.
After the north end of the boardwalk section the trail splits again. You can continue on the trail up the slight hill or take a right towards the water. We chose to detour to the water and are so happy we did! There are great views of Georgetown, rocks to climb, and shores to explore. There are several paths to take back to the Swamp Trail. Then there is one more water view on the northwest corner of the island.
Wildlife on Theodore Roosevelt Island
We did not encounter a lot of wildlife during our hike on Roosevelt Island. However, it was cold, windy, and the middle of the afternoon – so we weren’t expecting a lot to begin with. In the end, we saw and heard a variety of avian animals.
52 Hike Challenge Update
Upon completion of Hike 2, my 52 Hike Challenge statistics are:
- 2/52 hikes completed
- 4.12 miles hiked
- 2 unique hike locations
- 1 solo hike
- 1 companion hike
You can learn more about the 52 Hike Challenge by visiting the official website.