Scenic Drive: Georgetown Pike and George Washington Memorial Parkway

Take a scenic drive on historic Georgetown Pike and the George Washington Memorial Parkway for beautiful views, parks, and hiking along the Potomac River. There are plenty of scenic views and stops along this route, and both roads are very close to Washington DC.

This scenic drive includes two historic roadways. Georgetown Pike, aka State Route 193, is Virginia's first scenic byway. The George Washington Memorial Parkway is a commemorative road managed by the National Park Service.

The two roads offer a wonderful combination of nature and history that are easy to explore on a scenic drive near Washington DC. Both Georgetown Pike and the George Washington Memorial Parkway include beautiful scenery, interesting parks and hikes, and fascinating historic sites by the Potomac River.

If you prefer a shorter drive, skip the Parkway and take a very scenic drive through the town of Great Falls. The Great Falls scenic drive includes Georgetown Pike and all of the stops in the first section below.

Our scenic route below includes the full length of Georgetown Pike and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Our route begins at the western end of Georgetown Pike, where it intersects with Route 7 in Great Falls, and ends at George Washington's Mount Vernon. See the maps, details, and photos below to learn about the route and plan your stops

Georgetown Pike Scenic Drive: Dranesville to McLean

Georgetown Pike is less than 12 miles long, but the road offers easy access to several of our favorite Fairfax County hikes. The old Georgetown Pike was built in the early 1800s with hand tools and horse-drawn equipment. In 1974, the road was designated as the first Virginia Byway, and it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sign for Georgetown Pike, Virginia's first Scenic Byway
Georgetown Pike is Virginia's first Scenic Byway

Most of Georgetown Pike is in the lovely town of Great Falls, where you can stop for a bite or a pint. Past the town center, the two-lane road passes extravagant homes and fields, then twists and turns as it skirts Great Falls Park.

Use this map to locate the Georgetown Pike places highlighted below.

If you want to explore more of the town of Great Falls, use our guide: Great Falls Scenic Drive on Pretty Country Roads in Northern Virginia. Great Falls is a beautiful small Northern Virginia town, and we recommend the longer route if you have time.

Things to Do from Georgetown Pike (State Road 193)

Stop at Krops Crops for farm-stand favorites. If you're driving in October you can take a hay wagon ride to the seasonal pumpkin patch. During late November and December, the stand sells pre-cut Christmas trees and has a cut-your-own field.

Stop for lunch or a treat in downtown Great Falls. The Old Brogue is one of our favorite pubs in Northern Virginia, and you can enjoy the patio if the weather is nice enough for outdoor dining. We're also fans of the delicious Indian food at Bombay Bistro. If you prefer a treat, opt for a generous scoop of homemade ice cream at Great Falls Creamery.

The town hosts a year-round Farmer's Market on Sundays, along with outdoor concerts on the town green in summer.

Old Brogue patio in Great Falls VA
Old Brogue patio in Great Falls VA

If you have young kids in your group, visit the excellent playground next to the Great Falls Grange. Here you will find a shady park and two sets of equipment for ages 3-5 and 5-12, along with swings, picnic tables, and a sports field.

Great Falls Grange Park playground
Great Falls Grange Park playground

During cherry blossoms season, keep an eye out for the beautiful trees at the entry to Ad Hoc Road, on your left, You'll also see flowering trees and gardens in the yards of stately homes lining the road.

Turn left on River Bend Road for a short side-trip to Riverbend Park. The park is one of our favorite places to hike along the Potomac River, especially when spring wildflowers line the trails. There are also nice woodland trails, and in summer you can rent a kayak or johnboat and paddle on the Potomac River. Riverbend's Visitor Center has restrooms and a lovely deck where you can relax with a view.

Riverbend Regional Park porch, Great Falls, VA
Riverbend Regional Park porch, Great Falls, VA

Further east on Georgetown Pike is the entrance to Great Falls Park, one of the most popular day trip destinations in the DC region. Dramatic waterfall views are easy to reach from the Visitor Center, and two falls overlooks are wheelchair accessible. Hike the River Trail to enjoy more spectacular views of Mather Gorge and the Potomac River.

Great Falls Park waterfalls from overlook 1
Great Falls Park waterfalls from overlook 1

East of the park, Georgetown Pike is narrow and winding, so use caution and watch out for cyclists. Fall foliage can be especially nice on this stretch of your scenic drive.

Fall foliage on a Georgetown Pike scenic drive near Washington DC
Fall foliage on a Georgetown Pike scenic drive near Washington DC

Explore a less-visited section of Great Falls Park on a hike from the Difficult Run Parking Area. The first part of the trail is level and an easy walk, but the climb to the ridge is very steep. This trail next to Difficult Run is the northernmost section of the Fairfax Cross County Trail, a 40-mile pathway through Fairfax County.

Cross County Trail by Difficult Run, Great Falls Virginia
Cross County Trail along Difficult Run, Great Falls Virginia

There is one more nice hiking area, with two parking lots, on Georgetown Pike. At Scott's Run Nature Preserve, you can take a one-mile hike to a waterfall, or take a longer loop hike through the woods.

Scotts Run loop hike waterfall
Scotts Run Nature Preserve waterfall

Georgetown Pike Highlights

As described above, these are fun places to visit from Georgetown Pike:

  • Visit the farm stand and pumpkin patch at Krop’s Crops.
  • Stop in Great Falls center for a meal or drink at The Old Brogue, Bollywood Bistro, or another Great Falls restaurant.
  • If you have kids along, play at the Great Falls Grange playground.
  • Make a short side-trip to Riverbend Park for an easy hike along the Potomac River.
  • Stop at Great Falls Park for waterfall views and a hike along Mather Gorge.
  • Take a stroll along Difficult Run and hike to a less-visited section of Great Falls.
  • Hike to a pretty waterfall at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

George Washington Memorial Parkway: Langley to Mount Vernon

To transition from the scenic state road to a national roadway, head northbound on Route 495, then take the first exit onto the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The GW Parkway was designed to link sites that commemorate important episodes in American history, and to preserve habitat for local wildlife.

The national parkway was originally conceived as a route along the Potomac River's edge from Arlington to Mount Vernon. In 1929, Congress authorized its extension to include Great Falls Park, which is managed by the National Park Service.

George Washington Memorial Parkway is perfect for a scenic drive neat DC in the fall
George Washington Memorial Parkway in fall

Today, the roadway offers panoramic views and easy access to historic destinations. In the northern section, overlooks offer views of the Potomac River. Further south, you'll have glimpses of the monuments of DC across the river.

There are so many stops on the 25-mile parkway that you'll need multiple trips to visit them all. And you should really allow a separate day to visit the gem at the end of the parkway, George Washington's Mount Vernon.

The George Washington Parkway Mobile Center visits stops managed by the National Park Service.
GW Parkway Mobile Center

Use this map to locate the destinations listed below. NOTE: You'll have to do some backtracking to reach Theodore Roosevelt Island because it is only accessible from northbound lanes. To simplify your route, eliminate that stop.

Things to Do From George Washington Memorial Parkway:

Enjoy a picnic or a short hike along the Potomac at Turkey Run Park. This park isn't as scenic as the ones listed above, but it's a good alternative to the crowds at Great Falls. The hike down to the river is steep and can be muddy after spring rains.

Hike the pretty boardwalk trail and visit the Memorial Plaza at Theodore Roosevelt Island (head northbound to access the parking lot). The island is actually in DC, but you can only reach it from a footbridge in Arlington Virginia. The plaza is pretty during warmer months when fountains and a decorative moat are filled with water.

Urns and a moat decorate the plaza at Theodore Roosevelt Island

The footbridge parking lot is also the starting point for a short, easy hike to a small waterfall at Windy Run. This is also the northern end of the paved Mountain Vernon Trail, one of the most popular bike trails in the area.

The US Marine Corps War Memorial captures the iconic raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima. The park and the nearby Netherlands Carillon offer excellent views of Washington DC.

US Marine Corps War Memorial
US Marine Corps War Memorial

Allow at least an hour, preferably more, to honor fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. Narrated bus tours take visitors to important stops including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where you can watch the changing of the guard. If time allows, we suggest a slower walk through these hallowed grounds.

Flags In during Memorial Day Weekend at Arlington National Cemetery
Flags In during Memorial Day Weekend at Arlington National Cemetery

Stop at Lady Bird Johnson Park for a short, relaxing stroll or picnic. The park, formerly called Columbia Island, honors the first lady's dedication to preserving America's natural beauty. The park includes lovely plantings, picnic tables, and good views of the Washington Monument across the river. Daffodils and tulips fill the garden in spring. Cross the footbridge to learn about the interesting history of the island.

Lady Bird Johnson Park monument is accessed from the George Washington Memorial Parkway
Lady Bird Johnson Park monument

As you drive south you'll have a good view of the Pentagon and National Airport from the parkway. The road becomes busier and a bit more confusing as you navigate through a few blocks of Alexandria. You can easily spend a day (or longer) dining, shopping, and visiting historic sites in Old Town Alexandria. including a very unique pharmacy

Jones Point Park is another interesting stop in Alexandria, under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The park marks Washington DC’s southern corner and includes a playground, walking trail, and historic lighthouse. Look for the stone marker where the boundaries of DC, Maryland, and Virginia meet.

Jones Point Park Lighthouse
Jones Point Park Lighthouse

Further south, Belle Haven Park has a large parking area with access to a pretty section of the Mount Vernon bike trail. You can also hike and bird watch at Dyke Marsh, a partially restored wetland with a nice boardwalk and Potomac River views.

Dyke Marsh boardwalk in spring
Dyke Marsh boardwalk in spring

Garden lovers should definitely include River Farm in your George Washington Memorial Parkway scenic drive. The farm, once part of George Washington's huge estate, is now the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. Here, you can enjoy various formal and natural gardens, including a wonderful children's garden.

The Meadow at River Farm Alexandria Virginia
The Meadow at River Farm Alexandria Virginia

As you drive south, you'll see several parking areas that front the Potomac River. We watched a beautiful sunset over the Potomac at Riverside Park, and this is also a good place to access the Mount Vernon Trail.

GW Parkway sunset over the Potomac River at Riverside Park VA

The George Washington Memorial Parkway ends at Mount Vernon, George Washington's beloved home. Allow at least a few hours to tour the mansion, grounds, and education center. Don't miss the interactive Be Washington exhibit.

George Washington Mansion Mount Vernon VA
George Washington Mansion Mount Vernon Virginia

George Washington Memorial Parkway Highlights

As described above, these are places to visit from the GW Parkway:

How many of the parks and hikes have you tackled on these scenic and historic Virginia roads? Plan more fun outings with our guide: Fantastic Northern Virginia Scenic Drives.

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A Virginia scenic drive on Georgetown Pike and the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Washington DC.

This article was published in 2015 and updated in 2020.

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