George Washington Parkway between Key and Roosevelt Bridges
HOURS: Open dawn-dusk
The magic of Theodore Roosevelt Island lies with the surprise that comes at the end of the hiking trail. Cross the footbridge and hang a left onto the loop trail rather than following the sign that indicates a memorial to the right.
The left route takes you on a path that circles the island, an easy 1.5-mile walk through the woods and swampland, complete with a boardwalk and viewing spots over the marshes. Along the way you might see deer, ospreys, or eagles. Keep going until you are almost back where you started, and you’ll find a secluded treasure built to honor the nation’s 26th president.
Roosevelt Island is unique in that while it looks like it has been forested and secluded for years, it once contained a mansion belonging to one of Virginia’s oldest families and was mainly open fields and farmland. Any trees that grew, like nearly all of them in Washington, were felled during the Civil War. The island also housed a Union field hospital during the war.
When the government decided to dedicate a monument to Theodore Roosevelt, long considered the first environmental preservationist U.S. president, the island was restored to its natural deciduous forest habitat by Frederick Law Olmsted, who planted nearly 30,000 trees and removed all nonnative species.